Concept album

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In popular music, a concept album is an album that is "unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative, or lyrical".[1] Commonly, concept albums tend to incorporate preconceived musical or lyrical ideas rather than being improvised or composed in the studio, with all songs contributing to a single overall theme or unified story. This is in contrast to the practice of an artist or group releasing an album consisting of a number of unconnected (lyrically or otherwise) songs performed by the artist.

Contents

History

Early examples

What could very loosely be considered the first concept albums were released in the late 1930s by singer Lee Wiley on the Liberty Records label, featuring eight songs on four 78s by showtune composers of the day, such as Harold Arlen and Cole Porter, anticipating more comprehensive efforts by Verve Records impresario Norman Granz with Ella Fitzgerald by almost two decades.[2]

In folk music, early examples included Woody Guthrie's 1940 debut album Dust Bowl Ballads and Merle Travis's 1947 box set Folk Songs of the Hills, in which each song is introduced by a short narrative.[3][4] In the late '40s, Kansas City pianist Pete Johnson recorded the album House Rent Party, in which he starts out playing alone, supposedly in a new empty house, and is joined there by J. C. Higginbotham, J.C. Heard, and other Kansas City players. Each has a solo backed by Johnson and then the whole group plays a jam session together.[5]

Frank Sinatra released many thematically programmed albums of the 1950s for Capitol Records starting with the ten-inch 33s Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy. One commentator claims that Sinatra is the true originator of the idea.[6] Perhaps the first full Sinatra concept album example is In the Wee Small Hours from 1955, where the songs – all ballads – were specifically recorded for the album, and organized around a central mood of late-night isolation and aching lost love, with the album cover strikingly reinforcing that theme.[7]

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