Posts Tagged ‘Concept Albums’

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Unlike ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Tommy,The Who’s other celebrated concept albums, ‘The Who Sell Out’ doesn’t tell a story. Instead, the album weaves together songs (like ‘I Can See for Miles’) with fake commercials (like for deodorant) so that the whole thing plays like 40 minutes of a pirate radio station. It’s pop-art filtered through the era’s psychedelic The Who followed with its concept of a pirate radio broadcast. Within the record, joke commercials recorded by the band and actual jingles from recently outlawed pirate radio station Radio London were interspersed between the songs, ranging from pop songs to hard rock and psychedelic rock, culminating with a mini-opera titled “Rael.”

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Their 1967 psychedelic statement ‘The Who Sell Out’. Complete with radio ads linking the songs this is as swinging as the 60s got, plus my favourite ever Who 45 was contained within the grooves… ‘I Can See For Miles’.
Original copies of the album, issued on the Track label, came in Mono and Stereo and if you were lucky enough there was a sticker on the sleeve promising a ‘Free Psychedelic Poster Inside’. If you have the complete item with unblemished poster you are sitting on a £500+ record!

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Pete Townshend‘s masterpiece is as much a defining part of the late ’60s as Vietnam and Woodstock. Its story — about a deaf, dumb and blind boy  turns hippie idealism into a messianic fable of acceptance and rejection. But it’s the music, constructed as a rock opera complete with an overture and recurring musical themes, that holds together this double-record epic.

Perhaps it’s the original rock opera “Tommy”, released in 1969, composed by Pete Townshend and performed by The Who. This acclaimed work was presented over two LPs and it took the idea of thematically based albums to a much higher appreciation by both critics and the public. It was also the first story-based concept album of the rock era to enjoy commercial success. The Who went on to further explorations of the concept album format with their follow-up project “Lifehouse”, which was abandoned before completion, and with their 1973 rock opera, “Quadrophenia”.

After the witty, but flawed The Who Sell Out, The Who still hadn’t been really accepted as a serious album act. That was it, if they were going to conquer the world, they were going to have to use the big guns. It was time for the rock opera. While there had been concept albums before, none of them had been on this scale, Tommy was a double album meditation on loneliness, murder, child abuse, spritual guff, rejection and and a whole host of other weird stuff. On top of this it also had some fantastic tunes and was easily the best Who album to date.

Tommy as a little boy see’s his father murdered by his mother and her lover. He is told to never say he saw it or heard it. Tommy, being deaf, dumb, and blind learns to play pinball by sense of smell and touch soon master’s the game.
Tommy as an adult becomes famous for his pinball prowess and quickly gains a mass following. By the end of the Opera Tommy’s follower’s turn on him, as they get sick of all of the rules he give’s.

Townshend’s desire for this album to be taken seriously is underlined by the instrumental passages “Overture” and “Sparks”, though admittedly the ambitious “Underture” was far too long for its own good. Most of the characters in this cantata are given voice by Roger Daltrey, though each member of the band seems to get to voice at least one character. As many of the songs on Tommy are a part of the much bigger narrative, there’s actually not that many songs that work well as stand-alone tunes, with only the rocking “Pinball Wizard” and to a lesser extent “Sally Simpson” able to thrive outside of the confines of the parent album.

Tommy is an album you have to listen in totality. There’s no point in which you can happily let your mind wander, other than “Underture”, which probably explains why it is one of the most popular tracks on the album (i.e. it gives you chance to put the kettle on). Arguably the thing that makes Tommy work was the drive and ambition of Pete Townshend and the fact at this stage in their career, The Who were a particularly well-drilled band, capable of making a good job of almost anything thrown at them.

Of course since its release Tommy has inspired countless bands to attempt ill-conceived and frankly tedious concept albums, all trying to be hugely significant and open the doors of perception. Ultimately Tommy is a much more intelligent and creative album than its questionable legacy suggests.

