I think 2016 will always be remembered as the year the music died, and the latest, and hopefully last, music legend to be taken from us is prog pioneer Greg Lake. This follows just a few months after the death of his dear friend and bandmate Keith Emerson. First gaining notoriety as part of the original line-up of King Crimson he was a key player on their landmark debut In The Court of the Crimson King, which is widely considered the first ever progressive rock album and influenced everyone from Pete Townsend to Kanye West. He later formed the prog rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer and went on to release such other successful albums as Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery. His work had a powerful impact on the course of music and he will be sorely missed.
King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King
King Crimson’s debut is considered by many to be the first true prog album. Instead of following the blues influences of more mainstream rock bands they looked instead to classical and jazz for inspiration. The result is the frantic maddening bursts of ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ and the mellow ‘I Talk to the Wind’. The band’s ever changing line-up would go on to produce even more complex epics but Crimson King was the album that started it all.
Rush – 2112
Whilst 1982’s ‘Moving Pictures’ is the band’s most successful album, it was 2112 that made Rush who they are. Ditching their blues origins and gaining drumming god Neil Peart they pursued more and more intricate songs. Their early efforts had met with little commercial success and their label pressured them to tone things down. Instead they created a masterful dystopian epic about a world without music which granted them a massive cult audience which has grown over the band’s 40 year long life.
Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick
Ian Anderson’s Jethro Tull found unexpected success with their previous album Aqualung. After facing nonstop questions about whether it was a concept album and speculating what the unifying concept might be, with the next album he gave the fans what they were looking for. A single, massive 44 minute track spanning the whole album, complete with flute solos, bright sparkling folk, raging rock guitar and an album cover which formed a complete (fake) newspaper that somewhat described the crazy complex theme behind it all.
Yes – Close to the Edge
The last great album by the most quintessential prog band. It has everything you’d expect, sprawling expansive tracks taking up whole sides, unfathomably intricate keyboard solos over ever changing time signatures and incomprehensible lyrics. The plain green sleeve, devoid of Rodger Dean’s iconic artwork, was a major statement: “We are putting everything into the music”. This was the band’s creative peak.
Genesis – Selling England By the Pound
Genesis have had a difficult life, facing criticism as both a Peter Gabriel fronted prog band and as a Phil Collins fronted mainstream rock band. This is the closest thing they have to a mid point. It contained their first attempts at radio friendly singles and also featured some of their best epics including ‘Firth of Fifth’ and ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’. Gabriel’s fanciful Alice in Wonderland like characters and narratives create a mental picture every bit as wild and colourful as the music.