Progressive rock bands are primarily known for spacey, haunting guitar solos, indulgent lyrics, spectacular stage shows with psychedelic lighting, and songs running past the ten minute mark. Some of these tunes have the power to transport you back to medieval times—as if you are watching a jousting match, when in reality, you are just high in your bedroom.
1. Dogs-Pink Floyd
This song is an epic, 17 minute masterpiece. Pink Floyd’s 1977 concept album Animals has Roger Waters splitting the human race into Dogs, Pigs, and Sheep, taking inspiration from George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm. The dogs are fighting and competing, ready to stab each other in the back to move up the corporate ladder. The last five minutes, inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, starting each lyric with “Who” has an amazing uplifting melody with power chords and rebellious lyrics. For anyone who felt like sticking it to the Man, this is the song to worship.
A great parable about the trappings of fame and rock star idolatry. The solos are intense, drawn out and fit well with the lyrics “They send you pictures of yourself/It’s someone you don’t know who/And they call you a genius/Cause you’re easier to sell.” It really must be lonely at the top.
3. The Court of the Crimson King–King Crimson
Released in 1969, this song is the granddaddy of prog rock songs and to some music historians, it opened the doors for the music genre to flourish. Rich, drug-infused medieval lyrics, a blaring Hammond organ, and an operatic chorus. The song is split into two parts (The Return of the Fire Witch and The Dance of the Puppets).
4. Echoes-Pink Floyd
A ping that lasts a minute evolves into a cosmic 20 minute journey that seems to synchronize perfectly with the psychedelic color sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. This song is pure artistry, with existential lyrics-“No one knows the where or whys.” It could very well be the theme song for an astronaut out to explore the mysteries of the universe.
5. Thick as a Brick-Jethro Tull
This song is a parody of a prog rock song, poking fun at some of the genre’s pretentiousness. The song is split into two parts and is 42 minutes long. It’s a song about growing up. There are a few silly, repetitive riffs. But Ian Anderson really rips it up on the flute.
6. In Your Wildest Dreams–The Moody Blues
Released on their 1986 album The Other Side of Life, this song opens with a sonic electronic sound. Its dreamy with catchy melodies and a memorable chorus with a bohemian feel about first love and breaking up over a calling to create music.
7. The Cinema Show—Genesis From their 1973 album Selling England By the Pound, this eleven minute song has changing time signatures, a four and a half minute piano solo and draws inspiration from Romeo and Juliet.
8. Love on a Real Train—Tangerine Dream This instrumental was the main theme to the 1983 film Risky Business. In fact, the band created an entire soundtrack to the film. It’s a stretch to put this tune on this list because its only three and a half minutes long, but it is one of the band’s most recognizable musical pieces, and they are definitely in the prog rock genre.
9. Hocus Pocus–Focus
A dynamic guitar solo followed by a quick drum solo, then a cosmic alien yodel that reaches a crescendo. There are no lyrics, but there is some crazy gibberish thrown in for good measure. This is prog rock at its craziest and unhinged. Then it repeats for another five minutes with another raging guitar solo. And more yodeling of course.
10. Lucky Man–Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
Although short for a prog rock song at only four minutes, the melodic chorus and wacky Moog synthesizer solo is enough to win a spot on this list.