Six prog rock albums that deserve more love

Prog rock is not for everyone, but if you are looking to get into the subgenre, here are six albums to start your journey.
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa / Gie Knaeps/GettyImages

They say that complexity is the key thing with progressive, or prog rock, so defining it, might be a simple thing. Maybe, probably not, but what surely turns out to be a problem is what music would classify as prog rock.

Usually, most fans would consider bands like Yes, Rush, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, and quite a few others as prime examples of prog rock, with their key offerings coming from the early to mid-seventies, what is currently considered the prime prog rock era.

Yet, some of the key, and often underrated albums that would certainly fall within prog rock came in the late sixties (some call that proto-prog), in many ways defining the genre (or sub-genre, if you will) as such. Even some albums by big prog names like King Crimson and Pink Floyd seem to be under-favored, even though they deserve a much higher place in the prog-rock canon.

Six prog rock album worth a listen

The United States of America - The United States of America (1968)

Coming in the smack dab middle of psychedelia, this sole album by The United States of America through time turned out to be much more than just your average psych. Led by composer and keyboardist Joseph Byrd, the band was more into the complexity of avant-garde classical music than anything that came out of the garage.

Relying on theatrical ideas and parody, the album hit all the right notes and gained a solid cult following, but never received its right place in the prog rock pantheon.

Mothers of Invention - Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1969)

Considered the last Mothers of Invention album proper, Burnt Weeny Sandwich initially seemed just as a patched-up kaleidoscope of Mothers material that Zappa didn’t want to go to waste.

Yet, when you go deeper into the album, it just shows what was already becoming evident - that there wasn’t a musical genre and/or subgenre that Frank Zappa didn’t delve into, with or without his Mothers of Invention. That material Zappa wanted to save turned out to be so good that it previewed so many prog-rock elements that other artists were yet to discover.

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester - Farewell Aldebaran (1969)

To many, a combination of a very promising folk singer with a great voice (Henske) and a former Lovin’ Spoonful member (Yester) didn’t sound like a combination of which prog rock dreams were made of.

Still, listening to this sole album by the duo you realize that it possesses one of the key prog rock qualities eclecticism. You’ve got everything here from prog folk to avant-pop and anything eccentric the duo could think of. It turned out to be one of the most under-sold albums at the time that later got a very solid cult following.

Captain Beefheart - Lick My Decals Off Baby (1970)

Prog rock was considered "out there" music at the time, but if there ever was an "out there" artist working off and on within the idiom it was Captain Beefheart.

Coming on the heels of the undeniable classic, Trout Mask Replica, this album continued avant-garde explorations, but with more rock elements (loosely taken) and even more detailed musicianship. Yet its strangeness never gave it the recognition the album deserved.

King Crimson - Lizard (1970)

While this (third) album in Robert Fripp’s King Crimson epic (and still continuing) discography was an excellent mix of all the musical elements Fripp and his cohorts ever included, it somehow always remained in the shadows of its two predecessors and a rapid series of complex albums that came after it.

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It was considered by many fans as ‘too pastoral’  possibly due to its calmer moments based on the folk strand present in the music. Yet, even Fripp himself started giving this album a much higher rating decades after its release.

Pink Floyd -  Obscure By Clouds (1972)

Dismissed by many critics at the time as “just another Pink Floyd film soundtrack” (a film soundtrack), only repeated listenings reveal all the complexity and detail of the music included here. At the same time, and in many ways it brings along musical ideas the band were to develop in their most renowned albums that were to come after it Dark Side of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, and other  Floyd mega albums.

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