Desert Island Discs: Prog and Art Rock Edition

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King Crimson was the top vote-getter in Something Else! Reviews’ new prog rock-themed Desert Island Discs feature, with Yes just one vote behind. That includes votes for band members Adrian Belew and Rick Wakeman.

Crimson’s Red tied Yes’ Close to the Edge for total votes — though the 1972 release from Chris Squire and Co. earned one more first-place vote than did Red. Meanwhile, Pink Floyd received six overall nods, with two lists a piece that included Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, along with single votes for Ummagumma and Meddle. The Alan Parsons Project and Genesis also showed up on multiple ballots.

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Notice that we didn’t confine the question to just “prog rock,” so that bands like Rush, Soft Machine, Kansas — heck, even Miles Davis, Radiohead and the Beatles — might find their way into the conversation. After all, when you’re stuck on godforsaken ocean-surrounded rock after a shipwreck, arguing over the nuances of what “is” and “isn’t” progressive rock seems kinda pointless, right?

Now, presenting our Desert Island Prog Discs …


1. THE SOFT MACHINE – THIRD (1970): The Softs reach a pinnacle where the psychedelia of their beginnings is perfectly balanced with the jazz-rock of their later, post-Robert Wyatt period.
2. YES – CLOSE TO THE EDGE (1972): Dense and complex but incisive and lyrical, this is was an immensely talented band reaching its full potential. It could only go downhill from this summit.
3. KING CRIMSON – RED (1974): Their debut The Court of the Crimson King was more influential, but this is the one I keep coming back to.
4. PINK FLOYD – WISH YOU WERE HERE (1975): Nostalgic, biting, epic. Syd Barrett had by this time been absent from the band for long time, but he still managed to inspire their masterpiece.
5. ALAN PARSONS PROJECT – TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION (1976): Parsons records are uniformly well produced and engineered but aren’t nearly as adventurous musically as they were with the first two albums. The first one gets the nod for Arthur Brown’s perfectly cast theatrical vocal turn on “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

[ONE TRACK MIND: Henry McCullough discusses a series of legendary moments, from Wings’ “My Love” and “Live and Let Die,” to Pink Floyd’s “Money” and Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help.”]


1. PINK FLOYD – DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (1973): I saw Pink Floyd at the Hollywood Bowl and all I got was a lousy flashback. Luckily, though, I got the great gig in the starry sky on this great reminder of what I can’t remember.
2. PETER GABRIEL – PETER GABRIEL: MELT (1980): Paranoia without frontiers. Face-meltingly insidious and disquieting, “the sense of isolation inspires,” as Gabriel sings.
3. ROXY MUSIC – FOR YOUR PLEASURE (1972): World-weary Ferry, fighting vainly the old ennui and Eno, brings accessibility to the artistry.
4. YES – CLOSE TO THE EDGE (1972): Elaborate and earnest, Close doesn’t have a good beat and you can’t dance to it, but at least it’s not Tales from Topographic Oceans, in which they went over the edge.
5. KING CRIMSON – IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING (1969): A “21st Century Schizoid” band 43 years before the 21st century — now that’s progressive.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Longtime Yes frontman Jon Anderson stopped by for a SER Sitdown to explain how, yeah, mountains really did once come out of the sky.]


1. YES – FRAGILE (1972): In a way, this one album sums up prog-rock. From light to heavy, whimsical to dead serious, it is overall so indulgent and yet ridiculously fun.
2. KING CRIMSON – THRAK (1995): Melding jazz, metal, and Robert Fripp’s love of airy soundscapes to Beatles-esque song-writing, there really had never been anything quite like this before.
3. MARILLION – MARBLES (2004): The band regained their stature as a progressive group with this 90 minute epic that swung from catchy four minute pop songs to eighteen minute suites.
4. ADRIAN BELEW – E (2009): The best album King Crimson didn’t record since the late-’90s ProjeKcts.
5. STEVE WILSON – GRACE FOR DROWNING (2011): It seems early to call this one, but so all-encompassing is Grace that it’s easy to call it the pinnacle of Wilson’s career.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Longtime member Adrian Belew talks frankly about the future of King Crimson, saying founder “Robert Fripp may never want to do it again.”]