On (May 23rd) in 1969: The Who released their classic album ‘Tommy’ (Track Records in the UK/Decca Records in the US), a full-blown ‘rock opera’ about a deaf, dumb & blind boy that launched the band to international superstardom; written almost entirely by Pete Townshend, his ability to construct a lengthy conceptual narrative brought new possibilities to rock music; despite the complexity involved, he & the band never lost sight of solid pop melodies, harmonies & forceful instrumentation, imbuing the material with a suitably powerful grace the album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide…

The Who – Rock Opera Tommy – Full Concert – 1989 – Live performance in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheater The Los Angeles version of this show featured Phil Collins as Uncle Ernie, Patti LaBelle as the Acid Queen, Steve Winwood as the Hawker, Elton John as the Pinball Wizard and Billy Idol as Cousin Kevin

The Band

Roger Daltry (Vocals) Peter Townsend (Vocals/ Guitar) John Entwistle (Vocals Bass) Phil Collins, Billy Idol, Elton John, Patti LaBelle, Steve Winwood Simon Phillips (drums) Steve Boltz Bolton (Guitar) John Rabbit Bundrick (Keyboards) Roddy Lorimor (trumpet) Jody Linscott (Percussion) Simon Clarke (Saxophone) Tim Sanders (Saxophone) Niel Sidwell (Trombone) Simon Gardner (Trumpet) Chyna (Vocals) Cleveland (Vocals) Billy Nichols (Vocals)

In 1985, the British progressive rock group Marillion achieved their only UK Number one album  and the best-selling album of their career with their third album “Misplaced Childhood” , a concept album featuring lyrics by frontman Fish which were partly autobiographical. The album was played as two continuous pieces of music on the two sides of the vinyl and produced the band’s two biggest hit singles,  “Kayleigh” and “Lavender” The band’s follow-up in 1987, “Clutching At Straws”, has also been described as a concept album In the 1990s prog rock had all but faded from popular music, but some bands, such as Marillion, still had a sizeable cult fanbase. Their next 1994 concept album, “Brave” , was also described as “the most complex Marillion release to date”, and became the final Marillion album to reach the UK top ten. With the advent of alternativeand indie rock, however, a number of artists still continued to use the format within that genre.


Marillion helped revitalise progressive rock in 1985 when the band released its third studio album, Misplaced Childhood. The band builds on the album’s legacy with two new versions that boast remastered sound and unreleased recordings.

Singer Derek Dick (aka Fish), guitarist Steve Rothery, keyboardist Mark Kelly, bassist Pete Trewavas and percussionist Ian Mosley recorded Misplaced Childhood at Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, Germany during the spring of 1985. A concept record with two continuous pieces of music, the song cycle explored themes of lost love, lost childhood, and more. Released in June 1985, it was an immediate success, topping the U.K. album chart and earning platinum status. The album included three big hits: “Kayleigh” (#2), “Lavender” (#5), and “Heart Of Lothian” (#29).

This CD/Blu-ray set includes the original album newly remastered and a 5.1 surround remix by acclaimed producer Steven Wilson. It’s accompanied by a previously unreleased concert from Holland that features a performance of Misplaced Childhood in its entirety, plus demos and rarities remastered exclusively for this set. The BluRay disc contains promo videos, and an album documentary, as well as high resolution and 5.1 Surround Sound mixes of the album. The entire set is presented in a case-bound book that includes a 60-page booklet with liner notes written by rock writer Dave Everley.

This week in 1972: Jethro Tull started a two-week run at the top of the US albums chart with their 5th studio release, ‘Thick As A Brick’, on Reprise Records it was arguably the first rock album to feature one song for an entire album (the 44-minute-long title track); while musically ambitious & successful on its own merits, it was originally intended as a parody of the ‘concept’ album genre – the original packaging, designed like a newspaper, claimed the album to be a musical adaptation of an epic poem by the (fictional) eight-year-old ‘Gerald Bostock’ (though the lyrics were actually written by the band’s front man, Ian Anderson); in 2012, Ian Anderson released a follow-up album, ‘Thick As A Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?’, that examined various potential scenarios of Gerald’s adult life…

In 1971, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson set out with tongue-in-cheek to make “the mother of all concept albums”. With Thick As A Brick, he ended up fulfilling his ambition.
It might seem a little odd to mention the influential British comedy troupe Monty Python as we begin a journey through the story of the groundbreaking album Thick As A Brick. But Jethro Tull mainman Ian Anderson believed there’s a common thread.

