selected by John Pritchard

1) Fragile -Yes
The definitive progressive rock album of all much imagination tapping the essence of rock-jazz-classical-r&b blended into an incredible new musical experience. "Roundabout" single handedly made the world a better musical place to live.
>preview "Five Percent for Nothing" (real player)

English art rockers Yes released Fragile in January of 1972. This was the band's fourth album and their first not only to crack the US Top 10 and go Gold(eventually Platinum) but it also marked the debut of new Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman whom is undoubtedly one of the best keyboardists ever. The album was recorded in late 1971 at Advision Studios in London with producer Eddy Offord(whom first came to prominence engineering the first four ELP discs) and features four Yes tracks and each member of the band had their own solo piece. Fragile opens with the 8 and a half minute classic rock radio staple Roundabout which features excellent keyboard work from Rick and superb guitar work from Steve Howe and an excellent Jon Anderson vocal. Next is Cans and Brahms which is Rick's take on a classical work using synthesizers, organs and piano. Jon's We Have Heaven follows and demonstrates his superb vocal range. Next, we return to the band with South Side of the Sky which features superb musicianship from all the members especially Bill Bruford's drumming. Bill's solo spot Five Per Cent For nothing is a drum pattern which he plays along to the group is very short but catchy. Next, back to the full band for Long Distance Runaround which is a classic rock radio staple today and is a great song(the shortest of the group songs). Chris' bass solo with a little help from Bill Bruford on drums The Fish follows and shows why Chris is undoubtedly one of rock's best bassists. He also sings the Schindeleria Primataureaus chant on the track. Steve is the last to do a solo spot with his Mood For a Day classical guitar solo which is great. The album originally ends with Heart of the Sunrise which is a great classic at over ten minutes. Then, just when you think the disc ends, a door opens and the We Have Heaven reprise closes the album. On this remaster, you get two bonus tracks. Yes' take of the Simon and Garfunkel nugget America which Yes revamped and made their own and an early take of Roundabout. --Terence Joseph Reardon


2) Tarkus -
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Pure musical, athletic genius that blows me away everytime I hear the 20 minute title track! Even the lyrics are symphonic.
>preview "Tarkus" (real player)

Tarkus is a brilliant album. But you either love it or you will hate it. The Tarkus suite is mind-bending. Let's first face the facts: Keith Emerson was having to CREATE his own sounds in 1971. They were not programmed into his synthesizer as they are today. Every sound had to be tweaked through twenty or thirty knobs just to get the right sound. If you have seen the Pictures at an Exhibition movie, you will notice him missing the sound he wanted on many of the intros because it was an art. Given this, what ELP produced was incredible for their day. Tarkus is an album where ELP seemed to have left their short history for a period. Nothing else sounds like it. Toccata might be close, but this was their work, not something they borrowed as in the case of Toccata. It also showcases Carl Palmer's amazing drumming, and Greg lake's voice almost sounds childlike. I highly recommend this album because it exposes early 70s prog music at its best, which was experimental in nature. Listen to it. Force yourself to play it in your car for a week. It will suddenly hit you, that you really will appreciate ELP on this album. BTW: "Are You Ready, Eddy" is a comical song dedicated to Eddy Offord, who produced many of ELP's albums and many of Yes'es. After you have listened to this album, go out and buy "Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends." It is the best album ELP ever did, bar none. And Tarkus live is incredible. -- Charles Cribbs, Jr.


