The Top Ten Italian Progressive Rock Bands

October 23, 2012

I’m prone to hyperbole. That’s part of what makes this blog so much fun (for some) and also so maddening (for others). Without such exaggerations, not one of my roughly 300 Top Ten lists would exist. Each list is based on the notion that I’m the definitive source. So while The Top Ten Albums Recorded Since 1983 (one of my very first lists!) is my opinion, that doesn’t make it any more credible than any of my other silly Top Tens. Which is why I think it’s so funny that a reader contacted me the other day asking me to amend my list of the ten greatest bluesmen of all time. Yeah, right, guy. Like I’m going to change my list because you want it changed? What are you, slow? That’s not how things work around here.

Which is why my list of the Top Ten Italian progressive rock bands will likely generate discussion. It’s my list, I’ll call it THE list, and then I’ll get dozens of angry e-mails or comments reminding me of bands I forgot to mention or telling me I don’t know dick about shit. Both are probably right. But this is my website and I’ll do and say as I please. So anyway…

The Top Ten Italian Progressive Rock Bands

For the sake of this list, I’m not going to include singular musicians (i.e. Franco Battiato, Claudio Rocchi, Riccardo Cocciante), even though their records might be some of my favorites. This is about bands. And not bands that had ONE record, like Jet (J.E.T.) Campo di Marte (even though that record is outstanding), Laser or Biglietto per l’Inferno.. Real bands that recorded multiple (two or more?) records. Got it? Good.

10. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso – There are worse bands one can be influenced by than Gentle Giant, Emerson Lake & Palmer or Jethro Tull. The Grateful Dead, for example, would be a terrible band to emulate. The Arcade Fire would be yet another. Between 1972 and 1976 Banco put out six records that had at least one great moment on them. Most of ’em (the self-titled one, Io Sono Nato Libero, Garofano Rosso, Darwin!) were brilliant for their duration. Start at the beginning of their recorded discography and move forward. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.

09. Perigeo – Most of these guys were successful jazz musicians, and oftentimes their albums are more easily classifiable as that genre, as opposed to rock. Still, there are some stellar moments on these Romans’ (they were from Rome!) records. Their two best records (and by that I mean the two that I own) are Genealogia and La Valle die Templi. Both were released by RCA in the early ’70s. They’re not too hard to track down and shouldn’t cost too much money. Abbiamo Tutti un Blues da Plangere would be another wise choice if you’re looking for more Perigeo.

08. Sensations’ Fix – Franco Falsini recorded with both Agostino Nobile (La Triade) and Paolo Tofani (Area) before forming Sensations’ Fix with Richard Ursillo (Campo di Marte) and a — gasp! — American drummer named Keith Edwards. Their sound was more closely aligned with Germany “krautrock” bands than some of their Italian peers, which might be why their first three or four records (all released by Polydor) are so brilliant. There’s a self-titled record (although the band’s name is spelled Sensation’s Fix on that one instead of Sensations’ Fix), Fragments of Light, Portable Madness, Finest Finger…they’re all great.

07. Osanna – Former members of I Volti di Peitra and Citta Frontale (the old keyboard player from that band went on to play with another band which appears on this list, Il Balletto di Bronzo) recorded some great songs. All of the records are slightly flawed (one band track here or there) but the fact that they released four by-and-large great albums is a feat worthy of heaps of praise. L’uomo, Palepol, Landscape of Life and the one with the really long titled (Preludio, tema, variation, canzona) all came out on the venerable Fonit label. You don’t hear the phrase “aggressive flute” in a lot of record reviews, but L’uomo could definitely be described in that way. Trust me, it’s a flute, yeah, but so what? At least it’s not an alto saxophone.

06. Il Balletto di Bronzo – They only released two albums (Sirio 2222 and Ys) but they’re both so good it’s hard to rank them any lower based simply on the amount of music the band was able to record. The former is one of the rarest (holy grail alert!) Italian prog records (it usually commands at least $1000) and the latter is a flat-out masterpiece. It’s dark, it’s intense, and the singer (for an Eye-talian) has a good voice! With two epic symphonic records in two attempts, these guys batted 1.000 during their short tenure.

05. New Trolls – I’ve shared some New Trolls record before (notably Night On The Bare Mountain and Concerto Grosso Per I New Trolls) but there’s more to the group than just those sick Arp synthesizer sounds. There’s a lot of ambitious compositions spread across their records, and although they got heavy at times (see: Ut) they were mostly a polished progressive band (see: New Trolls Atomic System). And, fuck, that cover of Night On Bald Mountain is pretty sick.

04. Le Orme – Laugh if you want for picking one of the more well-known bands outside of Italy, but these guys were capable of sheer genius. Ad Gloriam was beat/psychedelic bliss. Felona e Sonora is a gloomy space concept album about two planets which revolve around one another without ever coming in contact. Uomo di Pezza saw the release of the “Gioco di Bimba” / “Figure di Cartone” single…which happens to be one of my favorite 45s in my meager collection. There’s so much good stuff to grab by them, pretty much anything between ’69 and ’76 is worth listening to.

