Top 10 Concept Albums

The greatest concept albums ever, as voted for by UG readers, with full album links. Your weekend is ready.

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Ultimate Guitar
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Albums weren't always just a bunch of singles, ready to be plucked and thrown at the masses. They once meant something more significant; a body of art that was meant to be consumed as a whole.

Concept albums are the best example of what an album has the potential to be. If you don't sit, listen and absorb it all, you miss their greatest gifts.

Whether they're based around a careful narrative, or just built around a theme, concept albums can be the most captivating musical experiences available.

On Wednesday we asked you to vote for the best concept albums ever, and as usual they made for a storming list. We've posted the full albums so you can check them out, but be sure to go and buy them when you're hooked.

10. The Smashing Pumpkins "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" (1995)

Two discs, and two themes: day and night. At the time, frontman Billy Corgan told the press he wanted it to be like Pink Floyd's "The Wall" for Generation X. The album is often tender, occasionally violent, but always heartfelt.

9. Rush "2112" (1976)

The story of a dystopian future, set in the year 2112, in a world run by the Priests of the Temples Of Syrinx who control every facet of culture. A man learns to play an ancient guitar, but little does he know the part he plays in the future of the Solar Federation.

8. The Who "Tommy" (1969)

Billed as the first ever rock opera, it tells the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who feels everything as music before becoming a leader of a spiritual movement.

7. Queen Of The Stone Age "Songs for the Deaf" (2002)

It's a pretty loose concept, but it's supposed to chronicle a drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree while scanning through the radio and rocking out.

6. Tool "Lateralus" (2001)

Never has an album concept gone so far behind simple story lines. The secret is unlocked with a little mathematics: the fibonacci sequence (where the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers - 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and so on) represent a ratio often seen in nature. It's worth a Google to find out more, but with this album it supposedly reveals a secret track listing:

6, 7, 5, 8, 4, 9, 13, 1, 12, 2, 11, 3, 10

Try editing it together, overlapping the ambient tracks, and it all lines up. Magic!

5. The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967)

When the Beatles were fed up of touring, they quit and went into full-on production mode for their next album. The results changed the history of recorded music forever, but they were also free to explore the concepts and ideas behind the songs. They invented a fictitious band with new identities, though the concept is essentially forgotten after the first two songs. So as a concept album, it's a failure - but it's an enduring idea, so let's keep it on the list.

4. Green Day "American Idiot" (2004)

Inspired by musicals and The Who's "Tommy" rock opera, Green Day had a go at it themselves to explore the concept of rage versus love with the story of Jesus of Suburbia, a punk-rock freedom fighter, who ultimately commits suicide.

3. Mastodon "Crack the Skye" (2009)

According to their "Making of..." DVD, this album represents the element of aether, the soul and spirit of things, and explores ideas like astral travel, space wormholes and the devil.

2. Dream Theater "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory" (1999)

We'd love to summarise the story to Dream Theater's magnum opus, but it's so complex that one paragraph would never do it justice. Picture this: it's about as straightforward as one of their songs. But still, it's an epic and emotional album worth exploring.

1. Pink Floyd "Animals" (1977), "The Wall" (1979) and "Dark Side Of The Moon" (1973)

Pink Floyd are kings of the concept album. I bet they'd rather track numbers didn't exist, so fans have to hear the whole record in its entirety. Well, they'll be very pleased that we've done exactly that with these YouTube embeds. Enjoy!

Thanks for casting your votes. Did your fellow readers miss out on alternative concept classics? Share them in the comments, and discuss more about your favorite album stories.

