What are concept albums, and why we need them in today’s music industry

What are concept albums, and why we need them in today’s music industry

Elias Swift, iNews reporter

Music is a form of art, and it’s also a form of storytelling. Every song in existence tells some kind of story, even if the lyrics don’t make sense, or even if the song is an instrumental piece. There’s a difference, though, between a standard album and a concept album, which is one that features longer individual songs and a theme that can be found in all songs. A standard album is where each song has its own story, while every song in a concept album combines to tell one story. 

One genre associated with concept albums is progressive rock, also known as “prog rock.” The reason so many progressive rock projects are considered concept albums is that many progressive rock songs contain emotional instrumental performances, complex musical composition, as well as very clear production. The lyrics can be very meaningful because they touch on topics that have social significance. Time, from Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd, is a very powerful lyrical piece. 

You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today. 

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. 

No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

This lyric can resonate with a lot of people because it means life is just too short to waste time. You will get old faster than you think you will, and once you’re old, you’re going to want a lot more time back. Progressive rock is the type of music that takes the listener on a journey, from all songs in the album, making this style of music very fitting for storytelling. 

“Anyone, whether they were a musician or not, can still be remembered decades, or even centuries after their deaths,” said David Smith, a composer and a music history professor at the City University of New York. “Certain people leave a legacy behind, usually because they did something during their lives that was innovative and revolutionary. Marvin Gaye, for example, will always be remembered because he was the first person to make a concept album about racism.” What Smith means by this is that each song off of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On follows the theme of racial violence and injustice. 

There are many different kinds of concept albums. For example, one type of concept project is a “rock opera” such as The Who’s Tommy, or David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, because they are structured like an opera. Operas must have a very specific plot that focuses on actual characters. Tommy is a double album/rock opera that was eventually made into a movie with the same name. The story is about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who is abused by his parents, which is told through the songs on the album in a narrative progression. 

Other concept albums can have very general themes. For example, many Pink Floyd projects follow a single topic. Dark Side Of The Moon, which is one of the few commercially successful concept albums, contains symbolism of death, and the harsh reality of growing old is littered through the project. This is explored musically, too, with, and the clocks ticking, the bells chiming, and the voices that appear throughout the album symbolize the fear of death that most humans experience. 

The inspiration for a musical project like a concept album is commonly rooted in a real-life experience that a certain artist/band member has experienced. What’s great about concept albums is that they can be very relatable and meaningful to a specific audience, or society in general. 

“With a standard album, you might get three or four singles that will push the album to the top charts. On the other hand, a concept album exists as its own project,” said Giullian Gioiello, an actor, producer, and guitarist. “When done well, a concept album will have a smooth transition between songs, and the order of the songs will always be perfect.” The main purpose of a concept album is to tell a story, not to sell. With concept projects, commercial success is by all means not guaranteed, making them much riskier to produce because of it.  

More concept albums should be made in music today because they can be so beautiful and important. The purpose of music is to express emotion and even teach a lesson. These are both things that concept albums do so well. With today’s music industry, more concept albums would likely not get much commercial success, which is a driving force for musicians, however, more concept albums could still be beneficial. Even if an artist doesn’t make the top charts, they can still impact people’s lives, and influence future generations of artists and people. 

If you’re interested in listening to other amazing concept albums, check out this compilation of the 12 best concept albums of all time, ranked.