The Top 10 Concept Records of All-Time

On March 31, metal band Queensrÿche will release a concept record titled American Soldier. The band's 1988 album, Operation: Mindcrime, was also a concept record, but that concept was about a junkie who's brainwashed into becoming an assassin for an underground criminal organization, whereas American Soldier's concept follows the life of a soldier in the Iraq war.

Both of those storylines are good, but the world's seen no shortage of concept albums over the past four decades. In anticipation of Queensrÿche's upcoming new album, we take a look at our picks for the "Top 10 Concept Albums of All-Time," ordered from least to most outstanding, with apologies to Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Styx's Kilroy Was Here for just barely missing the list.

10. The Mars Volta, De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003). This conceptual odyssey from prog rock purveyors The Mars Volta follows the story of a man named Cerpin Taxt, who fails to kill himself with a morphine and rat poison cocktail, and instead lapses into a week-long, vision-laden coma.

9. My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade (2006). This concept record about a man dying of cancer (known only as "The Patient") and his reflections on life is a surprisingly upbeat, rock-out journey.

8. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974). Genesis' double-concept record (and the last to feature Peter Gabriel on vocals) tells the story of a young Puerto Rican hood named Rael, who travels to the nightmarish bowels of New York City to rescue his brother.

7. Green Day, American Idiot (2004). Green Day's "rock opera" revolves around Jesus of Suburbia, who leaves his hated town for the big city in a story about love vs. rage, and ends up dead by the end of the record.

6. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral (1994). Yet another concept record about death and suicide. The basic premise is to provide a sonic chronicle of a man spiraling down into the depths of depression, culminating in his suicide.

5. Alice Cooper, Killer (1971). This gem was one of a string of concept albums by Cooper, though the concept here isn't entirely clear. The record's certainly packed with hits ("Under My Wheels," "Be My Lover," and "Desperado," which Cooper claims was written about Jim Morrison) and attempts to make epic prog rock jams ("Halo of Flies"). Maybe the concept is about a wayward man who goes on a rampage, maybe it's about dead babies, or maybe it's just about rocking out. Whatever the case, it works.

4. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). Bowie's record revolves around Ziggy Stardust, an alien who takes the form of a human rock star to deliver a message of peace in humanity's last days. But Stardust becomes the prototypical tragic hero, falling victim to the excesses of rock 'n' roll and his own self-destructive tendencies.

3. The Who, Tommy (1969). This classic double-album tells the story of a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid" who becomes a messiah of sorts. Ultimately, he goes from corrupt cult figure to enlightened young man, through a series of musical trials and tribulations.

2. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). This concept grew out of the Fab Four's desire for musical freedom. They created an "alter-ego band" so they could experiment with songs. The first two tracks (the title track and "With a Little Help from My Friends") were the only two songs recorded with the concept of a fictitious band in mind. The Beatles dumped the concept for the remainder of the album, but kept the costumes and cover art.

1. Pink Floyd, The Wall (1979). Probably the most well-known "rock opera" by a rock band, The Wall delves into the theme of rock star isolation, not just from one's friends, family, and fans, but from oneself as well. The movie version also serves as the best performance of Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof's life. Geldof's Floyd character is dark, compelling, and almost as haunting as the music itself.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea