Top 10 Progressive Rock Bands In Classic Rock History (1965-1985)

Progressive Rock Bands

Photo: By Rik Walton [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Our top 10 Progressive Rock Bands In Classic Rock History list became one of the most difficult lists we ever had to compose. There are so many great Progressive Rock Bands in Classic Rock History that it almost felt like a crime to leave so many great groups off the list. We also decided to center our work on the Classic Rock Era of the 1960’s to mid 1980’s period. So bands like Dream Theater who we love, would not quality for the list. There are some fine lines in defining certain Progressive Rock Bands. Some bands like Yes and King Crimson are easy to define as Progressive Rock. Others like Rush and Jethro Tull run a fine line between Progressive Rock and basic Classic Rock. However when you release albums in which an LP side is dedicated to one large work or suite like “2112,” (Rush) or “Thick as a Brick,” (Jethro Tull) there seems to be no argument over their Progressive Rock classification.

There are also bands like Electric Light Orchestra that did not make the list who have displayed a true progressiveness in their music. However, most of Electric Light Orchestra’s catalog centered around the three to five minute pop songs inspired heavily by The BeatlesElectric Light Orchestra is perhaps in a category of their own. We also limited this list to bands, so an artist like Frank Zappa who is probably the most progressive artist in rock history would be saved for our top 10 Progressive solo artist list.

Defining the genre of Progressive Rock Music is an article in its own right. However, for those younger rock fans who may not be sure what the term Progressive Rock actually details, we will try to sum it up in simple terms.

“Progressive Rock combines the soulfulness, spirit and power of rock and roll, with the substance, technique and brilliance of classical music and jazz to formulate a musical work both stimulating, entertaining and highly rewarding for both the listener and performing artist.”

Brian Kachejian  

Top 10 Progressive Rock Bands In Classic Rock History

# 10 – Hawkwind

Hawkwind was a band that hailed from England.There music was often referred to as Space Rock which is categorized as a sub genre of Progressive Rock. The group has released thirty studio albums from 1970 to 2017. The group like most bands that have been together for close to fifty years, has gone through numerous lineup changes. The bands most famous member was Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister who left the group and went on to form Motorhead. While Hawkwind may have never been a household name in the United States to fans outside of the Progressive Rock Genre, they were and still are one of Europe’s most famous bands.

Selected Discography:

Hawkwind (1970)

Space Ritual  (1973)

Warrior on the Edge of Time (1975)

he Xenon Codex (1988)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

Silver Machine

Assault and Battery / Golden Void

Sword of the East

# 9 – Renaissance

Renaissance is probably the least known progressive rock band on this list. However fans of progressive rock music who grew up in the 1970’s are well aware of this great band. The majority of the band’s music was released between 1969 and 1983. Their music utilized virtuoso performances centered around the lead vocals of Annie Haslam and piano playing of John Tout. Renaissance was a pioneering band in their use of symphony orchestras in their music and recordings.

Selected Discography:

Ashes Are Burning (1973)

Turn of the Cards (1974)

Scheherazade and Other Stories (1975)

A Song For All Seasons (1978)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

“Carpet of the Sun”

“Mother Russia”

“Northern Lights”

“Song Of Scheherazade”

# 8 – Genesis (Peter Gabriel Era)

There are two bands in rock and roll history that are defined by two different time periods due to their change in their lead vocalist and chief songwriting partner. Van Halen’s switch to Sammy Hagar after the David Lee Roth era resulted in a dramatic change in the personality and musical compositions that Van Halen released between the two periods. Even more dramatic than the Van Halen personal change was the Genesis evolution that happened 10 years earlier. Most Genesis fans would not call it an evolution as the ones who loved the progressive rock sound of the Peter Gabriel era were never satisfied with the popular music direction the band turned to when Phil Collins took over the lead vocal position.

The Peter Gabriel Era Genesis released some of the finest progressive rock music issued during the 1970’s. They were an easy choice for this Top 10  Progressive Rock Bands In Classic Rock History list.

Selected Discography:

Foxtrot (1972)

Selling England by the Pound (1973)

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

A Trick of the Tail (1976) Post Peter Gabriel Era, but incredible album.

