Fan of progressive rock bands? Then you probably know a lot of them. That said, there’s still a chance there are some that haven’t got on your radar yet, so I thought I’d share my favorites today.
Let's explore the best progressive rock bands of all time!
Many prog-rock bands were from the UK. But what about the US?
Well, look no further than Kansas. No, not the state, the band!
Formed in 1973 in Topeka, Kansas, this band changed the world with chart-topping tracks like the classic rock anthem “Carry on Wayward Son” and the softer, somber “Dust in the Wind.”
This band became iconic for its orchestral influences and harmonic vocals, and many of their songs continue to find their way onto progressive rock party playlists.
The UK and US weren't the only countries producing amazing prog-rock bands during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Canada also had a hand in the game, thanks to Rush.
Formed in Toronto in 1968, Rush is one of the most beloved classic rock and prog-rock bands. Additionally, Neil Peart (the band's drummer) is lauded as one of the most talented drummers in the world!
“Tom Sawyer” from the 1981 album Moving Pictures might be one of the band's most iconic songs. It offers great insight into what made Rush an internationally-famous prog-rock sensation.
3. Pink Floyd
Anyone with even a passing interest in classic rock has heard of Pink Floyd.
This British prog-rock band, founded in 1965, popularized psychedelic and early progressive rock music to a wide audience. Their music continues to gain new fans thanks to its timeless quality and innovative style.
The Dark Side of the Moon might be the most instantly recognizable Pink Floyd album thanks to its rainbow-triangle image, but Another Brick in the Wall is a true prog-rock classic.
The band even helped produce a movie based on the album (Pink Floyd – The Wall), showcasing the tracks in a unique style that helped popularize the music video craze of the 1980s.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were fantastic times for progressive rock. Yes, formed in 1968, is one of the bands that helped make this genre what it is today!
Yes incorporated a dizzying array of musical styles and influences into powerful tracks, occasionally recording songs with a backing orchestra. Today they're best known for their 1983 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
5. The Moody Blues
There's no way we could talk about the best progressive rock bands without mentioning The Moody Blues, a UK-based band founded in 1964. This band might be the very first prog-rock group, earning them a special place in the hearts of all rockers.
Days of Future Passed, released in 1967, combines semi-traditional rock songs and classical-music-inspired tracks. Because of these songs' unconventional length, innovative channel changes, and orchestral touches, it's celebrated as the first progressive rock album.
6. Jethro Tull
British progressive rock band Jethro Tull is probably best known for their 1971 hit, “Aqualung,” from the album of the same name. This song's unique structure and pacing make it a hallmark of progressive rock.
While Aqualung (the album) is one of the most popular ever released by Jethro Tull, their 1972 release, Thick as a Brick, is also considered a classic example of prog-rock.
Founded in 1967 by Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull continued producing music until 2011. But in 2011, the two primary band members, Anderson and Martin Barre, decided to split and pursue other projects.
However, in 2017, Anderson decided to reform the band (without Barre). They're still releasing albums to this day!
7. Emerson, Lake & Palmer
If you're a fan of 1970s British rock music, there's a good chance you've heard of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (also called ELP).
This award-winning prog-rock band is one of the few to take on the classic British hymn “Jerusalem,” and their hits range from the folk-influenced “Lucky Man” released on their 1970 debut album to the more psychedelic “Still You Turn Me On” from Brain Salad Surgery (1973).
Sadly, two of the three band members (Keith Emerson and Greg Lake) passed away in 2016. But even if future albums are out of the question, you can still rock out to this band's progressive tunes by exploring their diverse discography.
In 1967, England gave us one of the most successful and well-known progressive rock bands of all time: Genesis. Fronted by Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, this band exuded talent from the very beginning.
Several of their earliest albums, like Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound, showcased the band's classical influences and avant-garde approach to rock music. The latter of these, 1973's Selling England by the Pound, would be Genesis's first platinum album, making it a must-listen for anyone interested in progressive rock.
Still, their 1991 album We Can't Dance remains the most popular of the band's releases thanks to its pop and soft rock numbers.
9. King Crimson
1968 was quite the year for progressive rock. Not only did Yes and Rush form in 1968, but so did King Crimson.
This British prog-rock sensation combined jazz, electronic, and heavy metal genres to create epic songs, many breaking the generally accepted three-minute, radio-friendly track time limit.
For example, the final track on their 1970 album Lizard (also called “Lizard”) is an astounding four-part masterpiece lasting more than 23 minutes! Still, prog-rock aficionados hail King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, as their best.
10. The Mothers of Invention
While The Mothers of Invention (headed by legendary avant-garde artist Frank Zappa) are often considered an experimental group, several of the band's songs feature strong prog-rock elements that helped popularize the genre throughout the 1960s.
Formed in California in 1964, The Mothers of Invention went through multiple hiatuses and band member changes throughout their near-decade run (disbanding in 1975). But this constant change-up helped them create unique tracks with multiple genre influences.
With a constant through-line of jazz and orchestral backings, The Mothers of Invention helped define, break, and redefine the prog-rock genre. They also pushed social boundaries with their highly critical and often satirical lyrics.