Monty Python lampooned the British way of life,” says Anderson. “Yet did it in such a way that made us all laugh while celebrating it. To me, that’s what we as a band did on Thick As A Brick. We were spoofing the idea of the concept album, but in a fun way that didn’t totally mock it.”

It’s often been said that the seeds for 1972’s Thick As A Brick (It was the band’s fifth album) were sown when its predecessor, ’71’s Aqualung, was wrongly perceived as a fully-blown conceptual piece. Myth has it that Anderson was angry about this misconception.

“Not angry, no,” explains the man nearly four decades on. “I was actually mildly irritated and wryly amused. However much I insisted that “Aqualung” wasn’t a concept album, the media still persisted in treating it as such. They seemed to believe the whole record was a major religious story. The truth was that three or four songs were linked by questioning the nature of religion. But the rest were stand-alone tracks. So, after this whole scenario, I thought, ‘OK, we’ll not only now do a real concept album, but we’re going to make it the mother of all concept albums!’.”

Adding to this determination was Anderson’s belief that progressive rock had become a touch too self important, needing to be pulled down a peg or two from its Olympian pretensions.

“When progressive rock started out, it was all about bands such as ourselves moving beyond merely being influenced by American blues. We stopped trying to be the next Fleetwood Mac or Chicken Shack – in other words, derivative of Elmore James – and began to take on board so many diverse musical ideas. It was exciting and dynamic. But, by the time the 1970s had begun, bands like ELP were a little up their own arses. Everything was too serious and overblown. So, we set out with Thick As A Brick to show up this side of the genre.”

The centrepiece of the album was a poem, ostensibly written by 12-year-old Gerald Bostock. However, this is a totally fictitious character, created by Anderson himself. Despite attempts over the years to uncover the true identity of the poet, the truth is that ‘Bostock’ has no connection to anyone from Anderson’s past. However, we can reveal that the poem itself does draw from the man’s childhood.

“Yes, there’s an autobiographical element in what I wrote. As a child, I was a bit of a rebel. Most of my peers aspired to going to grammar school, getting eight O Levels and three A Levels, then becoming part of conventional society. That never appealed to me. I was the sort of child who loved spending time collecting pond life and then analysing it. I also loved science fiction stories of the era (the 1950s), because they told of a different, exciting future. So, I stood apart from others of my age, and drew on this for the character of Gerald Bostock. But he himself is a fiction.”

Having written the crucial poem that became the fulcrum for the concept, Anderson and his band – guitarist Martin Barre, bassist Jeffrey Hammond, keyboard player John Evan, string/brass arranger David Palmer and new drummer Barriemore Barlow – now had the challenge of making the musical form work.

“I suppose I have to admit that I really imposed the whole idea on the other guys,” laughs Anderson, a benign dictator in this instance. “But, for whatever reason they went along with it, and actually warmed to the task once we got stuck into the music.”

Jethro Tull elected to work out the album during two weeks of intense rehearsals using the Rolling Stones mobile studio.

“This was based in Bermondsey, a rather dreadful part of South London. The way it worked was that I’d spend the morning in my home in Hampstead – sadly, not the posh part of that North London suburb – and get three or four minutes of music down on a sheet of paper from an exercise book. Then we’d meet as a band and go through not just the new part I’d written, but everything from the beginning. So, gradually we’d build up the piece.”

