Best Concept Albums – Rolling Stone

From prog epics to R&B masterpieces, these are the records that define music at its most ambitious

Theme albums, cancelled together through very specific moods or songs linked together, are nothing new in pop; the kingpin of form, Frank Sinatra, started it 70 years ago. And thanks to the Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the who is tommyand so many more, Rock took the concept album concept and moved on with it – with voice actors, characters and plenty of lyrics and accompanying text to explain everything to the enthralled listener.

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In the streaming era, one would think of concept albums that require you to listen to a record completely through, would have about as much appeal as ripping off the plastic wrapper of a new CD. But together with vinyl, the theme record has a new moment. Taylor Swift is imminent midnight are, she says, “the tales of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” That kind of thematic delivery is impressive even for a detail-oriented genius like Taylor. Other story song albums released over the past year or so include Sturgill Simpson’s Cowboy Revenge Saga The Ballad of Dood and Juanita and that of the Tedeschi-Trucks Band i am the moona four-EP reply to layla. smashing pumpkins’ ATUM: A rock opera in three acts begins next month with a three-part rollout.

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In honor of midnight and its concept siblings, we present the 50 greatest concept albums of all time. These are the mindblowers who define music at its most ambitious. They outline epic narratives (from raging coming-of-age dramas to dystopian sci-fi fantasies); they strive to embody powerful historical and political moments; they are “cinematic”, “operatic”, “romantic”. Our list touches on everything from classic rock to R&B to punk and hip-hop. Some of these longform listeners have been rattling bongs since your hippie uncle bought them on 8-track; Some are newer pop masterpieces that sneak deep meanings into sophisticated packaging. Many are long, some are very, very long. One is from Styx.

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To top the list, an album had to be both conceptually tight and musically great, which is why some classic albums with relatively loose themes didn’t make it higher. Sit back, press play, and immerse yourself in a whole load of music you really need to pay attention to.


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