363 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Megadeth2011
    I think they forgot Operation Mindcrime, and King Diamond's Abigail.
    spyder52
    What? I never heard of those bands... apart from this guy who stacks cereal in the supermarket wearing King Diamond shirts
    Elderer
    Pretty good list.
    Hevi Metl
    No Seventh son? or Jeff Wayne's War of the Words?
    sweatleafjones
    put it this way, without the beatles, you can **** off the whole idea of being a band, without them, music and even the world would be different
    dand666
    I think that anyone who doesn't understand what the Beatles have done for popular music, what Paul McCartney done to the bass guitar and what George Martin done in the studio seriously needs to think about themselves musically.
    Superperfex
    How The Beatles lost to Mastodon and and Dream Theatre, I will never know.
    crazyhorse174
    Coz they're not as good as you think they are?
    gus_metallica
    Are you being serious? No No No. I will ask again. Are you really being serious with your comment?
    eternal_Lord
    Time has made The Beatles into untouchable figures. And yes, I will concede that they are good. The White Album is a fantastic album. However, the Beatles are only gods because they were the first band to pump out material in the vein of Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, White Album etc. Do they deserve respect? Absolutely. But there were far more talented bands around at that time, and there are far more talented bands around today. The notion that they are the best band to ever walk the planet is a gross overstatement when you consider the many bands that have come since then (post 1968). I.e. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush, Pink Floyd, Muse etc.
    BjarnedeGraaf
    The Beatles in the 60's were like One Direction these days: "mainstream" whatever the **** that means. The beatles are good. granted, not the best. but they are a hell of a lot better then most metal bands out there.
    mop10893
    comparing The Beatles to One Erection is worse than the other way around.
    kmitchell74
    System of a Down's Steal This Album, could definitely be on this list. It doesn't get the attention it deserves though
    saulhudsonslash
    Except "Steal This Album" wasn't a concept record, it was just a collection of b sides and outtakes.
    Superperfex
    Hahaha, and I thought that I was being biased.
    gus_metallica
    Wow. Your argument went wrong from the minute you put them in the same comparison as One Direction. To truly understand the Beatles music you have to understand music and song writing. Their song writing skills are GENIOUS to say the least. I have studied many many other groups and bands from different genres and none come close, except for Pink Floyd. And not even Floyd are even on the same league.
    hugecrimsonfan
    I agree Floyd are in a different class than the Beatles...I love both bands but if you can't notice the technical soundscape advantage in the Floyd's music over the Beatles music then you probably don't play instruments.
    gus_metallica
    I agree. Floyd are better technical wise (playing of instruments) but the beatles are just Genius song-writers. I mean, Roger Waters and David Gilmour are also fantastic, but they jus't dont live up to Lennon and McCartney
    saladforkspear
    sooo...umm....syd barrett? he seems like waaaaay more of a trip than lennon or mccartney.. and ringo is no nick mason u.u
    SmittyMan90
    I consider one direction worse than bieber and that is truly terrible consider they are both worthless toss-outs.
    jonathanb2
    The Beatles were a good band in the sixties, but they don't stand up to many bands making music nowadays. They're overrated and simple.
    kdsprocket
    You have got to be kidding me. The Beatles don't stand up to bands today. #1 there music is still being played they still are selling records. How many bands nowadays can say that? And they still influence many others out there #2 they opened the door to all musicians out there today. They changed the entire industry by writing and co producing their own material. This was unheard of back in the day. George Martin was simply the 5th Beatle. They took the technology of the time to its limits and woke up others to do the same. Can you imagine if Lennon & McCartney had today's technology back in 66 what would have come out of the studio. Maybe Pepper shouldn't be on the list of Concept albums but it should be on the list of amazing recordings. This album remained as one of the top selling albums for well over a decade. This is before the internet
    BrentMcClowd
    They took songwriting into their own hands as well. I may not like the Beatles' music, but I have some of the highest respect for them for creating the "band creates their own material" blueprint that paved the way for bands to actually become a medium of artistic creation and wonder. If you deny the Beatles' impact on music, you deny any of the changes that were made in order for your current bands' music possible.
    Imadeanaccount
    Do you guys ever get bored of discussing the same 10-50 artists over and over? This comment section is just plain embarrassing to read. IT's just entirely fallacious "arguments" and musical illiteracy being spouted everywhere.
    lithium_boy
    tomorrow's headline: UG closes down... (then you open the article to discover they just moved floors)
    Absurder22
    "there music is still being played they still are selling records. How many bands nowadays can say that?" Ummm, a lot? Like an almost uncountable amount, but if you want examples , there's Led Zepplin, Queen, Black Sabbath... I'm pretty sure Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is STILL on the charts. I mean Fuck, even Poison is still making money! And The Beatles were hardly the first act to ever fathom writting their own songs...