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

“The Knife”

“Watcher Of The Skies”

“The Musical Box”

“The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

# 7 – Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull released their first album in 1968. From that point in time, Jethro Tull became one of the most respected bands in rock and roll. You just didn’t mess with Ian Anderson. The band under Ian Anderson’s direction recorded and released music on a continuous basis throughout out the entire  decade of the nineteen seventies. Ten years equaled ten amazing albums that formed the core catalog of the Jethro Tull progressive rock era. There were some great records also released in the 80’s 90’s and 2000’s but their signature sound was defined in the seventies.

Selected Discography:

Aqualung (1971)

Thick as a Brick (1972)

War Child (1974)

Minstrel in the Gallery (1975)

Songs from the Wood (1977)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:


“Locomotive Breath”

“Thick as a Brick”

“War Child”

# 6 – Rush

Unlike most of history’s legendary progressive rock bands, the band Rush never had a particular glory period that outlined all their other periods. Rush has continually recorded and released great albums throughout their entire career. The coming of age period in the mid 1970’s is often refereed to as their peak, but that’s nonsense. The band just kept getting better and better. Rush has released nineteen studio albums from 1974 when they released their first record entitled Rush to 2012 when they issued Clockwork Angels. The band has also released eleven live recordings.

Selected Discography:

2112 (1976)

A Farewell To Kings (1977)

Permanent Waves (1980)

Moving Pictures (1981)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

“2112 (Suite)”


“The Big Money”

“Tom Sawyer”

# 5 – King Crimson

The iconic band King Crimson was easily one of the most influential bands to come out of the progressive rock era. The bands first album entitled In the Court of the Crimson King was released in 1969. Over the next few years from 1970 to 1974 , the band released five fabulous albums that helped define the concepts of progressive music. The band released a handful of albums in the 1980’s, one in the 90s’ and a pair in the 2000’s. However, it was their 1969 to 1974 period that defined them as one of the Top 10 Progressive Rock Bands In Classic Rock History

Selected Discography:

In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)

In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)

Lizard (1970)

Islands (1971)

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973)

Starless and Bible Black (1974)

Red (1974)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

“The Court of the Crimson King”

“Cat Food”

“21st Century Schizoid Man”

# 4 – Emerson Lake & Palmer

Emerson Lake & Palmer gave new meaning to the phrase power trio. There have been many great keyboard players in rock and roll history, but it may be safe to say that Keith Emerson was the best. The amazing trio of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer released their first album entitled Emerson Lake & Palmer in 1970. The group dd not release as many studio albums as most bands on this progressive rock music list, but the music they did release was immeasurable in its contribution to classic rock history.

Selected Discography”

Emerson Lake & Palmer (1970)

Tarkus (1971)

Trilogy (1972)

Brain Salad Surgery (1973)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

“Lucky Man”

“From The Beginning”

“Karn Evil 9”

“Fanfare for the Common Man”

 # 3 – The Moody Blues

The sound of The Moody Blues was distinctively different from all the other progressive rock bands of the classic rock era. If there was any band they could be compared to, it would be Renaissance. Both bands utilized more of a symphonic sound to their arrangements than bands like Genesis or ELP. The sound of The Moody Blues was also shaped by the use of the Mellotron. The Moody Blues released their first album in 1965 entitled The Magnificent Moodies. Two years later in 1967, the legendary Days of Future Past album was released. From that pint on The Moody Blues released fourteen more studio albums, six live albums, twenty four compilation albums and thirty six singles.

Selected Discography:

Days of Future Passed (1967)

On the Threshold of a Dream (1969)

A Question of Balance (1970)

Long Distance Voyager (1981)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

“Nights in White Satin”

“Tuesday Afternoon”

“Ride My See-Saw”


 # 2 – Pink Floyd

It almost seems silly to write anything about Pink Floyd, because its, well Pink Floyd.The musical act Pink Floyd is the one progressive rock band from the nineteen seventies that has connected with just about every generation of rock fans since the band’s debut. The is no doubt about the greatness and substance of the band’s music, but as to why every generation is turned on by the band is not that easy to explain. We would assume that the popularity of the imagery of Dark Side of The Moon that continues to be embroidered on t-shirts, hats, jackets, posters, tattoos and all other sorts of merchandise may attract the interest of younger people. However, that’ just a guess.

The simple fact is that Pink Floyd released some of the most mind-blowing, entertaining and innovative records of the 1970’s. The band’s image like Led Zeppelin were bigger than life, almost God like. That’s what defined the ultimate rock stars of the 1970’s.

