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Old 02-12-2023, 02:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Top 500 Prog Albums - Ever!

No, not according to me: in the view of ProgArchives. I’m going to take their top 10 albums for each year, going back 50 (from last year, obviously) and review them here. But so as not to make it too boring for those not into, say, modern prog or vice versa, I’ll begin with 1972 and do the number 10 album on their list from that year, then I’ll go for the number 9 from 1973, 8 from 1974 and so on. Over the course, then, of this project, I’ll get through a total of 500 albums, many of which - being all in the top ten of each year - you’ll know and I’ll know, but some I won’t.

By the way, I’m not going to do my usual lengthy exploration and explanation of who the artist is or was; these are all top ten albums for each year so you should know them, and if you don’t, then go look them up. I’ve half a thousand albums to get through, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t put my normal amount of research into these.

Note: Gold Rated tracks is probably obvious - best ones on the album; Silver Rated are good or great but just not standouts while Wood are absolute dross. Anything not shown in any of the three is considered all right but just not good enough to be Silver or Gold and not bad enough to be Wood.

Familiarity index (artist)
1 = Never heard of them or heard anything from them
2 = Heard of them but never heard anything by them
3 = Know of them, have heard one or two of their albums or songs
4 = Know them quite well, have heard some of their albums or songs
5 = Know them very well, have heard many of their albums
6 = Know them extremely well, have heard all or most of their albums

Familiarity index (album)

1 = Never heard of it
2 = Heard of it but have never heard it
3 = Heard it maybe once before
4 = Heard it many times
5 = One of my favourite albums


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Old 02-12-2023, 02:18 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Album title: Space Shanty
Artist: Khan
Nationality: English
Sub-genre: Canterbury Scene
Year: 1972
Position on list for that year: 10
Chronology: 1 of 1
Familiarity with artist: 2
Familiarity with album: 2
Gold Rated track(s): Stranded, Driving to Amsterdam, Hollow Stone
Silver Rated track(s): Stargazers
Wooden Rated track(s): None
Comments: This album looks familiar. I didn’t get to 1972 yet in my History of Prog journal, but I think I may be about to get there, and have seen it in the list of albums released that year. Actually, it looks like I’m still mired in 1971 but I’m sure I’ve seen this album. I can tell you that Gong legend Steve Hillage was in Khan, along with some other Canterbury folk (sorry) and that this was their one and only album. It’s relatively short, which may be a good thing for me - just over the three-quarters-of-an-hour mark, with a total of six tracks, some of them obviously quite long. Now, those of you who know me will already know that the Canterbury Scene is not, well, my scene. I’ve listened to Caravan, Soft Machine, Gong and others and I really did not like what I heard. Goes back to the hippy/psychedelic thing I guess; Hawkwind once wrote that if you want to get into it, you gotta get out of it, and I’ve never been out of it in my life. In fact, I think it might be hard to find someone who is more consistently in it, so trippy albums don’t have the same effect on me that they might have on, for example, you. Doesn’t mean I’ll pan it, but my expectations are a little lower than were I going to review, say, a prog folk or a progressive metal or neo-prog album (no, not in 1972, I know, smartass!) so I’m sort of ready for the worst.

Let’s see how bad it is.

It’s certainly a product of the seventies, with that staggered guitar that comes through so much in hard rock and early metal, and of course psych; the main vocal melody reminds me of something but I can’t place it. Uriah Heep maybe? Not sure. Nice slow organ run is pretty cool and this is of course the opener and title track (with an additional “includes the Cobalt Sequence and the March of the Sine Squadrons”) and runs for nine minutes. It’s pretty okay actually when the vocals drop out; instrumental work is indeed quite progressive in tone. I have to say, of the Canterbury albums I’ve listened to (and there have not been that many, but a few certainly) this is far and away the best. “Stranded” is really nice with a sprinkly piano and - oh, it’s just broke out into hard guitar and warbling organ. Picking up speed but still nice. Even the vocal doesn’t bother me on this. I see Hillage and Nick Greenwood seem to share vocal duties, so maybe I’m listening to a different singer? Anyway it’s good and the instrumental passages are glorious. Much better than I had expected. That piano from Dave Stewart really makes the song.