    third(-)eye
    Huh. I didn't realize Zep, Queen, Floyd, and Sabbath were bands from "nowadays". Lol.
    dentech
    I guess allot of people here were not around in '63&'64 to see it all happen the way it did...overnight. They did start it all. Now sure, better rockers did come along, but many would confess that they where inspired buy the Beatles, but yet went on to make a totally different sound in their own music without sounding anything like the Beatles. Plainly put the Beatles changed music...and not just rock, but all music. You can disagree, and that's okay. But for us who where there to hear and see it all for the first time knew music had just been changed forever....overnight!
    sickassfoo
    i dont get why your comment got so many negative votes. it is true, they made some good shit in their time but to say that their music is still the best ever is an ignorant thing to say. so many bands out there have come out since then and proved themselves. sure the beatles inspired everyone in some way but it does not mean that everyone taking inspiration from them sucks.
    latinromans
    Have you even ever listened to crack the skye or scenes from a memory? they are ****ing masterpieces and amazing demonstrations of both composing and musicianship, the beetle's deserve there due as they popularized the idea (I'm pretty sure frank zappa beat them to the punch on the whole concept album thing but he's alway been on the fringe so no one gives a shit). Listen to those to two albums and just take it in, the beatles where in the right place at the right time and since then there have been many amazing takes on the idea's they've put into the publics awareness. It would be a shame for someone who so obviously respects the beetles to close their mind on the fruits of their legacy.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Simple. The Beatles are overrated, and as the "Sgt. Pepper's..." description says, they never even made a real concept album.
    third(-)eye
    Hm... I'm gonna have to call bullshit here. There is no way you could think that Sgt. Pepper, White Album, and Abbey Road are overrated, assuming you've heard them. Even if you don't consider Sgt. Pepper a concept album, it probably inspired each of the others on the list in some way (especially Floyd). And as for "they never made a real concept album", I'd even argue that Abbey Road was a concept album about their breakup.
    gus_metallica
    Sir, which is your favorite band? The Beatles are certainly not over-rated if you explore their entire catalogue and NOT only listen to "Hey Jude", "Let it Be" etc.
    eternal_Lord
    The Beatles lost to Dream Theatre and Mastodon because, as stated in the review, Sgt. Pepper was a failed concept album. Seeing as this is a list of the best concept albums, this is logical.
    beyondthegrave
    honestly the beatles are not as innovative or creative as you think they are (if you listen to old country or blues the beatles are a complete rip off band).
    tennesseehild
    After seeing this debate all I can say is hellyeah. I finally have found people that don't over glorify the Beatles. Great band, very inspirational to the musicians of today, but to say they were the greatest musicians ever as most people tell me, umm here let me introduce you to Mozart, Beethoven, or Stokowski.
    RadioTape
    I'm only posting this here as a reply so people will see it, so I apologise in advance. But 'What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye is a really good concept album idea. The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing nothing but injustice, suffering and hatred.
    lankeysob
    Needs some BTBAM Parallax 1 and 2
    ManInTheBox14
    And Colors, I'd say. It doesn't have a storyline, but it's musically and arguably thematically conceptual.
    dream_theater24
    I saw BTBAM not long ago, amazing show. They were absolutely spot on. Colors is more of a themed album though. Hopefully one day they will get the recognition they deserve.
    Abacus11
    No Iron Maiden's "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son"?
    TheNumber6
    i wouldve much rather had that on here instead of the Beatles. even the UG team called Sgt Pepper's a failed concept album.
    FitzInc
    But 2112 is not a concept album. The last 5 songs are unrelated to the title suite. ELP's Tarkus has a similar structure, a great album as well.
    rockfreak611
    Glad to see all three Floyd albums got represented under one post. The glaring omission of Radiohead is a bit disappointing though.
    nugiboy
    Radiohead hasn't really done a concept album though. Hail to the their was apparently a light commentary on the american elections, but other than that..?
    third(-)eye
    Again, obviously not acquainted with Kid A.
    nugiboy
    Kid A isn't a concept album. It vaguely was funnelled from Thom's severe depression at the time and has themes of isolation and bleakness running through it, but it's definitely not a concept album.
    aids9999
    All of you saying 2112 isn't a concept album obviously need to play it at the same time as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    Slackerbitch
    Goddamnit, Billy Corgan has stated so many times that Mellon Collie is NOT a concept album! I can't believe there are so many people who love the album so much that they'd vote for it, yet they don't know one thing about it! I mean Mellon Collie is one of my absolute favorite albums, if not THE favorite, but it is not a concept album. The Pumpkins have one concept album and that is MACHINA/The Machines of God (along with MACHINA II) from 2000.
    JimmyP91
