Creating this list was difficult. How would I narrow down the nearly 1,000 albums I own(a small collection compared to many) to a mere 1/10% of the whole to arrive at “The Ten Albums That Changed My Life”? Some titles came to mind immediately, but I have many favorite bands whose entire catalog I own & love dearly in one way or another; so I decided I must limit each of these bands to only one selection. Furthermore, I had to consider not only which albums I enjoy the most, but which actually had a specific, consistently measurable impact on my life &/or development as a musician over the past decades. These were very personal decisions & I suspect while some may agree with a few of my choices, just as many will be outraged that many classics have gone unrecognized. Believe me, I recognize, enjoy, & respect all of the classics, but these are the albums that influenced me the most.
#10. Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age of Wireless 1982 Now this may seem like an odd choice for a prog rock musician with its admittedly over-radioed cheesy opener, “She Blinded Me With Science”, but following that is an album of great melodies, moods, awesome analog synth sounds, & being pre-midi had a hand-played character that avoided the robotic ’80s music that was soon to follow. As an aspiring keyboardist it taught me that, yes, one guy can make a human-sounding musical album using primarily synthesizers.
#9. Bob Marley – Legend 1984 Perhaps another strange choice for a prog rock guy, but this greatest hits compilation introduced me to songs which I had only heard in passing or performed with all of the reggae soul removed(I’m looking at you, E.C.). Every song has a memorable melody, impeccable feel, & a perfect arrangement with interesting percussion sounds, too. Most significantly it taught me that the beat is not limited to being accented on 2 & 4 as in most every rock song, but the bass drum & snare rim can fulfill this role by hitting hard on three: the basis of “roots” style reggae. I went on to collect every one of his albums(well over a dozen) & I’m still not a Rastafarian, mon!
#8. Gentle Giant – The Power and The Glory 1974 I found this album abandoned in our basement by my college-bound older brothers when I was around 12. Desperate for music with keyboards in it I played my first GG album. Unknown to me this album was released at their tipping point from really unusual “medieval minstrel prog” towards a slightly more accessible yet still very prog sound in an attempt to “gently” expand their audience. I was drawn in by its beauty mixed with a combination of instruments often venturing well-outside the norm such as cello, violin, recorders, unidentifiable plucked instruments, etc. They combined many creative elements, time signatures, & organized chaos in which each musician played a part that when combined with the others’ produced a great machine of counterpoint & counter-rhythms. My all-time favorite GG track is the studio version of “Cogs In Cogs” from this album which demonstrates this perfectly.
#7. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin 1969 Commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin I, the first, & perhaps greatest, album of their career. Anyone who wasn’t immediately blown away upon first hearing the raw, bluesy, hard rock power of this album was likely either deaf or passed out on God-knows-what. I grew up hearing these songs on vinyl & radio from my infancy. They will live on as immortal classics that continue to inspire young rock musicians today, well over forty years hence.
#6. Ozzy Osbourne – Diary of a Madman 1981 The second of only two studio albums with Ozzy to feature the late guitarist, Randy Rhoads during his tragically short career(the other being Blizzard of Ozz, 1980). Released four months before his death & worked-on obsessively to perfection by the classically-trained Rhoads, it is very much a prog concept album. It flows from start to finish as if one complete work with all-out rock numbers, ballads, & lengthy classically-based workouts by Rhoads blended into a hard rock masterpiece. If you can put aside whatever preconceived notions you may have about Ozzy & the controversy surrounding him at the time, you will experience a hard-hitting, yet supremely creative work of Rhoads’ genius. It was, to a degree, the soundtrack of my teen years. (Rhoads also played on the first two Quiet Riot albums from ’77 & ’78.)
#5. Marillion – Misplaced Childhood 1985 The third of only four studio albums to include their original lead singer “Fish“, this album is a truly inspired work literally mapped-out on a schoolroom chalkboard with input from all the members & it shows in the end result: a moody concept album full of twists & turns in one continuous, unified stream of great, creative songs. Powerful vocals, wonderful keys, ethereal guitar solos, & their great rhythm section make this the pinnacle of their career. An album whose feel mirrored the emotions of my late teen years. 1987’s rival Clutching at Straws was another huge influence in which I still take solace.
#4. Yes – Close to the Edge 1972 This groundbreaking full-length album contained only three songs with side one occupied entirely by the title track at nearly 19-minutes thus breaking all the rules. This was the first time I heard Minimoog synthesizers played by Rick Wakeman & I thought it was absolutely the coolest sound I’d ever heard. Not only that, but in addition to Keith Emerson of ELP, Wakeman made it cool to be a keyboard player with his sequined cape, long blonde hair, amazing playing, & surrounded by a big circle of keyboards sometimes with mirrored, flexible mylar-like material behind him so you could see what his hands were doing. No longer was the keyboardist stuck in the background merely in a supporting role; now he could be a star, too! This was very inspiring to me as a young keyboardist. Few, if any, have equaled his flashiness since.
#3. Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow 1976 Lead singer of Yes, Jon Anderson, made this album during a time when the band had temporarily divided to work on various solo projects. This obscure album ranks so high on my list because every time I put it on I become inspired in the first three minutes to go in the studio & work on music. No other album has this effect on me & I admit it’s a bit of a magical phenomenon. It’s an unusual album. If you’re thinking it’ll sound like Yes, you’ll be disappointed as was everyone who purchased it with that expectation. However, if you sit back & let the music unfold you’ll be treated to the most exotic, organic musical soundscape. Parts are overdubbed into oblivion yet somehow you can still make out all of the individual sounds, musical & rhythmic, keyboards, hand percussion, & plucked instruments all in a symphony of stacked countermelodies & rhythms as it plays out the story of “Olias” who builds a spaceship powered by rhythm & constructed of “the skin of the fish of the plains”. The vocals don’t spell this out very clearly & are also often equally overdubbed seemingly infinitely into huge choirs of Jon. …And yes, he was rumored to have been doing large amounts of LSD at the time, but it’s hard to argue with his results.
#2. Rush – Permanent Waves 1980 This album falls roughly in the middle of Rush’s catalog & represents the turning point where they were using just the right balance of synthesizers versus guitars prior to bassist/singer/keyboardist Geddy Lee’s mid-eighties infatuation with all things new & high tech to the occasional chagrin of guitarist Alex Lifeson. The album bursts with the life & enthusiasm of the band members. Though not a long album(around 36:00 I believe), its six songs are all wondrously concise creations & most have remained consistent staples & fan favorites of their live set throughout decades of touring. There’s excitement, adrenalin, beauty, & ominous mini epics. The mix is uncluttered featuring only fabulous instrument tones. While Moving Pictures is an extremely close rival, for some reason Permanent Waves won out on this list.
#1. Genesis – Foxtrot 1972 This album epitomizes the most enthusiastic & dramatic of Genesis’ “Peter Gabriel” era. The raw power of both the band & PG’s vocals contrasted with some lighter material make this my favorite album of all time & an example to strive for. Like Yes’s Close to the Edge, also released in ’72, it features a song which occupies an entire album side, “Supper’s Ready”. This song stands as perhaps the greatest prog rock epic ever written. It moves through several sections of varying moods finally climaxing in an unequaled display of anticipation & power. I’m pretty sure that, on my death bed, I’d like this album to be the last thing I hear.
P.S. Feel free to leave a comment about any albums which had a big influence on your life &/or musical development!