1. PROCOL HARUM – PROCOL HARUM (1967): Here’s what happens when kids weaned on classical music and poetry get bitten by the psychedelic bug. Not only do I consider Procol Harum the very first progressive rock album ever to be, but it also scores points as my all time favorite recording of the genre.
2. LOVE – FOREVER CHANGES (1968): Too lyrically and sonically challenging for public consumption, Forever Changes is something of a concept album.The band’s leader, Arthur Lee, who was equal parts enigmatic and charismatic, believed he was dying when he and his colleagues conceived the record, and such thoughts and concerns are subtly detailed throughout the proceedings.
3. URIAH HEEP – THE MAGICIANS BIRTHDAY (1972): Loathed by the press, one critic even threatened to commit suicide if Uriah Heep achieved stardom. Well, I don’t know if the writer made good on his promise, but Uriah Heep lived on and acquired lots of success.
4. BOSTON – BOSTON (1976): Progressive rock for a pop audience, Boston skillfully combined computerized technology with flesh and blood talent. Soaked to the cells with slick production, the futuristic sounding album certainly did foreshadow the direction music would soon take.
5. KING’S X – FAITH HOPE LOVE (1990): Although Faith Hope Love is easily King X’s most accessible album, an art-rock edge prevails. Complex structures, topped with shimmering psychedelic vocals and radical instrumentation provide the record with a nice balance of power and precision.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Long before Yes, Rick Wakeman was an ace studio musician. We examine his genius first-take contribution to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”]


1. YES – CLOSE TO THE EDGE (1972): Yes’s best album, complete with a superlative organ solo by Rick Wakeman on the title track and great guitar work by Steve Howe — especially on the beautiful introduction he shares with Wakeman on “And You and I.” Makes you wonder why the skinny axeman has never placed on lists of rock’s greatest guitarists.
2. THE BEATLES – SGT. PEPPER’s LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1967): Not prog in the classic sense but this landmark record was a valiant and mostly successful attempt at art-rock. What other term applies to “A Day In The Life,” one of The Beatles crowning achievements? George’s “Within You Without You” falls into the same category.
3. YES – THE YES ALBUM (1971): Even with Tony Kaye, Yes managed to concoct complex arrangements and rock out at the same time. “Yours Is No Disgrace” and “Starship Trooper” alone are so great that everything else is just a bonus.
4. RICK WAKEMAN – THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY THE VIII (1972): The artist’s impression of the personalities of Henry’s wives turned into six instrumental tracks. Minus lyrics it became the least pretentious and most accessible solo work the keyboard god ever put on vinyl. In the end, it’s just a showcase for his virtuosity.
5. 10CC – ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (1975): This is their most popular LP. They still make parody a centerpiece of their lyrical content, but on this release they were able to rein those excesses and give us laugh while continuing to take themselves so seriously.

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1. KANSAS – LEFTOVERTURE (1976): I found this busted cassette in a parking lot beside the baseball field freshman year. After the first listen, I wasn’t sure if I should ponder in amazement, or laugh hysterically. The hard-driving instrumentals mixed with piercing vocals were unlike anything from that era I’d heard.
2. ELO – OUT OF THE BLUE (1977): The late ’70s seem to be a time of absolutely awesome album art and ELO’s were all out of this world. Still, to this day when I hear Jeff Lynn soar through “Mr. Blue Sky,” I feel like passenger on the ELO Enterprise.
3. MILES DAVIS – IN A SILENT WAY (1969): Not like anything Davis ever produced before or after its release, In a Silent Way was a trip into another dimension of jazz. It was peaceful and never raised its voice the entire album, yet it was the first stages of Davis’ electric era. This record is way out there in the outer orbits, somewhere where rock and jazz can mesh together to create rhythm and blues.
4. MUSE – BLACK HOLES AND REVELATIONS (2006): This album awakens the inner Carl Sagan that lives in all of us. In typical Bellamy style, rangy crescendos flow through both the gloomy and luminous tracks. All the tunes lead to a tipping point of energy only captured in modern music by Muse.
5. PINK FLOYD – MEDDLE (1971): This album was a glimpse of what was to come out of the band on many levels. On “Echoes,” Waters described the ability human beings have for recognizing each other’s humanity and responding to it. That same subject was the principle theme I took from the band’s Iliad, Dark Side of the Moon.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Former King Crimson member John Wetton talks about why ‘Red’ still resonates, and why the band’s newer explorations don’t connect with him as much.]


