Raccomandata Ricevuta Ritorno - "Per...un Mondo di Cristallo" (1973)
Another unknown Italian masterpiece. The music by RRR can best be described as a mix of Jethro Tull and Il Balletto di Bronzo, and that`s a good mix! The opening track, "Nulla", is quite representative: it opens with great organ followed by some flute, before it bursts into a disharmonious riff and the vocal-section. "Il Mondo Cade Su di Me" is a strongly jazz-influenced instrumental, and a little bit different from the rest of the album. All tracks are very complex, and definitively VERY progressive. My favourite track is "Un Palco di Marionette".
It starts with a jazzy, Jethro Tull-like vocal part, then it all stops for a while and a mysterious voice appear, THEN the whole piece gets into a driving instrumental part, with a great flute theme before it all ends in a thundering and heavy saxophone part. VERY good and effective!
Progressive rock at its best, and most progressive.
Rare Bird - "Rare Bird" (1969)
Rare Bird was one of the very first progressive rock band with an instrumentation consisting of nothing else than drums, bass and keyboards(the Hammond of Graham Field and the El-piano of Dave Kaffinetti). Their debut-album is pretty typical proto-prog, with a transitional sound from the psychedelic '60s to the more pure prog-sound of the '70s. The longest and (surprise, surprise) best tracks here are the opener "Iceberg", the dramatic "Beautiful Scarlet" and the sinister "God of War". The rest of the album follows a more simplified structure, although "Melanie" is a good example of early pop-prog. Here you'll also get their hit-single "Sympathy", which actually must be described as a classic single from the late '60s. A nice and decent debut-album that promised even MUCH better things to come...
Rare Bird - "As Your Mind Flies By" (1970)
Simply one of the best progressive rock albums EVER!!! "As..." is an album so stuffed with the perfect 70's atmosphere and flawless songwriting that you won't believe it. All the 5 tracks on the album are classics from here to eternity. "What You Want to Know" and "I'm Thinking" are melodic, organ-driven, early 70's progressive rock at its ultimately best! The arrangements have lots of cool, twisted and varied organ-sounds and the vocals are great. The rest of side one is made up of the short, baroque-influenced "Down on the Floor" and the fantastic, heavy-progressive "Hammerhead". The second side consists of the 20-minute "Flight". This is one of those tracks that will make any fan of 70's progressive rock cry of joy! The first part of it is quite dramatic and classical-influenced, then it goes into a great jamming part with a choir and excellent duels between the organ playing of Graham Field and the twisted el-piano of Dave Kaffinetti. The two last parts of the track are energetic and heavy with the most perfect organ-sounds you can imagine. I simply can't find words for how great this album is. You got to hear it for yourself and there's only one way to do that: BUY IT!!!! By the way, the single-release of "What You Want to Know" had a very different arrangement from the album-version.
Rare Bird - "Epic Forest" (1972)
For some strange reason, both Graham Field and Mark Ashton left the band after the masterpiece "As Your Mind Flies By". The remaining members Gould and Kaffinetti was then joined by two guitarists, a new drummer and two players on percussion. The group's distinctive, organ-driven progressive rock had been replaced by a confusing mess of folk, jazz, hardrock and progressive rock. Don't get me wrong, there's several good tracks on the album (the title-track proved that they still could write a first-class progressive tune)and the playing is great, but as a whole it suffers deeply from a lack of direction and identity. I guess the point of progressive rock is to take several different styles and then melt it into a unified sound, and not just play the styles separately in each song like Rare Bird do on this album. The band had simply got lost in the search for a new sound, and that's a shame. It would have been much better if they instead had tried to explore and develop the sound of their two first albums to new heights (although I doubt if it really could get much better than on "As Your..."). But with their next album in mind, I have absolutely NO reason to complain about "Epic Forest"...
Rare Bird - "Somebody's Watching" (1973)
Haha!! Well, most progressive rock bands did fortunately wait until the end of the 70's before they turned into crap, but Rare Bird was obviously in a hurry! The 4th album is a complete turkey from start to finish. It varies between slick, funky 70's AOR ("More and More" and the title-track) to boring ballads ("Hard Time" and "Who is the Hero") and finally to mediocre pop ("Turn Your Head"). The only track sounding remotely like prog here is the 8-minute closing track "Dollars", which basically is a tasteless and kitsch-like cover-version of Ennio Morricone's "A Few Dollars More". Yuck! It's nothing much more to say about this piece of crap. Really tragic that the band would decay as fast as this, and it's hard to believe that this is partly the same band who made "As Your..." just three years earlier.
