Friday, 8 March 2013

Top 5 Concept Albums

Last Sunday I took part in my first @LPGrp communal listen. The topic was concept albums and the winner was "The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars". I've only recently given Bowie much time and this was an excellent chance to listen to a classic album and discuss it with some fellow music lovers. "Ziggy" is fast becoming a favourite record for me though I was surprised it won the category. I'd been expecting a slew of Prog Rock albums, which I'd have been fine with, but the eventual list of nominated albums was both broad and intriguing.

I spent the previous week listening to many of the albums I'd never heard before and re-playing the ones I knew and loved. This was handy research for a top five so I thought I should strike whilst the iron's still hot. My top fives are nearly always about my personal taste rather than a definite list but this week's is particularly personal. I know I've missed off some significant, and excellent, albums but the five I've selected mean something special to me.

"Ziggy Stardust" was close but I decided not to include any of the excellent albums I've discovered in recent weeks. I really liked four or five others too but I need to live with an album for some time before I can genuinely assess it's worth. If you're not a great fan of the concept album it's worth checking out the full list of nominated LPs. There's a lot of excellent music on it and they might be good enough to change your mind.

1. "Misplaced Childhood" Marillion (1985) - I know what you're thinking! Let me explain. I got into Marillion about 6 months before this came out. It was the year I took my GCSE's so I was 15. I'd begun to discover this whole world of music outside of Top of the Pops and, for whatever reason, Marillion really did it for me. This might have been the first album I knew about before release and I remember rushing in to Kingston to pick it up the same week it came out. I think the Kayleigh single had preceded it and become a bit of a hit. I wasn't so keen on that but as part of the overall theme (lost love, acceptance and lost childhood) it really worked. I loved this album so much it led to my first ever concert (having spotted the band were touring on Ceefax). Originally planned for October '85 it was postponed due to Fish having throat problems so I finally popped my gig cherry in February '86. I didn't really stop after that. Any doubts I might have had about where to place this were dispelled by my first listen to it for very many years. I know it's as much about nostalgia as the music but I still know all the words and it gives me a feeling very few albums do.

2. "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" Genesis (1974) - My love of Marillion eventually, and inevitably, led towards me exploring Genesis (a gateway Prog band!). It didn't take me long to realise the Peter Gabriel years were the best but The Lamb was probably the album I took the longest to get to grips with. It's everything you'd expect of a Prog concept album. Long, sprawling and slightly off the wall. I did get there eventually and, unlike other albums of a similar vintage, I think this has really stood the test of time.

3. "Thick as a Brick" Jethro Tull (1972) - My second ever gig was ... Marillion again ... at the Milton Keynes Bowl with Jethro Tull as special guests. They were amazing that day and that was my starting point for a long love of the band. "Thick as a Brick" is not my favourite Tull album by any means (that's probably "Aqualung" which Tull were pretty adamant it's NOT a concept album so I couldn't include) but it is a very fine piece of music that captures Ian Anderson's mischievous sense of humour. A parody of the overblown epics of the band's contemporaries, that was supposedly the musical adaptation of a poem by 8-year-old Gerald Bostock. Last year I got to see Anderson perform the whole thing live for the first time, along with his recently recorded follow up. Inevitably "Thick as a Brick 2" isn't a patch on the original but it was a very fine and entertaining show.

4. "Radio K.A.O.S" Roger Waters (1987) - I am aware that I've overlooked several Pink Floyd albums to include this in my top five. That's not to say I don't love those Floyd albums but they don't occupy the same space in my heart as this album. Compared to "The Wall" this is a much more compact and succinct. Eight songs and a little over 40 minutes and all the better for it. The story is great, touching on Britain in the Thatcher years and the effects off monetarism (you can read all the details at Wikipedia) and is presented as though it's a live radio show. I went to see Waters perform it live at Wembley Arena and, despite the fact I was in a back corner of one of the worst venues known to mankind, it remains one of my all time favourite gigs.

5. "The Chronicle of The Black Sword" Hawkwind (1985) - Looking at the release date I'd guess this was my first Hawkwind LP, it didn't lead on to a massive surge of Hawk interest but it has remained a firm favourite. I bought in on vinyl but these were the days of Sony Walkman so my strongest memories are of listening to it through headphones on my walk back from college. The walk would take me about 50 minutes (I could have got the bus but I used to get fed up waiting) which was exactly the right length of time to play the entire album. It's a great headphone album, there's a wall of sound throughout and all sorts of typical Hawk-type space noise. It's based on the Elric stories by Micheal Moorcock (I'd have been into sword & sorcery at the time too) and they recorded a live version at Hammersmith Odeon that added inter song narration from Moorcock himself. I played it recently not expecting to enjoy it quite as much but I absolutely loved it.


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