As selected by the Songfacts community, these are the Top 10 Concept Albums of All Time.
10. Songs for the Deaf - Queens of the Stone Age
QotSA's third studio album takes you on a drive from Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert, all the while tuning into radio stations from towns on the way, such as Banning, California, and Chino Hills, California, always changing channels until one of the songs from the album is played.
But besides the entertaining radio announcements ("We play the songs that sound more like everyone else than anyone else."), with the ever-changing membership of the band, this album is also famous for featuring none other than Dave Grohl on drums, which, together with Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, and vocalist Mark Lenagan, was arguably one of the best lineups in their history.
9. Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) - The Kinks
Arthur (Or Decline and Fall Of The British Empire), 1969, was not the Kinks’ first concept album (that was their previous one, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society). But it turned out to be their best. With a collection of songs that have stood the test of time, and today, 40 years later, is as enjoyable as when it was first released in 1969.
The story that the songs detail is the one of Ray Davies' brother-in-law, Arthur, who emigrated from England to Australia with his wife Rose, Ray’s and Dave’s older sister. The album starts out with a description of the post WWI England, Victoria, continues with tidbits about life in Britain, WWII, and the move to the promised land, Australia:
“Opportunities are available in all walks of life in Australia
So if you're young and if you're healthy
Why not get a boat and come to Australia.”
In the magnificent song, "Shangri-La," we learn that life in Australia isn’t what the pair had expected. It isn’t the Shangri-La of their dreams:
“The gas bills and the water rates, and payments on the car
Too scared to think about how insecure you are
Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-la.”
In the final song, "Arthur," we leave the protagonist at the end of his dream, trying to find out what went wrong:
“Arthur was born just a plain simple man
In a plain simple working class position
Though the world was hard and its ways were set
He was young and he had so much ambition.
All the way he was overtaken
By the people who make the big decisions.”
“Arthur–an Englishman's life and thoughts and hopes and dreams, stories that Ray Davies wrote and produced, little scenes that the Kinks act out in playing and singing, an album that is a masterpiece on every level: Ray Davies' finest hour, the Kinks' supreme achievement.” ~ From the Rolling Stone review, November 1, 1969
8. Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake - Small Faces
Side 1 of Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake contains a number of great songs like "Afterglow (Of your Love)," and, of course, "Lazy Sunday."
But Side 2 is where things really get interesting as far as Concept Albums are concerned. It tells the story of Happiness Stan, who, together with a magic fly, embarks on the search for the missing half of the moon. The story itself is narrated by Stanley Unwin, a British comedian, in a half-English/half-gobbled ygook language he invented, while the dialogue between Stan and the various curious characters he meets takes the form of songs. It’s a very silly and fun album, and unlike most concept albums, it doesn’t try to make you think or convey any deep messages apart from “Life is just a bowl of All-Bran/You wake up every morning and it's there.” A documentary called the album “soul-tinged blues-rock and psychedelic pop with a flavour of mock-Cockney music hall” – sums it up pretty well.
~ The Seeker
7. The Wall - Pink Floyd
The songs from The Wall tell a story that relates to the events of Pink, the leading character. During Pink’s youth, he loses his dad in the war. His mother is very over-protective, and he is exploited in school by dictating teachers. Each of these heavy burdens is symbolized by being “another brick in the wall.” When Pink grows up, he sees new light in being a rock & roll icon. He gets involved in unfaithful relationships and is overburdened with drugs and violence. After the end of his marriage, Pink assembles the wall and isolates himself from society.
Pink begins a hazy thought process and becomes insane while behind the wall. He starts to fantasize about being a fascist ruler, and has concerts where he starts a bigotry authorization on the crowd. As a result, his conscience locks up on him and he begins a trial with his inner-self, demanding him to “tear down the wall” in order to free himself back into society, where he must make amends with the people he has hurt. The end of The Wall cycles back to the beginning, with a continuation of the melody during the final song.
