By: Connor Shelton
The 1980s were something of a dark period for prog. Despite bands like Genesis, Rush, and Yes releasing complex, thought provoking material during the first year of the decade, many of the classic bands that dominated in the 1970s either broke up or attempted to make pop music as the ‘80s progressed (not to say that pop music is inherently bad, but it wasn’t a beast many of these bands were meant to take on). With the genre having lost much of its credibility due to critical lambasting, it had to adapt to meet a public who were more inclined to listen to New Wave and – later on in the decade – hair metal. All of this is brought up to prepare you for some of the unconventional choices that color this list, but fret not. Not all the songs will be prog-lite. We have some fairly traditional openers on here that will please all prog fans, and even a couple of extended compositions that harken back to the 1970s. Of course, one would never mistake these lengthier tracks for a ‘70s epic given the various musical and production elements which scream ‘80s, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here are the 10 songs we believe to be the finest album openers during prog’s wilderness years (1980 to 1989).
10. “Intruder” – Peter Gabriel
From 1980’s Peter Gabriel (more commonly known as Melt), “Intruder” was the first song to ever be recorded using the iconic gated reverb drum sound that would later be popularized by Phil Collins on “In the Air Tonight.” In that regard, it’s perhaps the most musically progressive record on this list, but putting that aside for a moment, it would still end up on this list given the chilling vocal performance Peter Gabriel brings to this tale about a home intruder (hence the title).
9. “Moonchild” – Iron Maiden
Prog-metal progenitors Iron Maiden took their deepest dive yet into the world of progressive music with 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and “Moonchild” makes this clear right away. It opens with an acoustic verse from the band, something unusual for the blistering Iron Maiden, and proceeds to follow the folksy intro with an arpeggiated synth line. You read that right, a synth line. Though somewhat blasphemous to die hard metal-heads at the time, it’s a choice that has since been revered, and helped set the final nail on the track for prog-metal to fully come into fruition.
8. “Jibber and Twitch” – Cardiacs
For those unfamiliar with Cardiacs, imagine Devo, Gentle Giant, and Frank Zappa had a child together. That’s this band. They’re something of an acquired taste, but the prog-punk/art-pop outfit are undeniably talented. Take this song for instance. It’s a nonstop tour de force of ideas, jumping between musical statements with little care for your ears, and hitting the speakers with a live grenade of punkish energy. It’s not for everyone, but for the brave of heart/open-minded, you’ll understand why this song made the list.
7. “Intro/The Unknown Knows” – Voivod
“Intro/The Unknown Knows” opens the seminal Nothingface in grand fashion. The opening would have you believe this is going to be a slower, doom-laden number but then we get a quick turn around one minute and fifteen seconds into the song and are forced to bounce along to the riffs of guitarist Denis D’Amour and bassist Jean-Yves Thériault until they drastically shake things up toward the end. Even after 30 years, it’s still exhilarating.
6. “Elephant Talk” – King Crimson
From 1981’s Discipline, “Elephant Talk” sees the newly reformed King Crimson weave left and right as they deliver a quirky commentary on the nature of verbal communication. It doesn’t sound like anything the band had done previously in their already eclectic discography. It’s not folk or metal or jazz oriented, instead taking the guise of early ‘80s New Wave and Art Rock, a la Talking Heads. It might have been a shock for fans back in the day, but the stylistic framework plays to the strengths of this lineup, giving us a composition that is both brimming and concise.