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Is Sgt Pepper A Concept Album?
19 May 2017
5.57am
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QuarryMan
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Is Sgt Pepper A Concept Album?

I personally think it is, despite Paul saying it's not. I wouldn't say an album has to have a story like Tommy or The Wall to be a concept album. If it did it would be called a story album. Paul came up with the concept (the band taking alter egos as the club band) and the band recorded the album with this in mind so yes, it is a concept album. 

What do you all think?

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19 May 2017
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I would say that Sgt Peppers is a concept album in terms of the sound and flow of the album. Aside from that it doesn't really have the hallmarks of other concept albums such as the ones you've named. 

Unlike other concept albums, there are no lyrical or melodic themes on Sgt Peppers and each song is basically a stand alone piece (aside from Sgt Peppers and the reprise). 

The whole idea of becoming a fictional band contributed to its praise as the first concept album but in reality only a Little Help from My Friends and the 2 Sgt Pepper tracks were written with that idea in mind. I think most of the 4 Beatles admitted to this. At the same time you can see whythe Who, Pink Floyd and David Bowie etc would have be influenced by Sgt Peppers given how different it was at the time. 

So yeah, in a nutshell Sgt Peppers is a difficult album to define. I'd struggle to define it as a concept album when compared to the likes of Quadrophenia though.

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19 May 2017
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Dark Overlord
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To start, we have to determine the concept of the album. The concept is that you're at a concert listening to the band play, the band being called Sgt. Pepper 's Lonely Hearts Club Band, so we have determined the album has concept, which therefore makes it a concept album. Sure, the album doesn't have a proper story to back it up, but neither does Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon or Queen II and I consider both of those albums concept albums.

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19 May 2017
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Dark Overlord said
To start, we have to determine the concept of the album. The concept is that you're at a concert listening to the band play, the band being called Sgt. Pepper 's Lonely Hearts Club Band, so we have determined the album has concept, which therefore makes it a concept album. Sure, the album doesn't have a proper story to back it up, but neither does Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon or Queen II and I consider both of those albums concept albums.  

I agree with your last sentence but The Dark Side of The Moon has lyrical and melodic themes that span from practically every track. The chords and vocal melodies used crop up on multiple songs for example.

The majority of the songs on Sgt Pepper don't have a link aside from the colourful aesthetic and flow of the album. If you imagine that all of the songs are being played by a fictional band however then yes it is a concept album. I find it easier to compare Sgt Pepper to the likes of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane for that reason.

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19 May 2017
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QuarryMan
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Well the Sgt Pepper track has a reprise, so that's a reprise of a vocal melody and musical theme.

And I think you're missing how the Sgt Pepper tracks are linked: the two themes frame the songs as a performance by the band. It's meant to be a concert by the band so they don't need to be related to the concept as they are songs being played by the band.

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19 May 2017
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It isn't the first, though, is it?

It verges from the sublime to the ridiculote

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19 May 2017
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QuarryMan said
Well the Sgt Pepper track has a reprise, so that's a reprise of a vocal melody and musical theme.

And I think you're missing how the Sgt Pepper tracks are linked: the two themes frame the songs as a performance by the band. It's meant to be a concert by the band so they don't need to be related to the concept as they are songs being played by the band.  

I mentioned Sgt Pepper and the Reprise in my first post and yeah they are the only two songs that have a direct link, discarding A Little Help from My Friends.

I agree with your last point. If you follow the 'story' of the album and pretend that it's Sgt Peppers band playing then yes it is a concept album. 

You can see why other artists took inspiration from it to create later concept albums and they clearly sought to expand on the idea.

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19 May 2017
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It started out as a concept album with the theme being songs about their lives; past, present and future. Then, two of the first three songs recorded for the album, 'Penny Lane ' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever ' (When I'm Sixty-Four being the third), were plucked for a single release. After that, the "concept" revolved around the mythical band, etc... but only as an afterthought.

From Joe's article on Penny Lane:

We started off with Strawberry Fields, and then we recorded When I'm Sixty-Four and Penny Lane . They were all intended for the next album. We didn't know it was Sgt Pepper then - they were just going to be tracks on The New Album - but it was going to be a record created in the studio, and there were going to be songs that couldn't be performed live.

George Martin

I'm with John in that, except for the opener and the reprise, there really was no concept.

Sgt Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn't go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with this idea of Sgt Pepper and his band; but it works 'cause we said it worked, and that's how the album appeared. But it was not as put together as it sounds, except for Sgt Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise. Every other song could have been on any other album.

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19 May 2017
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But I think that none of these songs would've fit well on other albums and I'd hate to see Sgt. Pepper rearranged. Also, Sgt. Pepper and Reprise aren't the only songs that connect to each other, there's 2 medleys on the album, Sgt. Pepper 's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With A Little Help From My Friends and Good Morning Good Morning /Sgt. Pepper 's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)/A Day In The Life , so that's 5 songs that connect.

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19 May 2017
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vonbontee
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To perceive the album as a concept, it helps to think of the totality of the album itself, and not just the songs. That means the album cover and cardboard cutouts as well as the vinyl. 

The concept is that the "band" exists and is playing a show. The front and back covers, the gatefold, and the cutouts all have pictures of the Sergeant's band, so that establishes the idea that they exist - the "Beatles" are only shown as was figures. Many (all?) of the previous Beatles albums had liner notes or references to the Beatles, but "Pepper" replaces them with the complete lyrics. Every word sung on the album appears on the back, so there's a direct vinyl/cover link - you can listen to the singing and read along at the same time. And after all the technical and legal details is the message "A splendid time is guaranteed for all" - both reinforcing the idea that this is an EVENT and duplicating an actual lyric from one of the songs. 

