In Part 1 of this series (see hyperlink), I provided the "narrative" concept albums. In Parts 2 and 3, I provided the "thematic" concept albums from A-R. Now we're on to our final grouping -- thematic concept albums alphabetically by group, from "S" through "Y. " It was great -- if exhausting -- fun to do this, and I hope everyone liked it, and maybe even leaned some stuff.
S.F. Sorrow (Pretty Things).
Another concept album that straddles the line between narrative and thematic. The tragic and bizarre tale of the title character, who begins life as a fairly normal, imaginative child, but finds increasing difficulties getting ahead in life as society throws up obstacles, some of which are seriously demoralizing. He then goes on a quasi-spiritual quest with a strange shaman. In the end, he feels angry and disappointed, believing the world and its people are not to be trusted, and he goes into a depression that defines the remainder of his life. Some critics compared the story arc and overall concept to Pink Floyd's The Wall.
OK Computer (Radiohead).
Radiohead's third album was by far their most successful, both commercially and critically. It is a fearsome warning about the rapid advance of technology and the de-humanizing of society.
Clockwork Angels (Rush).
It seems odd that Rush had only this one concept album in its very extensive oeuvre. It takes place in a quasi-Medieval dystopian "steampunk" world lit only by fire, and based on steam, clockworks and alchemy. It touches on love, politics, entertainment and spirituality.
Kilroy Was Here (Styx).
A criminally overlooked rock opera about a future fascist theocracy in which music is outlawed, told from the perspective of a former rock star. The band made a film of the story, which accompanied their stage show.
Crime of the Century (Supertramp).
Among my top three favorite thematic concept albums -- though the band claims it is not a concept album at all. It (loosely) tells the story of Rudy, a shy and retiring child who is dealing with increasing mental illness, which eventually comes to define his life. "Hide in Your Shell" is among my favorite rock songs of all time.
Six Wives of Henry VIII (Rick Wakeman).
The former Yes keyboardist's first solo album is a brilliant "classical rock" album that sets Henry's famous six wives to instrumental musical forms. Highly regarded, and deservedly so.
The Myths & Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (Rick Wakeman).
Here is a section of the synopsis of this album from my previous article on Culture Catch: "If prog is about the…incorporation of Western, Eastern and/or "world music" influences; use of non-standard chord progressions; use of odd and/or shifting time signatures; use of non-standard instrumentation; an "orchestral" approach to arrangement; extended compositions, often including extended instrumental passages; virtuoso musicianship, often including extended solos; lyrics that tend toward the esoteric or fantastical and/or include numerous literary references; and the use of keyboards and the recording studio itself to create effects, textures, and atmospheres), then this album is almost without question the perfect blending of concept, fantastical lyrics, orchestra, chorus, rock band, and almost every other element of prog noted above. It also happens to be an exceptionally brilliant and exciting album as fresh on the one-hundredth listen as it was on the first."
Tales from Topographic Oceans (Yes).
Singer John Anderson's paean to certain Hindu principles obtained from several texts and mentors. The album was not well-received by either critics or listeners, and even the band members were split on its success. (Among other things, It led to keyboardist Rick Wakeman leaving the band.) Later re-assessments were somewhat kinder, with many critics and fans noting that much of the music was wonderful, even if the concept and execution were less than cohesive.
So there we have it -- a list of every (?) narrative concept album, and a goodly number of the thematic concept albums, from a wide variety of rock genres. With a couple of exceptions, I listened to every single album on this list. And it really was a thrill, particularly those albums I had never heard -- and in some cases, never even heard of.
I also promised a (hopelessly subjective) list of my favorites on these lists. Note that this list does not reflect what I believe are the greatest on each list, only the ones I love most:
1. Brave (Marillion)
2. Metropolis Pt. 2 - Scenes from a Memory (Dream Theater)
3. The Lamb Lies Down in Broadway (Genesis)
4. Thick As A Brick (Jethro Tull)
5. The Wall (Pink Floyd)
6. Subterranea (IQ)
7. Operation: Mindcrime (Queensryche)
1. Sgt. Pepper (Beatles)
2. Hope (Klaatu)
3. Crime of the Century (Supertramp)
4. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (Elton John)
5. Myths & Legends of King Arthur (Rick Wakeman)
6. Days of Future Passed (Moody Blues)
7. Down to Earth (Nektar)
8. Animals (Pink Floyd)
9. Interview (Gentle Giant)
10. Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)