Selected Discography:

Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

Wish You Were Here (1975)

Animals (1977)

The Wall (1980)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:



“Us and Them”

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”


# 1 – Yes

If we had to choose one band that defined the concept of 1970’s progressive rock, our choice would be easy. The band Yes wins hand down. The story of Yes describes the development of progressive rock. Many bands like Yes that became progressive rock bands released debut albums that were heavily inspired by the British Invasion of the 1960’s. Band like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were obvious influences on progressive rock bands. The first Yes album actually contained a cover of The Beatles’ song “Every Little Thing.” The album also contained a cover of The Byrds “I see You.”  When the first Yes album was released in 1969, a jazz artist by the name of Dick Hyman had a top 40 hit entitled “The Minotaur.” The song made use of a new instrument called the Moog Synthesizer that had only been around for a couple of years. The combination of the British Invasion and new synthesizer technology seemed to heavily influence bands like Yes to take their music to another level of composition and playing.

After the bands’ debut album, they came roaring back with Time and A Word album which began to display the progressiveness that would define the band for the rest of their career.


Selected Discography:

Yes (1969)

Time and a Word (1970)

The Yes Album (1971)

Fragile (1971)

Close to the Edge (1972)

Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973)

Relayer (1974)

Going for the One (1977)

Selected Songs or Musical Pieces:

“Yours is no Disgrace”


“Close To The Edge”

“And You and I”

Updated Nov 7, 2020


Be the first to know when a new article is published

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

One Response

  1. Avatar Ronan O’Callaghan March 14, 2018

Add Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Rock Songs About Peace
10 Most Passionate Rock Songs About Peace
Mott The Hoople Songs
Top 10 Mott The Hoople Songs
Bad Company's Best Songs
Bad Company’s Best Song On Each Of Their Studio Albums
Nancy Sinatra Songs
Top 10 Nancy Sinatra Songs
10 Best Final Albums Released By Classic Rock Artists
Our 10 Favorite Final Albums Released By Classic Rock Artists
Top 10 Southern Rock Live Albums Of All Time
Top 10 Southern Rock Live Albums Of All Time
Grateful Dead Albums
Top 10 Grateful Dead Albums
Seven Killer Metal Albums
Seven Killer Metal Albums You May Have Never Heard
R.E.M. Performs In Public For First Time In 15 Years
Eagles at the Sphere
Eagles Announce Residency at Sphere in Las Vegas For Fall 2024
Trying To Make Sense Of David Lee Roth's Cover Of 867-5309/Jenny
Trying To Make Sense Of David Lee Roth’s Cover Of 867-5309/Jenny
The Rolling Stones At Metlife Stadium 2024
The Rolling Stones 24 Tour Rocks MetLife Stadium Review 5-23-24
Kiko Loureiro Interview
Kiko Loureiro, formerly of Megadeth & Angra: 10 Albums That Changed My Life
Gilby Clarke, formerly of Guns N' Roses: 10 Records That Changed My Life
Gilby Clarke, formerly of Guns N’ Roses: 10 Records That Changed My Life
Dave Davies of The Kinks Interview
Dave Davies of The Kinks: The Interview
Tommy Bolan of Warlock & Doro: 15 Albums That Changed My Life
Tommy Bolan of Warlock & Doro: 15 Albums That Changed My Life
Garbage Albums
Complete List Of Garbage Albums And Songs
Kate Bush Albums
Complete List Of Kate Bush Albums And Songs
Dead Boys Albums
Complete List Of The Dead Boys Albums And Songs
10cc Albums
Complete List Of 10cc Albums And Songs
9 Bands That Never Replaced Departed Members
Music CDs Comeback
Why Music CDs Have No Chance Of Making A Comeback
Classic Rock Bands Still Together But Overdue For A New Album
Classic Rock Bands Still Together But Overdue For A New Album
When Glam Bands Went Grunge In The 1990s
When Glam Bands Went Grunge In The 1990s
Billy Idol Rebel Yell 40th Anniversary Vinyl Review
Taylor Swift Albums And Discography
Complete List Of Taylor Swift Albums And Discography
Carly Simon Hotcakes Album Review
Carly Simon’s HOTCAKES Album Still Sizzles After 50 Years
11 Tracks Of Whack Album Review
Walter Becker – 11 Tracks of Whack Album Review