Finally, in December 1971, the band entered Morgan Studios in North West London and, under the production aegis of Anderson himself, recorded the album (which is effectively just one composition, split into two movements) over a period of a fortnight, including the mixing stage.

“It’s only in recent times that I’ve appreciated how complex the music is,” admits Anderson. “I was only 24 at the time we began to put this together. Yet there are so many weird time changes and musical innovations on the album. I would never compare what we did back then to jazz rockers like Weather Report or the Mahavishnu Orchestra – they were really amazing musicians – but we were a little more sophisticated than the usual riff rockers you’d find on the scene.”

But the music was just part of the ambitious concept the band put together. Almost of equal importance was the cover, which was in effect a 16-page newspaper called The St. Cleve Chronicle & Linwall Advertiser, which was a spoof of the sort of local newspapers prevalent around the UK at the time.

“That was a massive undertaking,” says Anderson. “Fortunately Roy Eldridge, our A&R man at the label [Chrysalis], had worked as a journalist on local papers prior to joining the company. So, we drew on his experience. We put together a lot of silly stories and also used lyrics from the album itself. We also got the road crew, label people and girlfriends to pose for photos.”

One of those names used was Derek Smalls, who emerged over a decade later as the bassist with the fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap. “I was convinced that Harry Shearer (the actor who played the character in the celebrated movie) must have gotten the name from Thick As A Brick, especially as the Smalls in the film smoked a Peterson pipe – and the only three people I know in rock’n’roll who smoke such a pipe were all members of Jethro Tull! But, when I got the chance to interview Harry for a US TV show, he denied ever hearing Thick As A Brick. I find that somewhat hard to believe.”

However, the album did get some cultural recognition in the States when it was featured in an episode of The Simpsons. Not only does the character of Martin Prince sing part of the song in the episode Girls Just Want To Have Sums, but the original is used over the end credits. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising when you consider that the album reached Number One in the US when released in May 1972 (it hit Number Five in the UK).

“I must admit to being a little surprised that we got to the top of the charts over there,” says Anderson. “But everything had been building for us. Aqualung sold steadily, so either Thick As A Brick was going to take off, or we’d just sink. However, I’m not sure our American fans understood the humour behind our live performance on the subsequent tour.

“We decided to bring all the characters mentioned on the album and in the cover newspaper to life, and it was quirky, very British. We weren’t trying to be comedians, just to enhance the concept. The rest of the band got the chance to step outside of their dapper personae. It was funny because we had a laugh. But in the US… well, all I can say is that I’m none too certain they understood what we were doing. But perhaps this comes down more to the whole premise of progressive rock rather than anything else – at least as far as Anderson is concerned.

“Progressive rock is a purely British phenomenon. And these days all of us – and I include the likes of ELP here – know that there was a sense of fun about it. Privately, we all saw the silly side, we were like John Cleese in a bowler hat lampooning the bureaucrats, while revelling in it.”

Any spoof done well enough enhances both the perpetrators and the intended victims – think of Spinal Tap and the heavy metal genre. But, surely if it’s done too well then it becomes indistinguishable from the real thing? How does Anderson react to the fact that Thick As A Brick is frequently cited as the ultimate prog rock album?

“Job done, I’d say. We set out to make the mother of all concept records, as I stated earlier, and if that’s the way people see the album after all these years, then we achieved the ambition. It is hard sometimes to differentiate between what’s serious and what’s a send-up. But, for me, that’s beauty of true prog rock – it must have both.”

Jethro Tull’s classic 1972 concept album ‘Thick As A Brick’ was reissued on 5th November to commemorate it’s 40th anniversary with new SW stereo and surround mixes. The CD contains the 2012 stereo remix, while the DVD contains a 5.1 mix in DTS & Dolby Digital surround sound, the stereo remix in high quality 96/24, and the original 1972 stereo mix flat transferred to 96/24 PCM.

also being made available on the same date, which also includes Ian Anderson’s ‘Thick As A Brick 2′ (which was also mixed by SW), and a coffee table book.

Jethro Tull