Top 10 Concept Albums Ever

The best concept albums ever, as voted by you, makes for an awesome weekend playlist. Listen to the winners right here.

Ultimate Guitar

What are the best concept albums of all time? That's what we asked Ultimate Guitar readers in our poll this week.

Concept albums take records to another level, where art and music almost combine with literature and storytelling to reach a whole new level of creativity. Sometimes it can seem indulgent, and other times it works with such mastery that you can't help but be wowed with the result.

This is list is full of examples of when a concept album really works to make a body of art that only works when you hear it from start to end. That's the mark of a great concept album: it survives as a whole, making the sum greater than its parts.

It's interesting to note which albums kept their place in the top 10, compared to the last time we ran this question in 2012 - the Who, QOTSA, Tool, Mastodon, Dream Theater and Pink Floyd all stayed up there. Let's see if they stand the test of time.

What's your personal favourite concept album ever? Let us know in the comments. Meanwhile, enjoy this incredible weekend playlist!

10. "Thick as a Brick" by Jethro Tull

With the album art packaged as a newspaper cover, "Thick as a Brick" is a single-track which spans the length of the full album. So really, this is the greatest concept single ever.

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9. "The Amory Wars" by Coheed and Cambria

A story set in Heaven's Fence, a fictional galaxy where the characters Coheed and Cambria battle against the Archmage. The album tied in with a series of comics.

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8. "Colors" by Between the Buried and Me

An ambitious concept album which glues wildly different genres together in what the band described as "adult contemporary progressive death metal." If you think that's original, just wait until you hit play.

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7. "Lateralus" by Tool

A glorious reinterpretation of Fibonacci's famous Golden Ratio, where drum beats and guitar rhythms explore polyrhythms in harmony with lyrics that explore humanity's incredible awareness of the universe.

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6. "Tommy" by The Who

The story of a boy who overcomes severe disabilities and hardships to become a Messiah-like figure with a love for pinball.

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5. "Crack the Skye" by Mastodon

A deeply spiritual record which travels through the universe on an ethereal plane. Never has so much metal travelled through so many wormholes in time and space.

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4. "The Downward Spiral" by Nine Inch Nails

The protagonist, loosely based on NIN frontman Trent Reznor, sees their life go on a downward spiral through all of lives vices, to a bitter end.

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3. "Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes From a Memory" by Dream Theater

An ambitious sequel to a song which played part 1 to this story where a man goes into hypnosis, only to learn about a past life which leads towards a thrilling ending.

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2. "Songs for the Deaf" by Queens of the Stone Age

This merry wagon of rock songs are glued together as songs that appear on a radio during a drive across America to see the Joshua tree. It's a loose connection, but qualifies the record as perfect driving material.

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1. "The Wall" by Pink Floyd

Roger Waters' stunning live show started as an elaborate concept album based on the character Pink who gradually becomes locked away from society within a metaphorical wall. It's a remarkable record, and one that Waters continues to tour today with fantastic live effects.

Here's a live version as the original album isn't available for free streaming:

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That's the end of our list of the top 10 concept albums. If you liked this list, let us know below, and hit "like" to share the page and give your friends a musical education. Enjoy the playlist over the weekend!

258 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This list proves that UG users use every excuse to put QOTSA on any list.
    personally i think its ridiculous that the album, as good as it is, has been voted the 2nd best concept album of all time, i mean come on its barely a concept album let alone one of the best
    yeah! where the crap is Seventh son of a Seventh Son!?? Where's the Maiden!!??
    this, I mean it's a good album, but top concept album no. UG do you even Prog? QOTSA is one of my favorite modern bands but the bandwagon from Like Clockwork is annoying.
    Yeah, even though I love ...Like Clockwork, I saw that someone put it in the voting pool, which is absolutely ridiculous.
    Hey man, the users dig their moderate cheese rock. Let them have it. High fives?! Ok
    For some reason Crack the skye and Lateralus always appear together on UG's top-10 lists..
    Glad to see BTBAM, would of been cool to see Kezia too.
    No 'Operation Mindcrime' by Queensryche makes me a sad panda
    I didn't know Kezia had a concept, what is it?
    "There are two ways to explain the concept behind "Kezia": the literal meaning of it and the deeper meaning behind it. The simple explanation is that you have three characters on the album who all describe a certain situation from their point of view, which is the execution of a woman. We chose a priest, a prison guard who's also the executioner and the woman in question, Kezia. They all have three songs to tell their story. In the first song they paint a general picture, the second track explains how the character feels connected to Kezia and the third one is their view on the shooting of Kezia. The last song on the album brings us as a band into the picture, although the lyrics are written in the form of Kezia's last words. The deeper meaning of the concept is the gradual downfall of our society. We tried to make the lyrics timeless, so the story could be situated in any time period. There are also political and social critical messages in it. Not that we bluntly say that we hate Tony Blair or George Bush, but more in general comments on the fact that religion and power are getting more intwined every day. The album is also about the responsibility that everyone has as a member of our society. It's your civil duty to act when you need to." - Rody Walker (found on Wikipedia)
    That's a really good concept that I never really picked up on. Thanks for that!
    Thursday-War All The Time....nowhere to be found on this site. Did ANYONE actually listen to the album? It was truly amazing.
    ive listened to that album, not many people have. what its really missing is THE MARS VOLTA DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
    I heard a couple songs on that album when it first came out. Some pretty good shit, but I didn't know that was a concept album. Then again I'm not a huge fan of Thursday
    I know i'm in the minority, but i've always thought Colors was overrated. Not saying it's a bad album, just overrated
    The blurb for Coheed could have done them a bit more justice- The Amory Wars is told across 5 albums, has a 2 album 'origin' story, and other albums exploring some characters further in depth. They are very much a concept band.
    Yeah, UG made "The Amory Wars" sound like an album title. In terms of the depth of concept and real artistic merit, Coheed are fantastic.
    I agree, as a die-hard Coheed fan, I was like "WTF?! That's not a singular album. Since ALL their albums are concepts, and even though IKSSE:3 is my favorite, their best album is subjective.
    Good list. I would have liked to see Rush on it though
    The original Top 10 Concept Albums list from last year was SO much better than this one. UG seems to be running out of ideas for Wednesday questions and it's starting to get annoying. 2112 was on the original one, as were The Wall, Animals, Dark Side, and Wish You Were Here all listed together as the #1 entry. Far better list than this one from today.
    hahaha UG deleted the page, wow, I guess they are embarrassed.
    I think the link just went bad. I searched it again and found it. The old list also had Green Day and the Beatles, who are nowhere to be seen on this list.
    THIS!!! This wan an OLD question!!! And the other list was WAAAAAY Better!!!
    Personally I'd rather not have a Wednesday question than have it repeated. Don't have one until you come up with something new, at least.
    But the last one didn't include the best concept album of all time... The Downward Spiral.
    Rush have never released a concept album. Why do people refuse to see this? 2112 was 1 track out of a 5 track album. The other 4 had nothing to do with the concept of the first track.
    Clockwork Angels is absolutely a concept album. Why do people automatically jump to 2112 when mentioning Rush as a concept album.
    Absolutely, Clockwork Angels is a concept record and a damn good one at that. 2112 has a concept piece on it, but it is not a concept album, as good as it may be. We may as well include both A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres for sharing Cygnus.
    It's not even their best epic.
    Agreed, Hemispheres is a much better song as a whole, IMO.
    Does La Villa Strangiato count? Probably my favorite Rush track.. scratch that.. maybe my all time favorite track.
    La Villa is also my favorite concept Rush song, but not my favorite instrumental though(YYZ).
    2112 isn't even a concept album. The songs are in no way related. It's just that the first song is half the album.
    I think an honorable mention for the Devin Townsend project for making four albums about the live of Devin. Also the Ziltoid opera.
    Devin has stated that every album of his is a concept album, so singling out the DTP for that is kind of pointless. As he said basically, every album's concept is what he's going through at that time. City is a concept album about being broke and pissed off. Alien is a concept album about being in love and pissed off. The New Black is a concept album about how he doesn't want to be in Strapping Young Lad anymore (he had obligations to make the album though). Infinity is about his new-found sense of closure when learning that he was bipolar. He is a concept album exclusive writer.
    Some honorable mentions in my book: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - David Bowie Hospice - The Antlers Quadrophenia - The Who Three Friends - Gentle Giant De-Loused in the Comatorium - The Mars Volta Arthur - The Kinks Days of Future Passed - The Moody Blues The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - Genesis
    I could see any of these albums being on the list, easily. Genesis doesn't seem to come up very often on this site, but it's awesome seeing someone give credit to them. In general, they don't get an adequate amount of praise they deserve I believe.
    Also, where the **** is Frank Zappa??? Both Joe's Garage and We're Only In It for the Money could easily make this list.
    This is a pretty decent list. Good for Coheed for getting a mention, but they made the whole saga sound like an album.
