Be-Bop Deluxe

Founded in 1972 by Bill Nelson, Be-Bop Deluxe proved to be a prog act cut from a different cloth than its contemporaries. They were sparky and frenetic and explored the expansive cosmos that is rock with a freewheeling, bright-eyed thirst I find inspiring. They did have a sound that is recognizable, though; they weren't shape-shifting chameleons who couldn't find a voice of their own.

Futurama, their pedal-to-the-medal sophomore effort, is a little bit of Fripp guitar wizardry, a hint of early Roxy Music slicked-back suaveness, a brushing of glittery Queen, a taste for the dramatic and high-flown of Electric Light Orchestra, and a slive of the playful machismo of Thin Lizzy. (Incidentally, Roy Thomas Baker, who produced for Queen, produced Futurama.) Many look to bands of the 70s and position them as punk acts still incubating in their cocoons or precursors to hair metal or early art-rockers or power pop pioneers, but Be-Bop Deluxe presented itself as something different on many occasion: proto-new wave. Their character was too whimsical, their tempos were too quick to be deemed pure prog, and they placed an emphasis on sugary synth-led licks and tight-as-a-drum guitar hooks that set them apart from the Enos and Bowies and Gabriels of the era.

Sunburst Finish is generally considered their best full-length, which I think is fair. Still, there's something about the scrappiness and exuberance and insolence of Futurama I adore, and I'd encourage you to start there.

Bill Nelson stayed mighty active after he dissolved the band in the late 70s, first as Red Noise, then as, simply, Bill Nelson. Sound-on-Sound, the technically-not-a-solo-debut solo debut, is especially interesting—it reads as new wave in a fashion that anticipated, say, Wall of Voodoo, but has the bones of spacey, sprawling, sci-fi prog that defined folks like Alan Parsons.

By 1983's Chimera, it sounded like Nelson had brain-melded with David Sylvian.

A parting note: His 1971 debut, Northern Dream, which was put out before Be-Bop Deluxe even began rehearsing, is a fun little artifact from that time, and, in light of what was to come later, functions as a sort of sketchy outline or first draft of the Bill Nelson sound. Bedroom prog, if such a thing exists.