10 Essential 1970s Progressive Rock Albums

The best work from the biggest decade.

Yes Close to the Edge

Progressive rock was never bigger than during its wild, psychedelic, rock opera-laden '70s run. Conquering the music world after a budding late '60s just below the surface, prog rock seemingly blended every form of rock and roll there was at the time. From there, artists took the genre and its extensions into the most surreal and bizarre directions possible.

The genre's birth is usually pinpointed on King Crimson's debut LP 'In the Court of the Crimson King'. The bizarre, borderline incomprehensible blend of jazz, acid rock and goodness knows what else was such a stark departure from anything before it that it inspired a wave of imitators. Many of those they influenced wound up taking the genre into even stranger directions, making it... progressive if you will.

While Pink Floyd are often labelled the epitome of '70s prog, at least on the popularity front, the decade is rich with a variety of eccentric and innovative acts. From high concept, long form, lyrical storytelling to frenetic and unpredictable instrumental interludes, listeners enjoyed a smorgasbord of once unthinkable thoughts and unknowable ideas at the time.

In the 2020s, prog rock, while not the biggest thing in the mainstream, has enjoyed a slight renaissance on a cult level with many of the greats enjoying a new wave of popularity. Look no further than these 10 masterpieces to understand why.

10. Pink Floyd - The Wall

"How can you eat your pudding if you don't eat your meat?!"

Pink Floyd closed out the '70s on yet another resounding high note with this iconic rock opera. 'The Wall' tells a dark beginning, middle and end tale of a disenchanted rock star who gradually flees from society. Inspired by a number of things including the curious tale of founding member Syd Barrett doing exactly that, the album was dismissed as overly high concept and self-indulgent at the time.

In the years since, its rebellious spirit, classic singles and neat showcasing of Roger Waters' political and societal lyrical interests have made it a classic. Coming in at over 80 minutes, 'The Wall' finds Pink Floyd at their most epic storytelling-wise, telling a complicated and troublesome tale most filmmakers would be envious of.

Musically, the LP is distinctive for its endless sound effects and the often conflicting musical structure of the songs. According to guitarist David Gilmour, the album marks the end of his being able to work cohesively with Waters at that point. The two often argued during sessions, particularly over the druggie anthem (even if Waters denies that being what the song was about) 'Comfortably Numb'. Lyrically, it's all Waters but it's more legendary for its epic guitar solos, a testament more to Gilmour's musicianship.

One of the best-selling albums of all time, 'The Wall' found Pink Floyd at their compelling and confusing best.


John Cunningham hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.