You may be asking, what is a concept album? A concept album is one that is written with the intention of expressing a certain theme or idea through its songs. It can also tell a story with each track acting as a chapter in a book. Many have been written, produced, and recorded over the years but which are the best? This is a hard question to answer because not everyone enjoys the same style. So for this article, we are focusing on the most commercially successful concept albums of all time and narrowing down our list from there.
10. “Operation: Mindcrime” Queensryche
Starting our list is the 3rd studio album by the progressive metal band Queensryche. The album “Operation: Mindcrime, follows a disillusioned drug addict Nikki who becomes involved with a revolutionary group as an assassin. Released in 1988, the album was certified gold after a year and platinum by 1991. Queensryche was praised for not attempting to appeal to the masses with this album but instead, released true art with ingenious song structures and arrangements.
9. "Thick as a Brick” Jethro Jull
Not to spoil anything for later, but we’ll see this band again in this article. Jethro Tull released this, their 5th studio album in 1972. “Thick as a Brick” is one continuous piece of music and was actually written as a parody to the concept album genre. In their attempt to poke fun at concept albums, Jethro Tull created a masterpiece. This certified platinum album plays as a poem written by a fictional 8-year-old genius named Gerald Bostock. If you like the album, then you would have loved to see the live show. Jethro Tull played the album in whole with comedic breaks thrown in, all inspired by Monty Python.
Well, its all one song so, the whole album??
8. “2112” Rush
The 4th album released by everyone’s favorite Canadian threesome came in 1976 as a last chance record according to their international label, Mercury Records. Due to lack of fans at shows, poor album sales, and unfavorable critical reception, Rush was on the brink of being dropped. The label wanted more commercially acceptable material, Rush ignored and wrote “2112” with a 20-minute opening track. “2112” is now triple platinum and was paramount in the bands commercial breakthrough into the U.S. market. “2112” is based in the year 2112 in the city of Megadon, where creativity and individualism are outlawed, music is an unknown thing, and everything is run by giant banks of computers inside the Temple Syrinx. A nameless man finds a guitar and...well...we won’t spoil the ending for you.
7. “The Black Parade” My Chemical Romance
MCR released their concept album in October of 2006, telling the story of “the patient” who dies of cancer and reflects on his life as well as his experiences in the afterlife. This 3x platinum album is the 3rd studio album by MCR and subsequently their most successful. They took inspiration from Smashing Pumpkins, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie for the album, wanting to create something timeless, something to tell your kids about.
6. “American Idiot” Green Day
This 6x platinum album for the punk rock group, Green Day, released in 2004 marked an amazing comeback for the group. After a disappointing previous album and issues with recordings being stolen from their studio which were going to be on an upcoming album, Green Day set out to write a “punk rock opera”. American Idiot follows the character “Jesus of Suburbia” a lower-class anti-hero living in a world of disillusionment and dissent after such tragic events as 9/11 and the Iraq War. American Idiot was like the voice for every teenager growing up in the early 2000’s who didn’t quite know what was going on in the world.
“Holiday/Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
5. “Aqualung” Jethro Tull
Told you we’d see them again!
Continuing our list, a little controversial here as the members of the group will vehemently deny that “Aqualung” is a concept album. However, it is hard to listen to the record and not hear the message pouring out of the record. Aqualung attempts to tackle the difference between God and religion and the idea of faith. Dubbed one of the most cerebral albums to ever reach millions of rock listeners. Aqualung is a 3x platinum album that peaked in the top 10 on the billboard hot 100 upon its release. Side one of the single LP follows the characters “Aqualung” a seemingly homeless man who creeps on small children and “Cross-Eyed Mary” his female counterpart. The 2nd side is where Jethro Tull dives deep into religion and faith and the hard questions that go along with that. Aqualung is regarded as one of the most classic albums of all time and the first track contains one of the most recognizable guitar riffs ever.
“My God” Has an amazing flute solo about halfway through the track.
4. “Tommy” The Who
The 4th studio album by The Who was mostly written by guitarist Pete Townshend and plays as a rock opera following a “deaf, dumb, and blind” boy named Tommy Walker. Townshend attempted to translate the teachings of Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master who claimed he was The Avatar into song. The majority of the album is very unlike The Who, as the songs are softer and slower but that didn’t keep fans from listening as “Tommy” is 2x platinum in the U.S.
3. “Pet Sounds” The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys 11th studio album is widely regarded as one of the earliest concept albums. By 1966 Brian Wilson was no longer touring with the rest of the group, instead he was experimenting with LSD and marijuana, all the while trying to write a complete album with no “filler songs”. Almost all of Pet Sounds is written, produced, and arranged by Brian, some even consider it a solo album. Pet Sounds is a collection of songs in which Brian gives us a look into his head and reveals his deepest darkest insecurities, especially in “I Know theres an Answer” and “I Just wasn’t made for these times”. This platinum album was very different from The Beach Boys previous releases, but, is still regarded as one of the greatest albums ever. Pet Sounds would probably have received even more accolades had it not been for our next album which stole the spotlight from Brian Wilson and
The Beach Boys.
Highlight: God Only Knows
2. “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” The Beatles
The 2nd best selling album on our list (11x platinum) was recorded in 1967 and just like Pet Sounds, is regarded as one of the earliest concept albums. The Beatles had taken a break from touring and were enjoying taking time for themselves when Paul McCartney had the idea to write an album posing as a different group. That group was called “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Sgt. Peppers is widely applauded for being able to bridge the gap between popular music and high art. The Beatles experimented not just with LSD but with recording techniques that would change the way music was recorded forever. Widely regarded as the greatest album ever written it falls just one spot short of our top spot of top concept albums of all time.
Highlight: A Day in the Life
1. “The Wall” Pink Floyd
No surprise here right? At 23x platinum, The Wall wasn’t just a great album but the greatest concept album of all time. Roger Waters, bassist for Pink Floyd, conceptualized The Wall while on their “In the Flesh” tour in 1977. The Wall tells the story of Pink, a depressed rock star who was tormented in life by his mother, school teachers, and the untimely death of his father. Pink begins to build a wall around himself, a wall of every traumatic experience he’s ever had in his life. Pink goes on to become just like the people he despised growing up and wants to then tear down the wall he metaphorically built. The character Pink was based off of Pink Floyd’s ex-frontman Syd Barret and Roger Waters, as he contains traits of both of them. The Wall wasn’t just an album to be listened to, there was a movie adaptation written by Waters, and a very elaborate live show. The Wall is an experience in every sense of the word, both audibly and visually. I could go on for a very long time breaking down underlying themes and music production of this album, however I’m going to stop here so as not to bore anyone.
We hope you enjoyed our list of The Top Concept Albums of All Time. Did we leave out one of your favorites, or did we nail it? Hopefully we gave everyone a comprehensive collection of music to listen to, whether for the first time or for the millionth.