03. Dedalus – These guys were fucking weird. If they’d recorded more than two records I’d probably put them at number one on this list, but that’s due in part to my adoration of all things experimental in music. Their self-titled release as well as Materiale per the esecutori e nastro magnetico were both put out on the Trident label, which was like the Italian version of Germany’s Ohr or Kosmiche Kuriere labels. Although the first record was great in a Soft Machine kind of way, that second record is OUT THERE, heavy on the electronics and ridiculously minimalist for a progressive album. Just amazing.

02. Area – I wrote a bit about Area yesterday, when I shared the three-disc Akarma-issued “Live Concerts Box.” Arbeit Macht Frei is at times completely bat-shit-crazy insane, and it is also one of those rare progressive records where the singer’s voice is as integral to the sound as any other instrument. Go for anything on the Cramps label between ’73 and ’76 (that covers the aforementioned record, Caution Radiation Area, Crac!, Are(a)zione, and Maledetti). That last one isn’t as great as the rest, but it’s kind of important to hear how they radically altered there sound. You’ll hear it and you’ll say, “Okay I don’t like this as much,” but you’ll at least have heard it and enjoyed everything up until that point.

01. Goblin – Well, duh. It’s fucking Goblin. There’s a reason every modern psych band with half a brain wants to sound like Goblin. I mean, fuck, they pretty much are synonymous with the sound of giallo movies and pretty much invented that genre. Profondo Rosso is essential. Roller is essential. Suspiria is essential. Zombi is essential. Il Fantastico Viaggio…not so much, but it’s not BAD! Even Patrick is good! Goblin has the rare distinction of not just being one of the most important Italian prog bands of their time, but they also made their mark on both soundtrack music and electronic music. That more than anything else puts them head-and-shoulders above their peers. This might be hyperbole but…would any of us care about Argento movies the same way if there was shitty music playing over them? My answer: Probably not.

New Trolls - Una Notta Sul Monte Calvo [MP3]


  1. Tyler Kent

    No complaints here. Great list, we’re mostly in agreement. I may rate Banco higher but to each his own.

    NP – Lucifer’s Friend / ST

  2. |

    In my mind there are lots of actors missing, each being better

    1. Alphataurus
    2. Planetarium
    3. Murple
    4. Locanda delle Fate
    5. Semiramis
    6. Trip
    7. Nuova Idea
    8. Garybaldi
    9. Celeste
    10. I Cocai

  3. |

    Would you believe that I don’t really like the Garybaldi record? I also specifically said I was limiting my list to bands that released more than one album, so that would negate most of the others you listed.

  4. |

    No PFM? Really? I know this might be a personal list but I don’t see how any top ten Italian band list cannot have PFM(Premiata Forneria Marconi)on it.

    Italy was well known back in the day for having lots of “one shot” bands and some have been mentioned here. A few I don’t see are Locanda Della Fate, Maxophone, Semiramis, Cervello, Campo Di Marte, Apoteosi, Cherry Five(who later became Goblin),and Biglietto Per Linferno(who actually technically had two albums but one wasn’t released until way later). Lot’s of great prog from Italy no matter how you slice it.

  5. |

    Hey, thanks for the reply. Personally I’m not a big PFM fan, but I know a lot of people really enjoy them. That said, I think (I’m too lazy to check) I mentioned wanting to only list band who released multiple studio albums, thus rendering Campo Di Marti disqualified. Which sucks, because that record is one of my all-time favorites from the genre.

  6. |

    I heard a song that was a popular American rock song but it was sung in Italian. I recognized the tune being an American rock song. It struck me as so beautiful hearing sung in Italian. I was in Italy at the time. It was in 1973 when I heard it and I never forgot the emotion that it stirred in me but I don’t remember which rock song it was. If you know of any Italian rock bands from the 1970’s that sang some American rock songs in Italian could you please let me know of them? I would want to buy some cd of these Italian bands.

  7. |

    Impressioni di settembre by premiata forneria Marconi is what you heard

  8. |

    Nice list, always glad to see more mention of RPI. Next to krautrock, RPI is my favorite genre. (Even though RPI is to krautrock like night is to day) Dedalus is a surprising mention. I wouldn’t rate them in my top-ten, but their two albums are especially fab. Personally, I’ve come to really like Goblin’s Il Fantastico Viaggio a lot, and consider it to be their best album. One band of yours I definitely wouldn’t put in a top 10 would be New Trolls. Compared to 90% of RPI, I find New Trolls to be pedestrian. The only album of theirs I like is UT. One band you don’t mention, but is definitely worth checking out, is Aktuala. They released three great albums of prog-folk on the Bla-Bla label.

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