Top 5: Concept albums

Operation_ Mindcrime

There are times when bands think about doing something different and decide to do a concept album. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, a concept album is an album that tells a story or where all the songs are about the same theme.

Throughout history, the most bizarre and interesting stories were conjured up to create some of those albums. King Diamond wrote what were almost movie scripts for horror flicks, Drive-By-Truckers tried one about a romanticized version of the Lynyrd Skynyrd story and even Sepultura tried their hands at Clockwork Orange (the book) and Dante’s Inferno. And let me make one thing clear: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s is not a conceptual album. Some people think that, but it’s not. There isn’t clear history throughout the album and the songs are about a great variety of topics.

Whatever the motivations the bands had and whatever the stories they came up with, some turned out pretty interesting and here are my favorites.

#5: King Diamond – “Them”

As I wrote before, King Diamond is a master in telling horror stories and this one about his crazy and scary witch grandma and her ghost friends is my favorite. Not only because the story is compelling; but the songs are absolutely wonderful. “Welcome Home” is still a favorite of mine and I’m always putting it in my playlists to listen to in my ipod. And there’s the spooky cover with that blue tone and the lighted room upstairs in that ghostly house.

#4: Savatage – The Wake Of Magellan

Just like King Diamond, Savatage was a band that turned the concept album into an art form, especially after employing the services of the great Paul O’Neil. I must admit I was torn between this one and “Streets – A Rock Opera”. Although “Streets” has two immortal Savatage tracks in its tracklist, as a “concept album” I think this one is better. With a concept based in two pieces of news that had nothing to do with each other (one about a mutiny in a Canadian boat and another about the killing of a reporter in Ireland), The Wake Of Magellan is a masterpiece. The intertwining between the lyrics and the poem, the overlaying vocals and the performance of vocalist Zak Stevens make this a historical moment in the story of this great Floridian band.

#3: The Who – Tommy

Yep, this one is just like the Rose Bowl: “The granddaddy of them all”. Probably the first real concept album, Tommy deserves all its accolades. Of course is full of that messianic atmosphere that surrounded the world in the late sixties, but the story of the deaf, dumb and blind kid that was a pinball wizard is one for the ages. Pete Townshend was at the peak of his creativity musically and lyrically. “Pinball Wizard”, “Amazing Journey”, “Acid Queen”, “Do You Think It’s Alright” all became Rock staples and propelled The Who to superstardom.

#2: Dream Theater – Metropolis pt.2: Scenes From a Memory

Dream Theater was in a terrible situation after the complete failure of Falling Into Infinity. They needed something that would save their and the record company asses. And they managed to do it in style. The fans always asked the band when the part 2 of the epic song “Metropolis part 1 (The Miracle And The Sleeper)” from their second album would surface. They answered releasing not a song but a whole concept album. The story is about a murder that happened in past lives that is tormenting the life of a guy. It’s a compelling story that goes back and forth in time and deals with betrayal, a love triangle and reincarnation. With the help of the fantastic new keyboardist Jordan Rudess, Dream Theater managed to save themselves and went all the way up on their career.

#1: Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime

Of all the albums listed here, this one probably has the greatest combination of a fantastic story, brilliant execution and hit songs. A concept born out of singer Geoff Tate’s mind while in a church in Canada, Operation: Mindcrime is not only the greatest concept album ever. It’s one of the best albums of all time. Everything works. The story is about Nicky a street kid who is brainwashed and turned into a heroin addicted that works for a mysterious Dr.X as a “one man death machine” in a plot to take over the government. The characters are rich (Nick, Sister Mary, the priest), the story grabs you everytime you listen to it and there are Heavy Metal staples throughout all the record: “Revolution Calling”, the title-track, “Spreading The Disease”, “Speak”, “Suite Sister Mary”, “Breaking The Silence”, “I Don’t Believe In Love”, “The Needle Lies” and “Eyes Of A Stranger”. Not even The Who managed to produce so many hits in a concept album.

Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal”.

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