Concept album

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Pink Floyd's The Wall (1979) is one of the best-known concept albums of all time. Pictured is Roger Waters leading a 1990 performance of the whole album. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1990-0722-401, Berlin, Auffuhrung der Rockoper "The Wall".jpg
Pink Floyd's The Wall (1979) is one of the best-known concept albums of all time. Pictured is Roger Waters leading a 1990 performance of the whole album.

A concept album is an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. [2] [3] This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical. [4] Sometimes the term is applied to albums considered to be of "uniform excellence" rather than an LP with an explicit musical or lyrical motif. [5] There is no consensus among music critics as to the specific criteria for what a "concept album" is. [3] [6]

Album collection of recorded music, words, sounds

An album is a collection of audio recordings issued as a collection on compact disc (CD), vinyl, audio tape, or another medium. Albums of recorded music were developed in the early 20th century as individual 78-rpm records collected in a bound book resembling a photograph album; this format evolved after 1948 into single vinyl LP records played at ​33 13 rpm. Vinyl LPs are still issued, though album sales in the 21st-century have mostly focused on CD and MP3 formats. The audio cassette was a format widely used alongside vinyl from the 1970s into the first decade of the 2000s.

A narrative or story is an account of a series of related events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, which is derived from the adjective gnarus. Along with exposition, argumentation and description, narration, broadly defined, is one of four rhetorical modes of discourse. More narrowly defined, it is the fiction-writing mode in which the narrator communicates directly to the reader.

Music criticism

The Oxford Companion to Music defines music criticism as 'the intellectual activity of formulating judgements on the value and degree of excellence of individual works of music, or whole groups or genres'. In this sense, it is a branch of musical aesthetics. With the concurrent expansion of interest in music and information media over the past century, the term has come to acquire the conventional meaning of journalistic reporting on musical performances.

Contents

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.

Folk music Music of the people

Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music may be called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. The term originated in the 19th century, but folk music extends beyond that.

Woody Guthrie American singer-songwriter and folk musician

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter, one of the most significant figures in American folk music; his music, including songs, such as "This Land Is Your Land", has inspired several generations both politically and musically. He wrote hundreds of political, folk, and children's songs, along with ballads and improvised works. His album of songs about the Dust Bowl period, Dust Bowl Ballads, is included on Mojo magazine's list of 100 Records That Changed The World. Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress. Songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Hunter, Harry Chapin, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Andy Irvine, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Jerry Garcia, Jay Farrar, Bob Weir, Jeff Tweedy, Bob Childers, Sammy Walker, Tom Paxton, AJJ, Brian Fallon, and Sixto Rodríguez have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence. He frequently performed with the slogan "This machine kills fascists" displayed on his guitar.

<i>Dust Bowl Ballads</i> album

Dust Bowl Ballads is an album by American folk singer Woody Guthrie. It was released by Victor Records, in 1940. All the songs on the album deal with the Dust Bowl and its effects on the country and its people. It is considered to be the first or one of the very first concept albums. It was Guthrie's first commercial recording and the most successful album of his career.

Definitions

There is no clear definition of what constitutes a "concept album". [6] [7] 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." [6] A precursor to this type of album can be found in the 19th century song cycle [8] which ran into similar difficulties in classification. [9] 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. [9]

<i>The Independent</i> British online daily newspaper

The Independent is a British online newspaper. Established in 1986 as a politically independent national morning newspaper published in London. It was controlled by Tony O'Reilly's Independent News & Media from 1997 until it was sold to Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev in 2010. The last printed edition of The Independent was published on Saturday 26 March 2016, leaving only its digital editions.

A song cycle is a group, or cycle, of individually complete songs designed to be performed in a sequence as a unit.

A cast recording is a recording of a stage musical that is intended to document the songs as they were performed in the show and experienced by the audience. An original cast recording or OCR, as the name implies, features the voices of the show's original cast. A cast recording featuring the first cast to perform a musical in a particular venue is known, for example, as an "original Broadway cast recording" (OBCR) or an "original London cast recording".

