Musical Narratives: 15 Concept Albums That Amazed and Inspired

A concept album tells a story from the opening bars of the first track to the very last note. It was a popular theme in the 1970s, but several artists have recently embraced this type of release.

An online forum discussed the most essential concept albums for your collection, and here are their musical findings.

1. Tales From Topographic Oceans: Yes (1973)

Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes
Image Credit: Atlantic Records.

It’s a concept album that divides opinion, even among lovers of classic progressive rock. However, when we think of this theme, Tales from Topographic Oceans is among the first to come to mind. 

2. Dark Side of the Moon: Pink Floyd (1973)

Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
Image Credit: Harvest/Capitol.

Whenever music lovers of a certain age consider a concept album, there are two default suggestions. Tales from Topographic Oceans and Dark Side of the Moon are the most common replies. 

3. White Mansions: Paul Kennerley (1999)

White Mansions by Paul Kennerley
Image Credit: A&M Records.

One of the forgotten albums of this genre, White Mansions, is a 1978 release that tells a story from the American Civil War. English artist Paul Kennerley is praised on this thread, with one poster likening it to a Broadway play with characters played by Waylon Jennings, Jesse Colter, and Eric Clapton.

4. Quadrophenia: The Who (1979)

Quadrophenia by The Who
Image Credit: Track Record.

It was the album that inspired a revival in 1960s Mod music, and Quadrophenia is fondly remembered here. It’s mentioned regularly in this discussion, and one forum member informs us, using 60’s speak, that ‘side two is high gear.’

5. Misplaced Childhood: Marillion (1985)

Misplaced Childhood by Marillion
Image Credit: EMI Records.

More than one Marillion concept album was mentioned, but Misplaced Childhood won the final vote. One respondent confirmed that they’d discovered the band in an unusual way by watching the classic cult 1980s comedy The Young Ones

6. S.F. Sorrow: The Pretty Things (1968)

S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things
Image Credit: Columbia Graphophone Company.

Psychedelic, proto-punk: The Pretty Things cover many genres, and they also came up with a notable first when releasing S.F. Sorrow in 1968. One forum member informs us that this album was the first rock opera.

7. Operation Mindcrime: Queensryche (1988)

Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche
Image Credit: EMI Records.

Heavy metal experts Queensryche may not be the first band to come to mind when discussing concept albums. This 2003 release fits the theme, however, and it’s loved by the forum. It tells the story of Nikki, who joins a revolutionary faction, and one person states that it’s ‘more appropriate today than when they wrote it.’

8. Zen Arcade: Husker Du (1984)

Zen Arcade by Husker Du
Image Credit: SST Records.

A double concept album from 1984, Zen Arcade is described as influential on this thread. One poster describes it as seminal and claims that without this release, there would be no Nirvana, no Foo Fighters, and no Pearl Jam.

9. Tales of Mystery and Imagination: The Alan Parsons Project (1976)

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project
Image Credit: Charisma Records.

Progressive rock pioneer Alan Parsons released this album with his band in 1976. It takes inspiration from an Edgar Allan Poe book of the same name, and one commenter confirms that this is Poe given the prog rock treatment.

10. Welcome to My Nightmare: Alice Cooper (1975)

Welcome to my Nightmare by Alice Cooper
Image Credit: Atlantic Records.

This is where it all began for Alice Cooper. His debut album of 1975 launched a legendary artist, and it’s still a favorite among his fans. While the iconic School’s Out came later, Welcome to My Nightmare has an incredible track listing, and one poster says it’s unique and ahead of its time.

11. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: Genesis (1974)

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis
Image Credit: Charisma Records.

Genesis is another band that offers plenty of choice within the concept album theme. 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is a classic, telling the story of Rael and his journey of self-discovery.

12. Berlin: Lou Reed (1973)

Berlin by Lou Reed
Image Credit: RCA Records.

A tragic rock opera would never be the most uplifting of albums, and Berlin is sometimes tough to listen to. However, it’s a brilliant example of this theme, and one commenter testifies that the release is amazing nonetheless.

13. 666: Aphrodite’s Child (1972)

666 by Aphrodite’s Child
Image Credit: Vertigo Records.

This is an unusual suggestion and one that I personally intend to follow up on. Greek progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child featured Vangelis, and, as the name suggests, the concept is based on the apocalypse. If that hasn’t sold it to you, one forum member also claims that 666 was Salvador Dali's favorite album. 

14. Diamond Dogs: David Bowie (1974)

Diamond Dogs by David Bowie
Image Credit: RCA Records.

Diamond Dogs was based on the classic George Orwell novel 1984, and it hit the mark for one listener. The individual recommends Bowie’s work, stating that this is the most stunning display of his musical prowess, and it will send you on a dystopian music adventure.

15. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Beatles (1967)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
Image Credit: RSO Records.

While there is some argument over when the concept of a concept album began, many replies suggest that Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles is the first of its kind. It’s undoubtedly a huge favorite and is possibly the best example of this genre. It features unforgettable tracks, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and it seems a fitting way to end this discussion.

Source: (Reddit)