3) Seconds Out -
Inspiring progressive live music with HUGE energy and heart.
>preview "Squonk" (real player)

Seconds Out is one of the most amazing live albums I've ever heard. And this "Definitive Edition Remaster" edition makes it even better. This album is, in all respects, perfect. It's equal cannot be found anywhere. Musically, these guys are at the top of their craft. (Particularly with the addition of drummers Chester Thompson and King Crimson/Yes beatmaster Bill Bruford.) Lyrically, this album -- although it borrows heavily from Trick of the Tail -- runs the gamut, going back all the way to "The Musical Box" from Nursery Cryme. And, glory be!, it features the entire 25-minute epic "Supper's Ready" from Foxtrot. This version, even though Phil Collins is singing it instead of Peter Gabriel, is dramatic, powerful and guaranteed to give you goosebumps. Speaking of Phil Collins, this live album sounds so much like Peter Gabriel in parts that you'd swear he was still in the band. So, the good news is this 1977-released 2-CD set is a perfect representation of Genesis at their peak. The recording is flawless. The song selection is impeccable. -- Bill Murphy


4) Thrak -King Crimson
No one can sound as confident, fresh and immense as King Crimson does after playing for so many years. Although classic Crimson is amazing with "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Red," this album blows away prior work with a bevy of master musicianship paving the adventurous rock way of the future.
>preview "Vrooom" (real player)

This time around, King Crimson's avatars comprise a double trio, featuring Robert Fripp (guitar, mellotron), Adrian Belew (vocals, guitar), Tony Levin (bass, stick), Trey Gunn (Warr guitar), with Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto on percussion. They have created a daunting work, both inhumanly complex and frighteningly harsh, with guitar distortion that sounds like metal being torn apart by machines, and clamorous drumming. "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" is catchy as it moves around spiky grooves and shrapnel hurricanes of dense noise. "Dinosaur" is heavy, evil rock. "VROOM" in all its variations is heavy instrumental intricacy, seemingly chaotic but elaborately constructed. "People" is a mechanized funk with ringing metallic snares and guitar lines sharper than an assassin's blade. "B'Boom" reveals King Crimson's matchless ability to create tension in music. On an array of minimalist percussion, ghostly guitar strokes create a hair-raising expectancy. The percussion drops out, leaving only a machine gun snare roll. Then the song kicks into all out war-mode, with heaving battle rhythms. The transition from here into "THRAK" is sudden and jarring. This nightmare inducing title track makes Meshuggah sound like a bunch of teddy bears. (And if you haven't had the extremely devastating pleasure -- or pain, depending on the person -- of listening to Meshuggah, just take for granted that they are sick.) The bestial guitar solo sounds like a demon matriarch giving birth. Yum.


5) So -Peter Gabriel
An amazing human being and the only artist who can make brilliant commercial music work with a progressive rock, soulful feel.
>preview "Sledgehammer" (real player)

"So" is generally regarded as a peak in Peter Gabriel's recording career, notable both for its solid set of songs and lush production. For Gabriel, who'd been putting his music in theatrical contexts ever since his days with Genesis , the modern sound of "So" (coproduced with Daniel Lanois ) was a dramatic conceit that effectively played off the organic roots of many of its songs. The album's big hit was "Sledgehammer," the English rocker's somewhat stilted take on the Stax/Volt style of rhythm & blues. Gabriel is much more powerful on his own art-rock songs, such as "Red Rain," which evokes nuclear ruin with its cascading rush of guitars and synthesizers. "Don't Give Up" is perhaps Gabriel's best ballad, with Kate Bush 's heavenly second vocal enough to give anybody encouragement. But the song that best exploits So 's blend of technology and soul is "In Your Eyes," a beguiling rhythmic tapestry in which Gabriel duets with Youssou N'Dour .--John Milward


6) Six Wives of Henry the VIII
-Rick Wakeman

This album paved the way for progressive rock and permanently established the synthesizer as a force to reckon with. Bruford, Howe and Squire add great dimension to Rick's excellent compositions.
>preview "Catherine of Aragorn" (real player)

Put simply, this album is THE album from Mr Wakeman. I love virtually everything he has ever done, but his first three albums are still his best three albums, and "6 Wives" is the best of them all. It has not aged in nearly 30 years and can still be listened to almost as if for the first time. When it was first released it broke barriers of inventiveness and originality, both in terms of genre and of sound. Rick's playing sounds good on any keyboard, but with this album you are taken through the best of all the keyboards available back in 1973 (and, frankly, they are still the best). A masterpiece. -- Mark Willis


