This is inescapably the immediate reference that comes to mind when the mere words “concept album” are mentioned. There’s no denying that The Beatles are one of the greatest bands ever, but Sgt. Pepper’s is iconic in its own right as a piece of work, and has yet to be matched and usurped as concept album extraordinaire in the cultural and musical landscape. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the construct that McCartney famously dubbed The Beatles’ alter ego.
Key tracks: All of them. But my particular favourite is the staple – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
We can’t talk about iconic alter egos and unforgettable concept albums without talking about Ziggy Stardust. The famed persona David Bowie dreamed up one day is the centerpiece for this psychedelic album oozing glam-rock and non-conforming sexuality. It’s said that fans cried and rebelled against Bowie when the artist declared Ziggy Stardust was no more. Anything and anyone who garners that much devotion has got to be something special.
Key tracks: the piano chords in Five Years are killer, Starman is the kind of song that gives you chills, and It Ain’t Easy will take you down. Way down.
Who doesn’t like a good love song? This guy’s got 12 of ‘em lined up for you on his concept album Tunnel of Love. Bruce Springsteen is classic, and this particular record of his screams 80s in all the greatest ways. The concept is simple – what it means to be in love, and all the glory, joy and heartbreak that comes with it.
Key tracks: Tunnel of Love, Valentine’s Day, and if you’re looking to win a girl’s heart, try standing outside her window with a boombox playing Tougher than the Rest. She’ll follow you anywhere.
Coldplay’s latest release is the absolute definition of a concept album. The entire record revolves around love as the cure for and resolution to war. According to bandleader Chris Martin, Mylo and Xyloto are two protagonists who ultimately meet, fall in love, elope, escape and prevail over the darker forces attempting to control them and their surroundings.
Key tracks: Paradise, Charlie Brown, and the gem of the album Hurts Like Heaven.
While their most critically-acclaimed album is undoubtedly The Suburbs, another celebrated concept album (that consequently took home Album of the Year at the 53rd Grammy Awards), Arcade Fire’s true brilliance can be found in their most recent release Reflektor. The content of the album deals with myth and themes prevalent in Baroque art and culture, drawing from Bernini’s St Teresa in Ecstasy for the record’s cover art. The Baroque period is perhaps best known for its conflicted perspective on emerging sciences and technologies in relation to human nature, and Arcade Fire seems to have picked up on echoes of that culture in our contemporary one. Their lyrics are about what’s real, what’s not, and ultimately what and who we can trust in this digital age, a consequence of emerging technologies multiplying at exponential rates.
Key tracks: Reflektor, Porno, Flashbulb Eyes, Normal Person.