The 411 Music Top Five 03.05.13: The Top 5 Prog Rock Bands
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.05.2013
From Rush and Pink Floyd to Genesis, Dream Theater, Tool and more, the 411 staff ranks their top 5 progressive rock bands of all time!
THE TOP 5 PROGRESSIVE ROCK BANDS
Criteria: Pretty simple; we were looking for progressive rock (and progressive metal, if you consider that a separate genre) bands. That about covers it!
* Just thought I should mention that these are really my favorite Prog Bands, not necessarily an attempt at being objective top 5. However, anyone that's a fan of prog would probably be hard pressed to say that none of these bands should be included in this list because they are true masters of their craft. *
Honorable Mention: Genesis (I like the Phil Collins version of Genesis a whole lot more than Peter Gabriel's), King Crimson, Coheed and Cambria, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer
I was born in Arkansas and raised in Texas for over 20 years before moving to Miami. I said that to point out that I have an affinity for things Southern Rock, folk music and even some country. Kansas melds the greatness of prog with a Southern Rock Vibe and if you don't believe me go listen to Point of Know Return, arguably their best album. The "Point of Know Return" song is played everywhere nowadays but it still shows how they blended pop and prog so well. Then you can listen to Paradox for your historical time shifting pretty prog fix. I think Portrait (He Knew) is underrated as well. However, there is still a reason why "Dust in the Wind" is so sad yet beloved by people because I think it epitomizes Kansas. They were masters of the Heartland and the use of Violin and Guitar on that song is tremendous. I can still listen to Kansas today and wish they hadn't worried so much about going Christian, and focused more on making awesome albums.
I'll admit it took the latter Tool albums to get me into them, so I am sure you Tool purists will hate on me. Personally, I find Lateralus and 10,000 Days to be better because they do focus more on prog than the earlier albums, even though they may be less controversial. I really enjoy Maynard James Keenan's voice it just stands out so well amongst the virtuoso playing going on around him, I compare it to how Eddie Vedder puts Pearl Jam on the map with his voice. What makes Tool awesome for me is not the fantastic videos or how well they are able to mesh various themes in their songs, it is truly how great the songs are. If I'm going through something I can put on a Tool album and somehow I forget about it and just find myself immersed in "Vicarious," "Schism," or "Undertow." I just wish they wouldn't make us wait so long for a new album dammit.
If for some reason you don't like Yes (and I cannot understand why you wouldn't because they are truly awesome!), you are missing out. Fragile and The Yes Album are some of Prog's greatest albums. So many hits occur on those albums, Roundabout, South Side of the Sky, Long Distance Run Around, I've Seen All Good People and I could go on and on. Yes, very much like Kansas, changed their lineup so many times through the years that at certain points it ruined them. Even when the band reformed for the now infamous 90125 album, which produced their most popular and ironically non-prog hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart," they had nowhere to go after that. Still, I like listening to Yes because you really feel like you are being transported to a special place where all you hear is outer space. I'm totally joking there, but honestly it is quite amazing how long Yes has been around and how they can still make music as amazing today, as they did close to 45 years ago.
2. Pink Floyd
Lord, what hasn't been said about Floyd? There are entire genres of Rock that exist merely because of Pink Floyd's grandeur. I'll be honest I'm not the greatest fan of their work with Syd Barrett but I can tolerate it. When I think of rock music in general, I think of how music changed after Dark Side of the Moon came out. Sure, half the album is overplayed on Classic Rock stations today and so is half of their albums for that matter, but that should express to people how great they were. David Gilmour is one of the greatest guitarists ever and Roger Waters really knew how to write a song (Gilmour was pretty great at song writing as well.) I mean, how great is "Wish You Were Here?" That being said, my favorite album from Pink Floyd is "The Wall." My favorite Floyd song, "Goodbye Blue Sky," comes from that album. I've probably watched the film over a dozen times and most of the time I just sit back and listen to the music on it. Pink Floyd are legendary there is no doubt about it, but to me there is only one band that is the epitome of Prog and that is someone else.
