“I was in high school and had been going to Julliard, studying classical music, so I was only somewhat aware of anything going on in the rock world," says Dream Theater's keyboard master Jordan Rudess. "Classmates of mine used to show up in the school auditorium with albums by Genesis and Gentle Giant, and they tried to show me what they were listening to. That was probably how I first noticed something new was going on in music."
According to Rudess, his first true introduction to prog-rock occurred when a friend came over to his house and put on a copy of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's seminal 1970 album, Tarkus. "It electrified my thinking," he says. "Suddenly, I became super-aware of new sounds and possibilities. In fact, there were even parts on it where I went, ‘Wow! I’ve got some pieces that are kind of similar, but they sure don’t sound like that’ – because I was just playing them on piano. The record really changed my life."
Drawn to the power of keyboards and electronics, the teenaged Rudess started covering his walls with pictures of Moog synthesizers while soaking up the sounds of Yes, Gentle Giant and ELP. "I was on a mission," he says, "which led to my leaving the classical world and Julliard, much to my parents’ and teachers’ dismay."
When he was still deep into the Julliard flow, Rudess remembers that rock 'n' roll was often sneered at. "There was a lot of that attitude," he says. "You know – 'People who play that stuff don’t know what they’re doing. They’re a bunch of hoods.' Rock was for hippies and people who were into drugs. It was seen as the ‘dark side.’ But I was like, ‘Hey, it’s not such a dark side; in fact, it’s really pretty cool!’
“It’s kind of funny, though, because rock always had a rebellious spirit – that’s what rock is all about – and when I discovered progressive rock and pursued it, I had to break free and follow my own path. And that's what I did.”
On the following pages, Jordan Rudess lists (in alphabetical order by artist) what he calls the 10 greatest prog-rock records of all time. "To be a progressive musician, you have to be willing to stretch things," he says. "I think every album here has something about it that pushes the boundaries and goes beyond the ordinary. "