10 Best Prog Albums of 1982

Best Prog Albums of 1982

By 1982 Prog has already been everything but Prog. Although 1980 and 1981 still saw some of the defining releases for the genre, New Wave has largely been affecting bands.

The year that brought a follow-up to Rush’s Moving Pictures, a new work from Kate Bush, and a couple more releases from the groups that years ago recorded very good albums, may not be the 1980s’ most prolific year for the genre, but it certainly brought some great albums.

Here is a list of ten albums released in 1982 that are in our opinion the best releases of the year. Check out our previous features on the best Prog albums of 1980 and 1981.

10. Zappa – Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch

Despite coming out in 1981, Frank Zappa‘s previous masterpiece, You Are What You Is still felt reminiscent of the 1970s. It was evident that it was about time Zappa gave the new ‘80s rock sound a chance. The album is rather brief (6 tracks, 34 minutes), and doesn’t necessarily hold a strong theme, other than being a ‘80s progressive rock album. The first 3 tracks were recorded in the studio, and the last 3 are from live performances. This causes the two sides to seem haphazardly pasted together like a compilation. Despite this, every single track on it is brilliant, so it almost makes up for the poor flow between songs.

The album’s mood musically ranges from silly to suspenseful to outright strange. Recently Zappa had hired Steve Vai to play some of the guitar parts on You Are What You Is; for Ship Arriving, Vai took place as lead guitarist. His style added a spice of complexity to the album’s instrumentation—such as the solo in the latter half of “I Come from Nowhere.” Other characteristics of the album included heavy yet playful bass lines in nearly every song, overly obnoxious vocals, and in the case of “Teen-Age Prostitute,” the use of a professional opera singer. Zappa composed all of the tracks and conducted the music.

The album adds another layer of diversity on the already expansive discography of Frank Zappa, and to no fault. The only issue with the album arise from shallow lyrics, lack of an overall theme, and the 20 seconds of unnecessary applause at the end of “Teen-Age Prostitute.” Other than that, the album is humorous and musically packed with catchy and complex parts. With so many ‘80s prog bands going pop, its nice to see Zappa can put forth an LP that defies the trend. It may not be Zappa‘s best, but is certainly significantly above average.

09. The Alan Parsons Project – Eye in the Sky

Throughout its career, The Alan Parsons Project recorded concept albums employing a rotating cast of session musicians to do most of the performing, and a bunch of guest vocalists whom they felt would be appropriate for a particular track. The band hit its commercial peak with Eye in the Sky, the only album other than I Robot to reach the top ten. Its songs have grabbing hooks, and are dominated by a lush sound. The songwriting team of Woolfson and Parsons should be mentioned for their versatility and knack for creating great melodies.

The Alan Parsons Project is commonly referred to as one of the most commercial artists in progressive rock history, so it is not surprising that they are seen as guilty pleasure by a big amount of prog fans. However, the exquisite and symphonic orchestrations, as well as the tasteful arrangements, keep the band from being discarded as being too pop. Andrew Powell (orchestral arranger, who joined in 1976) served as the ultimate guardian of artistic richness for the APP material. Eye in the Sky’s title track was the group’s greatest success, charting in the top ten on the pop chart. Although they weren’t able to repeat that success, the band maintained a devoted cult audience. The album’s theme revolves around a cautionary tale about the loss of individualism. It’s all about the emergence of the ‘Big Brother’ idea, previously touched upon in works such as George Orwell’s famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Eye in the Sky represents perhaps the pinnacle of the Alan Parsons Project creativity, and certainly the last time they could balance their pop and progressive tendencies so well. The Alan Parsons Project were sort of in-between the clashing genres of pop and progressive, and Eye in the Sky is a fantastic example of how the two could co-exist.

08. Peter Hammill – Enter K

The usual Hammill combination of musical excellence and the deepest emotions this side of hell. Shades of David Bowie in “The Great Experiment” and “Happy Hour.” Dramatically moody “Don’t Tell Me” (which also appears, rearranged, on The Love Songs) contrasts with the upbeat, tongue-in-cheek “Paradox Drive.” The centerpiece has to be “The Unconscious Life”: the vast, full range of Hammill‘s vocal gymnastics coupled with David Jackson‘s soulful sax make this song unforgettable.