As for the actual music, while only a few songs have continual sonic links (segues) to adjacent songs, the original vinyl was mastered with no gaps between the songs, so visually each side would've appeared to be one long performance - unlike previous albums by "The Beatles", whose albums had 14-or-so regular length songs.  (In retrospect, it's too bad they never thought to create specially-designed labels with the picture of the Sergeant's band, for additional visual continuity.) Most of the songs still have silence in between them, but they also have wildly differing instrumental combinations, so you can imagine that the audience is just being respectfully polite while the band puts down their guitars picks up a tamboura, or moves to the calliope, or ushers in a supporting string quartet. George's "Within You Without You " appears halfway through and features no other Beatles (i.e. no other members of the "band"), so it's possible to imagine it as an intermission by a supporting act. The reprise, with its cheering crowd, signifies that the show is over...and then the Sergeant's boys save their biggest showstopper for the encore.

(Or, alternately, the band leaves and is replaced by THE BEATLES to blow our minds for real!)

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19 May 2017
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Step one: define "concept album."

Let's try this one borrowed from Wikipedia: A concept album is an album unified by a larger purpose or meaning to the album collectively than to its tracks individually. This may be achieved through a single central narrative or theme, or through a sense of artistic cohesiveness. The exact criteria of a "concept album" varies, with no discernible consensus.

My own opinion is that while Sgt. Pepper effectively and permanently redefined the possibilities of an album as a work of art, it doesn't hang together as a concept album. There is no unifying story or theme, it's just a collection of songs bookended by an intro and its reprise. 

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19 May 2017
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Personally, I don't consider it a concept album. 

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20 May 2017
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That's not the point though @Pablo Ramon. The concept is a performance by the band, framed by the intro and reprise, so the songs themselves don't have to directly reference the concept to be part of it: they are just part of the Club Band's performance set. 

@Beatlebug then what would you say is the first? I had thought it to be The Who's Sell Out until I realized that came out in dec 1967. if you're referring to Sinatra's 50s albums, I would say they are less concept albums and more just songs written around a single theme.

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20 May 2017
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Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads in 1940, a semi-autobiographical collection exploring the hardships he faced as an "Okie" during the time of the Dust Bowl.

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20 May 2017
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Ron Nasty said
Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads in 1940, a semi-autobiographical collection exploring the hardships he faced as an "Okie" during the time of the Dust Bowl.  

Again I think of this album as just a collection of songs about the same subject, and the subject is hardly a concept. Every song on Please Please Me is about love, does that make it a concept album?

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20 May 2017
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As an album I am very familiar with, @QuarryMan, here's why I class Dust Bowl Ballads as a concept album.

While many of the songs were semi-autobiographical, Woody had the aim of creating a musical equivalent to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath - something shown by Woody's writing of Tom Joad for it (Tom Joad was the central figure in GoW).

So, there is your concept. Steinbeck publishes GoW in 1939, and Woody's response to it is to write a set of songs that portray the same sort of experiences explored in the novel with a similar narrative on the effect of the Dust Bowl disaster.

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20 May 2017
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I'm not familiar with Grapes Of Wrath so I'll check it out at some point. I guess Vivaldi's Four Seasons (one of my favorite classical pieces ever) would be the first concept piece?

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20 May 2017
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Necko said
Personally, I don't consider it a concept album.   

What really gets me is when people refer to it as "the first concept album."

Even if we were to be generous and call it a concept album, it wouldn't be the first. As Ron Nasty touched upon, the Woody Guthrie album came out more than twenty-five years earlier. Even if you qualified it with "the first rock concept album," the Beach Boys have them beat by three and a half years with Little Deuce Coupe in late 1963.

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20 May 2017
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QuarryMan said
I wouldn't say an album has to have a story like Tommy or The Wall to be a concept album. If it did it would be called a story album.

There are two types of concept albums. There's the narrative kind. This type tells a story.

Some examples off the top of my head:

Tommy - The Who (1969)

Quadrophenia - The Who (1973)

The Wall - Pink Floyd (1979)

The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Year Zero - Nine Inch Nails (2007)

American Idiot  - Green Day (2004)

 

Then there's the theme kind. This type revolves around a theme of some sort. 

Little Deuce Coupe - The Beach Boys (1963)

Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian - Johnny Cash (1964)

The Who Sell Out - The Who (1967)

Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd (1973)

Animals - Pink Floyd (1977)

Songs For the Deaf - Queens Of The Stone Age (2002)

 

Of course, the line can be blurred. Certain albums (The Downward Spiral, Songs For the Deaf) contain elements of both.

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20 May 2017
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Actually, there are many concept albums that came before Sgt. Pepper , they're called soundtrack albums. The first soundtrack album released was Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, released in January 1938, so you could call this the first concept album, although I don't because some of the tracks are out of order when compared to the film. It's funny because as with Sgt. Pepper , this has it's fair share of misconceptions as well, such as how people falsely assume that this is the first animated feature film, when in reality it's not, not even the first from Disney.

[Image Can Not Be Found]

The first true concept album is Walt Disney's Pinocchio, released on 3 78rpm records by Victor in 1940 and unlike Snow White, the songs on this album are all in order with the film, so this is the first concept album.

Pinocchio_album.jpgImage Enlarger

Another early concept album is the soundtrack to the 1942 album The Jungle Book, which is an orchestral score with narration.

Jungle_Book_UAS29725.jpgImage Enlarger

There's also the 1955 Richard III, which has the entire film's audio split across 3 LP's.

Richard_lll_lm1940.jpgImage Enlarger

As for the first rock concept album, King Creole, released in 1958 by Elvis Presley is a possibility, although I can't confirm whether or not the songs are played in the right order with the movie.

Elviskingcreole.jpg

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