That guitar bit there presages the big hit for the Alan Parsons Project, “Eye in the Sky”, or to be more accurate, its instrumental intro, “Sirius”. Wonder if Parsons listened to this album, or maybe David Paton did? “Mixed Up Man of the Mountains” has an odd kind of tra-la-la vocal with some truly exceptional guitar, and really, other than the somewhat stuttering start this album has not put a foot wrong since. That sounds like some Cat Stevens in there too, in the guitar riff? Some pretty rocky stuff going on now, as the track acquires teeth whereas up to now it’s just been more or less lazily chewing the cud. To carry the analogy, such as it is, further, the song has been up to now cows in a field, until a bull charges in and takes control of the herd. It’s heavier, is what I’m saying. And really good. One of the longer tracks, “Driving to Amsterdam” has a quite jazzy peppy uptempo organ running the melody, very breezy with some fine guitar from Hillage, and the vocal is lovely and relaxed, again reminding me of something, or I guess as whatever that something is, it comes well after ‘72, I should say that something reminds me of this. Well, you know what I mean.

Yeah I know what it is: ELO’s “The Whale” and also parts of “Echoes”, which in the case of the latter is in fact before this album, if only by a year. Certainly enjoying this. “Stargazers” has a very Van der Graaf Generator vibe to it, could imagine Hammill singing on this one, then the closer is another nine-minuter, with “Hollow Stone (Including Escape of the Space Pirates)” having a very stately kind of marching, almost triumphant feel to it, a low-key vocal and a sonorous organ arrangement. It’s no surprise this album is in the top ten, the only surprise really being that it’s that low. But then, when you look at the others in that list - Genesis, Tull, Yes - two Bancos? - quite a lot of RPI in fact, like four albums or something - maybe it’s not that it’s not good enough to get higher, just that other, better-known albums are preventing it from doing so by being voted for more. Does deserve to be a few places up though.

Personal Rating: 10

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Old 02-12-2023, 03:09 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Aww yeah I f*cking love Space Shanty, probably the greatest one album wonder in prog, every track is great but Driving to Amsterdam is my personal favorite, I love that intro, sounds like what you'd get if The Allman Brothers went prog.

Though Khan come from the Canterbury scene it doesn't really sound that Canterbury to me aside from Dave Stewart's organ work, it's closer to the symphonic prog sound of Yes and Genesis than most Canterbury stuff, while Steve Hillage's guitar work gives it more of a heavy psychedelic edge. Nick Greenwood's vocals are a bit over the top which may put some people off but it makes sense when you remember that he used to play bass for Arthur Brown lol.

The musicianship is great all around but Hillage and Stewart are the stars of the show, makes sense they got special credit on the cover.

If you dig this album then definitely check out Steve Hillage's album Fish Rising, it's mostly made up of material that was intended for the second Khan album which never got made because the band quickly fell apart, it has a very similar vibe to Space Shanty and also features Stewart and several musicians from Gong.
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Old 02-16-2023, 02:34 PM   #4 (permalink)
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And so we travel a year forward in time, to the heady year of 1973, when Pink Floyd released their seminal Dark Side of the Moon, but at number 9 on the list for this year we find this, our first RPI album, but surely not our last.

