Concept Albums

While listening to “Diamond Dogs” by David Bowie, when somehting occured to me–this album makes no sense (don’t get me wrong, David Bowie still number one on my list of aging rock stars I want to sleep with). Then I realized that concept albums never make sense–so that’s my question. Has anyone ever known a concept album to tell an actual story that makes sense? Related question–is “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” a concept album? I’ve heard from people that it is, but I don’t like The Smahing Pumpkins because they’re a ripoff of My Bloody Valentine, but I have heard several tracks in order and they make no sense. And what about “Sgt. Pepper”?

No bias here (I’m no raving Floyd-head) but Roger Waters perfected the form, I think. These concept albums make perfect sense:

Radio KAOS, Pros & Cons of Hitchhiking, Animals, Wish You Were Here, The Wall

I can think of a few albums that flirt with the idea and pull it off alright … New York (Lou Reed), Moving Pictures (Rush), My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (B.Eno/D.Byrne), etc.

“Then you learn the lesson,
That it’s tough to be so cool …”

I think “The Wall” is a fairly understandable story as far as it goes; but I question your premise that “concept album” is equivalent to "telling a story. The “concept” behind “Sgt. Pepper” (to the extent that there was one, and I don’t think there was and neither does the band) is that the record was a “performance” by Sgt. Pepper’s band, not by “The Beatles.”

“Concept” does not equal “story”. The closest thing to such an animal is probably The Who’s two rock operas, and even they aren’t totally coherent stories.

A concept album is simply a record on which all the songs have something in common other than the same artist.

In the case of Sgt. Pepper, there was a theme of unabashed childhood and dream imagery, introspection and experimental recording techniques all performed under the influence of a lot of dope.

I can’t speak to the Bowie album you refer to, but I can explain the theme behind “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”: It’s about, well, it’s about Ziggy Stardust and…um…and the Spiders from Mars!

Sure – TOMMY and QUADROPHRENIA, for two. Of course, it all depends on your definition of “makes sense,” but both have a general narrative thread from beginning to end.

There was also WAR OF THE WORLDS. LOLA VS. POWERMAN AND THE MONEY-GO-ROUND also tells a story, though its narrative is less clear as was other Kinks albums.

More often, a concept album had a bunch of songs relating to a general concept rather than a specific story. LAYLA AND OTHER LOVE SONGS, for instance, is a concept album about love, and especially, Eric Clapton’s feelings toward Patti Harrison. Often the concept was rather tenuous (a concert by Sgt. Pepper’s band, for instance).


www.sff.net/people/rothman

IIRC, “Diamond Dogs” was meant to be the soundtrack album for a movie version of “1984” that was never released. I’m not sure if that makes it more understandable, but I thought I’d mention it to make myself seem cool.

How about “2112” by Rush?


Live a Lush Life
Da Chef

Thanks Chef - I was just about to bring that up. However, I’m not sure the whole album is a concept album - it’s mainly the title song. I think their best concpet album was Hemispheres…


“There is such a fine line between stupid and clever.” – David St. Hubbins, Spinal Tap

Both “2112” and “Hemispheres” are one-side-concept albums, in that side A of both tell a very specific story in one long musical suite. The B sides of both are made up of shorter, unrelated songs.
So I would not call them concept albums, per se (though both are four-star excellent!).


“Then you learn the lesson,
That it’s tough to be so cool …”

We may have to shake the cob webs from our minds to remember this one, but let’s add The Caress Of Steel (side 2, The Fountain Of Lamneth) to the list of one-side concept albums from Rush. IIRC, they wanted to stretch Natural Science out to 20 or so minutes, but were warned against doing any more side-length productions by Terry Brown, who thought the time was over for such lengthy suites.

I always thought Queensryche’s “Operation Mindcrime” told a fairly coherent story.


“I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it,” Jack Handy

Music From The Elder, by KISS, tells a coherant story, although it all sounds like third generation Moody Blues. Another of their albums, Destroyer, kind of tells a story, and is a much better album overall.

Someone mentioned Moving Pictures by Rush. Is it just me, or does anyone else think they numbered the sides wrong? Doesn’t “Camera Eye” sound like it should be the first song on the album, and “Limelight” last?

Yes, “Camera Eye” is the best song on that album and should have been first, but it’s just under 11 minutes long. I think Mercury Records preferred the radio-friendlies on the other side to be first. So it goes (and I was going to mention “Caress of Steel” myself, but decided to eschew that most obscure of all Rush albums … ).

Speaking of obscure, I just remembered one of the truly great concept albums: “Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters”, by (one of the guys from Hawkwind). Brilliant; but am I the only one who’s ever heard it?

I liked “Operation: Mindcrime” also.


“Then you learn the lesson,
That it’s tough to be so cool …”

It doesn’t seem like there are too many hip-hop fans around here, but a producer called Prince Paul released an album called “A Prince Among Thieves” that is a completely coherent story. There is a video that is done like a theatrical trailer with “scenes” from some of the different songs, and Chris Rock just bought rights to actually shoot the album as a movie. If you have an open mind about hip hop music, you should check it out.


Roger Waters’ “Amused to Death” is a brilliant example of a concept album.

Harvey the Heavy:

Weren’t there plans at one time to turn “The Elder” into a motion picture?

Master of Puppets is in no way a “concept album” dragonfly, and your “tiny font/aren’t I special” trick is lame and screwed up this discussion IMHO. Thanks for nothing.


“Then you learn the lesson,
That it’s tough to be so cool …”

I agree with RTA. Dragonfly’s post has made this thread all but unreadable. Is there someway the moderator can either delete or edit his reply so that we can still use this thread without having to scroll 3 and a half miles to the right?

The best concept album was “Alice Cooper Goes To Hell”. This isn’t my personal opinion. This is fact.
The second best was the “Spiderman” album put out by Marvel Comics back in the 60’s.


“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Hunter Thompson

The Moody Blues were famous for their concept albums, most notably Days of Future Past, (“Tuesday Afternoon” and “Knights in White Satin”). It’s the story of… uh… one day. It makes perfect sense, and has the added bonus of having been performed with the London Festival Orchestra.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast.