10 Best Rock Operas / Concept Albums

Epic stories accompanied by epic music.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
10 Best Rock Operas / Concept Albums
8

What is the best rock opera? That's quite a toughie.

Rock operas always tell some stories, and different stories appeal to different people. However, we tried our best to pick out the best of them. So enjoy the 10 best rock operas and concept albums and if you have your own thoughts on the matter, share them in the comment section below!

10. American Idiot / Green Day

Ok, whatever you may think of Green Day music you just have to admit that they made a drastic comeback with this rock opera. The story of Jesus of Suburbia conquered hearts of too many teenagers to count. It has a powerful political message and it managed to bring back the idea of rock opera to a younger generation who weren't alive when the most of the entries on our list were released.

YouTube preview picture

 

9. Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory / Dream Theater

This was a major milestone for Dream Theater. 18 years since its release, it still constantly named by fans and critics as the band’s strongest album to date.

The storyline may be a little complicated to follow because there are about 10 characters and frontman James LaBrie uses the same vocal delivery for all of them. But even if you don't get the story, you can't help yourself but enjoy this masterpiece. The story of a man named Nicholas who sees visions from his past life is sometimes just too much to handle.

YouTube preview picture

8. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway / Genesis

The last album to feature the enigmatic flute playing Peter Gabriel in his legendary role as one of Progressive Rock's most colorful frontmen, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Psychotically brilliant, both lyrically and musically, Lamb showcases Genesis at the top of their game, borrowing heavily from religious hymns and a myriad of other classic song structures to create a sprawling epic unlike any other you are bound to hear. The album features such classics as the title track, as well as "Carpet Crawlers" and one of the coolest guitar solos ever in "Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist."

YouTube preview picture

7. Joe's Garage Acts 1-3 / Frank Zappa

" Zappa's 1979 comic tale is a rock opera about what would happen if music became illegal. Zappa appears on the cover in blackface, pledges his devotion to "Catholic Girls" ("with their tiny little mustache") and asks the burning musical question "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" And then the fun really begins.

YouTube preview picture

6. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars / David Bowie

In this rock opera, David Bowie created his glittery, messianic alter ego Ziggy Stardust. He pulled off this legendary album by merging different styles, with such a passion and a deep sense of humanity that regularly emerges from behind the Star facade. But the best thing is that he managed to deliver his powerful message without sacrificing a tiny bit of entertainment value.

 

YouTube preview picture

5. The Theory of Everything / Ayreon

Arjen Anthony Lucassen may be not famous as David Bowie but he is certainly known as an undisputed master of prog rock concept albums. Every album he releases is a rock opera, every album he releases is a blast.

The Theory of Everything is arguably the best of them. Ayreon worked with a lot of talented prog-rock musicians in order to make his character look alive. The story of a gifted boy and all the challenges he meets in his life is definitely must-listen.

YouTube preview picture

4. Quadrophenia / Pete Townshend

While Quadrophenia never managed to escape the shadow of Tommy it surely has its moments. While Tommy was an epic fantasy, Quadrophenia set out to examine the band's mod roots and as such was more a commentary on British youth culture of the times. The story follows a young mod named Jimmy and his search for self-worth and importance, set in London and Brighton in 1965. It is the only Who album to be entirely composed by group leader Pete Townshend.

YouTube preview picture

3. The Wall / Pink Floyd

The story of a successful rock star named Pink who, as a child suffered trauma such as having his father killed in the war, and having to go to boarding school, as well as having an overprotective mother. this album tells the story of his life trying to cope with the wall he built between himself and the outside world. In the end, he puts himself on trial, is found guilty, and knocks down the wall.

The Wall is a musical triumph. Just the words "Hey you, would you help to carry the stone? ", especially with that harmonization, are enough to send chills down anyone's spine.

YouTube preview picture

2. Jesus Christ Superstar / Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice

Well, There are musicals, there are operas, and then there is Jesus Christ Superstar.

A controversial opera right from its name was forbidden in many countries ( Fun fact: in USSR it was forbidden on the basis of religious propaganda, while in modern Russia it is forbidden because it offends orthodox Christians)

It represents one of those rare times in history when talent, inspiration, and magic clashed in a way that goes beyond music, into politics and into spirituality that affected the entire generation that listened to it. The story we all know is told with a kick-ass music, written by masters of rock operas - Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

Almost 50 years since its release and it still rocks hard. Don't believe it? Then listen to the starting guitar riff in 'Too Much Heaven on Their Minds' - perhaps one of the best things that happened to the genre.

YouTube preview picture

1. Tommy / The Who

Townshend is pretty much a god of rock opera and 'Tommy' is his Opus Magnum.

A boy who witnesses his father's death and is told not to see or say anything about it and his mind takes it to an extreme and he becomes deaf, dumb, and blind. He is then given to his molesting Uncle Ernie. He discovers he is a "Pinball Wizard" and becomes famous around the world. He becomes very attached to mirrors and they feel he can't see the things around him but himself in these mirrors. His mother is mad that he is becoming too attached to the mirrors and smashes them. This cures Tommy of his odd disease, hence the songs "Sensation" and "I'm Free." Uncle Ernie tries to take advantage of Tommy's fame and starts a wildly overpriced camp for children of Tommy's old nature to be cured and learn pinball. The children in the end rebel, which is the song "We're Not Gonna Take It."
The story may be complex, but the music is raw, and it illustrates the story incredibly well and that's why the legendary rock opera by The Who takes the first place on our list.

YouTube preview picture

What's your favorite rock opera? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

142 comments sorted by best / new / date

    NicerDicerPlus
    Crack the Damn Skye
    koikomoru
    Came here to say this.  Crack the Sky is one of THE best concept albums I've ever heard.  not THE best, but one of THE best....
    PRSguitars87
    No Crack the Skye or Lateralus? But fuckin Green Day made it because they made a couple songs that were 9 minutes long, but actually just 3-4 random pop/punk songs on one track? Fuck this countdown
    milesak
    Erm, Ziltoid the Omniscient anyone..?
    eatfresh1736
    I've found Dark Matters from Z2 to be way better than the original Ziltoid. Just better music and storytelling.
    milesak
    I think it depends on what mood I'm in. Though the RAH Ziltoid show was amazing.
    sandro.rabe.1
    The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance is definitely missing!
    paulstfu
    Definitely. That album is a smooth, well made concept album, amongst my favorites of all time. It might be one of the best rock operas of the last decade.
    yellowcard1209
    my thoughts exactly, some may not like it, but to me, this is what a concept album is. It still is the kind of album that a lot of ppl can relate to from their teenage. Of course it's not as big as works like The wall and others, but still very unique in it's kind
    thalesmlp
    Such an underrated album. Just because It is an "emo" album, people instantly label It as bad. Its one of my fav records for sure.
    Keyworks Kid
    I'm a little bit biased, but I'm going to say Coheed & Cambria's "Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness". Granted the entirety of their discography with the exception of the last album is all part of one grand concept album, GAIBSIV is the most rock opera-esque of the albums in my opinion. It combines a beautiful use of strings to add an extra layer of depth to the powerful (albeit sometimes poppy) songs off the album. 
    Guns N' Chains
    Huge Coheed fan, and I can agree. At first when I thought of Coheed for this list I was like "nah...idk...there is something about it that doesn't fit this motive". I probably had the same thought as you but then after thinking about it I was like "yeah, I guess so...it does kinda work".  Kickass show they are putting on on this tour, btw. Just saw them about ten days ago and it was the best I ever seen them (3 times).
    Nuxx00982
    Love that album, but Good Apollo Part 2 has always been my favorite. Such a heavy ending to the Amory Wars
    UndeadSon
    Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle-Earth will always be no 1 for me, even if for no one else
    acglee
    Lack of Seventh Son of a Seventh son, Crack the Skye, Hand.Cannot.Erase. and Operation: Mindcrime makes me sad. Shout out for Sabbat - Dreamweaver too.
    MetalliBucket
    While I love those albums, Crack the Skye and HANd Cannot Erase are more just thematic albums than concepts - or at least they don't fully tell an overarching story like the listed ones do
    nicolas.arango.
    What do you mean they don't fully tell a story? Of course they do
    MetalliBucket
    Ok, englighten me then
    ScottStewart1
    Hand Cannot Erase is about a girl that goes crazy/missing and no one notices. Crack the Skye is about a guy astral projecting into Rasputin and fighting the devil. I'd say they have a rather specific and consistent thread. When I think of themeatic I think of Raven that Refused to Sing or The Hunter where there is a concept but it's more like an 'anthology', if that makes any sense.
    voncameron
    The Dear Hunter anyone? 5 Albums separating into Acts, with motifs appearing throughout, tons of characters...
    stixhogan
    By far one of my favorite series of records.  The story is so in depth and excellently told.  You can listen to an album for lyrics or for the musicianship, they're all phenominal
    Mega_Droogie
    I agree, but I can't see anyone at UG giving TDH that much credit. They did review their albums quite favorably, though. So at least there's that.
    *Stranger*
    Of all ayreon albums the one with most mediocre storyline gets featured. To ppl who are looking to get into ayreon, the human equation is where it's at
    ensifer1
    [deleted]
    ensifer1 · May 27, 2017 01:51 PM
    *Stranger*
     I'd say Electric Castle and Human Equation are tier 1. I really love 01 but the problem is there is a lot of filler imo (also, I think arjen sounds much better when he is not relying too much on riffs, my main problem with the source recently)  Like the highs of that album are among his best work (age of shadows, comatose, beneath the waves, sixth extinction) but a lot of it falls flat (still good) also the story and characters are all over the place and you don't really get to connect with it on the same level as in the above two. Again, the source had similar problems But, I'm a fanboy so I don't care much
    GenerationKILL
    Operation Mind Crime by Queensryche is considered by most rock and roll publications and critics to easily be top five when it comes to the greatest concept or rock opera albums, yet here on UG it's not even on the list. That's why I can't even take UG lists seriously. Anyone here can throw out a few of their favourites, but that's one that shouldn't be left off any respectable list of best concept albums or rock operas. 
    TheHighlander28
    I take it no one here has heard of Savatage no?
    MeanMrMustard99
    Pink Floyd should hold a few spots on this list for Darkside of the Moon, Animals and the Wall.
    StarryEyes81
    Animals is out of this world dude. Out of this fucking world. If I could only choose one Pink Floyd album to go into like...an album shuffle....it'd be Animals. Dark Side and Wall are exceptional. But Animals is just something else (to me anyway).
    pinata89
    NIN - Year Zero should be on this list
    DissonantTimbre
    I think Downward Spiral is more appropriate.
    pinata89
    Definitely a better album (in my opinion) with a very good story...but I still think Year Zero is a bettter "concept" record with the dystopian theme, set in the future, and of course the ARG.
    sleopold11
    Demanufacture or Obsoloete by Fear Factory are also excellent concept albums.
    col_car
    Queensryche Operation Mindcrime? Coheed and Cambria Good Apollo I'm burning star iv vol.1?
    Törö
    I guess I'm in the minority here, but I've always thought Tommy to be a kind of a warm-up excercise for Quadrophenia. I think Quadrophenia flows a lot better and its songs work beautifully both individually and in an album form. For my money, it is the greatest rock album ever. Oh yeah, it's a shame about Operation: Mindcrame missing on the list!
    prssecustum
    HOW CAN YOU HAVE A GREATEST ROCK CONCEPT ALBUM LIST AND NOT LIST 2112 BY MUFUKKAN RUSH. WHOEVER MADE THIS LIST NEEDS TO THROWN TO THE SIDE OF THE STREET.
    ca6jo11
    Great list. But personally I'd replace American Idiot with Iron Maiden's 7th son of a 7th son.
    ilhavanothrr
    This is a terrible list. Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche shreds all but one of these operas. 
    kilmerborges
    Angra's Temple of Shadows is potentially the best work in the history of music. Check that out.
    thalesmlp
    I wouldnt go that far, but yes, Its amazing. I still prefer Rebirth, but ToS comes close.
    xsk3l3t0rx
    i think green day could take a hike though. i'd take marillion - misplaced childhood, queensryche - operation mindcrime, or the smashing pumpkins - mellon collie and the infinite sadness over green day..
    Air_Stryker
    I know my favourite is Periphery's Juggernaut double album. Solid as fuck music, interesting theme, and brilliant use of leitmotif throughout the whole thing.
    dennis.1960
    Good to see some prog get the spotlight with The Lamb & The Wall.  I'd have added Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" or "A Passion Play" along with Yes' "Tales From Topographic Oceans"   Top 10 is just not enough...could've easily gone top 20!
    CosyNinja
    I love the Wall, but the Lamb came out 4 years earlier and was a blueprint to what the Wall was, imo. The Lamb Lies Down needs to be celebrated more. Every time I push this album on anyone, I get the same response. "How come I'm only learning about his now!". The Wall is second to the Lamb.  
    RockingCookie
    Could've sworn i would've found Bohemian Rhapsody on this list. (or a queen album for that sake) But in case it's not a rock opera, nevermind this comment then...
    shinyswordstorm
    It should be a crime to not include The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance in any list involving rock opera concept albums
    Candlewolf
    I'd go for Cruelty and the Beast but then this list is more confused than a senile grandpa.  I always thought JCS was a musical. It seems ridiculous to stick these two categories together.
    gbaddeley
    Rick Wakeman - Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (& his other early albums were all Concept) Showing my age again....
    TheKerzaks
    And where's Crack the Skye and Operation Mindcrime? From way less known ones, Kurbads by a Latvian band Skyforger is my favourite among all of the concept albums I've heard, and they're making a metal opera based on it too!
    KewlBeans
    its like all the cringey teenage emos that liked green day/MCR/AFI/fall out kid and all that trash are grown up and ended up in the UG community