The 10 Weirdest Concept Albums

1 June 2024, 12:00

Heavy concepts from The Who (featuring Elton John in the Tommy movie) and Pink Floyd (featuring the scary teacher in the video for Another Brick In The Wall).
Heavy concepts from The Who (featuring Elton John in the Tommy movie) and Pink Floyd (featuring the scary teacher in the video for Another Brick In The Wall). Picture: Alamy

Teenage messiahs, alienating brick walls, glam rock spacemen and everyday superheroes. When rock gets conceptual, can you follow the story? Radio X looks at 10 of the strangest concept albums.

  1. Mansun - Attack Of The Grey Lantern (released 17th February 1997)

    • The concept: The colourful residents of a village are given moral guidance by a superhero, the Grey Lantern
    • The best tune: Wide Open Space (although the finale Dark Mavis is amazing)
    • The result: Dark Mavis, Chad, Egg-Shaped Fred, Albert Taxloss and the cross-dressing Stripper Vicar are in this confusing collection of musical sketches, until the concept "runs out of steam", according to songwriter Paul Draper.

    Mansun Wide Open Space

  2. Pink Floyd - The Wall (release date 30th November 1979)

    • The concept: Rock star finds himself alienated from his band members and audience and builds a metaphorical "wall" to try and block out the world.
    • The best tune: Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)
    • The result: Roger Waters finds himself alienated from his band members and audience and writes a bitter but successful album that effectively ends Pink Floyd (apart from The Final Cut. Oh and the three albums the remaining members made without Waters).

    Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall, Part Two (Official Music Video)

  3. David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (release date 16th June 1972)

    • The concept: The world's population discovers that Earth has only five years left until the apocalypse, but thank heavens here comes an alien that can be the new Messiah for the planet's final days. Except he dies on stage in front of a baying crowd. Cheers.
    • The best tune: Ziggy Stardust (of course)
    • The result: Ziggy isn't a fully-formed concept album, but it's possible to project a narrative onto the songs.The album made Bowie a superstar and almost trapped him into being a teen idol like his friend Marc Bolan. In a canny move, the musician "killed off" Ziggy on stage on 3rd July 1973 and pursued other influences and characters.

    David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust (2023 Remaster) [4K Upgrade]

  4. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (release date 22nd November 1974)

    • The concept: Puerto Rican youth Rael is taken from modern day New York City on a surreal journey that ends with him becoming at one with the universe. Along the way he meets the weird Slippermen, which Gabriel attempted to portray on stage with a ridiculous costume that made it impossible to sing properly.
    • The best tune: Carpet Crawlers
    • The result: Peter Gabriel bade farewell to Genesis with this ambitious double set.

    Genesis - Carpet Crawlers 1999 (Official Music Video)

  5. The Mars Volta - Deloused In The Comatorium (release date 24th June 2003)

    • The concept: Man overdoses on a mixture of morphine and rat poison and enters a week-long coma. Have fun!
    • The best tune: Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)
    • The result: After the demise of the influential At The Drive-In, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala took prog rock to another level with this bleak, but dynamic collection, produced by Rick Rubin and featuring the Chili Peppers' Flea on bass.

    The Mars Volta - Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)

  6. The Who - Tommy (release date 19th May1969)

    • The concept: Traumatised toddler grows up in a disassociated state but manages to become a Christ-like figure thanks to his skills on the pinball table. He tries to lead his followers in a new cult,
    • The best tune: Pinball Wizard
    • The result: it wasn't the first "rock opera", but it's the greatest. This ambitious double album was later staged as a musical, a symphonic album and a star-studded film featuring Elton John and Tina Turner.

    Tommy | Elton John Singing Pinball Wizard

  7. The Moody Blues - Days Of Future Passed (release date 10th November 1967)

    • The concept: A day in the life of an ordinary person from dawn til dusk. Includes a lunch break.
    • The best tune: Nights In White Satin (of course)
    • The result: Former Brummie R&B act were at the last chance saloon when they were given a chunk of cash by their label to make an album that would show off the then-new stereo technology. The addition of an orchestra to the band's increasingly ambitious ideas made them into prog rock pioneers and they never looked back. See also: In Search Of The Lost Chord (1968), On The Threshold Of A Dream (1969) and To Our Children's Children's Children (1969).

    The Moody Blues - Nights In White Satin

  8. Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare (release date 28th February 1975)

    • The concept: A series of nightmares for a child named Steven.
    • The best tune: the title track
    • The result: Horror icon Vincent Price turned up to voice "The Curator", a decade before his star turn on Michael Jackson's Thriller, making Cooper the premier exponent of shock rock.

    Alice Cooper - Welcome to My Nightmare (from Alice Cooper: Trashes The World)

  9. Aphrodite's Child - 666 (released June 1972)

    • The concept: Theatrical troupe stage a show about the apocalypse, but oh no! The world actually starts to end outside the tent where they're performing and the events of the Book Of Revelations come to pass. No refunds!
    • The best tune: The big beats of The Four Horsemen
    • The result: Synth soundtrack legend Vangelis and lounge crooner Demis Roussos started out in this Greek prog outfit, and called time on their career with this ambitious double album. Apparently they all hated each other when they made it!

    Aphrodite's Child - The Four Horsemen (video)

  10. Husker Du - Zen Arcade (release date 1st July 1984)

    • The concept: Neglected child grows disillusioned with his parents, leaves home, encounters drugs, madness and more, but ends up making it big in the video game industry. ONLY IT'S ALL A DREAM. Or is it?
    • The best tune: Something I Learned Today.
    • The result: The Minneapolis trio of Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton took their music way beyond the punk scene that spawned them with this sprawling double album of frantic hardcore tunes, piano interludes and ambitious jazzy freak-outs. Incredibly, they issued their next album just six months later.

    Something I Learned Today