    Coheed is in their own category as a concept band, pretty frickin amazing
    Operation: Mindcrime, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (King's X), Dreamweaver (Sabbat) and Dimension: Hatross (Voivod) were favourites of my teenage years.
    Where is rush?
    I should say, where is Rush's concept album?
    Man I wish I'd thrown in a vote for The Dear Hunter's "acts" albums, they're amazing and it seems as though no one has heard of them...
    Where is the first concept album... Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts club band?
    Maybe because the community didn't vote for it?
    no rush either, shame...
    Except for the two Sgt.Peppers songs, there is no link between the other songs - it really isn't a concept album.
    Close but no cigar. The album as an entirety was performed by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was a show by the group, that was the concept.
    Again. Rush never wrote a concept album.
    Dude, there's a Clockwork Angels novel. They VERY OBVIOUSLY have wrote a concept album.
    Silver Blues
    And the novel is pretty good, too. I'm not sure how one fails to recognize CA as a concept album.
    "To Our Children's Children's Children" - The Moody Blues "In the Court of the Crimson King" - King Crimson "The Geese and the Ghost" - Anthony Phillips "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" - David Bowie "DSOTM" and "Wish You Were Here" (Which were better PF concept albums than "The Wall," IMO) - Pink Floyd All of these are amazing concept albums which probably should have been given some sort of consideration.
    I honestly don't get why people keep calling WYWH a concept album... Is it all about Sid? I guess I could see that, but I guess maybe I just don't see it that way. All art's up to interpretation I guess...
    Pretty solid. Glad to see love for Nails and BTBAM. And of course, the classics but those records should be no-brainers.
    Lots of votes for Operation Mindcrime. It is a good one and thought it would be on here. Great to see Jethro Tull on the list.
    No Ayreon? No Pain of Salvation? No Riverside? They should've named this "mainstream concept albums top 10."
    It's nice to see Coheed on there. That's a band that has taken the concept album almost as far as it can go I think.
    Would've liked Hospice to get a mention but I guess it's not that well known. Also, even with Songs for the Deaf being one of my favorite rock albums of all time I'd hardly consider it a concept album at all, much less the 2nd best ever.
    I agree 100%. Not to dismiss the wall it is art,but i can't usually listen to the whole thing. Never been a fan of theatre. But animals is a different beast. Its a ride i get on at least once a week and still get scared' What an album!!!
    I haven't seen any posts about Lateralus... So I'll be the first to ask... What story does it tell exactly? It says that the album is based around the fibonacci sequence, but as far as I know (unless you count the Holy Gift reinterpretation of the album)the only part of the album actually based around the fibonacci sequence is Lateralus itself, and MAYBE in some of the rhythms that Danny Carey uses in some of the other songs... Past that... Can anyone else tell me why people call this a concept album?
    Lyrically. Seriously, read the lyrics. It'sa philosophical tour trough the human psyche, and explores the concept of ascension.
    Colors in not a concept album...ffs. It's a single song, yes, but the tracks are unrelated. The parallax II is their only concept album, and a brilliant ****ing one at that.
    You do realize that The Parallax 1 is also a concept album right? You can say "oh it's an EP" but it's 30 minutes long, it's an album. Also, Colors is a musical concept. "concept album" does not have to mean lyrics all follow one continuous story. Musically the album is conceptual as shown by the reprises of musical motifs. Also I'm hypothesizing from listening to the album a lot, that there is a lyrical concept going on too, not that it's one continuous story, but that all lyrics are focused on a continuous idea. It would be awfully lazy of them to make a super long song split into parts and then not bother to tie it in lyrically.
    EP (Extended Play) < 35 min long LP (Long Play) > 35 min long
    Actually in the UK it's 25 minutes or 4 songs for an EP. Take Skindred's 'Shark Bites and Dog Fights' 31 mins, but definitely a full length LP.
    Even though both are great albums, as a concept, I think Parallax 2 is leagues ahead of Colors.
    I will always be a but dissapointed at the lack of Pain of Salvation in UG concept album lists. The Perfect Element and Remedy Lane are, in my opinion, both awesome concet albums.
    I'm so glad Songs for the Deaf made it to #2, but other than a few others here I think I have to disagree with most of this list
    Don't get me wrong, I love Songs for the Deaf, but I would hardly call it a "concept album" just because of the desert radio theme. For all we know, they could have just came up with that idea and added it at the last minute.
    Watch some of the behind the scenes videos from the making of the record. The whole "radio" thing was pretty much a last minute decision to try to add some continuity to having 3 different singers on the album. Even Josh Homme kind of dismisses the whole concept album thing when he gets asked about it. One of my favorite albums of all time, but I agree, I wouldn't really classify it as exactly a "concept album" either.
    I disagree. I love QOTSA but this isn't a concept album. The songs do not share the same concept, they are just tied together with the 'radio station' playing them.
    Agreed, that album is one of my top 10 favorites ever, but it isn't a concept album because the songs aren't related.
    Glad to see that The Wall beats Dark Side of the Moon, Both are good, but I still think The Wall is better
    I agree, but I still think you need to include both, even though UG is probably trying to do 10 different artists. But you gotta make an exception for Pink Floyd if you're really trying to make a true list.
    Not a concept album. I see a pattern here.
    Yah there is a pattern, everyone wants a good concept album (IT IS ONE! THE WHOLE A-SIDE GOES WITH THE CONCEPT) and you just want to hate on Rush and try to get the award for most douchebag comments in one article
    Are you serious? You basically just said "HALF OF THAT ALBUM GOES WITH THE CONCEPT" - how does that make it a concept album? Please explain the conceptual connection between creativity being illegal in a futuristic dystopian world (2112), and getting on a train to Thailand and smoking weed (A Passage to Bangkok). This should be fun.
    I absolutely love it, but Lateralus hardly qualifies as a concept album. Also, why did they left out Deloused in the Comatorium?
    I prefer Frances the Mute. but if Deloused had made it I wouldn't be upset.
    They left it out because the community didn't vote for/hasn't heard it... If I could force-feed one album to the world, it would be De-Loused