20 CLASSIC PROG ALBUMS
Odd times, intergalactic themes, and more tom-toms.
Rock drumming gets interesting.
Crimson’s original drummer, Michael Giles, slays on this cornerstone of prog rock. Though he left the band and dropped out of the limelight soon after, Giles’ graceful playing on “21st Century Schizoid Man” alone guarantees he’ll never be forgotten.
A favorite among classic-rock-o-philes, Clive Bunker continuously offered rousing, surprising, and soulful rhythmic support to Ian Anderson’s rustic-metal anti-authority rock. Aqualung was Bunker’s last album with the band—and what a swan song it was.
Germany’s Can was ace at finding the midpoint between twentieth-century classical art music and James Brown–hard grooves. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit brought it all together with stupendous time, feel, and invention on this sprawling double album. Advertisement
No drummer in the history of prog rock is more immediately identifiable than Bill Bruford, with his unique beat placements, ringy snare drum, and relaxed approach to head-spinning rhythmic play. Fragile is the group’s masterpiece—though many fans would put that mantle on Bruford’s swan song with Yes, 1972’s Close to the Edge.
The magnificent B.J. Wilson is presented in all his glory in this classic “rock band with orchestra” setting. Wilson’s enormous fills on opening track “Conquistador” helped make the cut a staple of FM rock radio.
Tull’s second drummer, Barriemore Barlow, was a monster of precise yet completely surprising full-kit gymnastics, and the perfect rhythmatist to complement the band’s increasingly complex song cycles. Advertisement
Pink Floyd proved “progressive” didn’t always equate to “fast.” From his natural approach to the odd-time hit “Money” to his famous Rototom fills in the intro of “Time” to his delicate support on “Us and Them,” Nick Mason was vital to making Dark Side the beloved classic it is.
Carl Palmer is a true progressive-rock icon, with his infamous gongs, etched-steel drumsets, and Buddy Rich–on-caffeine solos. Brain Salad Surgery is the band’s finest moment; Palmer’s hyper playing on “Karn Evil 9” is unforgettable.
Faust IV isn’t as dizzying as this German band’s earlier albums. Still, Werner “Zappi” Diermaier and his cohorts manage all sorts of rule-breaking here, coming off like some fiendish mash-up of the Velvet Underground and the Mothers of Invention. Zappi’s beats are unexpected, fun, and deep. Advertisement
One of the warmest, funniest, tightest, and most ambitious progressive rock albums ever, Angel’s Egg features the late, great Pierre Moerlen playing his butt off on part two of Daevid Allen & Co.’s burning space-jazz-rock trilogy.
To many, this double concept album (singer Peter Gabriel’s last with Genesis) represents progressive rock at its finest. Phil Collins’ deep groove, quick thinking, endless well of ideas, and nimble bass drum foot are all on display here.
Gentle Giant incorporated classical elements more blatantly than its peers, while designing endlessly complex rhythmic matrices. Drummer John Weathers made it all sound easy, and Free Hand provides a typical example of his highly structured approach. Advertisement
This short-lived supergroup, fronted by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, featured Simon Phillips burning through the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Brian Eno tracks like the amazing “Baby’s On Fire,” and the odd Kinks cover. An under-considered classic.
2112 is the first essential Rush album, the one that garnered widespread acclaim for the band. Neil Peart’s godlike rep was built upon his technical and muscular approach to cuts like the opening twenty-minute title track.
America’s greatest prog band is still touring on the momentum generated by the massive hit “Carry On Wayward Son,” and Phil Ehart continues to show fans his command of advanced drumming concepts. Advertisement
On the prog-rock supergroup U.K.’s second album, ex-Zappa and future Missing Persons drummer Terry Bozzio replaced the legendary Bill Bruford. No one has ever attacked the drums with a more fierce combination of technique and energy than Bozzio.
It takes a few songs to get to the drumming meat here. But this is where most drum watchers first discovered that Vinnie Colaiuta was a player who demanded endless rewinds. Our minds continue to be boggled by Vinnie’s magic to this day.
Robert Fripp’s King Crimson stayed relevant in the new decade by incorporating, among other things, African influences. Bill Bruford, who left Yes for the even freakier Crimson in the early ’70s, was right there with Fripp on this first release by the “new” KC. Rhythmic heaven. Advertisement
Peter Gabriel infused progressive rock with new energy by focusing on tribal intensity. Security, Gabriel’s fourth solo album, featured the thunderous cymbal-shy rhythms of Jerry Marotta, in a truly revolutionary musical setting.
No one expected Yes to be more popular than ever in the ’80s. But that’s what the hit single “Owner of a Lonely Heart” did. Longtime drummer Alan White and his pals didn’t take the easy route, though: Check out the cycling phrases on “Changes” for proof.