7) In Absentia -Porcupine Tree
A great, modern new prog-rock band from England. "In Absentia" is also one of the best SOUNDING records in a long time; prog-rock recorded at Avatar Studios in NYC!
>preview "Blackest Eyes" (real player)

After a quarter-century of punk and postmodern excesses, it's always something of a surprise to find young musicians who not only recall a past era's musical indulgences, but also revel in them. This Lava Records debut is the latest fruit of Porcupine Tree mainstay Steven Wilson's obsession with prog, a mania that dates to the late '80s when the "band" was little more than a fantasy, though one with a remarkably imaginative--if entirely fictional--history and bio. But that pipedream eventually became a real "alt prog" cult fave, with these dozen ambitious songs finding a focus that occasionally eluded the band on half-hour soundscapes like its underground hit, "Voyage 34." Tracks like "Gravity Eyelids" have a retro-psychedelic feel that would have done the XTC alter ego Dukes of Stratosphear proud, with Wilson's pure melodic tenor pushing it beyond the merely baroque. But the collection is also a strong statement of another crucial Wilson/Porcupine retro-sensibility: The album has unified musical statement. "Lips of Ashes" and "Prodigal" serve up the sort of impressionistic, harmony-rich musings that Pink Floyd has rarely managed since Wish You Were Here , while "The Creator Has a Master Tape" punctuates the rich harmonies of tracks like "Heart Attack in a Layby" with Crimson-esque metallic thrash and processed vocals. While the band's instrumental prowess sometimes slums its way into the free-form jazz noodling of past efforts, the album remains one of the band's fullest achievements. --Jerry McCulley


8) Blow by Blow -Jeff Beck
Another progressive rock classic that approaches jazz-rock from a defiantly, blues-rock direction...What a great combination of musicians coupled with Beatles producer extraordinaire, George Martin.
>preview "You Know What I Mean" (real player)

His guitar-slinging contributions to the Yardbirds having dwarfed those of Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, Mrs. Beck's bad boy spent the next several years playing blues-rock (the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart), soul-rock (the second edition of that band), and leading a power trio. Then, he made this all-instrumental album, which was a huge 1975 success. Produced by George Martin, the nine-song session finds Beck fronting a keyboards-bass-drums outfit, augmented by some tastefully unobtrusive string arrangements. Call it a jazz-fusion album at your own risk. While Beck's playing is less in-your-face than his previous efforts, all the fierce attack, thick tone, microtonal bends, distortion, feedback, vibrato, sustain, sonic hoodoo, and rhythmic and harmonic creativity that the man's fans have come to know and love can be heard here. "Freeway Jam" boasts the most memorable melody and thus remains a Classic Rock staple to this day. "Cause We've Ended As Lovers"--written by Stevie Wonder--is Beck's gorgeous tribute to one of his own guitar-heroes, the now-deceased Roy Buchanan. --Don Waller


9) Unsung Heroes -Dixie Dregs
The Dregs are kick-ass and this album, like every Dregs album, is full of incredible music and energy. Also, check out "Dregs of the Earth" and their debut album, "What If."