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. [9] 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." [10] 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." [2] 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." [4]

AllMusic Online music database

AllMusic is an online music database. It catalogs more than 3 million album entries and 30 million tracks, as well as information on musical artists and bands. It launched in 1991, predating the World Wide Web. As of 2015, AllMusic is owned by RhythmOne.

Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, along with country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.

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." [11]

Robert Christgau American music journalist

Robert Thomas Christgau is an American essayist and music journalist. One of the earliest professional rock critics, he spent 37 years as the chief music critic and senior editor for The Village Voice, during which time he created and oversaw the annual Pazz & Jop poll. He has also covered popular music for Esquire, Creem, Newsday, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Billboard, NPR, Blender, and MSN Music, and was a visiting arts teacher at New York University.

<i>Christgaus Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies</i> Music reference book

Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies is a music reference book by American music journalist and essayist Robert Christgau. It was first published in October 1981 by Ticknor & Fields.

The Wild Magnolias

The Wild Magnolias are a Mardi Gras Indian tribe who also record and play as a funk musical act from New Orleans, Louisiana.

History

1940s–50s: Origins

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 . [12] 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. [13] 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. [14]

Rick Wakeman English keyboardist, songwriter, television and radio presenter, and author

Richard Christopher Wakeman is an English keyboardist, songwriter, producer, television and radio presenter, and author. He is best known for being in the progressive rock band Yes across five tenures between 1971 and 2004 and for his solo albums released in the 1970s. He is a current member of Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman.

LP record Analog sound storage medium

The LP is an analog sound storage medium, a vinyl record format characterized by a speed of ​33 13 rpm, a 12- or 10-inch diameter, and use of the "microgroove" groove specification. Introduced by Columbia in 1948, it was soon adopted as a new standard by the entire record industry. Apart from a few relatively minor refinements and the important later addition of stereophonic sound, it has remained the standard format for vinyl albums.

Space age pop is a subgenre of pop and easy listening music associated with Mexican and American composers and songwriters in the space age of the 1950s and 1960s. It is also called bachelor pad music or lounge music. Space age pop was inspired by the spirit of those times, an optimism based on the strong post-war economy and technology boom, and excitement about humanity's early forays into space. Although there is no exact album, date, or year when the genre was born, producer Irwin Chusid identifies its heyday as "roughly 1954 to 1963—from the dawn of high-fidelity (hi-fi) to the arrival of the Beatles."

Frank Sinatra, 1950 Frank Sinatra Metronome magazine November 1950.JPG
Frank Sinatra, 1950

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). [2] Sinatra is occasionally credited as the inventor of the concept album, [15] 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." [16] [nb 1]

1960s: Rock and country music

The Beatles, 1967 The Beatles magical mystery tour.jpg
The Beatles, 1967

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, [18] when albums became closely aligned with countercultural ideology, resulting in a recognised "album era" and the introduction of the rock concept album. [19] 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". [20]

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" [21] with their 1964 album The Ventures in Space . Another is the Beach Boys' Little Deuce Coupe (1963). [22] [23] 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." [22] 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. [24] 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." [25]

"Popular consensus" for the first rock concept album, according to AllMusic, favours Sgt. Pepper. [10] According to music critic Tim Riley, "Strictly speaking, the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! [1966] has claims as the first 'concept album', but Sgt. Pepper was the record that made that idea convincing to most ears." [26] [nb 2] Musicologist Allan Moore says that "Even though previous albums had set a unified mood, it was on the basis of the influence of Sgt. Pepper that the penchant for the concept album was born." [29] [nb 3] Adding to 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. [30]

1960s–70s: Rock operas and progressive rock

Genesis recreating their concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) for a live performance. Band member Peter Gabriel is wearing a costume for one of the album's characters. Genesis live 1974-11-20.jpg
Genesis recreating their concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) for a live performance. Band member Peter Gabriel is wearing a costume for one of the album's characters.

