Ten Scariest Concept Albums of All Time

Dreck or treat

If your patented audio Halloween greeting is that old, dusty Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House album, here's a suggestion: This year, dump it and pipe out something that will inflict some genuine psychological damage. That's right, surround your house with that most horrifying emanation from the rock-star ego--the dreaded concept album. Blast the little ghouls with Rush's 2112 or ELP's Tarkus and they will promptly stop knock-knocking and develop a healthy new respect for that weirdo at your address.

Back before long-form videos and CD ROMs existed, musicians had only the concept album for overextending their half-baked ideas. Not content with letting one song do its job, groups charged an entire collection with the mission of delivering a single dunderheaded message. In horror quotient, the results rival the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. What follows is a blood-curdling review of the worst of the lot. Like the Raven, you too will cry "Nevermore" as we count down these aberrations. Booo, indeed!

10. The Bee Gees/Peter Frampton
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Original Soundtrack (1978)

First Sure Sign of Terror: Seeing George Burns credited on any record sleeve for his singing contribution should be warning enough.

Spooky Concept: People still blame the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper for spawning the concept album, despite that there's no unifying theme beyond the title track and its reprise. Evidently, somebody thought there was a story linking Billy Shears, Lucy in the Sky, the Hendersons, the Lonely Hearts Club Band and Mr. Kite and talked Robert Stigwood in to bankrolling this stinky idea into a major motion sickness starring Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, and Steve Martin!! And you thought Charles Manson was the only Beatles fan with an active imagination!

Bone-Chillingest Moment: When, knowing Beatles producer George Martin was enlisted to maintain some kinda Fab integrity, you discover the entire cast neighing "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."

Grand Finale: Only single-engine airplane crashes could claim more rock-career deaths than this disaster movie. And because of numerous counterfeit copies of the soundtrack, it became the first album to ship platinum and return double-platinum!

9. Frank Sinatra
Trilogy: Past, Present, Future (1980)
First Sure Sign of Terror: The title of record three, "Reflections on the Future in Three Tenses." But how?

Spooky Concept: A three-record set devoted to Frank's love of music past, present and future. The Past disk (old standards) is a pleasure, the Present disk (songs by writers of the rock era) is hit or miss, but the Future--Whoooaaaa!!! What the Frank is this? A space operetta where the Chairman of the Board zips through the galaxy looking for a planet that doesn't know about his mob ties and will grant him a gaming license?

Bone-Chillingest Moment: Glancing at the lyric sheet and seeing Frank and the Chorus about to sing "Uranus Is Heaven! Heaven! Heaven!" The Hoboken crooner quickly averts disaster by using the queen's pronunciation of the seventh planet (your-ann-us). Whew! That was a close one!

Grand Finale: The kinder, gentler Frank that writer/producer Gordon Jenkins envisions for the Future quickly becomes a thing of the past when WNEW deejay Jonathan Schwartz airs the album before its release date and dismisses it as "narcissistic" and "a shocking embarrassment in poor taste." A peeved Francis Albert calls the station's owner and gets Schwartz suspended for six weeks. Actually, this isn't on the record.

8. Tommy Roe
12 in a Roe (1969)
First Sure Sign of Terror: Surely, the sight of 13 Tommy Roes on the cover should paralyze superstitious bubblegum fans with unspeakable fright.

Spooky Concept: The predictable contents of this greatest-hits collection is offset by a terrifying concept never before and never again attempted in the annals of rock--Roe allows himself to be interviewed in between every song by a Gary Owens impersonator. You've never known true dread until you hear Roe reveal the demonic inspiration behind "Sweet Pea."

Bone-Chillingest Moment: Roe's sinister tirade on "Party Girl." "Dance your last dance/Have yourself a time," he sneers, "After the party's over/I'm gonna marry you. Instead of learning the bossa nova/You'll be learning how to cook (emphasis added)." For God's sake, don't do it, Party Girl!

Grand Finale:
Interviewer: Put it all together and that's a whole bunch of success.
Roe: I guess the best way to express my feelings about it is to borrow a phrase my dad used to use when everything was groovy. I even wrote a song about it!

That song, friends, is the vaginally retentive yet damned cheerful "Jam Up and Jelly Tight"!

7. Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Tarkus (1971)
First Sure Sign of Terror: The inside cover art spells out the gobbledygook story in 11 panels, stylistically a bad mix between Destroy All Monsters and the Stations of the Cross.

Spooky Concept: Rejected Transformer toy prototypes ravage the Earth to the sound of ripped-off Bach riffs played in weird time signatures (insert panting here!). Tarkus, (half armadillo, half Sherman tank) battles Manticore (half lion, half scorpion with a human's head) and a combination pterodactyl/bomber plane. There is also a combo grasshopper and safari helmet that looks like a real pushover, even with the cruiser missiles.

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