The Rock Opera is the holy grail for any big rock band. It is a difficult feat which requires a lot more preparation and creativity than a regular LP. Some have gone on to define rock music, breaking out of the confines of the Rock Opera.
Here’s our run down of the timeline of the Rock Opera, with 10 great concept albums.
10. Nirvana – The Story of Simon Simopath (1967)
Let’s start at the beginning, with the first recorded Rock Opera. And no, this is not the same Nirvana who trail-blazed the Grunge movement of the 1990s, this is English Psych-Rock outfit Nirvana. Their 1967 concept album combines melodic Psych-Pop anthems with a far-reaching fairytale plot which mirrors the psychedelic musical themes of the album.
9. The Who – Tommy (1969)
If Simon Simopath started the Rock Opera trend, The Who’s Tommy establishes it. With a blistering run-time of 75 minutes, Pete Townshend’s masterpiece depicts Tommy; a deaf, dumb and blind boy and his relationship with his family.
8. The Kinks – Arthur (1969)
British Invasion icons The Kinks added to the rich catalogue of Concept Albums with their 1969 release Arthur. The plot revolves around the mundane life of Arthur Morgan, a fictional carpet-layer who is loosely based on the brother-in-law of frontman Ray Davies. It was met with immediate critical acclaim and inevitable comparisons with the aforementioned Tommy.
7. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
Not only one of the most iconic concept albums, this is one of the most iconic albums full stop. Bowie’s tour de force features the hit Star Man, a quintessential Bowie tune. Bowie effortlessly transitions into Ziggy Stardust, the famous alien rock star. Bowie’s comments on the state of popular music have an aura of tongue-in-cheek satire, which adds more depth to an already immersive album.
6. The Who – Quadrophenia (1973)
The Who’s second shot at the concept of the rock opera, this time the focus switches to a young Mod named Jimmy, who struggles to find his identity in the backdrops of London and Brighton. Lyrically, this album is a lot more sophisticated than Tommy.
5. Willie Nelson – The Red Headed Stranger (1975)
Willie Nelson’s story of love, loss and retribution paved the way for the Country musicians to experiment with album formats. Despite Country having an age old reputation for incredible song writing, Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger was the first to craft an entire album to tell one epic story.
4. Meat Loaf – Bat out of Hell (1977)
One of the highest-selling albums of all time, Bat Out of Hell combines the size and grandeur of Bowie, with the rock and roll aesthetic of Springsteen. This rock opera opens by putting you in the shoes of of a boy who ecstatically drives to fast that he crashes uncontrollably. The rest of the album tackles such issues as virginity, a break up, and teenage rebellion.
- Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979)
Pink Floyd’s 1979 epic, The Wall, has solidified itself at the ultimate concept album. It combines Roger Waters neurotic view of the world, with progressive rock music. On one hand it is a scathing attack on the British society of the mid 20th century (Another Brick in the Wall), yet on the other it is sensitive and delicate (Hey You).
- The Fat Boys – On and On (1989)
Okay, this may not be a ROCK Opera per se, but this album does deserve some recognition as the first ever Rap Opera, an interesting sidestep away from mainstream contemporary Hip-Hop music. This is an album that is hard to find, with it being produced independently, copies are few and far between. Those fortunate enough to get their hands on the album (which isn’t even on streaming services), will be treated to a sophisticated and complex commentary on racial divisions in America.
- Green Day – American Idiot
American Idiot is considered by many (including myself) the last great Rock Opera, taking the formula and adding its own Punk sensibilities. The narrative of American Idiot revolves around Jesus of Suburbia, who acts as the anti-Hero. As American Idiot progresses, Green Day place 21st century American Society in its crosshairs, events like the Iraq War from the eyes of the disillusioned Jesus of Suburbia.