A concept album is an album whose tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually.This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical. Sometimes the term is applied to albums considered to be of "uniform excellence" rather than an LP with an explicit musical or lyrical motif. There is no consensus among music critics as to the specific criteria for what a "concept album" is.
The format originates with folk singer Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads (1940) and was subsequently popularized by traditional pop singer Frank Sinatra's 1940s–50s string of albums, although the term is more often associated with rock music. In the 1960s several well-regarded concept albums were released by various rock bands, which eventually led to the invention of progressive rock and rock opera. Since then, many concept albums have been released across numerous musical genres.
There is no clear definition of what constitutes a "concept album".Fiona Sturges of The Independent stated that the concept album "was originally defined as a long-player where the songs were based on one dramatic idea – but the term is subjective." A precursor to this type of album can be found in the 19th century song cycle which ran into similar difficulties in classification. The extremely broad definitions of a "concept album" could potentially encompass all soundtracks, compilations, cast recordings, greatest hits albums, tribute albums, Christmas albums, and live albums.
The most common definitions refer to an expanded approach to a rock album (as a story, play, or opus), or a project that either revolves around a specific theme or a collection of related materials.AllMusic writes, "A concept album could be a collection of songs by an individual songwriter or a particular theme – these are the concept LPs that reigned in the '50s ... the phrase 'concept album' is inextricably tied to the late 1960s, when rock & rollers began stretching the limits of their art form." Author Jim Cullen describes it as "a collection of discrete but thematically unified songs whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts ... sometimes [erroneously] assumed to be a product of the rock era." Author Roy Shuker defines concept albums and rock operas as albums that are "unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative, or lyrical. ... In this form, the album changed from a collection of heterogeneous songs into a narrative work with a single theme, in which individual songs segue into one another."
Speaking of concepts in albums during the 1970s, Robert Christgau wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), because "overall impression" of an album matters, "concept intensifies the impact" of certain albums "in more or less the way Sgt. Pepper intended", as well as "a species of concept that pushes a rhythmically unrelenting album like The Wild Magnolias or a vocally irresistible one like Shirley Brown's Woman to Woman, to a deeper level of significance."
In the 2016 documentary When Pop Went Epic: The Crazy World of the Concept Album, narrated by Rick Wakeman, it is suggested that the first concept album is Woody Guthrie's 1940 album Dust Bowl Ballads .The Independent regards it as "perhaps" one of the first concept albums, consisting exclusively of semi-autobiographical songs about the hardships of American migrant labourers during the 1930s. In the late 1940s, the LP record was introduced, with space age pop composers producing concept albums soon after. Themes included exploring wild life and dealing with emotions, with some albums meant to be played while dining or relaxing. This was accompanied in the mid 1950s with the invention of the gatefold, which allowed room for liner notes to explain the concept.
Singer Frank Sinatra recorded several concept albums prior to the 1960s rock era, including In the Wee Small Hours (1955) and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (1958).Sinatra is occasionally credited as the inventor of the concept album, beginning with The Voice of Frank Sinatra (1946), which led to similar work by Bing Crosby. According to biographer Will Friedwald, Sinatra "sequenced the songs so that the lyrics created a flow from track to track, affording an impression of a narrative, as in musical comedy or opera. ... [He was the] first pop singer to bring a consciously artistic attitude to recording."
Singer/pianist Nat "King" Cole (who, along with Sinatra, often collaborated with arranger Nelson Riddle during this era) was also an early pioneer of concept albums,as with his Wild Is Love (1960), a suite of original songs about a man's search for love.
In the early 1960s, concept albums began featuring highly in American country music, however the fact went largely unacknowledged by rock/pop fans and critics who would only begin noting "concept albums" as a phenomenon later in the decade,when albums became closely aligned with countercultural ideology, resulting in a recognised "album era" and the introduction of the rock concept album. The author Carys Wyn Jones writes that the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (1966), the Beatles' Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and the Who's Tommy (1969) are variously cited as "the first concept album", usually for their "uniform excellence rather than some lyrical theme or underlying musical motif".
Other records have been claimed as "early" or "first" concept albums. The 100 Greatest Bands of All Time (2015) states that the Ventures "pioneered the idea of the rock concept album years before the genre is generally acknowledged to have been born"with their 1964 album The Ventures in Space . Another is the Beach Boys' Little Deuce Coupe (1963). Writing in 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music , Chris Smith commented: "Though albums such as Frank Sinatra's 1955 In the Wee Small Hours and Marty Robbins' 1959 Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs had already introduced concept albums, Little Deuce Coupe was the first to comprise almost all original material rather than standard covers." Writing in his Concise Dictionary of Popular Culture, Marcel Danesi identifies the Beatles' Rubber Soul (1965) and the Who's The Who Sell Out (1967) as other examples of early concept albums. Brian Boyd of The Irish Times names the Kinks' Face to Face (1966) as the first concept album: "Written entirely by Ray Davies, the songs were supposed to be linked by pieces of music, so that the album would play without gaps, but the record company baulked at such radicalism. It’s not one of the band’s finest works, but it did have an impact."