6. Pet Sounds - Beach Boys
Pet Sounds is a 1966 album recorded by American pop group The Beach Boys. The group's ninth studio album, it has been widely ranked as one of the most influential records ever released in Western pop music and has been ranked at No. 1 in several music magazines' lists of greatest albums of all time, including New Musical Express, The Times, Mojo Magazine, and Pure Pop's lists.
It was No. 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list. According to Acclaimedmusic.net, Pet Sounds is the most acclaimed album of all time by music journalists.
5. Thick as a Brick - Jethro Tull
Thick As A Brick defines "concept album." In fact, it goes above and beyond by having only one song. Tull frontman Ian Anderson wrote Thick As A Brick in response to critics' calling Aqualung (their previous release) a "concept album." Anderson disagreed with this label, saying, "If the critics want a concept album we'll give them a concept album, and we'll make it so bombastic and so over the top."
His intention was to "spoof" prog acts of the time.
Ironically, Thick As A Brick placed Jethro Tull amongst the greats of prog rock. It epitomized everything prog: time signature changes are everywhere, the instrumentation is varied, the lyrics are oblique, and, of course, it consists of one 43-minute epic.
The concept even extends beyond the music and lyrics: TAAB's premise is that its lyrics were penned by a (fictional) 8-year-old, Gerald "Little Milton" Bostock, as an epic poem entered into a children's writing contest. The story of his entry, triumph, and subsequent disqualification are detailed in the liner notes, which consist of the newspaper of a small town (also fictional). The lyrics themselves are printed, along with numerous articles, all of them written by Ian Anderson, who has a great sense of humour. This furthers the "spoof" idea, mocking small-town journalism.
All in all, it's a great album, and the concept holds together very well. Also, its humourous presentation helps to stop it from seeming pretentious as many great prog albums might.
4. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders from Mars - David Bowie
We write five years before the end of the world. Natural resources are running out and the people's minds are losing grip with reality. David Bowie narrates the story of a young alien that visits the earth with a message of peace and love. Ziggy is a gifted guitar player and his band rises and falls during the length of the album.
On live shows, Bowie continued the concept by transforming into Ziggy Stardust calling his backing group "The Spiders from Mars," as one can enjoy on the 1973 concert movie with the same title as the original album.
Topping the UK charts upon release in 1972, this album received many good critiques and has grown to one of the albums that defines Bowie, and concept albums in general.
3. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the British rock band The Beatles. Recorded over a 129-day period beginning on 6 December 1966, the album was released on 1 June 1967 in the United Kingdom, and the following day in the United States.
Sgt. Pepper is often described as The Beatles' magnum opus and recognized as one of the most influential albums of all time by prominent critics and publications. It was ranked the greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone in 2003.
2. Tommy - The Who
Released exactly one year after Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, Tommy is everything the Small Faces' album isn't, and vice versa. It had mass appeal, it did not veer off into a multitude of different genres, it had a message, and the music was a lot more mature.
Tommy introduced the rock opera to the masses, catapulted The Who to superstardom, and even though the story might not be very easy to understand just by listening to the album, it is undeniably there. It made the Top Ten of Q’s “Albums That Changed Music,” and even though The Pretty Things and Small Faces may have been a little faster with releasing their respective rock operas, the honour of being able to claim the invention of the concept of the rock opera still falls to The Who and their 1966 ‘mini opera,’ A Quick One, While He’s Away. And Tommy, released in 1969, was far more successful and influential than its predecessors.
~ The Seeker
1. The Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd
At a time when almost every British rock band was releasing concept albums, Pink Floyd managed to stand out from the pack with their outstanding 1973 album The Dark Side Of The Moon. Every track on the album is based on one of the many stresses of human life, including time, money, war, death, and insanity. The album is well known for its excellent instrumentation and revolutionary use of synthesizers to create an atmospheric feel.
The Dark Side Of The Moon is the only concept album in history to sell more than 40 million copies worldwide, and it truly deserves that honor. It is still as popular today as it ever was, and is regularly rated amongst the greatest and most influential albums of all time.
Check out our Message Boards to learn more about how these were selected.