Odd times, intergalactic themes, and more tom-toms.
Rock drumming gets interesting.


King Crimson In the Court of the Crimson King1. King Crimson In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

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.


Jethro Tull Aqualung2. Jethro Tull Aqualung (1971)

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.


Can Tago Mago3. Can Tago Mago (1971)

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


Yes Fragile4. Yes Fragile (1971)

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.


Procol Harum Live: In Concert With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra5. Procol Harum Live: In Concert With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1972)

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.


Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick6. Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick (1972)

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 The Dark Side of the Moon7. Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

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.


Emerson, Lake & Palmer Brain Salad Surgery 8. Emerson, Lake & Palmer Brain Salad Surgery (1973)

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 IV9. Faust IV (1973)

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


Gong Angel’s Egg10. Gong Angel’s Egg (1973)

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.


Genesis The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway11. Genesis The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

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 Free Hand12. Gentle Giant Free Hand (1975)

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


801 Live13. 801 Live (1976)

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.


Rush 211214. Rush 2112 (1976)

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.


Kansas Leftoverture15. Kansas Leftoverture (1976)

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


U.K. Danger Money 16. U.K. Danger Money (1979)

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.


Frank Zappa Joe’s Garage17. Frank Zappa Joe’s Garage (1979)

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.


King Crimson Discipline18. King Crimson Discipline (1981)

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 Security19. Peter Gabriel Security (1982)

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.


Yes 9012520. Yes 90125 (1983)

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.


Are there albums that you would have liked to have seen on the list? Leave your picks in the comments below.