Nov 062011

The challenge is rather simple. Which critically acclaimed album is overvalued and therefore in need of a rating downgrade? I ask for only 1 album per Townsperson. In this case it will be for late ’60s, early 70s “concept” albums. I use the term “concept” loosely here. A good starting point is somewhere around S.F. Sorrow or Freak Out!, all the way through to Ziggy Stardust give or take a couple years. Perhaps you may want to take on either Arthur, Ogden’s Nut Flake Gone, Forever Changes, or Sgt Pepper . For this exercise you are free to use, any Rolling Stone Album Guide, or whatever resource material in your library as long as it rates albums.

No easy targets
. It would be too simple to pick on some band or artist that you don’t care for personally. The challenge is to pick an artist/band you actually tolerate.


  47 Responses to “Critical Ratings Downgrade: Concept Albums (1966-1972)”

  1. cliff sovinsanity

    What got me returning to this subject was my failure to understand the adulation for The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, and the under appreciation of Love’s Forever Changes in the realm of psychedelic masterpieces.
    I realize that both of these albums toy loosely with the term concept. I just find The Zombies work best as a singles band. That isn’t to say there isn’t good material on O&O. Care Of Cell 44, Rose For Emily, This Will Be Our Year are fine but it’s the pastoral sounds that follow that are challenge for me to sit through. Butchers Tale and Changes really bring things to a halt. Further, Time Of The Season seems so out of place especially at the end album. Not unlike Train In Vain at the end of London Calling.
    This is difficult for me to admit because I really like The Zombies. I guess I’m happy with my “best of” compilations.

  2. The Moody Blues and Days of Future Passed.

    AllMusic – 4.5 stars
    Amazon – 4.5 stars
    Prog Archives – 4.11 out of 5 (excellent)

    This album’s status of being an early landmark of prog is undisputed, and it gets great reviews just about everywhere. I can only assume that the reviewers haven’t really listened to it lately. It’s not the songs sung and played by the Moodies that is the real problem here. It’s the cheesy symphonic mush between the songs and bookending the album. Program-music that might have been a soundtrack for a cheap TV series or an uncommonly dull commercial/industrial film. This dreck was apparently composed by the Moodies and orchestrated by Peter Knight, the conductor. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the music was genuinely classical in style rather than bogus Hollywood. But wait – there’s more: pretentious spoken-word poems by Graeme Edge on the order of “Cold-hearted orb that rules the night” and all that. All this goop renders the album nearly unlistenable for me.

    I took a digitized copy of Days and spent a couple of hours with the Audacity sound editing program carefully excising 16.5 minutes of orchestral and poetic excesses. What was left was 25 minutes of fair-to-pretty-good songs. I turned a one-star album (in my opinion) into a solid three-star effort. If anyone’s interested and if the Hall is amenable to the idea, I’ll post it sometimes.

  3. misterioso

    Tony, I agree entirely. I do have a soft spot for “classic era” Moodies (67-72?) and even the heavy-handedness of other “concept lps” as In Search of the Lost Chord, despite or maybe even because of their silliness. All my wife and I have to do to crack each other up on a moonlit night is to intone, “Cold-hearted orb that rules the night….” I don’t own any of these on cd but still have the lps which I will pull out once in a cold-hearted blue moon.

  4. misterioso

    cliff, I realize you already wisely sounded a note of caution about the looseness of the “concept” concept, but I guess I have never thought of O & O as a concept album. I just think it is a lovely record (“Butcher’s Tale” excepted, which I skip, whereas I love “Changes”), whereas Forever Changes bores me to tears.

  5. I’m not a huge fan of the Moodies, but I find their classic albums at least listenable. In my opinion, they made one truly great record, and that is To Our Children’s Children’s Children. And yes, the end of the classic period was 1972 and the release of Seventh Sojourn . The group then disbanded for six years. They just weren’t the same when they returned.

  6. machinery

    I think Tommy gets way too much love. Only about 2 good songs.

  7. I hear you. Isn’t that whole lp on Time of the Zombies? That’s my go-to lp for them. It’s perfect. I can skip around at will and never feel angry over any issues of an album being overrated.

  8. Go for it! I could see that helping greatly.

  9. Yes, or maybe an so’s worth.

  10. I will spare folks further cuts on Forever Changes. If it counts, you may recall I feel Blood on the Tracks is merely “good.” One I can’t stand by an artist I like well enough is Springsteen’s Nebraska. What a pompous, self-serious pose that thing was, The Boss’ anti-concept album.

  11. cliff sovinsanity

    It’s a concept album as much as Sgt Pepper is a concept album. Which I guess means that it’s a thematic ensemble of songs rather than a collection of songs loosely cobbled together. In this case the band went into the studio with the idea of producing a wholly original album rather than a mix of originals and covers.
    Or perhaps it’s the word odyssey or rather odessey that’s makes me think of a concept album.

  12. cliff sovinsanity

    I might be one of the few Townspeople who prefers Tommy to The Who Sell Out.

  13. Happiness Stan

    Time of the Zombies was my entry to the band, and as far as I can remember the whole of O&O was on it. I bought it when I was about fifteen, and Butcher’s Tale was the standout track for me, it still sends shivers down my spine, but I can understand why people may not like it.

    I don’t get allowed out much, but managed to escape for an evening a couple of months ago to see The Zombies at the Market Harborough Leisure Centre of all places, a tiny sports hall, and they were absolutely brilliant. Colin Blunstone still has a stunning voice nearly fifty years on.

    I wouldn’t have had O&O down as a concept album, a lot of albums (including Sgt Pepper and Forever Changes) seem to get “upgraded” from a collection of songs to CONCEPT ALBUM despite there being no concept or narrative which I am able to discern.

  14. Happiness Stan

    Wouldn’t argue with that. Just went to look at the track listing on Wikipedia, convinced that there must be more than two songs on it which I’d listen to through choice, but was surprised that that was indeed the number I’d arrive at as well.

    If I was compiling a list of my ten favourite albums I would struggle not to include at least two, (and be tearing my hear out to get that down from four) albums by the ‘Oo, but I would also make the case that Quadrophenia, which arrived outside the time frame, (which will be my get-out if another one I like less by a band I like comes to mind), but seems to be revered on this side of the pond more than Tommy these days, is a load of old pants which was never listenable in the first place, with one song that would have been good if it had been at least a minute-and-a-half shorter.

  15. 2000 Man

    I just listened to Quadrophenia in its entirety over the weekend. The thing I noticed that really kind of bugged me were Pete’s field recordings. It’s like he decided to use every old radio show cliche to set up his locales. Plus, the story is pretty weak anyway.

    I came to a different conclusion than you, though. I think Dr. Jimmy is one of Daltrey’s best performances, and I think side four works because of its grandiosity. I think it could easily be one record, but it would be one really good record. Maybe not great, but really good.

  16. In the late 70s when I was in full Gary Wright geek mode as a teenager, I read that “Ceremony” — a concept album built around a church service by Spooky Tooth and a “found object” composer named Pierre Henry (warning! warning!) — was supposed to be a landmark record in electronic music. I finally found it in the used record bins . . . and it blows.

  17. Which concept albums do you like best? I can’t care too much about most of the concepts, but I like Quadrophenia, SF Sorrow, and some others discussed for the music and vibe.

    I am not a great fan of Pink Floyd, but Dark Side, Animals, and The Wall seemed to have commitment to narrative and themes

  18. Happiness Stan

    I’ll happily go along with SF Sorrow, does the Bee Gees Odessa count? Robert Calvert’s Captain Lockheed and the Star Fighters is another favourite, although I skip the talking bits when listening to it. Side one of the first Crazy World of Arthur Brown album (the fire stuff) is pretty ace. The Who Sell Out, Floyd from Dark Side to Animals.

    Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, obviously.

  19. Happiness Stan

    whoops, this was supposed to be under number 6. Would you mind moving it down please Mr M?

  20. cliff sovinsanity

    “Which concept albums do you like best?”. Therein lies my point. I believe that critics of the time (and even now) have favoured these “ambitious” albums because they were huge steps in the evolution of “rock”. This was at a time when the emphasis turned from singles to LP’s. It was perhaps natural for critics to heap a whole lot praise on these albums regardless of their content.
    But, for the record I do like what the Kinks were doing at the time with Arthur and to a less degree with Lola Vs Powerman and the Money Go-Round.

  21. tonyola

    Since we’re going out of the 1967-192 frame, these are my favorites:

    Who – Quadrophenia
    Genesis – Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
    Kinks – Arthur
    Camel – The Snow Goose
    Zappa – Joe’s Garage
    Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow
    Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

    Yes, most are prog or at least demi-prog.

  22. tonyola

    Now what are your least favorite concept albums? Mine:

    Jeff Wayne – War of the Worlds
    Patrick Moraz – The Story of i
    Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
    Styx – Kilroy Was Here
    Anything by Alan Parsons Project
    Anything by Rick Wakeman
    Anything by Radiohead

  23. tonyola

    Oh, forgot the Radio Gnome trilogy by Gong – Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg, and You.
    Three of my very favorite albums.

  24. trigmogigmo

    Interesting. Tommy is probably near the top of the pile critically. I like it but not as much as I vaguely remembered when it was on my parents’ record shelf. As a double album there is a very good standalone album in there, and the rest is what joins the “concept” together. I think that is the normal risk of a concept album (especially a double), that the linking parts don’t stand up on their own.

