10 Great Art Rock Bands

Art rock, progressive rock, we consider them the same here. For creating a zillion subgenres is for people who like to file records not listen to them. I’ve left off all the German bands, because they deserve a list of their own and may, in fact, have already received one. However, my battered brain can’t remember.

So, basically, here are 10 bands, many that sound better than they did the first time around. This may be because their music was recorded on better — i.e., more expensive — equipment than today’s. Or maybe because each band back then only released the best material they were then working on and not every extra scrap.

While rock historians like to jump over the whole messy topic of “prog rock” and only assign kudos to deep thinkers such as Robert Fripp’s King Crimson and then go on their merry way singing the praises of punk, it’s time to stop skipping over complete subsects.

Time has taught us that all music can exist withoutaffecting the fortune of another. Surely, the Clash benefitted from the excesses of the prog movement more than any band has benefitted from the excesses of the punk era. If this is wrong, please let me know. But I don’t remember any bands coming out as a “reaction” to the endless waves of hardcore bands that based their anger and politics on punk rock. Unless, of course, emo bands were a reaction to something other than reality’s assault on the womb.

What I’m saying is this: Listening to this music for the heck of it, with no agenda and just a set of headphones, there are moments worth digging. Will it change your life? Maybe. As music it holds up far better than endless guys and gals digging over the same old ground of classic rock / punk rock / heavy metal / hip-hop / and lots of other genres that people deem cooler.

And, yes, some of this stuff is plenty silly. But so is most rock music. “Be-Bop-a-Lula” was hilarious!

10. ELP

OK, I’m listening to Tarkus and it’s not nearly as funny as its album cover, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be better than when I get to Love Beach.

9. Yes

Listening to “Yesterday and Today” off their first album and “Looking Around” as well, I’m pretty happy with guitarist Peter Banks and drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Chris Squire. Singer Jon Anderson is still what we call “a bit much,” but if you count up the amount of time spent on instrumental breaks in this music vs. the time spent singing, it’s a winning equation.

8. Supertramp

First one to make it through the entirety of Even in the Quietest Moments is a winner!

7. Camel

Another fine band from the Canterbury scene that included Peter Bardens, who was in the Irish rock group Them with Van Morrison for a brief fling and also the Village with Peter Green. Camel recorded a number of albums throughout the decades that show a band completely disinterested in whatever was going on at the time. Also, a highly successful brand of cigarette.

6. Genesis

There is a popular rule that anything with Peter Gabriel in it is likely to be tolerable on many levels. With Collins on drums and away from total control, the band manages to play music that doesn’t make you wish to shoot your stereo. The jury in my head is still out on this one.

5. The Nice

1967’s The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack is considered by some to be the first progressive rock album. But that may be because the band featured keyboardist Keith Emerson. Or because they do some pretty crazy things when they’re not playing it street tough. Just listening to “Rondo” will make you about 10 pounds lighter. Much moreeffective than the Bender Ball, by my estimation.

4. Jethro Tull

So many insults get hurled Jethro Tull’s way, since Ian Anderson is a serious bloke. But Thick as a Brick sounds pretty good to me when it isn’t selling cars. This Way, Stand Up, and Benefit are certainly more interesting than many sludge and blues bands of the period. Put it on a sticker: “Better Than Canned Heat.”

3. King Crimson

"21st Century Schizoid Man" still makes me go spastic, but the band had many different incarnations to decipher. I am partial to the Red period. I do not know what this makes me. Wrong?

2. Soft Machine

As someone who’s been enjoying Third quite a bit in recent times, I’m almost ready to go back to their head-spinning second record and see if my head isn’t dizzy by album’s end. Canterbury, U.K. must be one weird spot on the map. I assume their gravity is different.

1. Pink Floyd

The art-rock, prog-rock band everyone on earth is familiar with, which just released its first album in 20 years, is also a band worthy of the crown. Personal preferences can lead you to more obscure groups, but it’s hard to deny the crazy allure of Atom Heart Mother, an album that is filled with beautiful mistakes. Dark Side of the Moon may have worn out its welcome, but Ummagumma, Meddle, Obscured By Clouds, Wish You Were Here, and Animals still sound quite fine. Then, of course, there was the Syd Barrett era as well. (And I even like The Final Cut, which is not prog/art rock, but something else!)