Rush is one of my favorite bands of all-time because how all three guys are able to blend together so well, yet find a way to stand out on their own as well. Not everyone likes Geddy's voice but for the lyrics written by Neil Peart, he is perfect for them. Just because Mr. Lee can play the Bass and Keyboard and sing at the same time makes him awesome. Alex Lifeson gets underrated as a guitarist but I think he stands there next to some of the greats based on what he can do. I still love his solo part on "Discovery" (the 3rd part of the 2112 suite.) I don't think I need to even mention Neil Peart because he's the greatest drummer there is. I don't know how they do it, but somehow they can change time signatures in their songs like magic and make extremely difficult passages seem like a breeze to play. I'm still astounded by the intricacies of "La Villa Strangiata" and even the memorable drumming on "Tom Sawyer." I could probably write a book about how much I enjoy Rush, so I'll just leave you with my favorite Rush song instead.
Tool and Symphony X are both great bands, I've listened to all of 5 songs by each of them. So I apologize for them not being on my list, but I will give them an, "if I would have heard more of them, they'd totally be on this list."
Cynic - I'll be honest on this one, this band is by far the lowest on the list. But that is because in the 25 years they have been together, they've released two albums. I love those albums, with one being great progressive death metal, and the other being more of a lighter fare. I can't wait for anything new from them down the road.
Genesis - I grew up on Genesis, but oddly enough, my mom was never a fan of progressive music, she was more for pop. So while I enjoy all of Genesis, the Peter Gabriel albums are not the ones that I associate the band with. Though I really need to listen to them more.
Agalloch - I adore this band. They used to be really unique in the metal scene, but now, I'm starting to see more bands like deafheaven and Alcest come into the fold. Their mix of black metal, rock, and prog makes a sound that is truly one of a kind. Their EP from last year really highlighted that, because it took the listener on a sprawling journey.
When I started coming up with what I wanted to put on this list, I automatically went into my realm, METAL! I came out with not nearly as many options as I thought I would have, but the ones that I did think of, are Grade A bands. This is one of the first ones that I thought of, with great reason. Like every band on this list, every instrument is just done so damn well. They have two of the greatest bassists in Roger Patterson (RIP), and then they managed to snag the awesome Tony Choy. What makes them great is the thing that got their name out there, as well as the thing that a lot of people remember them for. They had a mixture of death and thrash as a bass, but then they would have progressive passages left and right, and they even would have bits of jazz influence. For a while, they looked to be a band that was forever contained in the 90s. But luckily for all of us, they came back for a new album last decade, and hopefully, the Florida death metal titans will be back yet again this decade.
4. Dream Theater
I know this is a band that some people adore, and some people see them as overrated. I'm....in the middle. I never got into Dream Theater,, until one day, I played "Panic Attack" on Rock Band 2, and after that, they forever became a band that was on the radar. I won't say that I'm as a big a fan of them as my friend, Calvin, who worships Mike Portnoy, as well as the band itself. I do like the band a lot, though. They have a feeling to them like every song was put together with each note getting meticulously placed to form a cohesive song. Just like bands like Pink Floyd, they are high on concept. A lot of their albums tend to have a theme or concept, or there are songs that carry in multiple parts over multiple albums, it's quite a thing to behold. Every member of this band places pretty high on the "of all time" list. Former drummer Mike Portnoy is the one that a lot of people clamor for. But I think that perhaps their guitarist John Petrucci is a bit more talented than Portnoy, but then again, I'm some asshole whose best instruments are brass, so what do I know? This is a band that like most of the bands on this list, will sometimes feel like they are trying to test your patience, because the songs get long (they have one song that is 42 minutes long, not quite as bad as Fantomas or Edge of Sanity, but still long). Just remember, if a song by Dream Theater is over 10 minutes, more times than not, you'll be in for a treat, because these dudes never seem to run out of good musical ideas, and I don't say that about every band.
I wasn't quite sure how me putting Opeth over Dream Theater would go over, but dammit, I did it anyways. I guess it's ranked here because I feel like Opeth have done more with their sound. Don't get me wrong, Dream Theater are a tremendous band, every note they play is crisp and fits into a grand scheme. But Opeth went more directions, they've went soft and acoustic, straight death metal, into progressive rock, into folk music, and they've done it all in one song before. This band also holds a special place in my heart, because they were one of the first tastes of death metal I ever got. In my top 5 favorite bands, they rank 4, which is impressive, because while my Top 5 shifts, they are one of the two bands that have never moved. No matter what this band does, it sounds good, I can honestly say that I've never heard a song from all of their albums that I would classify as "bad." I think it helps that when it comes to guitarist, Mikael Akerfeldt is a favorite guitarist of mine, mostly due to the amount of emotion he convey with each strum. I also love his voice, it's one of my favorite to emulate, and it's always carries a sweet note, and yes, I am a fanboy.