07. Twelfth Night – Fact and Fiction

First issued in 1982, Twelfth Night‘s masterwork Fact and Fiction is very much ahead of its time. The album is in stark monochrome from its cover art to its spartan arrangements of synths and guitars. Geoff Mann approaches these songs with a punkish ferocity at times, his performance ranging from the disgusted laughter and shouts of “left right left right” in “We Are Sane” to the plaintive calm of “Love Song.” But at the same time, its lyrics and themes, that of individual identity in the face of massive conformity and love in the face of hatred are appealingly timeless, some years after the group’s disbandment and Mann‘s death.

“We Are Sane” is a chilling indictment of consumer culture’s effect on individuality with lyrics like “the maintenance of power can be so fulfilling/just as long as all the slaves are willing.” “Human Being” is a prog spin on synth pop with one of Mann‘s best couplets, “if every time we tell a lie a little fairy dies/they must be building death camps in the garden.” “Creepshow” was Twelfth Night‘s monumentally theatrical epic, but does not come across as well in the album setting, seeming rather melodically bland in contrast with their newer compositions.

With an album full of thought provoking, rocking material and an equal tendency towards atmosphere, its easy to see why calling the band “Punk Floyd” was an easy way out for early ‘80s journalists. But it seems apt on some of their early singles, provided as bonus tracks on the 2002 Cyclops reissue. “East of Eden” in its original incarnation had a ascending and descending psychedelic riff over which Mann bellows, “it seems that paradise has been well locked and barred from all the issue of Adam.

06. Von Zamla – Zamlaranamma

Von Zamla is another incarnation of the zany Samla Mammas Manna, who recorded two albums under the name for Urspar (this one being the first) before breaking up in the early 80s. Von Zamla‘s four members are two from Zamla (Lars Hollmer and Eino Haapala) and two from Albert Marcouer‘s band (Denis Brely and Jan Garret) who used to tour with Zamla in Europe.

As a quartet without a drummer, Von Zamla‘s percussive stance is low key and often decorative, in many ways similar to Hollmer‘s earlier folk influenced project Ramlosa Kvallar but more electronic based. Of course, the intense Swedish folk influence is somewhat diluted by the presence of two French men, and the result is a very unique music of a distinct RIO bent.

Featuring mostly short tracks, the music is certainly less aggressive than earlier incarnations of the group. Each song is a cleverly and carefully constructed piece that moves along in a relaxed manner, very European and unusual. There are few dazzling displays of musicianship except for the rare guitar solo by Eino Haapala.

05. Adrian Belew – Lone Rhino

Before Adrian Belew was a guitar player, he was a drummer, and a good one obviously. On Lone Rhino, his first solo release, Adrian plays guitar, sings, and pounds the skins like a pro. The music is upbeat, solid, entertaining and the lyrics are ingenious. Adrian uses effects/pedals like no one else and the unusual sounds he gets out of his guitar (roars, grunts, squeaks, atmospheric tones, etc.) are completely original and refreshing. The effects are secondary of course, as his rhythm and lead work rival the best guitarists around.

04. Eloy – Time to Turn

Time to Turn marks the conclusion of Eloy’s previous album Planets. One minor lineup change has happened at this point, and that’s drummer Jim McGillivray leaving only to be replaced by a returning Fritz Randow (who last appeared in 1975 on Power and the Passion).

While I feel Planets is the better album, Time to Turn is still an excellent album, and way better than just about any other prog album from the early ’80s. Keyboardist Hannes Folberth still incorporates Mini Moog, string synths, and Hohner clavinet, while using some newer, early ’80s polyphonic synths.

Time to Turn is the sound of a band still sounding a bit reluctant to enter the 1980s (as was their previous two, Planets and Colours). The record has a number of favorites including “Behind the Walls of Imagination,” which uses a clarinet giving it oddly ‘70s feel. Another favorite is “End of an Odyssey.” It starts off rather electronic, before the second half kicks in typical Eloy fashion. “The Flash” is a faster paced number, but the interesting part is the lead guitar near the end part reminding of something off Silent Cries and Mighty Echoes.

