The concept album hit its stride after the 1960s when large, well-funded bands had the cash and carte blanche to explore, at length, any idea that crossed their addled brains. Whether a bloated 1970s ineffectual gesture or a coherent and brilliant bit of storytelling, the concept album has fans and detractors in equal measure. Here are 10 of the best, according to us.
#10. The Kinks – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
Singer and lyricist Ray Davies got the idea for a collection of songs about English pastoral life after reading Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. Full of Davies’ clever lyrics and peerless musicianship Village Green is a satisfying and beautiful album, period.
#9. Bjork – Biophilia
More of a multi-media experiment with an app and a workbook as companions than just a concept album, Biophilia is what happens when Bjork looks at flowers and trees and says “But why though?” The album is complicated, dense, and pretty pretty pretty good.
#8. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
The thin white duke telling the story of the trials and tribulations of an eccentric, egocentric rock god and his band. Sounds very much like Bowie talking about Bowie. Every cut is a classic.
#7. The Fugees – The Score
This is the album that cemented The Fugees in the cultural consciousness. The Score is just that, the soundtrack to the movie that was your life during the summer of 1996. New Jersey’s finest on their finest outing.
#6. Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade
Minneapolis’s Husker Du basically invented what we would later call “alternative” and Zen Arcade is arguably their most important work. Telling the story of a runaway, this album is partly a queer coming-of-age piece, and partly a punk rock manifesto. Although, it’s all killer and zero filler.
#5. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Pet Sounds took the idea of sun, sand, and teenage dreams and fetishized it, deconstructed it, tuned it in, turned it on, and dropped it out. This is where the California dream took a druggy turn.
#4. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
We could have picked other records in his catalog since Kendrick Lamar likes the concept album format, but To Pimp A Butterfly is Cornel West with an 808. A brilliant look at how far we have not yet come.
#3. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
Gangster film soundtrack, minus the film. This is proof that Wu-Tang will remain a force to be reckoned with forever. Flawless East Coast storytelling.
#2. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
A perfect exploration of working-class English life. The theft of dearly-won cash, the loss of love and so many chemicals. Mike Skinner’s introduction is still arguably his best work.
#1. Lou Reed – New York
Before the Velvet Underground was formed, Lou Reed studied poetry under the great Delmore Schwartz. New York is a collection of short stories put to music that are thoroughly New York and unmistakably genius.