Ten Most Underrated Prog Rock Albums

Categories: list

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Hans Morgenstern

Broward County is about to receive a wave of live shows by some classic progressive rock bands or their tribute spawn. The Musical Box, a Canadian outfit that reproduces Peter Gabriel-era Genesis stage shows, with costumes and all, kicks off the surge this Friday. It will re-create the band's set list from its 1973 Selling England by the Pound tour in a show at the Parker Playhouse. Not long after, on August 1, Yes will perform two of its iconic early '70s albums, Fragile and Close to the Edge, on the Hollywood Hard Rock Live stage. Deep Purple (more a failed prog band that turned to heavier rock for success) will close out the month.

Though further down the road and farther south, a special mention should be granted to the Australian Pink Floyd, which will bring "Set Their Controls" show to the Fillmore Miami Beach in October. Like the Musical Box, it is a tribute band with extreme production values. A few years ago, it reproduced Pink Floyd's The Wall as the original group would have performed it in 1979 -- giant wall and all -- at the same venue. Its next appearance at the Fillmore will feature selections from Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon, The Division Bell, and The Wall.

All this nostalgia for the original movement of prog rock (back then sometimes deridingly called "art rock") got us thinking wistfully about some of the more rarely cited but still important albums of this this ilk from the 1970s. Often high-concept, featuring lengthy, anti-pop-song constructions with odd time signatures, progressive rock albums were the rebellion against the mainstream back then. A best-of list would include Pink Floyd, probably King Crimson's debut 1969 full-length In the Court of the Crimson King, and probably the Yes albums the band plans on performing at Hard Rock Live next month.

But that would be too easy and rather pointless. A true prog fan caught up in the nostalgia of what was happening to popular music would want to go deeper. What are the alternate albums by these artists so blithely tied to the scene that are of equal importance? How about some left-field picks featuring the likes of David Bowie and Mahavishnu Orchestra?

We consulted with local musician and shameless prog fiend Ed Matus to put together a list of ten essential but lesser-known "deep cut" progressive rock albums that emerged from the scene. What follows is the full Matus-approved list with some of his commentary.

See also: Ed Matus' Solo Electronic Project Is "Organic, Noisy, Futuristic, and Serene"

Phil Manzanera - Diamond Head
Roxy Music's guitarist Phil Manzanera's first solo excursion came out in 1975 and featured an array of former collaborators and figures from the early British prog scene. Matus calls it "a brilliant solo effort by rock 'n' roll's most underrated guitarist. In Diamond Head, Phil Manzanera employs the talents of Roxy Music's Paul Thompson on drums and the vocal talents of John Wetton (also on bass), Brian Eno and the Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt. It's a rich album with many moods and excellent tasteful musicianship."

Indeed! It shines with an almost explosive energy and impressive array of ideas. The opening song, "Frontera," is sung in Manzanera's native Spanish. There are several uninhibited instrumentals that allow the guitarist to relax and flex his muscle as the leader, something he always seemed to aspire to.

Yes - Relayer
Beyond "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and maybe "I've Seen All Good People," Yes is probably best-known as the great revolving door of prog rock. Lineup changes have included many a legend (Bill Bruford on drums) or oddity (Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of the Buggles), but the talents of those who have played in the longest-living art rock band have always added a grand depth of color to its still growing catalog.

One of the outstanding pearls is 1974's Relayer. "It stands out from the rest of their discography," Matus explains. "Steve Howe experimented with a more muscular and harsher guitar sound, plus it was the first album to feature a new keyboardist after the departure of Rick Wakeman. Patrick Moraz joined the group and brought a more fusion jazz element into the proceedings. It was also the last album Yes did with longer pieces. Everything that came after just became more streamlined."


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