Rare Bird - "Sympathy" (1976)
This compilation consists of material from the two first albums. The selections from the first album could really have been a lot better than this. Instead of classic tracks like "Iceberg" and "God of War" we get several of the mediocre ones, like "You Went Away" and "Bird on a Wing". The selections from "As Your Mind Flies By" are much better, with masterpieces like "What You Want to Know" and "I'm Thinking" included. But there's not a bad track on that album, so they could hardly mess anything up here! Anyway, a compilation of only two albums is rather pointless and you should of course get the two original albums instead (then you'll actually have everything you need by Rare Bird).
Raw Material - "Time Is..." (1971)
The second and last album by this British band. I haven`t heard their first, but this album is very good. The band was with no doubt strongly inspired by Van der Graaf Generator, with much saxophone and great organ. The opening track is maybe a little bit TOO VdGG, because the riff is taken straight from VdGG`s "Killer", but the rest of the track is fortunately written by the band itself! An excellent track anyway. "Empty Houses" is another goodie, with a very beautiful instrumental part in the middle. The three part "Insolent Lady" is another highlight, and the album ends very mellow and beautiful with "Sungod". If you like VdGG, you simply can`t dislike this obscure classic.
Refugee - "Refugee" (1974)
Patrick Moraz and former The Nice-members Lee Jackson and Brian Davison formed Refugee in 1973. So as you may be able to figure out, Refugee was your ultra-typical, classical-influenced keyboard-driven 70's progressive rock trio. Their first and unfortunately only LP is in my opinion the best album Moraz ever played on, next to "Relayer". He had moved on from the primitive heavy-prog of his former band Mainhorse to the keyboard-sound that he would later use in Yes. I think this is especially apparent in "Someday". The keyboard-arrangements in this track sounds like it could have been taken straight from "Relayer". Lee Jackson was still not the most talented singer the world had seen, but he sounds in my ear better here than he ever did in The Nice. I think he even manages to deliver some true emotion on some of the vocal-parts. The instrumental opening track "Papillon" is complex classical-influenced keyboard-prog of the kind most of you will love. The other instrumental-number "Ritt Mickley" is kind of funky, but still with lots of classical influences. But the two long suites are the best tracks here. First you have the 16-minute "Grand Canyon" that starts with a quite mystical and atmospheric part where the Mellotron slowly builds up to the main theme. The vocal-part in the middle reminds me slightly of Triumvirat in the "Spartacus"-period. The whole thing returns to the instrumental main-theme at the end, but now played real fast and energetic. The 18-minute "Credo" follows much of the same structure, but fortunately without becoming too similar. Moraz was asked to join Yes later the same year, and that lead of course to the break-up of Refugee. But their only album remains a progressive rock classic that should be in everybody's collection.
View the label.
Renaissance - "Turn of the Cards" (1974)
Very beautiful sounding band led by the heavenly voice of Annie Haslam. The music of Renaissance is best described as folk influenced symphonic progressive with touchingly beautiful compositions. "Turn of the Cards" is one of their best, and includes several Renaissance classics like "Mother Russia", "Black Flame" and "Things I Don't Understand". The latter one has vocal-harmonies that you got to hear to believe. So beautiful, clear and perfect! The arrangements consists of a lot of classical-influenced piano, acoustic guitar (the band never used electric guitar) and, not at least, grandiose and wonderful backing of a real orchestra which gives the band a sound more symphonic than most other bands you've heard. This, together with the excellent compositions, results in some awesome music. As I said, the band did also have some classical influences, and "Cold is Being" is based on Albinoni's "Adagio". Wonderful stuff.
Renaissance - "Scheherazade and Other Stories" (1975)
A classic that well deservedly is viewed as the bands ultimate masterpiece. The opening track, "Trip to the Fair" starts with a great piano intro before the folky main part appears. And Annie Haslam songs like a Goddess as ever! "The Vultures Fly High" is more pop-oriented, but what a song! If pop-music usually would sound like this, then I probably would have been the greatest pop-fan in the world. Very catchy and tasteful track. "Ocean Gypsy" is Renaissance from their most mellow and beautiful side. However, the real highlight is of course the 24-minute title-track. A fantastic symphonic arrangement with melodies and themes so beautiful you could cry! And a woman simply can't sing better than Haslam. Her voice will take you right to heaven on all the vocal-parts of the track. An essential album for any progressive listeners with good taste.
