Meant to be played from the beginning to the end, tracks on a concept album join together to form a larger theme. Concept albums can be loosely compared to a novel, with the individual tracks being analogous to chapters. As certain chapters in some novels have merit on their own (such as the renouned "turtle chapter" in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck), so too do many songs released on concept albums have merit on their own; but unless you read the entire book or listen to the entire album, you just aren't getting it.

Some of the greatest concept albums were released by Pink Floyd, including The Dark Side of the Moon and what is probably the greatest concept album in history, The Wall. David Bowie also turned out a few concept albums, including Diamond Dogs and The Man Who Sold the World. Utopia did Oblivion. More recent concept albums are The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, both by Nine Inch Nails. OK Computer by Radiohead, embodying the paranoia and isolation that our technological society has created.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the Beatles, is widely regarded as the first concept album. Instead of an album being a collection of songs, the Beatles wrote the songs as if they were a different band, with different members and style.

The concept album is a pretty loose term. On the most concrete end are albums like DJ Qbert's Wave Twisters, or Pedro the Lion's Winners Never Quit, where the album tells a definite story which makes little sense if heard out of order. On the other end are albums like Sgt. Pepper, where there is a theme running throughout the songs but the album could still make thematic sense if listened to on shuffle.

I'd argue that this was the most significant (and perhaps only important) influence the Beatles had on rock music.

A recent concept album is Machina by the Smashing Pumpkins. It falls somewhere between the thematic and story-driven models described here. It loosely follows the tale of the hero, Glass, who is a rock star in the mould of Ziggy Stardust. The concept to a certain extent mirrors the Smashing Pumpkins own career and frontman Billy Corgan's own desire for stardom and success. What is particularly interesting about the album is that many of the characters were already present in 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Mellon Collie was itself a somewhat unique concept album. Instead of being tied together by a narrative the album was divided into phases relating to the phases of life and the world of the young. There are many stylistic links between songs on the album both lyrically and musically, and the effect of this is heightened by the division of the album into two discs, Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight, each of which has a very distinct tone. The first disc opens with eerie pianos and hopeful innocence before being subsumed by blind rage and straight-out rock, but then falls into dreamy reverie on its later tracks, which become longer and more reflective. The second disc opens with the excitement and vigour of a night out and then peaks before gently flowing into a series of soft lullabies that lead to the end of the album.

Radiohead's albums Amnesiac and Kid A also fit together as concept albums. Although the lyrics are at times near impeniterable they nonetheless have a very consistent musical feel to them and one song frequently flows into the next. The music from the two albums was mostly recorded in one stretch of recording, and as a result they bear a marked resemblence to one and other.

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