"Popular consensus" for the first rock concept album, according to AllMusic, favours Sgt. Pepper. 's claim, the artwork reinforced its central theme by depicting the four Beatles in uniform as members of the Sgt. Pepper band, while the record omitted the gaps that usually separated album tracks.According to music critic Tim Riley, "Strictly speaking, the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out!  has claims as the first 'concept album', but Sgt. Pepper was the record that made that idea convincing to most ears." Musicologist Allan Moore says that "Even though previous albums had set a unified mood (notably Sinatra's Songs for Swinging Lovers ), it was on the basis of the influence of Sgt. Pepper that the penchant for the concept album was born." Adding to Sgt. Pepper
Author Bill Martin relates the assumed concept albums of the 1960s to progressive rock:
In discussions of progressive rock, the idea of the "concept album" is mentioned frequently. If this term refers to albums that have thematic unity and development throughout, then in reality there are probably fewer concept albums than one might first think. Pet Sounds and Sergeant Pepper's do not qualify according to this criterion ... However, if we instead stretch the definition a bit, to where the album is the concept, then it is clear that progressive rock is entirely a music of concept albums—and this flows rather directly of Rubber Soul (December 1965) and then Revolver (1966), Pet Sounds, and Sergeant Pepper's. ... in the wake of these albums, many rock musicians took up "the complete album approach."
Popmatters ' Sarah Zupko notes that while the Who's Tommy is "popularly thought of as the first rock opera, an extra-long concept album with characters, a consistent storyline, and a slight bit of pomposity", it is preceded by the shorter concept albums Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake (Small Faces, 1968) and S.F. Sorrow (The Pretty Things, 1968). Author Jim Cullen states: "The concept album reached its apogee in the 1970s in ambitious records like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and the Eagles' Hotel California (1976)." In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Dark Side of the Moon at number one among the 50 greatest progressive rock albums of all-time, also noting the LP's stature as the second best-selling album of all time. Pink Floyd's The Wall (1979), a semi-autobiographical story modeled after the band's Roger Waters and Syd Barrett, is one of the most famous concept albums by any artist. In addition to The Wall, Danesi highlights Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) and Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage (1979) as other culturally significant concept albums.
According to author Edward Macan, concept albums as a recurrent theme in progressive rock was directly inspired by the counterculture associated with "the proto-progressive bands of the 1960s", observing: "the consistent use of lengthy forms such as the programmatic song cycle of the concept album and the multimovement suite underscores the hippies' new, drug-induced conception of time."
With the emergence of MTV as a music video network which valued singles over albums, concept albums became less dominant in the 1980s. 's Emily Barker cites Green Day's American Idiot (2004) as one of the "more notable" examples, having brought the concept album back to high-charting positions. Dorian Lynskey, writing for GQ , noted a resurgence of concept albums in the 2010s due to streaming: "This is happening not in spite of the rise of streaming and playlists, but because of it. Threatened with redundancy in the digital era, albums have fought back by becoming more album-like." Cucchiara argues that "concept albums" should also describe "this new generation of concept albums, for one key reason. This is because the unison between the songs on a particular album has now been expanded into a broader field of visual and artistic design and marketing strategies that play into the themes and stories that form the album."Some artists, however, still released concept albums and experienced success in the 1990s and 2000s. NME
In the 21st century, the field of classical music has adopted the idea of the "concept album", citing such historical examples as Schubert's Die Winterreise and Schumann's Liederkreis as prototypes for contemporary composers and musicians. [ third-party source needed ]Classical composers and performers increasingly adopt production and marketing strategies that unify otherwise disparate works into concept albums or concerts. The classical music magazine Gramophone includes a special category for "concept album" in its annual "Recordings of the Year Awards", to celebrate "albums where a creative mind has curated something visionary, a programme whose whole speaks more powerfully than its parts. A thought-through journey, which compels to be heard in one sitting."
Art rock is a subgenre of rock music that generally reflects a challenging or avant-garde approach to rock, or which makes use of modernist, experimental, or unconventional elements. Art rock aspires to elevate rock from entertainment to an artistic statement, opting for a more experimental and conceptual outlook on music. Influences may be drawn from genres such as experimental rock, avant-garde music, classical music, and jazz.
Revolver is the seventh studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. It was released on 5 August 1966, accompanied by the double A-side single "Eleanor Rigby" / "Yellow Submarine". The album was the Beatles' final recording project before their retirement as live performers and marked the group's most overt use of studio technology to date, building on the advances of their late 1965 release Rubber Soul. It has since become regarded as one of the greatest and most innovative albums in the history of popular music, with recognition centred on its range of musical styles, diverse sounds, and lyrical content.
"Penny Lane" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles that was released in February 1967 as a double A-side single with "Strawberry Fields Forever". It was written primarily by Paul McCartney and credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. The lyrics refer to Penny Lane, a street in Liverpool, and make mention of the sights and characters that McCartney recalled from his upbringing in the city.
