Friday, 3 December 2010

A Difficult Concept?

Ah yes - I know, i know: it's been a while now since i put out one of my massively popular lists of five things.  I can't count the amount of requests i've had for another one (you can only count things you actually have)

And, to be fair, this one may be quite a hard sell anyway.  It's a list of five great concept albums.

OK, so I realise that the concept album has little place outside of the 1970s.  One tends to associate them with bands like Yes endlessly pushing out 20 minute keyboard epics with nonsence lyrics that make bashing your ear repeatedly with a cymbal for 2 days look like a viable alternative - and lets face it the concept album has little place in today's world of download insta-tunes.

But i think there's something rather magnificent in their scale, lunacy, ego trip - call it what you want: it's essentially an attempt by a rock band to write opera and, believe it or not, there are a few good ones.

So again i'm going to start by being controvertial and discounting Sgt Pepper by The Beatles.  Simply because it's not a concept album.  It did start out as one - but the idea of linking the songs together was dropped after the first two songs and it's only For The Benefit Of Mr Kite that returns to the idea of a show

#1 Jeff Wayne, The War Of The Worlds
OK so for anyone who ever read the book or saw the film you'll know The War Of The Worlds as being HG Wells's epic of Martian Flu Pandmics - but if you've never heard this album then you've missed a treat.  Richard Burton as The Narrator, David Essex - and the main War Of The World theme: few concept albums are on this scale and the album stays closer to the plot than the Tom Cruise film did.  Top moment is the single: Forever Autumn

#2 Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon/The Wall
Just a brief mention of Dark Side OTM here - which is surely the most perfect album ever recorded: with it's recurring themes of growing old, class and social divisions etc - but as far as concept albums go The Wall is, in many ways, the more interesting album.

Drawing in equal measure on Roger Waters' obsession with losing his father to the war, the band's inability to communicate with one another and the price and pleasures of fame it tells the story of Pink, a rock star who starts believing his own myth.  True side two asks some disturbing questions and the end peters out a bit, but this one wins for being home for two of the best guitar solos ever recorded.  Top moments: Another Brick In The Wall (all 3 parts), Comfortably Numb (although the live version is better)

#3 Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Masters of prog-rock, posh student types obsessed with mythology - the early years of Genesis, under the leadership of Peter Gabriel, saw a series of songs intent on telling wierd and wonderful stories.  This is Gabriel's last outing with the band (leaving to concentrate, albiet not successfully, on his family and marriage), but it has been said that his involvement in the writing of the music was minimal

It tells the story of Rael, a street punk who comes to the big city in search of his brother John and becomes involved with some very sinister characters and a world of magic and mystery.  OK - so sides 3 and 4 make very little sense, but this remains one of my favourite albums of all time.  Top moments: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, the chilling Carpet Crawl and Counting Out Time for the wonderfully daft lyric "Erogenous zones/i love you/ without you what would a poor boy do?" - genius

#4 Green Day, American Idiot/24th Century Breakdown
OK so this is only my opinion but American Idiot doesn't quite work as a concept album, but is nonetheless the superior album.  24th Century Breakdown, i feel, tries a little too hard to be something big and clever

American Idiot contains several recurring themes, the story of the Jesus of Suburbia, the girl whatsername, but somehow the story doesn't quite come together.  Top moment: obviously everyone remembers the singles, but there are great album tracks too

#5 The Who, Tommy
You know I think back to the 1970s and 1980s and to all the mods who drove around on vespa scooters wearing duffelcoats with The Who written on and wish that i'd heard this album back then so i could tell them what a bunch of pillocks they all were.

We watched the video recently and the only way i can describe it was "a voyage to trip out city"

OK so - its the story of Tommy who sees his father murdered, goes deaf and blind, is abused (a recurring theme in Townsend's writing as he was abused himself), learns how to play pinball and becomes the messiah - only to be abandoned.

And i'm sorry to anyone who likes it - but it's unlistenable twonk.  Only decent song is Pinball Wizzard and that one's sung by Elton John.  Frankly i'd rather bury my ears in concrete than ever listen to it again


The Bug said...

Dr. M had me listening to the War of the Worlds on a summer road trip - fascinating! I liked that Autumn song too. But I have to say that it might help to be a little, um, inebriated in some fashion to get the most out of it :)

He has the Dark Side of the Moon CD too (well, he has the album, but we have nothing to play it on, currently).

But I'm surprised you left off Jim Steinman, but maybe he didn't really do concept albums...

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

bug - i thought about Jim Steinman - the origin of Bat Out Of Hell is that it was supposed to be a kinda modern day Peter Pan story - but although Steinman wrote some great, epic songs i'm not convinced that BOOH (I never realised the initials spelt that until just now), great album though it is, is a concept album - nor BOOH-2. If you know of any he wrote that were, or disagree, let me know

Peter Goulding said...

I think the fact that it was so cool to be seen carrying DSOTM around in school that it put me off it. To this day I've never heard it and I'm not sure it would be my sort of music anyway.
Ziggy Stardust would be my ultimate concept album

Argent said...

War of the Words - excellent stuff. They do a really good live show of it too (seen it on telly).

We went to see the Wall movie many moons ago - it was back in the days when you were not instantly arrested for lighting up in public and boy did they smoke in that cinema! (not tobacco either). I've always liked this album and, yes, Comfortably Numb is pretty neat.

Not heard the Genesis one at all. Suspect it would not aid buoyancy to my watercraft if I did.

I had American Idiot but it did not strike me as a concept album at all - or anything else of much note either, ergo I don't have it any more.

Tommy - totally agree.

Then there's always Rush's 2112 which is half a concept album, given that only side 1 is linked together. It's still nifty though and brings back a few memories....

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Peter - i've never heard Ziggy Stardust, but i like Bowie so will get around to it eventually

Argent - i'm a big fan of Peter Gabriel and i like early Genesis a lot, but will admit it's an aquired tastes so please feel free to carry on in your submarine.

American Idiot benefits from repeated listening - but i guess it's not for everyone

Lydia Kang said...

Great list here. I know most of the stuff except for Jeff Wayne. Musically I always need more education, so thanks!

Hattie said...

The Secret Life of Plants!!!

Michael said...

Only know Floyd in this list. The Wall ruled my high school days, but I always pause when DSOTM comes round.

How about ELO's Eldorado? My favourite.