Album titles like Hit To Death In The Future Head could have been a clue. Or perhaps it was the 24-hour-long song 7 Skies H3. Or just maybe it was the The Flaming Lips' track-by-track reimaginings of both Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon and King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King.
Yes, it was there all along – that band leader Wayne Coyne is a total, unapologetic prog head. "I've always been a fan," he says, "although the funny thing is, I was into the music long before anybody knew what to call it. It was just there."
From the earliest days of The Flaming Lips, Coyne constructed a musical conceit based around the prevailing notion that "anything goes," an idea that he says owes as much to prog rock as it does punk. Even so, he does acknowledge the genres' clear differences.
“When we were first turned on to and influenced by punk rock, the thought was that it was a reaction to, and a rejection of, prog rock," he says. "Punk said that anybody can make music – all you had to do was go for it. Prog had no limitations musically, but it wouldn't admit everybody to the club. Prog kind of said, ‘No, hardly anybody can play this music. In fact, you have to be incredibly gifted to even try it.’"
Throughout his career, Coyne's music has carried many labels: alternative rock, psychedelic alternative rock, experimental rock, space rock, dream pop and so on. The term "prog rock," however, tends to be a divisive one, a black mark on one's cred card, and Coyne admits to encountering his share of musical snobs. "I've always found it funny to meet somebody with the attitude of ‘Oh, I can’t like that type of music because it doesn’t make me cool,’" he says. "To me, the coolest people in the world are the ones with open minds and open hearts, and they’re willing to experience things to the fullest.
"Prog rock, just like punk or anything else, is, at its purest, about freedom of the mind. That, to me, is a pretty cool thing to embrace.”
On the following pages, Coyne runs down his choices for the five greatest prog-rock albums of all time, records made by bands that, in his view, "didn't really have a plan to be successful. They just made their music."