    First off, a lot of people don't seem to realize that this list was the result of a fan vote held on wednesday. I see a lot of people yelling at the UG team for the list even though they just compiled the votes. READ PEOPLE! 2ndly, no Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick. Not only is it one of the most brilliant concept albums ever recorded, it was meant as a parody of concept albums and more in general prog rock. Meh, kids these days and there Green Days :p.
    poomanjones
    American idiot is terrible
    third(-)eye
    I don't think it's "terrible", but it's sure as hell not the FOURTH BEST CONCEPT ALBUM OF ALL FUCKING TIME.
    spyrostsal
    I actually think it's a great album. It has a nice story, nice message and really catchy songs. Not every concept album has to be a prog rock anthem with a complex story and meaning. Besides, Green Day are a band that aims on teenagers as their audience. What can a teenager relate to more than the concept of rage and love?
    CoolMcAwesome
    it really is man. green day couldn't pull real writing material out of a real artists ass.
    Banandrew
    Seconded, replace with Operation: Mindcrime, and maybe double up Crack the Skye with Leviathan (though Crack is better ) and the list would be perfect in my eyes
    williamnephilim
    I think American Idiot really deserves its place. I am not a very big Green Day fan, I saw them when I was 12, and then I discovered all the other things on the list which I like far more (The Beatles other stuff, Tool, Floyed etc) But I think American Idiot has a place up there, it has a very nice story line, great lyric writing just because its all like power-chords and such like doesn't make it less of a concept album. I would not put on the best albums of all time, in fact i would have it far fom it, but for a list of concept albums to not have it, would make the list incomplete.
    theblackwell
    While I respect your opinion, it's just that, YOUR opinion....the fact that it sold I don't even know how many millions of copies just makes it terrible though.
    joshvisser
    american idiot is the best concept album of all time... sorry, the BEST album of all time
    MonsterOfRock
    ZILTOID DEMANDS A RECOUNT!!!!
    Skyvalve2012
    never heard the album, but want to...that good, huh?
    MonsterOfRock
    Its a space metal opera, haha! The story follows Ziltoid, a 4th dimensional being who comes to Earth and demands our finest coffee. He tastes it and declares it 'fetid'; gets pissed off and attacks Earth with his Ziltoidian army and his secret weapon... Herman the Planet Smasher! But things don't quite turn out his way, thanks to Captain Spectacular! Lots of comedy involved, but nothing is off-colour somehow... just brilliant metal all over the place!
    paulohd2
    The truth is, Green Day only made the list because this is UG.
    Epi g-310
    No, Green Day made the list because it's one of the most popular concept albums of all time, and people recognize that. Even if it's not the greatest musicianship in the world, the fact that an album could be so popular in the age of singles is significant. I'm going to make one of those "oh no you didn't" comparisons, so bear with me. The Beatles were not the greatest musicians in the world. Nor are Green Day. The two bands figured out how to popularize their respective genres of music. That's why they're noteworthy. Whatever you think about the way their music sounds, they accomplished a whole lot. That earned Green Day a spot on the list.
    Elcosto
    Screw the fact that it's an amazing concept album... and **** different tastes in music right?
    Raven_Flight
    Never checked out "Tommy" before, I probably should. Sad to see BTBAM or Opeth didn't make it, they were voted a lot.
    qrEE
    I'm sorry Gus, but you're wrong for 1 simple reason - you can't measure what makes a musician a "genius". You seem to forget that music existed before 1900. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, these are three guys who easily outweigh The Beatles in terms of being identified as geniuses. When it comes to "greatest musicians who ever lived", if anybody were to put The Beatles over classical composers, it'd be a joke. So that's already a good amount of musicians who are better songwriters than The Beatles. Then you have to consider that there are way more innovative musicians than The Beatles. Look at Tool. They turned their entire album into a math equation. Look at Blotted Science. They turned construction of scales into a math equation, then set the music to sync with movie scenes, each scene having the theme of insect attacks, thus turning an instrumental album into a concept album. In the realm of genius songwriters, The Beatles could easily be among the top, but just because they were popular and they were a big deal, does not mean that they are the best songwriters ever. To be honest, writing a Beatles song isn't that hard, their genius is in their simplicity, but when that's the case, what makes them stand out as particularly superior to everyone else?
    rmzeppelin1919
    green day? over coheed and cambria? or mars volta? what the efffff
    crazysam23_Atax
    Are you really surprised that the UG team ignored Coheed and Cambria or The Mars Volta?
    Rands2113
    I actually can't believe they snubbed those two bands. As you can see I am a big Coheed fan and once I saw this article I thought to myself "Coheed and Mars Volta." It's pretty ridiculous that Greenday is even on this list. This list, minus Greenday is great. But we all know who should be on it.
    Skyvalve2012
    shame they didn't put good apollo on the list.... F*** UG, i hate their articles sometimes
    RitchieRamone
    GD over Coheed and cambria or mars volta? Anytime.
    Bad Brain
