A concept album is a music album in which the individual tracks are not viewed in isolation, but rather viewed as a complete work in their thematic relationship to the other parts of the album. By working out a musical and textual context, a consistent concept is pursued, which can also be expanded into other areas such as the design of the cover or other additional elements.
Musically, the concept can be expressed either through a conscious stylistic unity of the pieces or through stylistic contrasts. The order of the songs usually results from this overarching concept. Rock albums are also referred to as rock operas if there is a continuously told story. This form of album is used very often, but not exclusively, in the progressive rock scene .
The development of the long-playing record (LP) must be seen as one of the conditions for the development of the idea of a “concept album” . The technical advancement in the field of recording and sound studio technology since the 1960s, for example through stereo and multi-track technology, gave decisive impulses that had an effect on the musical and content-related aspects of concept albums.
The detachment of the content from its packaging, as is often the case with download albums, has pushed the concept album as an art form with multimedia character into the background. In addition, not every downwardly compatible DVD player or MP3 stick can handle the seamless playback of series of titles, which in everyday life instead of flowing musical transitions between the pieces leads to short but unsightly mandatory pauses that run counter to the actual concept.
Already in the age of the shellac records it happened that a series of pieces of music, which was dedicated to a certain topic, were brought onto the market in a coherent form.
In July 1940 , the Victor label released two albums by Woody Guthrie , each consisting of three shellac records , Dust Bowl Ballads Vol. 1 and Dust Bowl Ballads Vol. 2 . The total of twelve folk songs deal with the life, needs and hopes of the rural population who emigrated from the regions known as the Dust Bowl . The Genesis Suite (recorded on December 11, 1945), initiated by the Hollywood bandleader, conductor and composer Nathaniel Shilkret , is also part of a common theme for the release of written compositions.
One of the inventors of the concept album is Frank Sinatra , who recognized the possibilities of this medium with the introduction of the long-playing record . On March 4, 1946 he released the album The Voice of Frank Sinatra for Columbia , which is considered to be the birth of the concept albums. Since the 1950s, Sinatra played several dozen other such albums, first for Capitol and later for Reprise (see Frank Sinatra discography ), many of which became classics of international pop music. His concept album Sings for Only the Lonely , published in 1958, with twelve torch songs (such as "Self-Compassion Ballads") is widely regarded as his masterpiece.
Numerous artists were inspired by Sinatra and took up the idea of the concept album.
In the field of larger orchestral suites, Gordon Jenkins was the pioneer of the genre with his album Manhattan Tower ( Decca , extended new recording in 1956 for Capitol ), first released in 1946 . The similarly conceived suites Seven Dreams (Decca, 1954), The Letter (Capitol, 1959 for Judy Garland and John Ireland ) and Reflections On The Future In Three Tenses ( Reprise , 1979 for Frank Sinatra ) also come from him.
Johnny Cash has released major country music concept albums . His first was Ride This Train in 1960. This was followed by other works such as Blood, Sweat & Tears (1963), Bitter Tears (1964) and America (1972).
The Mothers of Invention
A year later, one of the most important concept albums of the 1960s, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles , was released, which was decisive for the introduction of the term. On this record, released in 1967, the Beatles take on the role of the fictional band named in the title, playing various pieces on the theme of love. Because of this somewhat more open topic, the concept album character of the album is often questioned. Its historical role, however, benefits from the fact that for the first time there are flowing transitions between individual pieces as well as a recapitulation . These two structural features have been firmly linked to the term concept album ever since. In addition, great importance was attached to the external design of the LP cover, which contained cut-out badges and images and on the back of which the lyrics were printed for the first time.
When the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper’s , Pink Floyd was working on their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn at the same time and also in Abbey Road Studios . But it wasn't a concept album yet. Later - especially in their "classic phase" under the influence of Roger Waters - the concept album became more and more their trademark. The most commercially successful albums Wish You Were Here , The Dark Side of the Moon and above all The Wall are typical examples of the genre. In all three LPs, the individual pieces flow into one another, sometimes they are connected by short sequences of sounds.
Wish You Were Here deals with former bandleader Syd Barrett, who dropped out due to substance abuse and mental health problems . Dark Side of the Moon is about how normal people can be driven insane. The Animals album divides people into three categories and metaphorically describes them as animals: dogs, sheep and pigs. In The Wall , the idea of the concept album is finally taken to extremes: the double LP tells the story of the fictional rock star Pink. Because of various traumatic experiences, he is increasingly isolating his personality from the outside world. This “wall”, intended as protection, will eventually become his own prison inside. In the end, Pink is sentenced by an imaginary court to tear down the wall and expose his inner life to his peers. The Wall was created by Alan Parker with Bob Geldof in the lead role filmed .
Even after separating from Pink Floyd, Waters continued to work on concept albums. His solo album Amused to Death depicts a gorilla's evening on TV and interweaves contemporary events such as the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi , the second Gulf War or the massacre on Tiananmen Square . The 14 songs on the album are framed by a radio interview with a veteran from the First World War .
The first in a round casing published May 1968 album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake the Small Faces included on the B side as a consistent theme one of the comedian derived Stanley "Stan the Man" Unwin obscure tale about the search for the lost moon half, embedded in psychedelically produced rock music.
Laura Nyros Eli and the Thirteenth Confession from 1968 is considered one of the first concept albums to be characterized by the crossover of elements from pop , jazz , soul , blues and gospel . Its theme is the growing up and coming of age of a young woman with strong strengths Echoes of the biography of the author, composer and singer. The latter also applies to her follow-up album New York Tendaberry (1969) about Nyro's hometown and her fifth LP Gonna Take a Miracle (1971, together with Labelle ) with a musical review of the early 1960s.
The 1969 album Tommy helped The Who achieve their final breakthrough. It's about Tommy Walker, a boy who becomes deaf, dumb and blind when he watches as his father, returning from the war, kills his mother's lover. In 1973 the album Quadrophenia was released , which portrays a boy's problems growing up in London in the 1960s. The story of this boy ("Jimmy") is told in parallel to the music in the extensive booklet of the double LP as a photo novel.
In 1974 Bernie Taupin described in chronological order the most important milestones from his early days working with Elton John in London from 1967 to 1970. The tracks were released on the 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy . The album begins with the song Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy , which tells of Captain Fantastic (Elton John) and Brown Dirt Cowboy (Bernie Taupin) as unknown beginners who want to find their way into the music world. The ten stations of the album end with Curtains , a parable on the first joint composition Scarecrow , which was recorded as a music demo by the publisher Dick James Music.
Prince released four concept albums with Love Symbol (1992), The Rainbow Children (2001), C-Note and NEWS (both 2003). He described the concept on Love Symbol as a fantasy rock soap opera . He drafted a framework for the songs about an affair between himself and a 16-year-old princess from Cairo, played by Prince's future wife Mayte Garcia . On The Rainbow Children he tells of "rainbow children " who are looking for the promised land, shaped by his spiritual interest in Jehovah's Witnesses .
- Jens Gerrit Papenburg: Concept albums as “great works” of popular music? In: Music and Aesthetics 21, No. 4 (2017): 30–45.
- Götz Hintze: Concept album , Pop-Archiv International 09/2001 from September 15, 2001, in the Munzinger-Archiv ( beginning of article freely available)
- Max Dax (sueddeutsche.de November 27, 2018): The stroke of genius of the most famous American singer of all time
- See also Brian Roylance, Nicky Page, Derek Taylor : The Beatles Anthology. (Chronicle Books, San Francisco 2000). German translation: Ullstein, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-550-07132-9 , p. 241.