Top 10 Concept Albums
Introducing a prevalent theme or concept into music is something which takes much care. Many have tried and failed to produce worthy concept work, however when done sincerely- the idea can lead to some of the most hard-hitting and standout work a band may produce in an entire career.
10. Green Day – American Idiot
Taking heed from idols such as The Who, punks Green Day- who, until this, were known for their regeneration of the classic three-chord sound, decided in light of their 2002 effort ‘Shenanigans’ to produce a rock opera. The finished piece, which took little under one year to complete, is a stirring account of the journey undertaken by fictitious anti-hero figure ‘Jesus of Suburbia’.
9. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Canadian indie/art rockers Arcade Fire’s latest full length came in the shape of this, their third and longest LP to date. Critically received by both fans and…critics, the album is based around the all too regular dream of fleeing the mundaneness of a suburban childhood and finding something bigger and better. The topic is supposedly semi-biographical in influence- tracking the move of frontman Win Butler and brother/bandmate Will from humble Texan beginnings to the big lights of Montreal.
8. David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
One of the original pioneers of the concept within rock music- David Bowie adopted his famous ‘Ziggy’ persona in the early 1970’s, stepping away (or ahead?) from success already garnered as plain old David. The concept of this album is based around the earth only having five years of existence left, with Ziggy Stardust being a human manifestation of an alien race trying to instil some hope on our planet in these bleak times. Eventually destroyed however by his own excess (drugs + sex), and his fans- it’s nice to know some things are universal.
7. Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
This seventh release by metal titans Iron Maiden obviously had to be in seventh place. Not only did this release mark a true progression of the band’s sound and song structuring, but was their first to feature a theme or concept. Taking influence from the literature of American writer Orson Scott Card, the band pursued the idea of a mystical seventh born son being blessed with differing astonishing abilities. It’s all very prog. Which makes it worth a listen because since when have Iron Maiden been in anyway prog?
6. Radiohead – OK Computer
Hinting this very experimental bands first lean towards being just that, Radiohead’s third album is a 12-track odyssey into the mind of Thom Yorke and co. Targeting issues relative to the era in which it was produced, OK Computer takes a good look at our age of consumerism, political apathy and general disenchantment. Although the band do not admit to the album intentionally carrying a concept, it could be said the limb upon which this work was created has continued to influence the band right through until their most recent work.
5. Rush – 2112
Kings of the prog concept Rush come in at fifth with their fourth studio album ‘2112’. I’ll no doubt receive all kinds of Canadian mail stamped death-threats for this, however I regret nothing. This is a masterpiece of an album which opens with the 20 minute epic which quite rightly lends its name to the LP as a whole. Set in a dystopian future it features Galaxy-wide warfare and the like, although you would do well to refuse that this draw you from the supreme musicianship on show.
4. Queens of the Stone Age
The Queens third album contains much to get excited about. Arguably their best album to date, a play through of this hour long album will take you on a journey from metropolis of Los Angeles to the sparseness of Joshua Tree, CA. By bridging the songs with, often lengthy, fictitious radio show cuttings- the band have added an all new dimension to their work. It’s the kind of idea that must have had every musician on the planet kicking themselves for not coming up with it first. An enchanting and exhilarating listen from A to B- it also features Dave Grohl on drums for the first time since Nirvana.
3. Pink Floyd – The Wall
An extremely famous concept album, Pink Floyds eleventh (they weren’t shy of the studio back in the day, were they?) LP deals with themes isolation and distress incurred by disaffection. Perhaps just as famous for the theatrical live tour that followed, The Wall is a piece by piece construction and eventual deconstruction of…a wall. The protagonist, Pink, is based on Roger Waters- a young man who undergoes various hardships throughout his life, closing himself off to the world behind a wall more and more gradually. I’d fill you in with the rest, but you should go and check it out yourself. Easily the most concept heavy album on this list.
2. The Beatles – Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
By 1967, The Beatles were no longer just four young gentlemen from Liverpool, England. They were the most sought after musical figures on the planet. Rather annoyed at this state of affairs, the band, already having announced their intentions to cease touring, decided to begin work under various alter-egos. Presumably in an effort to stem the massive amounts of expectation which lay on their heads as a result of their huge success in years previous, the idea grew from a single track Paul McCartney had wrote declaring involvement of the band used eventually as the title for the entire album. Although later refuted by John Lennon, there are certainly prevalent themes to be recognised within the LP- as well as some of the most ahead of its time song-writing ever committed to record.
1. The Who – Tommy
The first work of its kind, The Who’s phenomenal rock opera ‘Tommy’ tells the story of a ‘death, dumb and blind boy’ who subsequently is cured only to become a figure of guru like status- having become truly enlightened by his ordeal. The album confronts the whole idea of ‘see no evil’ etc. and at times plunges into the darkness of the likes of child-abuse and torture. As a result of this, the album received a mixed reception upon its release, with some claiming it to be a step in the right direction for rock music and others believing it to be exploitative of issues which should not be subject to judgement by such musicians. Either way it’s an intriguing album which sound-tracked some of the most prominent live performances in musical history.
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