Best Concept Albums – Rolling Stone

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

Thematic albums, related together by very specific moods or interconnected songs, are not new in pop; the kingpin of the shape, Frank Sinatra, started making them 70 years ago. And thanks to the Beatles sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the who is tommyand many more, rock took the concept of a concept album and followed it, with narrators, characters and plenty of lyrics and liner notes to explain everything to captivate listeners.

In the era of streaming, one could think of concept albums, which require listening to a record all along, would have about as much appeal as ripping the plastic wrap off a new CD. But along with vinyl, the theme disc is experiencing a new moment. Taylor Swift’s Next Midnights is, she says, “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” This kind of thematic tracking is impressive even for a detail genius like Taylor. Other history song albums released in the past year include Sturgill Simpson’s Cowboy Revenge Saga The Ballad of Dood and Juanita and the band of Tedeschi-Trucks i am the moona response of four EPs to Layla. Smash pumpkins’ ATUM: A rock opera in three acts begins a three-part rollout next month.

In honour of Midnights and its concept siblings, we present the 50 greatest concept albums of all time. It’s the mind-blowing that defines the most ambitious music. They chart epic narratives (from raging coming-of-age dramas to dystopian sci-fi fantasies); they strive to embody vast historical and political moments; they are “cinematic”, “operatic”, “romantic”. Our roster covers everything from classic rock and R&B to punk and hip hop. Some of these long listens have rocked bongs since your hippie uncle bought them on 8 tracks; some are more recent pop masterpieces that hide deep meanings in slick wrappers. Many are long, several are very very long. One is from Styx.

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

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