I was reading an interview with David Gilmour and Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd, of course) in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone (link to the online version of the article), and found their discussion of the joys of the concept album quite interesting. I was especially moved by their description of the notion of being able to put the album on the turntable and then just let it go, sitting back with a few friends and immersing oneself in the experience, from start to finish, with each song lending itself to further the listener’s experience. There are some wonderful albums that have followed that philosophy, and we are going to play a few tonight.
We started with the classic Days of Future Passed, the masterwork by the Moody Blues. Released in November of 1967, it is notable both for its forward-thinking use of early synthesizer technology and its use of full-bodied orchestral arrangements (with the London Festival Orchestra, as conducted by Peter Knight). It is also notable as a fine collection of songs, with Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?), (Evening) Time to Get Away, Twilight Time and Nights in White Satin deserving special notice.
It was probably inevitable that, given the concept that we are pursuing this evening, we would eventually have to go with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The album is revolutionary on a number of points. It is a fully developed concept album that is consistent in its attention to the original concept. It is a great rock album, with some fine guitar parts from David Gilmour, yet it was also a standard bearer in terms of its use of electronics (Gilmour has said that he thought Richard Wright never got the credit that he was due for his harmonic arrangements on the album), and it ended up becoming one of the most popular rock albums in history.
While these albums are representative of albums that are devoted to developing a single concept, other albums gave a side to a concept. One such album was Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. Tonight we heard the My God song cycle, consisting of My God, Hymn 43, Slipstream, Locomotive Breath, and Wind Up.
After this, we stepped forward into something a bit more modern, Mastodon’s Crack the Skye. We actually could have chosen from several Mastodon albums, as Leviathan (devoted to the subject of Moby Dick – you remember him, the Great White Whale) and Blood Mountain (a character lost on a mountain, hallucinating and finally starving to death) all had a conceptual basis. But I think that on Crack the Skye, they placed more effort into lyrically and musically progressing the overall plot of the piece (a paraplegic that experiences astral travel, then finds himself traveling back in time to Czarist Russia). The end result is, structurally, as fine a cycle of songs as we have seen in recent years.
The last album in our pursuit of conceptual albums is John Coltrane’s gorgeous song cycle A Love Supreme. It doesn’t quite fit the “classical” definition of “concept album.” But, then again, what is a concept album but a cycle of songs that fit an overall theme, and does not this great album fit that definition?
We then heard some gorgeous, adventerous music from Sonic Youth. A great song from 1990’s Goo, Disappearer, followed by Theresa’s Soundworld and Drunken Butterfly, from 1991’s Dirty, before finishing up the show with Incinerate, from 2006’s Rather Ripped.