Defining Styx (also stylized as STYX) as purely prog-rock would be a mistake, as this band, founded in Chicago in 1972, utilizes elements of synth-pop, hard rock, and folk genres.
In fact, the band's multiple genre directions have made them a point of contention among progressive rock enthusiasts. However, the classical influences most notably seen in their earlier albums make them one of the earliest American prog-rock bands to hit the scene.
The band's 1977 album The Grand Illusion remains one of their most popular, likely because it debuted the hit epic ballad “Come Sail Away.”
12. Van der Graaf Generator
The story of Van der Graaf Generator, an English prog-rock band founded in 1967, is strange. Not only did the band utilize unconventional instruments to produce their songs, including a typewriter, but they weren't particularly popular in the UK.
Their popularity significantly increased after releasing their 1971 album, Pawn Hearts. But this popularity didn't stem from British fans. Instead, Van der Graaf Generator became a hit in Italy!
This group's first three albums are auditory time capsules, giving you a sneak peek into the kinds of tunes that Italian rockers were digging during the early 1970s.
Several of the most beloved progressive rock bands started in the 1960s and 1970s. But some, like Tool, started hitting the airwaves in the 1990s.
This Grammy-award-winning prog-rock band is known for songs like “Lateralus” (from their titular 2001 album), “Forty Six & 2,” and “The Pot.” Many of their tracks have uniquely intellectual aspects.
For example, Lateralus is based on the Fibonacci sequence. Still, Tool might be more progressive metal than prog-rock, making them an interesting departure from the progressive rock giants of earlier decades.
14. Happy the Man
Despite what the name of this band might have you think, Happy the Man (HTM) isn't a solo act (we're looking at you, The Tallest Man on Earth). Instead, this five-member band was one of the defining American progressive rock acts of the 1970s, during the height of prog-rock.
Sadly, they only released two studio albums during their heyday, Happy the Man and Crafty Hands. But these albums continue to entrance thanks to their innovative use of synth, song structure, and slow-burn build-ups.
Even better, the band reformed in 2000, coming together to create the equally enticing 2004 album The Muse Awakens. And speaking of muses…
Like Tool, Muse is a progressive rock band that debuted in the 1990s. While Muse is often lumped into the expansive alternative rock (alt-rock) genre, they have prog-rock leanings that are sure to appeal to long-time progressive rock fans.
To hear these influences for yourself, look no further than the band's 2003 album Absolution and its orchestral track “Butterflies & Hurricanes.”
With a dark harmonic backdrop that bleeds into snappy hi-hat hits and rising dread, this tune is representative of what Muse is known for: a melancholy that marches hand-in-hand with hopefulness.
16. Gentle Giant
Some progressive rock bands go on to sell out stadiums and play for decades, but not Gentle Giant.
No, this British prog-rock band sadly faded out of existence after 1980. But the 11 studio albums they released while active are some of the most complex examples of 1970s prog-rock and experimental music.
Their tunes have a distinct jazziness and avant-garde style that put them on par with The Mothers of Invention. Of these songs, “Giant” from the debut 1970 album might be the most popular. With its orchestral intro and rising bass riffs, it's also undeniably prog-rock.
17. Big Big Train
Big Big Train was formed in 1990, and they're one of the few still-creating British prog-rocks to come out of the 1990s.
This group's origins are distinctly punk, but the more members that joined, the more mellow and diverse the band's music became. That trend continues today, as their 2021 album Common Ground is one of the most recent prog-rock releases (of any group).
Want to know what progressive rock sounds like in the 21st century? Give this band's latest albums a listen!
If your favorite musical genres include metal, funk, and progressive rock, you'll love Primus.
Formed in 1984, this group (often classified as alt-rock) defies most genre conventions and labels, and they do so with an attitude that exudes classic rock rebelliousness. In fact, according to the band members themselves, they don't fit into any genre; they simply are Primus.
Still, for a taste of this band's most prog-rock tunes, you should turn to their 2017 album, The Desaturating Seven. Notably, Primus often performs shows with fellow prog-rock group Mastodon.
Without a doubt, Mastodon is one of the newest heavy metal/progressive rock groups on the scene. Since 2000, this group has pumped out hit after hit, many of which have notable prog-rock influences.
However, if you're looking for a softer introduction to the progressive rock genre, Mastodon might not be for you. After all, this band rocks hard, employing plenty of metal riffs and drum smashes to make each track pound harder than a racing heart.
When you think about Freddie Mercury and Queen, you probably don't think “progressive rock.” After all, many of this band's greatest hits are considered pop classics.
But if you've ever picked up one of Queen's earlier albums (pre-1980), you'll know that this British band did a lot for the prog-rock genre. A Night at the Opera, released in 1975, might be one of the best examples of Queen's ability to produce high-quality, multi-genre progressive rock.
After all, who can deny that “Bohemian Rhapsody” has all the classic genre-defining characteristics of progressive rock, from its classical influences to its convention-breaking length of almost six minutes?
21. Magna Carta
Countless prog-rock bands feature five or more members. But like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Magna Carta proved that you don't need a ton of band members to create progressive rock earworms.
