The Ongoing History of New Music, encore presentation: Alt-rock concept albums, part 1

There are many ways to tell a story: a book, a movie, television, a comic book. You can also use music.

A ballad is a story set to music. A lot of music videos have narratives. And if you want something grander, you need opera, ballet or a full-on singing-and-dancing musical.

Another musical open is a concept album. These are records where all the songs and all the imagery are tied together by some kind of unifying theme or thesis. Everyone from the music and lyrics to the artwork and package (and many even other components) all come together to tell a story.

Concept albums were huge in the late 70s and throughout the 80s before falling out of favour. The consensus was that they were overblown, pompous ego trips that were expensive to make and ultimately didn’t hold together when subjected to intellectual scrutiny.

The concept album all but disappeared through the 80s and 90s with punk and alt-rock doing its best to destroy what had become a trope of the classic rock era. These sorts of artistic ventures were seen as vestiges of the old and busted and needed to be expunged from rock culture.

Not everyone on that side of the ledger agreed. And if we look at the history of alt-rock since the 80s, we’ll see that the concept album never really went away and, in many ways, is bigger than ever. In fact, many of the artists making concept albums today were inspired by the very acts that tried to kill these kinds of albums in the 80s and 90s.

This is the history of the concept album in alt-rock, part 1,

Here’s a list of songs from the show.

Green Day, American Idiot

David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust

Kraftwerk, Computer Love

Husker Du, Pink Turns to Blue

Smashing Pumpkins, Pumpkins with Butterfly Wings

Tool, Stinkfist

Marilyn Manson, The Beautiful People

Eric Wilhite has created this playlist for your listening pleasure.

Don’t forget that you can get the podcast version of this podcast through iTunes or wherever you get your on-demand audio.

The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s and anywhere else with a transmitter. If you’re in any of those markets and you want the show, lemme know and I’ll see what I can do.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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