Album title: Felona E Sorona
Artist: Le Orme
Nationality: Italian
Sub-genre: Rock Progressivo Italiano
Year: 1973
Position on list for that year: 9
Chronology: 4 of 20 (or 21, see below)
Familiarity with artist: 3
Familiarity with album: 1
Gold Rated track(s): Felona, The Plan, Return to Naught
Silver Rated track(s): None
Wooden Rated track(s): Sorona
Comments: This album appears to have been released both in Italian and English versions, though oddly enough, none of their other twenty albums have been. I don’t know if it was just that it was so successful, some sort of breakout album, that it had to be re-recorded for the English-speaking market, or what, but in the same year there are two versions. Truth to tell, there are three versions of this album, another one put out in 2016, which looks like it might be a two-disc version of both Italian and English releases. Guess it must have been really popular. Obviously, for my own sake, I’m going to try to get the English language version if I can. And I can’t. Okay, despite YouTube giving me an option to search for the English version the only one that comes up is the Italian one, so I guess for now I’m stuck with that.

This is even shorter than the Khan album, clocking in at just over a half-hour, with the longest track on it being the opener, at nearly nine minutes, but the rest of them are really quite short. An interesting thing, I would think, for an RPI band to decide to do. I guess you can see how Genesis became so popular in Italy, when this kind of thing was going on all over the country. I mean, I’m not sure if RPI came about as a result of, at the same time as, or before Peter and the boys, but there’s very definitely an early Genesis feel to this opener, though I do also hear a lot of classical in it, mostly Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue”. Is it all instrumental I wonder? With a nine-minute opener you’d have to imagine no, but then, some bands have done that. This Winter Machine even have a ten-minute one - but no. There are the vocals now, and though I’ve no idea what’s being sung, the voice is very clear and serene, at least on this track.

Tubular bells I think opening the second track which has, if anything, a very Spanish feel to it, with acoustic (Spanish?) guitar in a sort of singalong rhythm, almost nursery rhyme in its way (Nursery Cryme? All right, TH: enough with the damned comments in brackets! What brackets? Don’t play dumb: you know the ones I mean. Oh, those brackets! Yes, those ones) - uh, where was I? Oh yeah. Some flute coming in and a VERY Alan Parsons sound (yes yes I know) with rippling piano and some really nice vocals on “Felona” (which I can’t help thinking of felony but I’m sure it’s a name or something - the English language version doesn’t translate it so that’s why I imagine it’s a name). Ramping things up for “The Maker”, the other “long” track - just shy of six minutes - with a galloping bass line and sort of shots on the keyboard, very dramatic. And then a piece that sounds ripped out of Genesis’s “Fountain of Salmacis”, though since both albums came out in the same year I don’t know who copied who, if anyone, or if it’s just coincidence.

Great sort of boogie piano then running along to take us into “Web of Time”, a slow, melancholy ballad with another recognisable melody or motif in it, right it’s from one of the SKY tracks, the album recorded ten years later, so again, one or the other. Either SKY copied this bit or heard it or, which is more likely, just one of those things. Sounds like a motorbike revving now - guess it’s guitar effects - as “Sorona” comes in, and this one is short too, just shy of three minutes. Can’t say I particularly like this one honestly. That constant revving sound is very very annoying and it doesn’t stop, runs right through the entire track. Maybe it has something to do with the song; don’t know and don’t care. Next up is “The Plan”, coming in on a shimmery descending keyboard line with possibly warped guitar or something and maybe (though I doubt it) something like a theremin? Very spooky and weird, then “The Balance” has again that kind of breezy Spanish or Latin feel, with acoustic guitar and a few blasts on the organ, and a low-key vocal, and we end with “Return to Naught” which seems to be a kind of reprise of the “Toccata” that opened the album.

Overall I’d say this is a decent RPI album, but like with many of them - and not just due, I think, to the language barrier - I find it a little hard to engage fully with it. On repeated listenings I feel it would probably click more with me, but I’ve 498 albums to go and I don’t have the time for repeated listenings. I reckon it probably deserves its place on the list, though I feel there may be better RPI albums out there. Still, Le Orme are one of the giants of the scene, so it would not be fair to ignore that. Be interesting to see if we encounter them again in any future year lists. I’m sure we will.

Personal Rating: 8


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Old 02-19-2023, 06:50 PM   #5 (permalink)
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And so to 1974, where I’m somewhat depressed to find this at number 8.