This London-based trio is still active today, though they released many of their most beloved songs during the 1970s. Still, with more than a dozen studio albums to explore, you could spend weeks delving into Magna Carta's prog-rock journey.
That said, it might be wise to start with 1971's Songs from Wasties Orchard, especially if you enjoy the newly-emerging bardcore genre. After all, this album heavily features unconventional medieval instruments, including a lyre!
Radiohead, fronted by Thom Yorke, has produced music spanning almost every genre. That said, In Rainbows and OK Computer both contain gorgeous new-prog tracks that have led the way for emerging artists interested in revitalizing the progressive rock genre.
The dissonant “Exit Music (For A Film)” is an existential masterpiece and the experimental “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” is sure to have you tapping your toes as you drift through a delicious internal spaciness.
So, even though Radiohead might have grunge-rock beginnings, they've developed into one of the most iconic prog-rock and experimental groups of the last several decades. If you haven't delved into their discography, now's the time!
23. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Would you like a little ambiance with your progressive rock? If so, you can't miss Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a Canadian band that combines ambient, prog-rock, and experimental genres to create a novel and captivating sound.
This band, founded in 1994, shows little care for conventional song length or structure, often preferring instead to create atmospheric pieces that are almost audible artworks.
Though the group doesn't fit into the traditional progressive rock genre, it's crucial to note that prog-rock is all about pushing boundaries and defying convention within the rock music genre. As such, Godspeed You! Black Emperor is progressive by nature, if not necessarily by sound alone.
24. The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta, like Mastodon, are some of the newest prog-rock kids on the block, debuting in 2001. They're also one of the most ever-changing progressive rock bands of all time, with more than a dozen past members and current members that continually seem to cycle.
While this changing lineup may be problematic for most bands, it is a boon for The Mars Volta, as their tracks are always fresh and distinct.
Though their newest album, 2022's The Mars Volta, is more pop than prog-rock, you can pick any pre-2022 studio releases to enjoy a blast of metal-influenced progressive rock.
25. Curved Air
Classic progressive rock features many distinct genres, including classical, experimental, and folk influences. So, what happens when you take musicians who specialize in these genres and get them together as part of one band?
You get something quite like the 1970s-era British prog-rock group Curved Air.
Although this band might not be as widely-known as other progressive rock artists from the same period, their sound was the ideal combination of all the genres that make up progressive rock, resulting in a complex cacophony with classical roots.
26. Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Speaking of progressive rock music with classical genre influences, have you heard of Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
This group produces some of the most engaging rock operas of the 1990s and 2000s, many of which feature orchestral arrangements that would make a symphony director weep with joy. You only need to listen to their 2000 album Beethoven's Last Night to experience this bliss for yourself.
27. The Alan Parsons Project
The Alan Parsons Project's main objective was to create clean, diverse, progressive rock music. Active for just under two decades, we can confidently say that the band members achieved just that!
But how did they do it? Like many other successful prog-rock groups, The Alan Parsons Project kept full-time band members at a minimum while employing the skills of talented session players and like-minded musicians.
If you enjoy science fiction media, check out the band's 1977 album I Robot and its major hit, “I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You.”
28. Coheed and Cambria
Though Coheed and Cambria are well-known for producing some of the most recognizable emo tracks of the 2000s, this band has some notable prog-rock roots and influences.
Like Tool, this band does lean slightly more toward prog-metal, but their pop-inspired lyrics and fast-pasted instrumentation make them quite the bop. Still, they've become progressively (pun intended) more prog-rock over the last decade, as seen with their 2018 album Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures.
The multi-act album is a musical journey that you have to experience for yourself.
If you're a horror film buff, there's a good chance you've heard of the Italian prog-rock band Goblin. After all, this group helped create the score and soundtrack for the cult-classic 1977 horror film Suspiria.
Their ability to create haunting tracks, often by implementing raspy vocalizations and off-sync sounds, has made them a favorite of film director Dario Argento. But if you're a fan of classic horror movie songs and scores, they could quickly become a personal favorite.
This band has beautifully blended experimental and classical styles to create some terrifying compositions, many of which are reminiscent of Harry Bee and George Crumb's score for the 1973 film The Exorcist.
30. Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep, named after the Dickens villain from David Copperfield, is an English band that leans heavily toward the harder, heavy metal side of progressive rock.
Formed in 1969, this band is an essential part of the heavy metal genre's history and rise to prevalence. But their slightly softer sound (especially when compared to modern metal) makes them a great pick for those looking to enjoy a little classic prog-rock.
Still, what can you expect while listening to this classic group? Well, if you're starting with their debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble, you can expect unconventionally-composed and structured songs in the vein of Jethro Tull's most beloved tracks.
Top Progressive Rock Bands, Final Thoughts
Progressive rock emerged during the 1960s with bands like Jethro Tull and Yes.
But since then, it's diversified via the help of innovative bands like Primus, Coheed and Cambria, and Radiohead. Many modern prog-rock bands incorporate elements of other music genres, including alternative and indie.
Most progressive rock songs are guitar-heavy tunes. Check out this guide to learn how to play guitar and play along with your favorite prog-rock songs!