The name Dixie Dregs was misleading--it always made people assume the band would sound like the Charlie Daniels Band or Molly Hatchett. So for "Unsung Heroes" the name was changed to "The Dregs". The music remained the same, instrumental rock played by five virtuoso musicians in a dizzying array of styles, with music and arrangements as intricate yet insanely catchy as anything either progressive rock or fusion has ever produced. Solos are kept short, and at some point during an album you're bound to hear every possible combination of two instruments play in unison (listen for the violin and bass on "Attila the Hun"). This is the Dregs' best studio album, with a fantastic set of compositions by Steve Morse, the world's greatest guitarist. By now, the formula for a Dregs album was pretty well established: a couple of rockers ("Cruise Control" and "Rock & Roll Park"), a couple of progressive rock tracks ("Divided We Stand" and "Attila the Hun"), a ballad ("Day 444"), and some bluegrass ("I'll Just Pick"), funk ("Kat Food"), and baroque ("Go for Baroque"). "Divided We Stand", "Kat Food", "I'll Just Pick", and "Go for Baroque" are the best songs the Dregs have done in each of their respective genres. In fact, "Divided We Stand" is perhaps the Dregs' best track ever, and unlike anything else you've ever heard. "Cruise Control", which had previously appeared on the "Freefall" album, is reborn in a stripped-down, harder rocking version. "Rock & Roll Park" gives keyboardist T Lavitz a chance to show that he can also play soprano sax. The climax of "I'll Just Pick" has Morse repeating an 8-bar melody, as one by one, bassist Andy West, Lavitz, and violinist Allen Sloan join in with counterpoint melodies. This was Sloan's last album before leaving to become an anesthesiologist, and his simple yet gorgeous solo on "Day 444" is the highlight of that song. -- woburnmusicfan


10) Tales From Topographic Oceans -Yes
Stands out as a "one of a kind" masterpiece of adventurous and highly creative music that defied all commercial boundaries in 1973.
>preview "Ritual" (real player)

This album is arguably the all time "whipping boy" of progressive rock. Hardcore Yes fans tend to love it and others tend to hate it. Tales From Topographic Oceans is not often seen among the great Yes albums due to its inaccessibility, but it belongs at the top of the list in my opinion. It was a natural progression from the long-form pieces of Close To The Edge. Relayer, the album that follows this one, distills all of the elements of this daunting work into what I feel is the pinnacle of Yes' performance. Anyone with any attention span at all can (and should) listen to Topographic Oceans. It is an album of indiscribable beauty. Now, with this re-release, one has no excuse but to buy it and enjoy the wonderful journey. The bonus tracks are a real surprise, as they lend a bit of insight as to how this intensely complex body of work was formed. They also help one realise that Yes are actually terrestrial beings. :-) Buy this record! It's worth it. --wurlyburd music fan


11) Wish You Were Here -Pink Floyd
This is by far the best Pink Floyd album...yes, even better than "Dark Side of the Moon."
>preview "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (real player)

Wish You Were Here is a song cycle dedicated to Pink Floyd's original frontman, Syd Barrett , who'd flamed out years before: two grimly funny songs about the evils of the music business ("By the way, which one's Pink?"), and two long, touching ones about the band's vanished friend. The real star of the show, though, is the production: sparkling, convoluted, designed to sound deeply oh-wow under the influence--and pretty great sober too, with David Gilmour getting lots of space for his most lyrical guitar playing ever. And, though the album is big and ambitious, even bombastic, it somehow dodges being pretentious--the Barrett tributes are honest and heartfelt, beneath all the grand gestures and stereophonic trickery. --Douglas Wolk


12) Fish Out of Water - Chris Squire
Amazing progressive rock compositions by the bassist of Yes with ingenious orchestration played by veteran innovators.
>preview "Lucky Seven" (real player)

Here you have Chris's distinctive pick-style playing backed up by Bill Bruford on drums (I'd know that unique, crisp snare sound anywhere), Patrick Moraz on keyboards, Mel Collins (King Crimson) on sax, and Barry Rose (The League of Gentlemen) on church organ. There's even a full orchestra on some tunes. His playing anchors the songs more often than taking a spotlight role. Some reviewers seem truly surprised by the quality of the vocals, though I'm not sure why. Chris provided strong harmony vocals on many Yes classics like Close to the Edge, Roundabout, and just give a close listen to the high-pitched chiming vocals at the climax of Starship Troopers --- it's all Chris and it's all bliss when I listen to that song. In fact, after hearing this album, it will allow you to more easily pick Chris's vox out on your old Yes albums from what you might have thought were just multi-tracked Jon Anderson vox. Let's hope that he record's another solo album some day, but in the mean time, just sit back and enjoy Fish Out of Water.