Album title: Rock Bottom
Artist: Robert Wyatt
Nationality: English
Sub-genre: Canterbury Scene
Year: 1974
Position on list for that year: 8
Chronology: 2 of 11
Familiarity with artist: 3
Familiarity with album: 2
Gold Rated track(s): Alifib
Silver Rated track(s): None
Wooden Rated track(s): Sea Song, Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road, Alife, Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road
Comments: I’ve heard, in the course of my History of Prog journal, two of Wyatt’s albums. I do not recall enjoying either. Given that he’s one of the leading lights behind Soft Machine, and my opinion of their first four or five albums, that’s not entirely surprising. It’s a bit off-putting that I’m faced with another CS album so soon, but then, this is the list and it’s not like other projects where I randomly choose and can - if I wish (ssshh!) - cheat. Here, there is nowhere to hide, and what’s on the list is what I have to listen to and review. And so, by that measure, I have to listen to and review this.

But I don’t have to like it.

And I doubt I will.

Nice slow little Beatles-like opener anyway, very lazy and sort of swaying along, then the piano gets a bit discordant and the vocal when it comes in is a little weak at first, but then gets stronger and reminds me of early Divine Comedy yes I know. Well there are only six tracks on this, and none are epics so maybe it won’t be so bad. Another forty-minute album: don’t these people know what prog is? Well anyway this is called “Sea Song” and it soon gets really annoying with all the atonal stuff and some sort of clarinet or something going in the background, or maybe it’s flute. The choral vocals (probably a Prophet; were they around in 1974?) adds something to the song, but it’s not one I can say I like, not at all. The title track is a little better but I just don’t like the guy’s style at all. I don’t know what it is about him; maybe it’s the way the music keeps going sort of out of tune, which I’m sure is intentional but certainly is annoying to me, or maybe it’s his habit of vocalise all the time, like scat singing. I mean, can he not sing lyrics?

We get all free jazz and improvisational then (how I hate that) in “Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road”, and sadly Mr. Wyatt did not follow her example; there’s another track almost titled the same, and if it’s like this I’ll be banging my head against the wall. And it runs for like seven minutes. Mostly it appears to be instrumental, in fact it may be so all the way through: I’m on about minute three and there’s only been that vocalise so far, and little of that (though not little enough) and as for the taped speech/masking/whatever the hell it is: enough, really now. Enough. And next up is “Alifib”, whatever that means: Wyatt seems to enjoy a fair bit of the old wordplay, as evidenced by the two albums that bookend this, his debut End of an Ear and the next one, Ruth is Stranger Than Richard. Yeah, very clever, but clever titles don’t make great albums, and for me, this is not a great album. Not so far anyway.

At least this track is more restrained, a nice smooth guitar line against some synthy keyboard giving quite a relaxed feel, just the thing after the last freeform-fest. Melody sounds very similar, as if it’s some folk or traditional song or something. Maybe it’s just me. Miles better than anything on this album so far anyway. Runs directly into “Alife” (which I had incorrectly read as “Alfie”) as we get a squeaky sound against a spectral, haunting keyboard line and some sort of basic vocal almost spoken rather than sung. Back to the poor quality, at least for me, we go. Sigh. Oh well. Only one more track to go and I’ll be done with this. Oh that squeaky sound is a clarinet I think, though it sounds as if he’s having a conversation with a very irate goose or hen. I know how it feels. Clarinets played by the hilariously-appropriately-named Gary Windo!

Oh look! Album is produced by Nick Mason. I wonder is that the Nick Mason? Surely it is. And this track is sung (!) by another guy, not Wyatt. I still don’t care. I hate this. Okay I don’t hate it, that’s not fair. But I really dislike and have no interest in it. And here’s the other song like “Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road”, though this time it’s, um, “Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road”. Right. Seems a bit better musically, not that that would be hard. Yeah but then it goes into feedback and some sort of repeated line in the vocal which just grates and grates till I want to turn this ****ING ALBUM OFF! Even the great Mike Oldfield lending a hand on guitar here can’t pull this out of the mire it’s stuck in. Oh, and now there’s someone speaking in what sounds like an exaggerated Scottish accent against what might be accordion or bassoon or some damn thing. Hey, I was right: I didn’t like it.

