Lists. They come in a variety of lengths: the top or best 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 20, 25, 50, 99, 100, 101, 200, 500, 1000… I find a list of 100 is comfortable. There’ll be more than you know or can remember but it’s not unrealistic to visit, see, do, read, or buy everything on a list of 100. Twenty-five is certainly easier to handle though and you might even remember almost everything on a list of 25 after the first couple of look-overs.
Lists can be very useful for introducing you to something you already know a little about, and a best of or top list may be a great way to begin exploring. I often refer to the Prog Archives Top 100 list to see how my progressive rock collection is coming along. It’s a good reference list. It occurred to me though that this list is not the definitive list and I went searching for other lists of prog’s top 100 albums to see what were the similarities and differences. The first list I found was comprised of mostly albums and artists I had never heard of before, which reminded me that when some people make a personal list it is partly to introduce their taste in music to others and partly to show off how much obscure music they have in their collections.
I found a few more lists and then wondered if I could make a Top 100 albums of Prog list based on the average rank of each album that appeared on all the lists together. This would mean a lot of work, and I shortened it down to 25 albums. I looked over seven lists and wrote down all the albums that were cited often enough to be considered contenders for a Top 25 Prog Albums of all time. From 44 albums, I selected only those that appeared on at least five of the seven lists. This became important as one list ignored Pink Floyd altogether while other lists frequently put their albums at the top. How was I going to calculate a non-existing rank? So, I picked the five highest rankings. Interestingly, only around 20 albums were actually included on at least five of the lists. Furthermore, many of those albums were somewhere in the top 60 to 30 most often. After choosing only the albums that could likely get an average rank of 25 or higher, I ended up with only 17 albums. Of these, I added their five best ranks (or in some cases there were only five) and divided the sum by five to find the average rank of each album. Here are the results:
In the Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson – average rank, 2.8
Close to the Edge, Yes – average rank, 2.8
Selling England by the Pound, Genesis – 3.4
Thick as a Brick, Jethro Tull – 3.8
Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd – 5.2
Foxtrot, Genesis – 9.6
Red, King Crimson – 11.4
Animals, Pink Floyd – 12.2
Fragile, Yes – 12.4
Moving Pictures, Rush – 13.4
Pawn Hearts, Van Der Graaf Generator – 15.8
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, King Crimson – 16.8
Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd – 18.6
Nursery Cryme, Genesis – 22.8
Godbluff, Van Der Graaf Generator – 23.8
Aqualung, Jethro Tull – 25.6
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Genesis – 26
Note that Aqualung and The Lamb Lies Down… actually received an average ranking of slightly lower than 25. Thus the first 15 albums listed above are the 15 that most frequently appeared near the top of the Top 100’s and Best 100’s. All other albums on those lists were not ranked high consistently enough to earn an average of 25 or above. Some albums like Anglagard’s Hybris or Harmonium’s Si on avait besion d’une cinquieme saison were included in the top 20 of three or four lists, but completely omitted from others. In the case of Aqualung, it was ranked number 2 on one list but 90 on another list (this figure was not added in the equation as the best five rankings were above 90). There were also several well-known albums like Rush’s A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres or albums by Gentle Giant, Camel, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, and Premiata Forneria Marconi which appeared consistently on most lists but again, scoring lower than 25 most of the time.
You will perhaps notice that all the albums listed above were recorded and released between 1969 and 1981. There are many great progressive rock albums that have been released in the last 20 years or so (Tool’s Lateralus, Dream Theater’s Images and Words, Opeth’s Still Life to name a few of the often cited ones) which were frequently found on top 100 lists but nearly always further down the ranks.
So there you have it – the 15 most commonly included albums in the best 100 of prog.
And here are the seven lists I consulted.