In 1971-72 the progressive rock scene (then headquartered in Europe) was hit by an unprecedented blast. America initially didn't even recognize such a blow had been delivered. That realization would come years later.
Out of nowhere came Roxy Music. The band was led by the impossibly suave matinee crooner Bryan Ferry and supplemented by the soon-to-become-legendary and blindingly fey Brian Eno. Roxy's sublime mixture of backwardness and forward looking sonic experimentation built up to the release of one of the most coveted of all self titled debut albums in history. Their stage presence and visuals were immediately assigned to the wrong camp of glam, but their musical facility and creativity transcended any accurate or compartmentalized description. I'm not sure that any 1972 prog release could ever be declared in 2011 to still be in the future. But ask around and you'll see. Investigate the influences of Radiohead and so many others — you'll find that their inspiration comes from the same triumvirate of the first three Roxy discs. Actually their first five releases Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure, Stranded, Country Life and Siren ruled Britain's charts before America jumped on board. It's rumored that their post-reformation "Avalon" from 1982 resulted in as many American births as the end of WWII (only a slight exaggeration given the immaculately lush, seductively romantic vibe it projected).
So anyone interested in top drawer prog rock should definitely look to releases from Roxy Music proper. But just as rewarding - and certainly even more underappreciated - are records involving the band's members. Beyond Mr. Ferry and Mr. Eno, guitarist Phil Manzanera has established a superb individual catalogue. Saxist/oboist Andy MacKay and drummer Paul Thompson (TGPT) have contributed mightily to releases by Mott The Hoople/John Cale and Concrete Blonde respectively.
Bryan Ferry is a solo artist to this day with critically acclaimed records topped by Boys And Girls, Bete Noire, Frantic and the recently released Olympia. Brian Eno delivered "Here Come The Warm Jets", "Taking Magic Mountain (By Strategy", "Another Green World" and "Before And After Science", along with launching the ambient music genre while producing such acts as U2 and Talking Heads and collaborating with David Bowie.
Phil Manzanera issued the heralded Diamond Head and half a dozen other acclaimed solo releases. Just as importantly, he was the force behind the exalted jazz-rock outfit known as 801 and its precursor Quiet Sun. Just check around with some informed prog heads and you'll see the astonishing degree of historical regard given to "801 Live" and Quiet Sun's "Mainstream".
Keep going, though, and even more treasures can be found by following the Roxy Music trail. Manzanera was key to the prime period of the legendary ex-Velvet Underground founder John Cale (particularly Cale's finest release Slow Dazzle). You'll also find what many believe to be King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp's finest recorded solo residing on "Baby's On Fire" from Eno's "Here Come The Warm Jets". Andy MacKay added sax to Mott The Hoople's mind-blasting "All The Way From Memphis" and others.
As a lifelong rock music appreciator and occasional music critic — I'll express disappointment with both the quality of so much of today's music and the degeneration of appreciation for playback methods (MP3, compression, excessive priority for mobility, etc). Lost is the intelligence, lyricism, literariness, arrangements, musicianship, craft and everything else so vital. To be replaced by sexism, rhyming, computerization, sampling, stage extravaganzas devoid of real musicianship and other practices embraced by so many artists today. If one does so, it would not really cost that much to delve into the Roxy Music associated riches. After all, the treasures to be found are one of a kind and still not surpassed.
Bryan Ferry: All titles mentioned above, along with numerous remastered compilations looking again for Ludwig remasters. As is so often the case, his 1999 reworking of 1930s to 1940s standards entitled As Time Goes By served as the model for Rod Stewart's inferior series of similar projects. True originality means so little nowadays.
Phil Manzanera: The indispensable Diamond Head and 801 Live Numerous John Cale releases, along with some prime stuff by ex-Soft Machine founder Robert Wyatt.
Brian Eno: All titles mentioned above, plus Music For Airports that propelled the ambient movement. Also on a lot of John Cale stuff.
Andy Mackay: Mott The Hoople Mott, John Cale Fear, and Slow Dazzle.
Paul Thompson: Concrete Blonde and Mexican Moon.
To sum up, these core Roxy Music artists can be found on dozens and dozens of albums of the highest order. The fact that many of the releases flew under the "Rolling Stone coverage type thing" radar brings an added bonus of the material not being as tied to a certain time. When you consider the timelessness inherent in the musicianship itself, it's a cool way to spend a few bucks with great reward.