Personal Rating: 3

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Old 02-20-2023, 01:10 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Booooooooooooooo.

This is album is f*cking beautiful man, it's one of my favorites, it's like a musical impressionist painting, you could call it the Astral Weeks of prog, except I like it way more than that album tbh. I dig it's underwater vibe, as the music gets more and more abstract with each song it feels like I'm diving deeper and deeper into an alien world.

Anyway that guy speaking at the end of "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" is Scottish poet and musician Ivor Cutler and the instrument is a harmonium being played by Cutler himself, it is a pretty odd way to end the album but that's Wyatt for ya.

You did say before that you don't like Canterbury in general, which I can't get enough of personally, I get the impression you just don't like the jazzier side of prog.
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Old 02-20-2023, 01:46 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Trolls is a notorious improv jazz hater.

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Old 02-20-2023, 02:14 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Queen Boo View Post
Booooooooooooooo.

This is album is f*cking beautiful man, it's one of my favorites, it's like a musical impressionist painting, you could call it the Astral Weeks of prog, except I like it way more than that album tbh. I dig it's underwater vibe, as the music gets more and more abstract with each song it feels like I'm diving deeper and deeper into an alien world.

Anyway that guy speaking at the end of "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" is Scottish poet and musician Ivor Cutler and the instrument is a harmonium being played by Cutler himself, it is a pretty odd way to end the album but that's Wyatt for ya.

You did say before that you don't like Canterbury in general, which I can't get enough of personally, I get the impression you just don't like the jazzier side of prog.
So that's why you're called Queen Boo! Look, I'm not saying it's a **** album, just not for me. Do not, ever, expect me to pretend I like something when I don't. Even if it's by an artist I love, if it sucks I'll say it. Both Genesis (Abacab) and Marillion (Somewhere Else) have had bad albums, and I call them out on them. This did nothing for me, nothing at all. But yes, I find CS hard to get into, if not impossible, and I do not like jazz full stop. I once tried to address this by writing a jazz journal, but by the first page I had realised it was just depressing me, and I stopped. Some people, oddly enough, are not into jazz. Meet one of them.

Oh, and I hate Astral Weeks too.
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Trolls is a notorious improv jazz hater.

That's a lie.
I hate all jazz.
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Old 02-20-2023, 02:27 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Album title: Ommadawn
Artist: Mike Oldfield
Nationality: English
Sub-genre: Crossover Prog
Year: 1975
Position on list for that year: 7
Chronology: 4 of 26
Familiarity with artist: 3
Familiarity with album: 2
Gold Rated track(s): None of this is really applicable here...
Silver Rated track(s):
Wooden Rated track(s):
Comments: An interesting point here I didn’t know is that after the phenomenal success of his debut album, the now-classic Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield did not want another hit album. He was retiring from the limelight he had been most reluctantly and somewhat perhaps violently and certainly unexpectedly thrust into. He became a musical recluse, and this, his third album, was all recorded in a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. The title comes from an Irish word for idiot - amadan - but manages to also represent, you know, a bright new beginning for the artist. He would never have solo success again like he had with Tubular Bells, although his albums would all be huge sellers. Those who know his name outside of his fanbase quote that album and the one or two hits he had with other people, such as Maggie Bell on “Moonlight Shadow” and “Family Man” and Roger Chapman on “Shadow on the Wall”. This has not stopped him becoming a multi-million-selling artist, but unless you’re into his music, the above, plus the well-known Christmas instrumental piece “In Dulce Jubilo” (oh, you’d know it if you heard it, believe me) are going to be the sum total of your knowledge or experience of him.

