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5 Greatest Progressive Rock Songs

5 Greatest Progressive Rock Songs

Progressive rock songs defined a generation and carry their intensity into present times. This style of music is heavily based on music theory and narrative fantasy, with storylines so elaborate that many songs are over 20 minutes long.

So what are some of the most popular examples?

Today, we’re diving into a world of imagination and rock and roll history to bring you five of the best prog rock songs in history.

Let’s hit it!

Let’s Listen to 5 Great Progressive Rock Songs

Progressive rock, or prog rock, is a music subgenre centered around concept-driven lyrics. Nicknamed prog rock, bands dubbed as such use experimental and ambitious arrangements to make their songs at least six minutes long. Furthermore, some of these songs are so complex that they last over an hour.

Prog rock emerged in the 60s during a tremendous economic boom in the music industry. Bands like The Moody Blues and Soft Machine mixed rock with blues, jazz, and classical. And they mixed a great number of psychedelic drugs while writing. Many believe long acid trips and journeys on peyote led to the birth of progressive rock.

In addition, literature and high-brow art shaped both lyrics and cover art. Folk singers like Bob Dylan inspired prog writers to tell long, elaborative stories. And album covers like Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans show the genre’s interest in fantasy and science fiction.

Moreover, progressive rock became so full of itself that it quickly provoked rejection. As high as the genre got by 1975, punk rock came in to shut it down one year later. Two-minute punk songs were the antidote to prog rocks’ pretentious indulgence.

But while 70s music critics labeled the sounds pompous and overblown, progressive rock fans couldn’t care less. You love what you love. So here are some of the most revered progressive rock songs of all time.

#1 Genesis, Supper’s Ready

About the Song: Superfans of Genesis say this 23-minute track is their number one masterpiece. A seven-part saga, Supper’s Ready takes you on a Biblical journey of epic proportions. Singer Peter Gabriel starts from a modern-day living room and somehow gets us into a battlefield with warlords and the Pied Piper.

Musically, Supper’s Ready is equally complex. It’s part classical sonata and part rock experiment. In addition, the song constantly changes in timing and key structure. As far as progressive rock songs go, this one’s an exciting challenge. You just can’t pin it down.

Buddha Records released Supper’s Ready on October 6, 1972. Genesis credits all five members of the band for its authorship. Writing, composing, and recording it was a beast of a process! You’ll find the song on side two of Genesis’ fourth studio album, Foxtrot.

Greatest Lyric:

Can't you see he's fooled you all?
Share his peace, sign the lease
He's a supersonic scientist
He's a guaranteed eternal sanctuary man

From the Muse: Discover 7 Great Peter Gabriel Songs.

#2 Yes, Close to the Edge

About the Song: Close to the Edge is an 18-minute song based on the Hindu mystic story of Siddhartha. It has a dream-like quality, where the storyteller drifts in and out of worlds. According to songwriter Jon Anderson, the meaning of his words only became apparent after the fact. Stay true to your heart, and your higher power will never let you down.

This classic progressive rock song consists of four sections with different titles. And it takes up the entire first side of the album.

Producer Eddy Offord accompanied Yes on tour to enable the band to play Close to the Edge live. He played pre-recorded church organs, sound effects, and vocals at certain times. 

Greatest Lyric:

My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love
It changed as almost strained amidst clear mana from above
I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand
There's you, the time, the logic, or the reasons we don't understand

#3 Rush, 2112

About the Song: This 20-minute odyssey’s comprised of seven narrative sections. The lyrics tell the story of a musician trying to make the world a better place through music. But unfortunately, the rulers in the year 2112 don’t care. They crush his guitar, sending him to his cave in utter despair. The musician feels death will be his final sweet relief.

As a concept song, 2112 is meant to represent the corruption of the music industry. Inspired by author Ayn Rand’s book Anthem, Rush takes us into a dark, futuristic world as a warning. It takes up one side of the album by the same name, released in 1976.

Greatest Lyric:

I stand atop a spiral stair
An oracle confronts me there
He leads me on light years away
Through astral nights, galactic days

#4 Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Tarkus

About the Song: Eruption, Stone of Years, Iconoclast, Mass, Manticore, Battlefield, and Aquatarkus. These are the seven parts that make up the epic song Tarkus. Fans of Emerson, Lake & Palmer say if the band’s only recording were this, they would still be legends. Tarkus is that good.

Released on the 1971 album by the same name, Tarkus charted at #1 on the UK charts. The album took the world by storm and certified gold in the US and the UK. It’s about a beastly war machine resembling a giant steel armadillo. Tarkus fights many enemies and is finally defeated by its nemesis Manticore. Or is it? 

Some find this musical style of epic war adventure empowering. But to others, the relentless organ, toppled over by hyper drumming and wanking guitars, can dizzy them to the point of nausea. Add the weird vocoder effect on the vocals, and you might just throw up. 

Greatest Lyric:

The preacher said a prayer
Save every single hair on his head
He's dead
The minister of hate had just arrived

#5 Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody

About the Song: When British stars Queen approached music executives about this nearly six-minute song, they scoffed and said it would fail. They didn’t want to release it. So the band came up with a plan. Producer Roy T. Baker handed radio DJ Kenney Everett a reel-to-reel copy, “begging” him not to play it on the radio. Everett completely understood their coded band speak and “accidentally” aired it.

Bohemian Rhapsody was so popular on Everett’s radio show that fans swarmed the record stores wanting to buy it. But it hadn’t been released yet. So essentially, the plan worked. By the end of 1975, it’d held its #1 UK chart position for nine weeks.

Queen never revealed the meaning behind this classic progressive rock song. And they didn’t have to. It’s become one of the most revered songs in pop music history. And if you need to ease gently into prog rock, this is the best tune to start with. 

Greatest Lyric:

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy

Progressive Rock Songs – Honorable Mentions

A list of the greatest progressive rock songs would only be complete with works by Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. But Pink Floyd’s legendary Dark Side of the Moon has too many hits to choose from. And you’re better off enjoying the masterpiece in one sitting.

The same goes for Jethro Tull. You need to listen to the whole record and not choose sides. Their 1971 album Thick as a Brink is one 40-minute song split over two sides of the vinyl. Moreover, it’s a parody of the prog-rock genre, which makes it even more interesting.

What is the Ultimate Progressive Rock Song?

Progressive rock songs aren’t for everyone. They’re long, complex, and take commitment. But for those who love lyrical adventure and musical experimentation, this genre can do no wrong. Its inception arrived when young fans needed an escape into fantasy. And luckily, musicians were given the leeway to create it.

We’d love to hear your favorite prog-rock songs! If we missed any, let us know in the comments.

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