Monday, April 30, 2007

Concept Albums Part Two

As influential as it was, it would be a mistake to think that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was responsible for every single concept album that came out following its release. There were concept albums that were in production before Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, even if they were released after it. It would seem quite simply that the concept album was an idea whose time had come for rock music. For all the influence of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, there would have been concept albums even if it had never been recorded.

Among these concept albums went into production prior to the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first concept album with a storyline. The Story of Simon Simopath by British band Nirvana (not to be confused with the Seattle grunge band of the same name) was released in October 1967. The story was told mostly in the liner notes, about a boy who wanted to fly. The Story of Simon Simopath had little impact and is largely forgotten today, but it is historic as the first concept album with a storyline.

Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues also went into production before Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. The album's concept was a deceptively simple one: in song it told of a typical day in the life of a common Englishmen. The album was historic as one of the first times a symphony was blended with rock music. The album would have a lasting impact on rock music. The song "Nights in White Satin" would become a hit five years after the LP was released, and could well be The Moody Blues' best remembered song. Days of Future Passed would have a lasting impact on progressive rock and remains one of The Moody Blues' most successful albums. There are those who count it among the greatest albums of all time.

The Who Sell Out by The Who also went into production before the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album was portrayed as a pirate radio broadcast (specifically, Radio London), with every song performed in essentially the same style. It even featured faux commercials mentioning real products (which led to several lawsuits following the album's release).

One album that was released as direct result of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was Their Satanic Majesties Request by The Rolling Stones. Many believed the album to be The Stones' attempt to ride on the coattails of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, including John Lennon. And there is little to deny the accusation. The album has a novelty cover (the original featured a 3-D picture of the band) with The Rolling Stones in costume. It also featured a song that acted as an introduction ("Sing This All Together") and one that acted as a finale ("On With The Show"). At the time Their Satanic Majesties Request received what could have been the worst reviews any Rolling Stones album. Since then the album has been somewhat reevaluated by many. While it is hardly what one would expect of The Rolling Stones (psychedelia did not exactly suit them), many admit that it is a prime example of late Sixties psychedelia.

As the Sixties progressed, concept albums would grow in importance. Among the most significant of the concept albums released in the late Sixties was S. F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things. Like The Story of Simon Simopath before it, the story was mainly told through the line notes. In this albums case, it told the life story of the title character, a typical man born in a typical town. It was released in December 1968 in the United Kingdom and a year later in the United States. It would have a lasting influence. It is considered an indirect influence on Tommy by The Who.

Primarily because The Who were a bigger band and Tommy was released in America before em SF Sorrow, The Who would effectively steal The Pretty Things' thunder. The album's title character was a deaf, blind, and mute pinball wizard who becomes a religious leader. The album was a huge success and as a result proved very influential. It would later be adapted into a 1975 film of the same name. It would also eventually see life on the stage.

While The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones had their concept albums, The Kinks would have their own as well. The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society was the first. The album was simply a salute to life in the typical English hamlet. The Kinks also had their own rock opera, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). It had been meant to serve as the music for a BBC teleplay, which was never produced. The album followed Arthur (who was based on Ray Davies' brother in law) and his plight in post-War England. It was moderately successful in the United States, and is still often ranked among the greatest albums of all time.

The Seventies would see more concept albums released than ever had before. Arguably, the concept album would become a standby of the progressive rock and heavy metal subgenres. In fact, arguably there were bands who made their living at nothing but concept albums. This would seem to be true of Pink Floyd, who produced several in a row. Their first was Dark Side of the Moon (released in March 1973), still considered among the greatest albums of all time. The ablum explored the human experience, from conflict to greed to death. They followed Dark Side of the Moon with several more concept albums: Wish You Were Here (which was about former front man Syd Barrett); Animals (in which animals are used as metaphors for different sorts of people); and The Wall. Released in 1979, The Wall would be Pink Floyd's tour de force. It told the story of Pink, a downtrodden anti-hero who becomes a rock star and then goes mad. The album was the best selling Pink Floyd album in the United States (it remained #1 on the Billboard album charts for 15 weeks). Its success would lead to its adaptation as a motion picture, Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Like Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues would release their share of concept albums. They followed up Days of Future Passed with On the Threshold of a Dream, a concept album about the search for spiritual enlightenment. To Our Children's Children dealt with the spiritual benefits of technology. A Question of Balance would also appear to be a concept album, apparently about the human condition.

It seems that nearly every album released by the Alan Parsons Project was a concept album. Starting with their first, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, they released a long succession of concept albums.

Of course, not every artist would make as many concept albums as Pink Floyd or The Moody Blues. Most would only make one or two. Among the most significant was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie. The album centred around Ziggy Stardust, a Martian rock star who in the end becomes a failed messiah. The album would have a lasting influence on rock music. It would influence artists as diverse as Def Leppard and Marilyn Manson. It is still considered one of the greatest albums of all time.

Not nearly as influential was Welcome to My Nightmare by Alice Cooper. The album concerned the nightmares of a young boy named Steven. The album went to #5 on the Billboard charts and remains one of Cooper's most popular albums.

The Who would also release an influential concept album in the Seventies, in this case Quadrophenia in 1973. The album essentially concerned a young man with serious mental problems who becomes disillusioned with the Mod subculture of the Sixties. It went to #2 on the Billboard albums chart, and is still regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. It was successful enough to inspire a 1979 film, Quadrophenia, starring a young Sting (from The Police). The movie itself would create a bit of a Mod revival in Britain.

Frank Zappa would release his share of concept albums in the Seventies. Fillmore East - June 1971 released by the Mothers of Invention in 1971 dealt with a rock band. Released in 1979, Joe's Garage, released by Frank Zappa solo, concerned a garage band member who must face the travails of the music industry.

Of course, the Seventies would see more concept albums than the few listed here. The form having been well established by the end of the decade, there would be yet more to come in the Eighties, Nineties, and Naughts.


themarina said...

Concept albums aren't what they used to be and off the top of my head, I can't really think of any from later than 1990. However, it's good to note they're not completely dead. Last week, NIN released "Year Zero" which is probably one of the best concept albums of late and the advertising that went with notch.


Mercurie said...

It does seem like concept albums have been a rarity since 1990. I think Year Zero is the first important one in literally years.

themarina said...

I just saw your last post. Guess I jumped the gun a little! :)