2. Pink Floyd
The perennial number one for any list like this....and they're not number one. Surprising, because I fully acknowledge as a man who had the privilege of listening to lots of Pink Floyd every time I went to my dad's house. But they just don't quite beat my number one. But we'll get there in a little bit. Pink Floyd are one of those bands that feel like every song is a piece of a concept, these dudes are all about a whole album being a blueprint, and it's lovely. Pink Floyd are yet another of those bands that are full of talent, naturally. I think a lot of their greatness comes from guitarist David Gilmour, not trying to take away anything from the rest of the band, but the atmosphere he creates is just something to marvel. Just like the next band, they're pretty successful commercially, and they have great radio songs, but they also have great songs that only the hardcore fans would know. It's great when you have a legacy that long lasting and deep to where you can have that.
I hope that this won't be like when I did my Top 50 Metal Albums of 2012 and the audience was half and half about me putting Rush at Numero Uno (by the way, go find that on the site, it's my crowning achievement). I love me some Pink Floyd, but I've always gravitated more towards Rush. The three piece band from Canada have been together longer than most marriages, and their music has been nothing but consistent. Geddy Lee is an amazing bassist, Alex Lifeson is a prince among peasant guitarist, and a great lyricist to boot. Neal Peart, is there any introduction to one of the greatest drummers in the history of great drumming? They are one of those bands that have great radio hits, but they also have lots of great hits that only the hardcore fans would know. I couldn't do their resume the justice it quite deserves, but if you go look at a site (like I use metal-archives religiously) 15 out of their 19 studio albums hold above a 75% positive rating, and that's pretty impressive, because it's a cynical site sometimes. I think this will pretty much say it all, last year's album by them blew me away more than the almost 100 that I listened to, and every time I get a new copy of one of their classics, I must sit and listen through it. I am sad that I missed them live, though, stupid college.
Honorable Mention: Tool, King Crimson, 30 Seconds to Mars, Dream Theater
Phil Collins Genesis or Peter Gabriel Genesis? That's always the debate when you discuss this legendary band. As much as I love Collins, I've always been a Gabriel Genesis guy. Either way, the band did a lot in terms of blazing the way for mainstream acceptance of prog rock during the 1970s and have continued to remain great throughout their career. The band's future is unknown now that Phil Collins has retired, but if they've hung it up then they leave an impressive legacy behind them.
I love progressive rock. I love Southern Rock. Is there any question, then, why this band is on this list? While Kansas will forever be known for "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind" (both truly awesome songs), that does a disservice to many of their album tracks that are equally good. Point of Know Return was easily one of my most played albums during my early twenties and the rest of their albums are fantastic as well. You have to give up some respect for these guys.
You can't talk about progressive rock and not touch on Yes. The London group was one of the leading voices of the prog rock scene during its rise in the late 1960s and then broke into their creative peak in the 1970s with some of the most essential prog rock albums out there including The Yes Album, Fragile, Relayer and Going for the One. It is sort of unfair that they haven't received the truly pervasive recognition that some of their contemporaries have because they certainly deserve it.
2. Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd is undoubtedly the best-known prog rock band. The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here...these are albums that almost everyone knows. And I mean everyone. The music of Pink Floyd is both emotionally and intellectually challenging; it engages you on multiple levels without seeming pretentious about it. The UK group tackled serious social issues in a way that many other rock bands seem heavy-handed when they tackle; these guys made it look deceptively easy. Add in some of the most impressive live shows ever and an indelible stamp on pop culture with The Wall and you have an easy #2 that could have well taken #1 if not for personal preference.
I don't believe we've ever had three people with the exact same top two in this column before. I guarantee it hasn't happened in the last few years. The reason for that is because we all have such different tastes as music critics and fans. Thus, the fact that we all put Floyd and Rush in the top two tells you how dominating they are of this field. Rush is not the first prog rock band in history but they are certainly the group that by and large perfected it, at least in terms of progressive rock that was musically accessible. Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart (and John Rutsey before Peart) have created some of the most well-known and brilliant rock albums of all time, and they are finally getting their due this year in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is an honor that is long overdue.
The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:
5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it