Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Usually, in popular music, an album of an artist or group simply consists of a number of unconnected songs that the members of the group or the artist have written or have chosen to cover. In a concept album, on the other hand, all songs contribute to a single overall theme or unified story.
Frank Sinatra released several albums with songs about the same subject. This gave rise to the phrase "concept album". What may have been the first example of a concept album in rock of any form was the Beach Boys' 1963 Little Deuce Coupe, which features 12 songs, each one about America's automobile culture. It was one of the few Sinatra-style concept albums in rock. Three years later, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention created an odd farce about rock music as a whole with Freak Out!
The 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles is generally considered to have been the first true concept album. For this album, the members of the band were each supposed to adopt a fictionalized persona, and the title song, styled as the theme song of the fictional "Lonely Hearts Club Band", wraps around the rest of the album like bookends. However, most of the songs on the album are unrelated to the theme, and the fictional characters have little life beyond the introduction of Ringo as "Billy Shears" on the first track. Thus, there is some debate over whether Sgt. Pepper really qualifies as a true concept album, although its reputation as such helped in spreading the idea of concept albums. Certainly, many of the songs on Sgt. Pepper are like short stories ("She's Leaving Home", "A Day in the Life") and others are like character sketches ("When I'm Sixty-Four", "Lovely Rita"), making the album something clearly special.
Several albums that could be considered candidates for early concept albums include S.F. Sorrow by the Pretty Things, which tells the life-story of the eponymous character, and Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues, which combines the acoustic instrumentation of the Moodys with the orchestral interludes of the London Festival Orchestra to document a typical "everyman's day". Both these albums were released in the same year (1967) as Sgt. Pepper.
Sgt. Pepper was itself inspired by an earlier work: the abandoned Beach Boys album SMiLE.
The concept album genre overlaps with rock opera and to some extent with rock musical. Concept albums are especially common in the progressive rock genre. For classical music that tells a story or evokes a concrete idea see program music.
An extension of the concept album idea could be seen in a series of albums which all contribute to a single effect or unified story. This was the original plan behind the first four albums by King Crimson, which were all related to the four elements of Occidental mythology. These are In the Court of the Crimson King for the Air Element, In the Wake of Poseidon for the Water Element, Lizard for the Fire Element and Islands for the Earth element.
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