    American Idiot gives this list some diversity and of course it's a great album. Seems like these people judge it only by those few songs they heard on radio. "Will the metalheads finally learn something or will the punks throw away their education?" -Jello Biafra
    thrashmetalhed
    Metalheads have been learning for 42 years, punks ehhh genre progression-wise, well we don't see too many Dream Theaters, Opeths, Obscuras, or Iron Maidens in that area. nothing against punk, I love quite a few punk bands, but progressively and technically metal has been trucking on since its start. Not sure if you value that but it does say something about the development of metal.
    Bad Brain
    Yeah, well I don't know how educated you are in punk rock's history but it started as a counterreaction to those early seventies prog bands. The idea was that anybody could pick up a guitar and tell people what you have to say in two minutes and three chords. It was not about the musicianship rather than the message and energy, but of course there have been lots of great musicianship included from the start or it would've stayed very small. Ok, Green Day doesn't really represent that '77-spirit 100% but they just wanna play music they like which happens to be generally influenced by punk rock and then again also by The Who, The Beatles, Queen and such. I do like metal too but it's the aggression (which it got from punk anyway) rather than the technicality. Weird time signatures, unusual song arrangements and fast solos don't really make an impression on me. (Wanna continue this privately? Could be interesting)
    thrashmetalhed
    Haha, I'm currently on my 4th hour of Dream Theater's meta-album, and my 5th run through of the whole thing beginning to end. (that being said I'm quite against the 'anybody could pick up a guitar and tell people what you have to say in two minutes and three chords') I greatly value musicianship, among over all influence, innovation, creativity, and so forth, my approach was similar to yours 4 years or so ago, but as i've studied music and attended college level music theory classes, i've changed my outlook, but sure if you want to continue privately tell me how to get in touch. hahaha
    KrokodileJaws
    This is what pisses me off. Every single article like this on UG has to have Pink Floyd or The Who or some shit. Where is Thick As a Brick? That was the mother of all concept albums. Will they put it on? Nope, not famous enough.
    proudtodrown
    after seeing this list, i have no idea what makes a concept album a concept album? is pretty much every album a concept album?
    third(-)eye
    Any album that has at least 2 songs related to each other in some way is apparently a concept album now. OR, alternatively, one 20-minute song (2112).
    *Stranger*
    Ok why are there only 3 floyd albums whats wrong with wish you were here???? change that
    bharathrk95
    Actually American Idiot is a good album ( maybe not something of your taste but still awesome) ,Whats with the hate , there is not a list that can satisfy everyone.
    third(-)eye
    The hate is not because it's a bad album. The hate is because it's apparently the 4th best concept album of all time. Which is so blatantly ridiculous a statement that it makes me want to move to Venus.
    hugecrimsonfan
    Green Day suck...maybe some people think AI is a concept album because all their songs sound the same.
    Bad Brain
    Seems like you haven't even heard the album All this Green Day bashing makes me laugh
    Rands2113
    This list makes no sense because Coheed and Mars Volta aren't in it.So I'm sorry but this article is officially dead to me.
    connor494
    quality wise american idiot may not be able to compete with most others on this list at all but as a concept album its brilliant and i may be the only one but i think they deserve to be on this list
    bifteksupernova
    sad to see no coheed, but this is quite a solid list nonetheless. cant believe i forgot about 21-****ing-12, one of the greatest. probably one of the more agreeable lists on UG
    Izzy-Sweet
    Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare? Not on this list? What the hell?
    hugecrimsonfan
    Because its not even his best album...and its crap as well, sorry man.
    third(-)eye
    Sorry, I hate this list, but I still can't see someone like Alice Cooper holding a candle to any of this material. Even Green Day. [flameshield]
    Phaustho
    If you don't agree with the list, blame UG fans who voted for this albums. Green Day's "American Idiot" isn't a bad album in my opinion, but I don't think it's a better concept album than Lateralus or the missing "Fear of a Blank Planet" by Porcupine Tree. I'm not missing Radiohead as someone mentioned before because, although it's one of my favorite bands, their albums aren't really conceptual. I could understand OK Computer as a metaphor of the yuppie society in the 90s, but that's all. That's why I don't miss The Mars Volta as well. I know there are concepts behind some of their albums, like Bedlam in Goliath or Deloused... But the concept is loose. It's a solid list. Not perfect, but more or less accurate.
    third(-)eye
    "I'm not missing Radiohead as someone mentioned before because, although it's one of my favorite bands, their albums aren't really conceptual." Kid A ring any bells?
    CoolMcAwesome
    I'm surprised Green Day made it on here, but no King Diamond... the guys entire discography is made up of concept albums, one of them easily being one of the very best metal albums period (Abigail). Overall a decent list though (QotSA shouldn't be here IMO).
    L.T Kickass
    The fact there wasn't even one KD album is pretty shitty. Considering this is ULTIMATE GUITAR, and Andy Larocque is an incredibly talented guitarist, as well as EVERY SINGLE ALBUM HE'S EVER RELEASED UNDER HIS OWN NAME BEING A CONCEPT ALBUM.