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." [31]

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). [32] 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)." [2] 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. [33] 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. [1] In addition to The Wall, Danesi highlights Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) and Zappa's Joe's Garage (1979) as other culturally significant concept albums. [24]

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." [34]

1980s–present: Decline and return to popularity

With the emergence of MTV as a music video network which valued singles over albums, concept albums became less dominant in the 1980s. [2] [6] Some artists, however, still released concept albums and experienced success in the 1990s and 2000s. [6] NME 's Emily Barker cites Green Day's American Idiot (2004) as one of the "more notable" examples, [1] having brought the concept album back to high-charting positions. [35] 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." [36] 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." [8]

See also

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<i>Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band</i> 1967 studio album by The Beatles

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References

Notes

  1. In the late 1940s, Boogie-Woogie and Stride pianist Pete Johnson recorded an early concept album, House Rent Party (1946), in which he starts out playing alone, supposedly in a new empty house, and is joined there by other players. Each has a solo single backed by Johnson, and then the whole group plays a jam session together. [17]
  2. Frank Zappa said that within Freak Out!, "It wasn't as if we had a hit single and we needed to build some filler around it. Each tune had a function." [27] The Beatles' John Lennon commented: "Sgt. Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn't go anywhere ... it works because we said it worked." [28]
  3. He continues that: "Things might have looked different had Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys managed to complete the album Smile at the time. ... it would have suggested an entirely different possible line of development for the concept album, wherein parts of tracks reappeared in others producing a form frankly far more sophisticated than any of its contemporaries." [29]

Citations

  1. 1 2 3 Barker, Emily (8 July 2015). "23 Of The Maddest And Most Memorable Concept Albums". NME . Retrieved 23 January 2017.Cite web requires |website= (help)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Cullen 2001, p. 98.
  3. 1 2 Elicker 2001, pp. 227–229.
  4. 1 2 Shuker 2012, p. 5.
  5. Jones 2008, p. 49.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Sturges, Fiona (1 October 2009). "The return of concept album". The Independent . Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  7. Elicker 2001, p. 227.
  8. 1 2 Cucchiara, Romina (10 November 2014). "The Concept Album As a Performative Genre". PopMatters .
  9. 1 2 3 Elicker 2001, p. 228.
  10. 1 2 AllMusic staff (10 February 2014). "AllMusic Loves Concept Albums". AllMusic . Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  11. Christgau, Robert (1981). "The Criteria". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies . Ticknor & Fields. ISBN   0899190251 . Retrieved 6 April 2019 via robertchristgau.com.
  12. Rick Wakeman (narrator) (6 May 2016). When Pop Went Epic: The Crazy World of the Concept Album (BBC documentary).
  13. "The return of concept album". The Independent. 2 October 2009. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  14. McKnight-Trontz 1999, p. 10.
  15. Rojek 2004.
  16. Friedwald 1995.
  17. Silvester, Peter, A Left Hand Like God, A Study of Boogie-Woogie, pp. 98-99
  18. Elicker 2001, p. 234.
  19. Danesi 2017, p. 15.
  20. Jones 2008, p. 44.
  21. Moskowitz 2015, p. 689.
  22. 1 2 Smith 2009, p. xix.
  23. Springer, Matt (7 October 2015). "52 Years Ago: The Beach Boys Release a Concept Album About Cars, 'Little Deuce Coupe'". Ultimate Guitar .
  24. 1 2 Danesi 2017, p. 72.
  25. Boyd, Brian (4 June 2016). "The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys: 12 months that changed music". The Irish Times .
  26. Riley 1988, p. 11.
  27. Zappa & Occhiogrosso, 1989, pp. 65–80.
  28. Sheff 1981, p. 197.
  29. 1 2 Moore 2016.
  30. Black, Johnny (April 1991). "Concept Albums: A-may-zing!". Q . Available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
  31. Martin 2015, p. 41.
  32. "The Pretty Things: S.F. Sorrow – PopMatters Music Review". PopMatters. 6 January 2009. Archived from the original on 23 June 2008. Retrieved 18 January 2009.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  33. "50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone . 17 June 2015.
  34. Macan 1997, p. 13.
  35. Guitar World Staff (26 October 2015). "The Top 10 Concept Albums of All Time". Guitar World .
  36. Lynskey, Dorian (13 July 2015). "Why everyone from Beyoncé to Daft Punk is releasing a concept album". GQ . Retrieved 25 April 2016.

Bibliography

Further reading