Terry Riley - "A Rainbow in Curved Air" (1969)
Terry Riley was one of the very first (or maybe THE first) exponents of ambient progressive music. Especially German electronic progressive artists like Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze and Ashra had with no doubt listened to Riley's music. You can even hear influences from Riley in Soft Machine's most quiet and experimental passages. "A Rainbow in Curved Air" was probably his most influential album, and in case you wondered, it was also where Curved Air got their name from. The album consists of two 20-minute compositions. On the first side you have the title-track that is played on organ and electric harpsichord. The whole piece is based in pleasant rhythmic patterns that will have a very hypnotic and relaxing effect on the listener, and the different sounds of the organ perfectly captures all the colours of the rainbow, resulting in a very bright and nice atmosphere. The composition on the second side of the album was called "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band" and had a much darker and sinister atmosphere than the title-track. It consists mostly of a floating organ and Riley's saxophone that was used with the same hypnotic effect as the organ on the title-track. This track also features some of the earliest examples of tape-loops, which was more or less invented by Riley. Early live-versions of this track could last for up to 6 (six) hours!!! This album is a classic of experimental music of the atmospheric and hypnotic kind, and it has also great historical value and importance. By the way, Riley is an American and his music makes a hell of a contrast to the slick and pop-orientated style of many other American "progressive" artists.
Ripaille - "La Vieille Que L'on Brùla" (1977)
French band which released their first and only album in 1977. The album is good, mixing some medieval influences with more typical French-sounding progressive. Tracks like "La Veuve de Nicolas Kremer", "Epilogue" and "Le Jardin des Plaisirs" sounds quite a lot like Gryphon, and that's definitively not bad! I love these tracks with their strong medieval influence. "Satané Jardin" and "Le Sabbat des Sorcières" reminds a little bit of Ange, while the title-track is a little more Gentle Giant-ish. A very nice album. My only complaint is that they on a few tracks uses an el-piano which don't fit their sound very well, but the tracks themselves are good.
Rousseau - "Flower in Asphalt" (1980)
German progressive with a quite strong Camel-influence. This was their first album, and it's totally instrumental. The tracks are dominated by relaxed and melodious flute very reminiscent of Andy Latimer. There's also a lot of good organ and guitar here. But it's not only Camel these guys have listened to. The riff in the mid-part of "Dancing Leaves" is pure Genesis. "Le Grand Reveur" and "Entree" are both very relaxed and atmospheric tracks with lot of nice flute. "Skylight" has some quite symphonic passages and sounds like a mix of Camel and Genesis, just like "Dancing Leaves". "Glockenrock" is a more cheerful and Latin-inspired track. My only complaints about this album is a total lack of originality, and the band's synth sound was unfortunately very plastic-sounding (after all, we had entered the 80's here!). But if you like Camel and Genesis then you'll probably think this is an acceptable album.
Il Rovescio Della Medaglia - "Contaminazione" (1973)
Legendary concept-album about the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Musically this is one of the best and most successful attempts of fusing progressive rock and classical music, simply because the band sounds both very rocking and classical at the same time, giving them a sound completely of their own. Most of the songs are short, but in a typical concept-album style, they floats together and creates and awesome whole. The group made great use of strings to get the classical touch. Just listen to tracks like "Cella 503" and "La Grande Fuga" and you can never more deny that it's in fact possible to fuse classical and rock in a very successful way. A track like "Il Suono Del Silenzio" starts very rocking, but after a while it turns into a very classical part with both violin and harpsichord before the Hammond takes over and carries the classical influence further, BUT without loosing the rock feeling! There's also some more relaxed and very beautiful tracks here, like "Mi Sono Svegliato E...Ho Chiuso Gli Occhi" and "La Mia Musica". This album is in fact quite genius, and is of course a necessary record in any decent progressive rock collection.