Not at all surprisingly, both for him and for the time, this is an album of two tracks, both almost completely instrumental, though the closing section of part two, called “On Horseback” has some nonsense lyrics in Irish. I must say, he does look very Christ-like on the cover, doesn’t he? The artist suffering for his art? Forcing his creation out despite his wish to be alone? Well maybe; I don’t know. Those eyes are extremely blue, aren’t they? Almost as blue as the Blue Stone of Galveston! (In-joke for those who know Blackadder, watch, um, another space). At any rate, it’s the music we’re concerned with, and it’s an ambient, almost spiritual beginning to part one. Now, considering all the instruments he plays I’m not going to attempt to identify them, so, you know, suck it. I do wonder if this will build up in instrumental layers, like his famous debut? We’ll see I guess. I can hear certain echoes of that album here for sure; probably never really get away from it. I think there are like four versions of it now, not including Tubular Bells II and III.

Some pretty powerful electric guitar now - I believe the guitar is his first love and instrument of choice, and it features fairly prominently in Tubular Bells too. Get a sense of the music not quite reaching a crescendo, but building in intensity now. Coming back down though with a breezy flute solo I think then joined by bass and some sort of keyboard and bouncing along with an almost Beatles flavour, heading nearly in a kind of brass band direction, though there’s no actual brass. Not yet anyway. Slowing down even more now with a nice little soft piano and some choral vocals or Prophet ARP or something, then we get into some almost tribal drums with a native chant which reminds me of stuff which surfaced on later Peter Gabriel solo albums and, to a lesser extent, some of Paul Simon’s work.

I suppose the idea of people rushing out to buy an instrumental album that has two tracks and runs for just over half an hour seems pretty unlikely now, but this was the 1970s and the likes of ELP, Yes and others were releasing albums of increasing complexity and length and decreasing numbers of tracks, and this went to number four in the charts. Wouldn’t even stand a chance of getting into the top forty these days I’m sure. Maybe we had better attention spans back then, or maybe it was just the golden age of progressive rock, and Oldfield benefited from that. Of course, there would also be those who bought it as a reaction to having bought and liked Tubular Bells. Nevertheless, I think it was quite a feat to have this in the top five, and a tribute to the man’s popularity and determination not to just write what the public wanted. He certainly stayed true to his vision, and it stood to him in the end.

Part two opens on a grand, stately keyboard and piano piece, slow and dramatic, then it fades away to a nice sort of stripped-down acoustic guitar in a kind of pastoral vein, with electric joining in and fleshing out the sound, before uileann pipes are added and now the tune has, not surprisingly, a very Celtic feel. You can just imagine looking out across the misty fields towards the cloud-shrouded mountains as a clear lake sparkles in the distance, the sun striking dazzling reflections off its surface, as the sheep go about their morning, unimpressed by nature’s awe-inspiring beauty, and somewhere there’s the gentle chug-chug-chug of a tractor working in the fields. The final piece is that “On Horseback”, with the nonsense Irish lyric and it’s kind of a bit odd after the two instrumental pieces. I guess one of his little jokes, like that country bit at the end of Tubular Bells II. Well now there are clearly English lyrics there too. Hmm. Okay. Good yes but I don’t think I’d have been rushing out to buy it personally myself.

Not on this album when released, but a special version the next year (1976) included that “In Dulce Jubilo” which became his signature Christmas song. I still wouldn’t be all that crazy about this album, but then, while of course I love Tubular Bells, I wouldn’t class myself as a big Oldfield fan.

Personal Rating: 6

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Old 02-20-2023, 03:37 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Honestly I consider this album to be Oldfield's true masterpiece, Tubular Bells is great but it's a little rough around the edges, Oldfield was a 19 year old kid who threw together every idea he had to see if it sticks, it did it's job in showcasing his raw talent but it lacks the flow and cohesion of some of his later work.

Ommadawn is just gorgeous from beginning to end.
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