Many people think of classical music as high art and rock music as lowbrow music for the masses. Whereas classical music supposedly is complex and requires patience and understanding to appreciate, rock music is simple and easily accessible. However, in my opinion, some of the best music combines elements of both.

Here are five long-form progressive rock songs that I think demonstrate this point. These are not typical “songs,” but lengthy compositions built from several distinct movements that form an integrated whole. Like many classical symphonies, each movement tells a different part of an overarching story.

Each of these compositions is highly complex, requiring enormous technical skill and years of practice to perform, as can be seen when watching live performances of these songs. Nonetheless, these are examples of rock music. Each piece has lyrics you can sing along to, instrumental parts you can picture yourself playing, and a rhythm you can follow. They combine elements of classical music with elements of popular music—they’re accessible, modern, and powerful, while also being intricate, grandiose, and rich in stylistic variety. . . .


1. entry for Telegraph Road, (accessed November 12, 2020).

2. Kory Grow, “Rush’s Alex Lifeson on 40 Years of ‘2112’: ‘It Was Our Protest Album,’” Rolling Stone, March 29, 2016, (accessed November 9, 2020).

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