"Strawberry Fields Forever" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. It was released on 13 February 1967 as a double A-side single with "Penny Lane". It represented a departure from the group's previous singles and a novel listening experience for the contemporary pop audience. While the song initially divided and confused music critics and the group's fans, it proved highly influential on the emerging psychedelic genre. Its accompanying promotional film is similarly recognised as a pioneering work in the medium of music video.
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was written primarily by John Lennon and credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. Lennon's son Julian inspired the song with a nursery school drawing that he called "Lucy – in the sky with diamonds". Shortly before the album's release, speculation arose that the first letter of each of the title nouns intentionally spelled "LSD", the initialism commonly used for the hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide. Lennon repeatedly denied that he had intended it as a drug song. He attributed the song's fantastical imagery to his reading of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books.
"A Day in the Life" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles that was released as the final track of their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Credited to Lennon–McCartney, the verses were mainly written by John Lennon, with Paul McCartney primarily contributing the song's middle section. It is widely regarded as one of the finest and most important works in popular music history.
The English rock band the Beatles are commonly regarded as the foremost and most influential band in popular music history. With a line-up comprising John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they sparked the "Beatlemania" phenomenon in 1963, gained international superstardom in 1964, and remained active until their break-up in 1970. Over the latter half of the decade, they were often viewed as orchestrators of society's developments. Their recognition concerns their effect on the era's youth and counterculture, British identity, popular music's evolution into an art form, and their unprecedented following.
"When I'm Sixty-Four" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and released on their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was one of the first songs written by McCartney, who wrote it when he was 16. The song was recorded in a different key than the final recording; it was sped up at the request of McCartney to make his voice sound younger. It prominently features a trio of clarinets throughout.
"Getting Better" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was written mainly by Paul McCartney, with some of the lyrics written by John Lennon, and credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership.
"Within You Without You" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Written by lead guitarist George Harrison, it was Harrison's second composition in the Indian classical style, after "Love You To", and was inspired by his stay in India in late 1966 with his mentor and sitar teacher, Ravi Shankar. Recorded in London without the other Beatles, the song features Indian instrumentation such as sitar, dilruba and tabla, and was performed by Harrison and members of the Asian Music Circle. The recording marked a significant departure from the Beatles' previous work; musically, it evokes the Indian devotional tradition, while the overtly spiritual quality of the lyrics reflects Harrison's absorption in Hindu philosophy and the teachings of the Vedas.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is a song written by Paul McCartney, and first recorded and released in 1967, on the album of the same name by the Beatles. The song appears twice on the album: as the opening track, and as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)", the penultimate track. As the title song, the lyrics introduce the fictional band that performs on the album.
"She's Leaving Home" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and released on their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Paul McCartney wrote and sang the verse and John Lennon wrote the chorus, which they sang together. Neither George Harrison nor Ringo Starr was involved in the recording. The song's instrumental background was performed entirely by a small string orchestra arranged by Mike Leander, and was one of only a handful of Beatles songs in which the members did not play any instruments on the recording.
"Lovely Rita" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was written and sung by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon–McCartney. It is about a female traffic warden and the narrator's affection for her.
"Only a Northern Song" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1969 soundtrack album Yellow Submarine. Written by George Harrison, it was the first of four songs the band provided for the 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine, to meet their contractual obligations to United Artists. The song was recorded mainly in February 1967, during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the Beatles chose not to include it on that album. The group completed the recording two months later, straight after finishing work on Sgt. Pepper.
Art pop is a loosely defined style of pop music influenced by pop art's integration of high and low culture, and which emphasizes the manipulation of signs, style, and gesture over personal expression. Art pop artists may be inspired by postmodern approaches or art theories as well as other forms of art, such as fashion, fine art, cinema, and avant-garde literature. They may deviate from traditional pop audiences and rock music conventions, instead exploring ideas such as pop's status as commercial art, notions of artifice and the self, and questions of historical authenticity.
Experimental rock, also called avant-rock, is a subgenre of rock music that pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. Artists aim to liberate and innovate, with some of the genre's distinguishing characteristics being improvisational performances, avant-garde influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics, unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.
Progressive pop is pop music that attempts to break with the genre's standard formula, or an offshoot of the progressive rock genre that was commonly heard on AM radio in the 1970s and 1980s. It was originally termed for the early progressive rock of the 1960s. Some stylistic features of progressive pop include hooks and earworms, unorthodox or colorful instrumentation, changes in key and rhythm, experiments with larger forms, and unexpected, disruptive, or ironic treatments of past conventions.
In music production, the recording studio is often treated as a musical instrument when it plays a significant role in the composition of music. Sometimes called "playing the studio", the approach is typically embodied by artists or producers who place less emphasis on simply capturing live performances in studio and instead favor the creative use of studio technology in completing finished works. Techniques include the incorporation of non-musical sounds, overdubbing, tape edits, sound synthesis, audio signal processing, and combining segmented performances (takes) into a unified whole.
It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is a 1987 British-made television documentary film about the 1967 Summer of Love. It premiered on 1 June 1987, twenty years after the official release date of the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and presents the album as the central factor behind the events and scenes that led to the full emergence of the 1960s counterculture.