Making an album in general is a lost art. The landscape of music in 2010 is to be on shuffle and albums are made to be dismantled. Songs can be deleted before they are understood or accepted within the context of the entire body of work. Not to mention selling an album is way harder than selling a song.
With this fact in mind, looking at concept albums is almost like looking at dinosaur bones, but in honor of High Fidelity, (and my own concept album, Tanya Morgan Presents: Don Cusack in High Fidelity, inspired by it) I think examining my Top 5 concept albums was in order. This can be a very polarizing subject and while I do welcome debate this is my list—meaning it’s by no means a definitive guide to the best concept albums, simply the ones I like. However I’d LOVE to hear what you agree/disagree with.
Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear.
While What’s Going On is the more logical choice with some respects, I have to vote for the underdog of Marvin’s catalog. Basically, in divorcing Anna Gordy (Berry’s daughter) Marvin wound up heading his lawyer advice of giving her half the royalties from his next album in lieu of paying alimony since he was running low on cash. The court ordered-angst of a jilted lover spawned the best diss record to ever be recorded. The album was panned while he was living and was pretty much chalked up as a failure but later down the line it got recognized for the masterpiece that it is.
De La Soul, De La Soul is Dead
This slot could have very well been any one of De La Soul’s albums but it’s generally the one rap album (aside from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx) that always finds its way into a discussion of concept albums, even when genre boundaries are removed. And rightfully so, the flipbook theme was not only executed flawlessly via the skits but the album actually came WITH the flipbook!
The Flaming Lips, Zaireeka
Okay, I’m pretty certain that some of you don’t know who the Flaming Lips are and that’s okay, you aren’t expected to but tell me this shit isn’t mind boggling. Their Zaireeka album is comprised of four separate discs meant to be played on separate sound systems simultaneously. The sum of which, based on the infinite inconsistencies involved, will never produce the same total listening experience upon playback. That’s beyond innovation it’s fucking crazy. It sounds like an artist hell-bent on pushing their personal envelope far beyond its limits. If that sounds crazy what’s even crazier is that the band never officially released a “mixed down” version and word is discs 5-10 are floating around out there. How can this *NOT* be on my list?!?!
The Beatles, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
This is honestly the album that turned me on to the Beatles in the first place. On this album the Beatles play as the fictional band that the album is titled after. Around the time of the album’s recording the Beatles were burnt out from touring and wanted to create an album that could in effect tour for them. The album’s concept wasn’t fully realized and was for the most part abandoned but the project still lives on as a concept album. At times it’s hard to hear a formal concept at all but it can be said that exploring new territories musically counts, too. Dare I say that with no Sgt. Peppers there would be no 3 Ft. High and Rising?!?! Yes, yes I do dare.
Tanya Morgan, Moonlighting
Yup… I abso-fuckin’-lutely did and it ain’t even favoritism, it’s honesty. Moonlighting is an album about a cassette tape being passed around that never finds its intended listener because the song they missed was the one they would have liked. It’s a humorous social commentary on the changing format of sellable music and how the new breed of listener consumes. And while it’s extremely hard to find, the actual cassette tape being played on the album exists in real life, tell me that ain’t G.