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/jazz 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. Music critic and journalist Neil Slaven stated that Frank Zappa's Absolutely Free , released the same day as Sgt. Pepper, was "very much a concept album, but The Beatles effortlessly stole his thunder", and subsequently Sgt. Pepper was hailed as "perhaps the first 'concept album' even though the songs were unrelated"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."Progressive soul musicians inspired by this approach conceived concept albums during this era reflecting themes and concerns of the African-American experience, including Marvin Gaye (1971's What's Going On ) and George Clinton (the 1975 Parliament album Mothership Connection ).
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."
In a year-ending essay on the album in 2019, Ann Powers wrote for Slate that the year found the medium in a state of flux. In her observation, many recording artists revitalized the concept album around autobiographical narratives and personal themes, such as intimacy, intersectionality, African-American life, boundaries among women, and grief associated with death. She cited such albums as Brittany Howard's Jaime , Raphael Saadiq's Jimmy Lee , Jamila Woods' LEGACY! LEGACY! , Rapsody's Eve , Jenny Lewis' On the Line , Julia Jacklin's Crushing , Joe Henry's The Gospel According to Water , and Nick Cave's Ghosteen .
Frank Vincent Zappa was an American musician, composer, songwriter, bandleader, activist and filmmaker. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Zappa also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. He is considered one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse musicians of his era.
Psychedelic rock, also referred to as psychedelia, is a diverse style of rock music inspired, influenced, or representative of psychedelic culture, which is centred on perception-altering hallucinogenic drugs. The music is intended to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs, most notably LSD. Many psychedelic groups differ in style, and the label is often applied spuriously.
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.
Progressive rock is a broad genre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid- to late 1960s. Initially termed "progressive pop", the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favour of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. Additional elements contributed to its "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening rather than dancing.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. Released on 26 May 1967, it spent 27 weeks at number one on the Record Retailer chart in the United Kingdom and 15 weeks at number one on the Billboard Top LPs chart in the United States. It was lauded by critics for its innovations in songwriting, production and graphic design, for bridging a cultural divide between popular music and high art, and for reflecting the interests of contemporary youth and the counterculture. Its release was a defining moment in 1960s pop culture, heralding the Summer of Love, while the album's reception achieved full cultural legitimisation for pop music and recognition for the medium as a genuine art form.
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.
We're Only in It for the Money is the third studio album by American rock band the Mothers of Invention, released on March 4, 1968 by Verve Records. As with the band's first two efforts, it is a concept album, and satirizes left and right-wing politics, particularly the hippie subculture, as well as the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was conceived as part of a project called No Commercial Potential, which produced three other albums: Lumpy Gravy, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, and Uncle Meat.
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 14. 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.
The Mothers of Invention were an American rock band from California. Formed in 1964, their work is marked by the use of sonic experimentation, innovative album art, and elaborate live shows.
In the Wee Small Hours is the ninth studio album by American vocalist Frank Sinatra. It was released in April 1955 by Capitol and produced by Voyle Gilmore with arrangements by Nelson Riddle. All the songs on the album deal with themes such as loneliness, introspection, lost love, failed relationships, depression, and night life. The cover artwork reflects these themes, portraying Sinatra on an eerie and deserted street at night awash in blue-tinged street lights. In the Wee Small Hours has been called one of the first concept albums.
A segue is a smooth transition from one topic or section to the next.
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.
Experimental pop is pop music that cannot be categorized within traditional musical boundaries or which attempts to push elements of existing popular forms into new areas. It may incorporate experimental techniques such as musique concrète, aleatoric music, or eclecticism into pop contexts. Often, the compositional process involves the use of electronic production effects to manipulate sounds and arrangements, and the composer may draw the listener's attention specifically with both timbre and tonality, though not always simultaneously.
The album era was a period in English-language popular music from the mid 1960s to the mid 2000s, in which the album was the dominant form of recorded music expression and consumption. It was primarily driven by three successive music recording formats: the 331⁄3 rpm long-playing record (LP), the audiocassette, and the compact disc. Rock musicians from the US and the UK were often at the forefront of the era, which is sometimes called the album-rock era in reference to their sphere of influence and activity. The term "album era" is also used to refer to the marketing and aesthetic period surrounding a recording artist's album release.
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.
Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution is a 1967 American television documentary by David Oppenheim about young pop and rock musicians producing music as "a symptom and generator" of social unrest and generation gaps. Hosted by Leonard Bernstein, it was commissioned by CBS and broadcast on April 25, 1967. Musicians who appeared in the documentary included singer-songwriter Janis Ian, who performed her song "Society's Child", and Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, who performed his song "Surf's Up".