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The concept album

By Julie Bartoli
On November 7, 2012


A concept album is defined as an album with one encompassing theme that can be expressed lyrically, compositionally or instrumentally, so long as the final product is a series of pieces connected by an idea and/or building a narrative.

Woody Guthrie's "Dust Bowl Ballads" is often cited as the first concept album, chronicling the life of an Okie during the Great Depression (many believe the album is also autobiographical). About a decade later, Frank Sinatra released several numerous concept albums, followed by Johnny Cash.

However, it was the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that really changed the idea of the concept album, bringing it into the mainstream eye and the critical eye as well. It was seen as an art form, and soon many artists aspired to create their own concept albums.

Thus, here is a comprehensive list of the seven best post-"Sgt. Pepper" concept albums:


7. "The Dark Side of the Moon" Pink Floyd

The album focuses on themes of greed, aging, fighting and mental illness, all of which can be linked back to their deceased band member, Syd Barrett. In a more universal sense, "Dark Side" touches on the process of becoming a man and what that entails. 


6. "Tommy" The Who

Pete Townshend's story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy's tumultuous upbringing, followed by his all-star comeback in the arcade. Naturally, when we realize Tommy "sure plays a mean pinball," our hearts melt.


5. "Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)" The Kinks

The story of Arthur Morgan (a character based off Ray Davies' brother-in-law), a carpet maker and his wife (based off Davies' sister, Rose). Driven by nostalgia and love, the album was based of Rose's move to Australia with her husband, which devastated Davies. 


4. "The Suburbs" Arcade Fire

Win Butler's Grammy-winning narrative centered on growing up in Suburbia, and the feelings of nostalgia and disillusion that arise when going back.


3. "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust" David Bowie

Bowie's exploration of his alter ego, the infamous Ziggy Stardust. "The Rise and Fall" explores the theme of every human's alter ego and the desire to suppress it.


2. "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" Neutral Milk Hotel

Jeff Mangum's attempt to chronicle his nightmares, all of which focus on the idea of saving Anne Frank. 


1. "Illinois" Sufjan Stephens

A hybrid of several musical genres and ideas, "Illinois" is held together by the simple idea of the state itself, and by more abstract allusions toward Christianity, politics and the human condition.

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