1. YES – THE YES ALBUM (1970): The first Yes album to feature Steve Howe still works as a valedictory. More than simply setting the stage for subsequent breakout releases like 1971’s Fragile and ’72’s Close to the Edge, this set established every parameter that the band would one day inhabit: Sweeping, a little dippy, classical and kinda funky. There may, in fact, be no better Yes document than “Starship Trooper.” All that’s missing, alas, is the Roger Dean artwork.
2. PINK FLOYD – WISH YOU WERE HERE (1975): When we started this Desert Island Disc series, I vowed to never repeat an entry. But, as much as I like Meddle and Dark Side, I simply can’t put forth a list of prog favorites without this — the proggiest, most musically and thematically complete effort Pink Floyd ever managed. (More praises here.)
3. KING CRIMSON – RED (1974): This is, it’s clear now, the culmination of everything that Robert Fripp was trying for on both ends of the band’s spectrum — featuring, as it does, both the classical-rock fusion of the band’s debut and the math-rock heaviness of later efforts like Discipline. Crimson got it perfectly in balance here.
4. GENESIS – TRICK OF THE TAIL (1976): Truth is, there are better Genesis albums from the Peter Gabriel era, and certainly better selling ones from later in the Phil Collins era. But there’s something about this one, as the band is finding its way in the immediate aftermath of Gabriel’s departure. There’s an innocence, an honesty, that remains so deeply charming — in particular when you know what’s coming in the next decade.
5. RUSH – 2112 (1976): If for no other reason than the titanic 20-minute what-if-they-banned-music themed title track. I’m not sure — even now — that this seven-part concept-suite (with its crazy-good instrumental interludes, crazy-ass screeching and sometimes plain-crazy Neil Peart theme) isn’t the best thing Rush ever did.


1. KING CRIMSON – IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING (1969): Believe it or not, a friend of mine from Spain first brought this album and Epitaph to my attention not too long ago, but I’m hooked! I’m mean really hooked. Simply put, as my friend Roberto would say, this album is “deep.”
2. GENESIS – THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY (1974): You might disagree, but I think this album is about Rael (the main character) trying to find his other half (of himself). It’s a message maybe all too true to some — always searching, searching for that missing piece that will make things complete … something we can only find within ourselves.
3. PINK FLOYD – DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (1973): I remember like it was yesterday listening to this album for the first time with my friends after high school band practice. I didn’t completely get it then, I don’t now, and maybe never will — but I can’t stop listening to it.
4. RADIOHEAD – KID A (2000): As much as I like OK Computer and their latest album King of Lambs, “Everything in its right place” is tops for me and I simply wouldn’t be able to do without it.
5. YES – CLOSE TO THE EDGE (1972): So this makes it official: all five albums on my list are of bands from England. I also wish a music theorist can explain to me why it is that when I listen to this album, I seem to get this transcending, floating feeling as if I were in space.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett talks about key contributions to the band, the short-lived supergroup GTR – and how he created the move that made Eddie Van Halen famous.]


GENESIS – SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973): This was Genesis at their creative peak. And anyone who claims that prog-rock is all about technique at the expense of emotion hasn’t heard “Firth of Fifth.”
ALAN PARSONS PROJECT – EVE (1979): Brilliantly executed at every turn. As a concept album it doesn’t get much better than this masterpiece.
STARCASTLE – STARCASTLE (1976): Often derided as a cheap American Yes knock-off, these guys came onto the scene just when Yes was hitting a bit of a creative nadir. They were better at sounding like Yes in the mid-seventies than Yes was. Their debut is brilliant.
KING CRIMSON – RED (1974): I’m not a big KC fan. My interest in them is limited to their two Greg Lake and three John Wetton albums. But of those albums, Red was in my opinion their best and the one I go back to the most often.
DREAM THEATER – IMAGES AND WORDS (1992): Between Kevin Moore’s brilliant songwriting, the introduction of then new lead vocalist James LaBrie, or the overall musicianship of this great band Images and Words is a beautiful tapestry that weaves together brilliant and stirring melody with hard driving heavy metal.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: We celebrated Pink Floyd’s massive 2011 reissue project by returning to key tracks from throughout the band’s legendarily spacey career.]


PINK FLOYD – UMMAGUMMA (1969): A weird hybrid album, with one disc live and one in the studio, Ummagumma showed off the Floyd’s rock power — the scary “Careful With That Axe Eugene” — as well as their penchant for the bizarre.
TANGERINE DREAM – PHAEDRA (1974): Early recordings by this group are a wide and deep treasury of analog synths and reverb-drenched electric guitar, put together to build endlessly spooky sound architectures. You’ll hear something new every time.
KING CRIMSON – RED (1974): With touches of their Crimson King past and tiny hints of their modernistic future, this is a relentless album, built with equal parts beauty and brutality.
KING CRIMSON – DISCIPLINE (1981): Fripp puts together a new version of the band, a sort of rock gamelon that played with frightening precision and power.
EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER – TARKUS (1971): Critics loved to dump on art rock for its tendency for supposed wretched excess. ELP were the masters of wretched excess. As our own Tom Johnson once said: “And Tarkus! I love the Tarkus suite. How can you not love a story about an armadillo tank?”

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