03. Art Zoyd – Phase IV

During the ‘70s and ‘80s Art Zoyd went for a unique and evolving artistic vision, and Phase IV is justifiably considered as one of the group’s greatest accomplishments. On this their fourth studio album Art Zoyd blend together dark, unsettling atmospherics in the veil of Univers Zero and minimalistic constructs.

Phase IV found the group going for a more unified aesthetic. Reduced from the six-piece setting on 1980′s Génération Sans Futur to a quintet, Art Zoyd were now a vehicle for the songs of Thierry Zaboitzeff and Gerard Hourbette.

It’s hard to think of any other band who have patrolled the border between contemporary avant garde and rock music in such a determined and single minded fashion. The fact that they have continued to explore this singular musical territory for over 40 years is even more impressive.

02. Kate Bush – The Dreaming

One thing that has often impressed me in the songwriting of Kate Bush is how form always seems to match function. Whatever she may be singing about, whatever character she may be evoking, the songs really come to life in the production and compositional extras thrown in. It was in The Dreaming that Bush’s songwriting acumen came into fruition. The Kick Inside and Lionheart featured Kate as a young artist still under the thumb of her record label. She was thankfully given more freedom for her 1980 album Never For Ever, and it showed. There was a greater eclecticism in the instrumentation and more unconventionality in the structure of these songs (see: “Delius,” “Army Dreamers”), and while many of these songs were still rooted in piano-led theatrics, Bush brought in the spanking new Fairlight CMI sampler to flesh out the songs in more interesting ways.

By 1982, Bush was in almost full control of her music and had amassed enough experience to make something truly phenomenal, so she did. The Dreaming, more than any other album in her discography, demonstrates what is so amazing about Bush and why she remains a great inspiration to many songwriters today. While these songs are certainly forward-thinking, they are also very individualistic and expressionist in a way that was very unusual in the world of popular music at the time. Kate was always expressive in her voice and performances before, but never like she was here. These were songs only Kate Bush could have conceived, yet many of these songs remain very impersonal.

01. Rush – Signals

If Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves showed us anything, it was that Rush could succeed in reshaping their traditional progressive/hard rock sound in multiple ways and achieve some crossover success. While Permanent Waves was still a full-fledged progressive rock album that merely scraped the surface of stylistic change—such as the reggae elements of “Spirit of Radio” or increased dominance of Geddy Lee‘s synthesizer work—1981’s Moving Pictures was what really changed the way people would view Rush. While viewed as a classic today, many deemed it a sell-out move for the band back then, as songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight” became big hits and permanent FM radio fixtures. However, if people got angry about the more streamlined nature of Moving Pictures, imagine how they felt when Signals came out!

1982′s Signals is essentially the result of two things: 1. the more radio-friendly direction of Moving Pictures and 2. what was going on in 80s synth-rock at the time. There’s even less of a progressive rock inspiration this time around, mostly replaced by a more reggae-rock/new wave hybrid, with progressive rock thrown in. Don’t get me wrong, the prog still rears its head plenty of times, with the odd time signature here and there (especially on that iconic opening 7/8-time synth line to “Subdivisions”) as well as the new-found reliance on multiple genre experiments. Something that’s really cool about the album is the fact that, no matter what style the band try, the music still sounds distinctly Rush. Even with the suspenseful synth-layered “Countdown” or the swing-like drum work of the reggae-inspired “Digital Man,” the overall vibe and instrumentation (particularly Alex Lifeson‘s signature chordal guitar playing) indicate that the band haven’t lost their identity.

Once again, the emphasis is on “reshaping” the sound they already had, and it really works nicely for them. “Analog Kid” remains one of Rush‘s best ‘80s songs, easily being one of their fastest and most hard rocking tracks while keeping a fun and breezy atmosphere throughout the verses. The lyrics of the record, in keeping with the tone of the previous two albums, don’t follow the fantasy and sci-fi themes of the band’s 7’0s work but instead focus on reality and the human condition. For instance, “Subdivisions” seems to be about being ostracized for not “fitting in,” with the iconic line “be cool or be cast out.” “Losing It” references the later years of Ernest Hemingway’s life, while “The Weapon” is another song in the band’s Fear series, which deals with the many ways fear is brought about and dealt with.

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