Ruphus - "New Born Day" (1973)
The first and best album by this Norwegian group. The music on the album is somewhere between hard rock and progressive rock. The band featured two vocalists, the male vocals of Rune Sundby and the excellent, very high and clear female vocals of Gudny Aspaas. Her voice comes to the fore on "Trapped in a Game", probably the most symphonic track on the album, while "Day After Tomorrow" is the most progressive. The arrangements include lot of excellent organ, moog, guitar and some flute and sax. "Still Alive" features a beautiful instrumental part in the middle with sax and vibes. "Scientific Ways" is a more acoustic and atmospheric track. The sound of the album sometimes reminds me a little bit of Aunt Mary's "Janus", which is another Norwegian progressive rock classic. "Coloured Dreams" is a straightforward hard rock track, while "The Man Who Started It All" gets some progressive touches by high vocal-harmonies and some flute. This is a very good album that most 70's rock/progressive rock fans will enjoy. Later albums by the band turned more into a jazz-rock direction.
Rush - "Caress of Steel" (1975)
The forefathers of prog-metal. They started as a typical heavy metal band, but when drummer Neil Peart joined the band, the music slowly turned into a more progressive vein, both musical and lyrical. This was their third album, which is an important but often underrated album in their career. This was the first time progressive elements seriously began to appear in their music. This can best be heard in the 12-minute "The Necromancer" and the 19-minute "The Fountain of Lamneth". Both tracks were divided into several parts, the same way as many other progressive rock songs, and personaly I think they sounds great. The three other tracks are more straight-forward hard rock, but all are good anyway. And best of all: even greater things were still to come!
Rush - "2112" (1976)
With the 20-minute title track, Rush made one of their best songs ever. It sounds incredibly tight, and the riffs and themes are great. The lyrics told a story of a totalitarian society controlled by the priests of the temples of Syrinx. Music was forbidden in this place, and when one of the society`s inhabitants finds a guitar in cave, things gets out of control. Because of this concept, some critics got totally insane, and accused the group for "crypto-facism"! Rush did not gave a shit about this morons, probably because they knew they had made a great record anyway! But back to the music. The track opens extremly powerful with the "Prelude" part, which bursts into "The Temples of Syrinx", and from there goes through a lot of different parts, before the thundering "Climax". As I said, one of Rush`s best tracks ever. The rest of the album is less progressive, but the songwriting is good all the way through, from the ballad "Tears" to the hard rocking "Something for Nothing". This groups importance to prog-metal is undeniable. If you disagree, then you`re probably deaf.
Rush - "A Farewell to Kings" (1977)
In my opinion, this album has Rush` most fully realised progressive sound. The group had began to use minimoogs, and Peart was also using a lot of bells and other stuff which added new colour to the band`s sound. This can be heard very well in the fantastic 11-minute "Xanadu", which gets my vote as Rush` best track, next to "2112". The minimoog is used in a very tasteful way, and the whole track has a kind of a fairytale-paradise atmosphere, that is unresistable. There are other very atmospheric parts here too, like the acoustic intro to the title track, and the relaxed "Madrigal". "Cygnus X-1" is possibly Rush` most complex track ever, and the story was continued on the next album. "Closer to the Heart" was the single from the album, and became the band`s first hit. I think I would say that this is the best place to start, if you want to get into Rush, and you should really want to do so!
Rush - "Hemispheres" (1978)
Probably their most accomplished progressive release of the 70's. It continued in the same sound as "A Farewell to Kings" with Neil Peart's tasty moog even more integrated in the sound. All the tracks here are complex and progressive, with the exception of the straightforward rocker "Circumstances". The 20-minute title-track was the continuation of "Cygnus X-1 Book I" and showed that the band handled long-scale compositions better with each release. The track was maybe not so varied as "The Fountain of Lamneth" and "2112" but it worked a lot better as a long, continuos track because it was not just a bunch of short songs tied together as one long piece. The best track on the second side was probably "The Trees". It had some very amusing (and metaphoric?) lyrics about the fight amongst the trees in a forest. The final track on the album is a long and complex instrumental where the band really cut loose. Lots of great riffs and solos. One of Rush' best albums.
Rush - "Permanent Waves" (1980)
Rush entered the 80`s with a rather uneven album. "Jacobs Ladder" and "Natural Science" are both amazing tracks of progressive rock, with great themes and the playing and production simply can`t get better and more perfectionistic. But the album gets partly ruined by AOR-ish crap like "Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill", tracks that just bores the shit out of me. That`s a shame, cause the two mentioned tracks is very good. If the rest of the album had the same standard, then this could have been one of the few classic progressive rock albums of the 80`s.
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