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Ten Essential Concept Albums For College Students

by Kayla Murphy

A concept album is one that features an idea or theme expressed through a cycle of songs. Whether rock or rap, concept albums have been perfected by artists of many different music genres.

Personally, concept albums are the most unique and interesting. My favorite part is dissecting the message and following it up with a personal interpretation. I’ve compiled a list of concept albums from an array of genres and artists that every college student should check out.

  1. “The Wall”- Pink Floyd (1979)

“The Wall” is a rock opera that touches on themes of abandonment and isolation, symbolized by creating a metaphorical wall. Follow the life events of the main character Pink, whose father is killed during World War II. Pink grows up with an overprotective mother and is tormented by abusive teachers. He later grows up to become a rock star, but develops a drug and relationship problem. After his marriage crumbles, he sinks into a deep depression. Tormented by his own guilt, Pink places himself on trial for showing human emotion and is ordered to “tear down the wall.” If one seeks a visual aid to this masterpiece, check out the movie Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

  1. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”- The Beatles (1967)

On a return flight back to London, Paul McCartney had an idea about an Edwardian-era military band, which led to his idea of the “Sgt. Pepper” concept. The Beatles dedicated an entire album to the fictional Sgt. Pepper. The creation of this alter ego allowed The Beatles to express the freedom of experimenting with music. Songs most known on the album include “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “A Day in the Life,” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.” One can check out the movie inspired by this album.

  1. “Lemonade”- Beyoncé (2016)

“Lemonade” is divided into 11 chapters named Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope and Redemption. The concept behind “Lemonade” was described as “every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing.” Beyoncé was inspired by her grandmother, Agnez Dereon and Jay Z’s grandmother, Hattie White. One can hear a sound clip from Hattie White saying “I had my ups and downs, but I always found my inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” One can also watch the hour-long film that features Beyoncé and all of her songs on the album.

  1. “American Idiot”- Green Day (2004)

“American Idiot” is a punk-rock opera that follows the story of Jesus of Suburbia, a teen anti-hero who is divided between rage and love. Throughout the story, listeners begin to understand the album’s expression towards disillusionment and dissent of a generation that came in the age of military turmoil, with events like the Iraq War. Known songs off the album include “American Idiot,” “Holiday,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” This album inspired the Broadway musical: “American Idiot.”

  1. “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars”- David Bowie (1972)

Ziggy Stardust is David Bowie’s alter ego, as the album tells the story of Stardust. Ziggy Stardust is a rockstar alien who wants to spread his messages of hope, peace and love to the human race. The album centers around Ziggy’s glam-rock influences, themes of sexual exploration and social commentary. In real life, this reflected Bowie’s sexuality and one of his greatest and most controversial pieces of all time, “Starman” was created.

  1. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”- Kendrick Lamar (2012)

This concept album follows the story of Lamar’s teenage experiences in drug usage, gangs, and the lifestyle that surrounded him in his hometown of Compton. With production aid from Dr. Dre, this album was nominated for four Grammys, including Album of The Year. Songs most known from this album include “Swimming Pools,” “Poetic Justice” featuring Drake, “Backseat Freestyle,” “The Recipe” featuring Dr. Dre and “Don’t Kill My Vibe.”

  1. “American Gangster”- Jay Z (2007)

Jay-Z was inspired by the film American Gangster, which was about Harlem mobsters in the late 1960s. Jay-Z even stated that almost every song is based on a specific scene from the film based on the character, Frank Lucas, head of the mob. The album charted number one in the U.S. and the songs most popular on the album include “Blue Magic,” “I Know” and “Roc Boys.”

  1. “Tommy”- The Who (1969)

The plot to “Tommy” is a little complex. British Army Captain Walker goes missing during an expedition and is believed to be dead. Years after, Mrs. Walker gave birth to their son, Tommy. Captain Walker returned home and discovered that his wife found a new lover. The Captain then murders the man and Tommy watches. Tommy’s mother convinces him that he did not see or hear the incident and must never tell anyone about it. As a result, he becomes deaf and blind to the outside world and relies on his sense of touch and imagination. Some of The Who’s most popular songs on this album include “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” “See Me, Feel Me” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

  1. “The Black Parade”- My Chemical Romance (2006)

The Black Parade is a rock opera about a character known as “The Patient.” The concept album is about his life and memories as he is on his deathbed. “The Patient’s” fondest memory was seeing a parade as a child. My Chemical Romance also used this concept album as an opportunity to perform as an alter ego, where at concerts they would perform in all black marching band uniforms. This album included many hits, such as “Famous Last Words,” “I Don’t Love You,” “Teenagers” and “Welcome to the Black Parade.”

  1. “Watertown” – Frank Sinatra (1970)

In 1969, Sinatra’s sales reached an all-time low; to combat this decline, he wrote a concept album about the story of a man whose wife leaves to raise his two young sons in Watertown. Sinatra’s rich and classical vocals will serenade you, especially his classics on the album “For Awhile,” “Michael and Peter,” and “Elizabeth.”