Concept Albums: How Music and Storytelling Unite

Brian Hornfeldt

Staff Writer/Social Media Manager

If you’ve ever listened to an album and noticed how the lyrics across the tracks all relate to one another, you were probably listening to a concept album. One definition of a concept album is “an album whose tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually,” and I think that this is a perfect summation of just what exactly they are. Typically, it is more common to see these concept albums existing within rock and roll, usually telling the stories of disillusioned characters or someone suffering through a crisis, although they also appear in other genres. Concept albums exist largely to tell a story through music that is too immense to contain within a single track. A few of the more famous albums that do this have been revered as some of the greatest albums of all time. 

Arguably one of the most famous concept albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” contains the primary goal of storytelling within its 26-track length. The album tells the story of Pink, a famous singer/musician battling against addiction, and his past traumas, as he slowly (over the course of the album) builds a “wall” against others, isolating himself within his own mind. The songs tackle issues that many people didn’t talk about in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the album was created, such as mental health issues, childhood and adult trauma and the self-image issues that many people around the world suffer from. “The Wall” is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, across many different listings, largely due to the lyrical composition and storytelling the album executes. Through the songs, the listener is able to follow the full trek that Pink takes, as he struggles to cope with his mental health issues and continues to embrace self-destructive behaviors instead.

A less popular concept album, but a personal favorite of mine, is The Decemberist’s album “Hazards of Love. It follows two characters, Margaret and William, as they grapple to be with one another despite the many undoings that come their way. The songs range from discussing the difficulties of becoming pregnant out of wedlock, to separation from a loved one, to the challenges and obstacles one is willing to overcome for their love. Unlike Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” “Hazards of Love” is set within a fantastic world, inhabited by magical queens, creatures, and natural forces. However, this setting doesn’t detract from the greater messages that the album attempts to present. The final song results in the two protagonists ending their lives together, in a very Romeo and Juliet fashion, as William is going to die, and Margaret wishes to follow him into the afterlife. The songs present very interesting and complicated takes on love and what it entails and means to different people across the numerous songs, switching perspectives from the antagonists and protagonists to dive into the deeper understandings.While concept albums are usually interesting stories to listen to, it’s important not to overlook the underlying message that many of them contain. There are hundreds upon hundreds of concept albums that all push to inform the listener of their own issues and problems. For example, David Bowie’s album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” describes the childish and immature ways that humanity views love and romance. As well, My Chemical Romance’s album “The Black Parade” follows a character dubbed “The Patient” as he transitions to the afterlife from his debilitating illness. Many different concept albums reach out to inform and enhance the listener’s understanding of otherwise overlooked issues, and it’s important to understand the deeper meaning the artists put into their works.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, featured

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1 reply

  1. Don’t forget “Operation: Mindcrime,” “Scenes From a Memory,” and “American Idiot”!


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