Throughout the years there have been a handful of rock albums that take the entire album to tell a story. Some call them concept albums and some call it a lost art due to the majority of music being downloaded song by song rather than the whole album. Still others call them operas which I think is a bit far fetched if you were a true opera fan, maybe the term rock opera works better. They are albums which are best listened to as a whole, although there may be some hit singles included, it is best to just lay back and listen to the whole story. I have been captivated by some of these albums in the past and have listed those which I personally have found the most enjoyment from. The Who’s Tommy is on about everybody’s top list of rock albums. Released in 1972 the double album was the first musical work billed overtly as a rock opera and was a huge success. Tommy was a traumatized boy who was “deaf, dumb, and blind” who later becomes the leader of a messianic movement. The story and the music are both wonderfully written. Tommy witnesses a murder by his father and to cover up the incident his parent’s tell him he didn’t see or hear it dropping Tommy into a semi-catatonic state and becomes deaf, dumb, and blind. Inside his head, however, sensations from the outside world are changed into amazing visions accompanied by music. After years of abuse and mis-diagnosis he is finally freed as a mirror he is staring at is smashed. His miracle recovery soon makes Tommy a religious like figure with many followers and as the story ends, the disciples reject Tommy and he retreats inward again. Some of the single hits from this album are Pinball Wizard, I’m Free, See Me, Feel Me, and Go to the Mirror. Tommy is definitely a classic. Another album without near the notoriety is Thick as a Brick (1972) by the often overlooked Jethro Tull. The entire album is one song and is a satire poking fun at the band itself, the audience , and primarily music critics. It is an album that should be heard once for those who like to discover something unique. While the words are sometimes whimsical, the music is on par with the best of albums. Thick as a Brick is my sleeper pick. Pink Floyd comes in with two themed albums, Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979), both classics, but I have to pick Dark Side of The Moon as my favorite of the two as it came out first and just blew everyone away with it’s themes of greed, the passage of time, and mental illness. The best adjective I can use would be ” spacey” to describe the music. It was an immediate success and became iconic with the stoner crowd. The two radio hits off the album were Money and Time, but my favorite single was Us and Them. This album is frequently ranked as one of the greatest of all time. The Wall is considered a rock opera and is performed live with elaborate theatrical effects. Roger Water’s is basically building a wall between the band and the audience. It is based on a character named Pink who has to overcome ridicule and abuse from schoolteachers and family. All this contributes to his mental isolation from society, represented by a metaphorical wall. The Wall is a double album and some of the more popular singles from it include Another Brick in the Wall, Hey You, and my personal favorite, Comfortably Numb. Other “themed”  albums that stand the test of time is David Bowie’s, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), which is based on the rise and fall of a bisexual and alien rock star. This album took me by surprise because it was different and he was different. I got to see the Ziggy Stardust Tour live in San Diego and the crowd was full of glitter and glam rock. David Bowie was lowered from the arena’s roof singing Rock ‘N Roll Suicide dressed up as Ziggy Stardust and the crowd just stood in awe as if witnessing an alien invasion.  The songs on this album are great one right after another and has been considered one of the greatest albums of all time, with Rolling Stone ranking it the 35th greatest ever. David Bowie is an artist who continues to reinvent himself, but I will always be partial to the Ziggy Stardust phase with songs like Starman, Suffragette City, and Ziggy Stardust. The most recent album that falls under the concept genre that I also enjoyed was Green Day’s American Idiot (2004) that tells the story of an American Rebel, Jesus of Suburbia, leaving his town for the city. The album is in the rock opera vein and contains a flurry of hit songs including American Idiot, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends. I have always enjoyed Green Day since hearing Dookie for the first time. This album is harder to follow as a story due to no one really believing Green Day could put one together but it became a huge success and I’m thankful to Green Day for keeping hard driving rock ‘n roll alive amidst all of the pop stars lately.

















  1. I love concept albums and rock operas, even if the storyline sometimes gets lost or muddled, which usually happens inevitably. Regardless, some of them have pretty incredible music! My favorite is Arthur by The Kinks. It’s about life in postwar England, which sounds really boring but it’s a really cool album.

    • Thanks for the comment. I am certainly aware of the Kinks and love some of their songs, but I was unaware of “Arthur” as a concept album. I will definitely check it out.

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