Top 10 Concept Albums

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

Top 10 Concept Albums
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

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    I think they forgot Operation Mindcrime, and King Diamond's Abigail.
    What? I never heard of those bands... apart from this guy who stacks cereal in the supermarket wearing King Diamond shirts
    Pretty good list.
    Hevi Metl
    No Seventh son? or Jeff Wayne's War of the Words?
    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
    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.
    How The Beatles lost to Mastodon and and Dream Theatre, I will never know.
    Coz they're not as good as you think they are?
    Are you being serious? No No No. I will ask again. Are you really being serious with your comment?
    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.
    comparing The Beatles to One Erection is worse than the other way around.
    System of a Down's Steal This Album, could definitely be on this list. It doesn't get the attention it deserves though
    Except "Steal This Album" wasn't a concept record, it was just a collection of b sides and outtakes.
    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.
    Hahaha, and I thought that I was being biased.
    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.
    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.
    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
    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.
    "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...
    Huh. I didn't realize Zep, Queen, Floyd, and Sabbath were bands from "nowadays". Lol.
    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.
    tomorrow's headline: UG closes down... (then you open the article to discover they just moved floors)
    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!
    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.
    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.
    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
    sooo...umm....syd barrett? he seems like waaaaay more of a trip than lennon or mccartney.. and ringo is no nick mason u.u
    I consider one direction worse than bieber and that is truly terrible consider they are both worthless toss-outs.
    Simple. The Beatles are overrated, and as the "Sgt. Pepper's..." description says, they never even made a real concept album.
    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.
    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.
    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).
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.