  25. hrrundivbakshi

    Odessa *definitely* counts. It has one absolutely stunning song on it: “Melody Fair” — and the rest is downright irritating. I am baffled by the rock nerd adulation it receives.

  26. trigmogigmo

    I totally agree on Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. They hold together completely, and for me are just packed solid with good songs.

    And out of the original time frame, these are great ones that I think could be called concept albums to some degree.
    Nilsson — The Point
    Kate Bush — Hounds of Love
    XTC — Skylarking
    The The — Infected
    The Police — Synchronicity
    Talking Heads — Fear of Music

  27. ladymisskirroyale

    I didn’t originally comment because the 66-72 timeframe stymied me. But since we’re broadening the horizons, here are some to others to add to the previously-mentioned Pink Floyd and to trigmogigmo’s list:

    Radiohead – Ok Computer
    Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
    Cibo Matto – Viva La Woman
    Tom Waits – Frank’s Wild Years
    ABC – The Lexicon of Love

    And what about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours? Would that count? If so, that would be on my favs list.

  28. I like the sound of most of Tommy, but the “concept” part is so embarrassingly stupid I can’t believe so many people like that record.

  29. Arthur stands out above the rest (unless you consider Village Green Preservation Society to be a concept album as well).

  30. Nebraska does have two excellent songs: Atlantic City and Used Cars (underrated gem).

  31. Happiness Stan

    Wow, spooky, Tony – that takes me right back. I used to have a friend who would play Olias of Sunhillow whenever he was at least 50% satisfied that the gathered company wouldn’t snatch it from his gramophone and perform ritual sacrifice on his precious. It was touch and go sometimes.

    I think that I heard it twice, maybe three times. The only thing that I can remember about it was that I found it infinitely preferable to anything I’d ever heard by Yes, and when I saw your post I had peculiar notion that I might even enjoy listening to it again.

    He always kept a long black cloak onto which he had painted occult symbols by the front door, together with a huge staff he had carved from a fallen branch he found in the park one day. He would put it on and brandish the staff whenever the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to call, asking them if he could talk to them about Satanism and offering them copies of pamphlets from an occult publisher he had once worked for.

  32. 2000 Man

    I recently found a near perfect copy of Days of Future Passed, and figured for a buck, I couldn’t go wrong. I was wrong. 2000 Boy had that album in Jr. High and he didn’t hate it, but 2000 Man thinks it suuuucks.

  33. Happiness Stan

    Sticking with the stipulation that they should be by people who have produced at least some music which is or once was listenable, The Gospel According to the Meninblack by the Stranglers was the last album of theirs I paid money for, and I don’t think I would like to hear it again.

    If the definition of concept album is stretched to cover double albums with one (or no) listenable song(s), then I would be happy to suggest Dylan’s Self Portrait.

    I notice that no-one has yet offered up Metal Machine Music, which has garnered at least one five star rating on Amazon, presumably by someone trying to sell on a copy they parted with good money for.

  34. You know what, I FINALLY bought Metal Machine Music the other day, or should I say paid $2.99 to legally download it. It was always one of those rare, overpriced albums on The Wall that I could not afford to buy when I was a kid. I like it about as much I as liked hearing it the first time in a friend’s dorm room in 1981. It reminds me of the Glenn Branca albums I own and like, one in particular, The Ascension, I love. It’s no The Ascension and I won’t say something like, “I don’t see what everyone’s problem with that album is,” but I like it just fine. I redrew a graph in PowerPoint on Friday afternoon with that album playing in the background. It was very helpful.

  35. Happiness Stan

    I bought a vinyl copy at a record fair in about 1981, paid £1.50 (a couple of bucks) for it. I remember the guy selling it laughing at me when I got it out to check the condition of the vinyl. I was amazed when it later started shifting for silly money. It got played a lot more than I suspect most did, and has a fantastic cover, perhaps I’ll dig it out and give it another spin one of these days.

  36. I’m surprised no one else has mentioned this: The Who Sell Out is sloppy as hell in a way that greatly reduces my enjoyment of it as a concept album: they basically drop the concept partway through side two.

  37. I have to weigh in with a favorite
    Roger Waters-Radio KAOS

    and a least favorite, as much as I hate to say it,
    Neil Young- Greendale
    -Fork in the Road

  38. Happiness Stan

    It’s my favourite Who album, but I know what you mean. I’d personally still rather have a collection of songs that good than the ones which ended up on Tommy and Quadrophenia.

  39. Some favorites that I don’t think have been noted —

    Alan Parsons Project — Eve (my 15 year-old self found this to be a great concept and the cover freaked me out)
    David Bowie — Diamond Dogs
    Drive-by Truckers — Southern Rock Opera

    and I may be one of the few who still listen to
    Warren Zevon — Transverse City

  40. Joe’s Garage Act. 1 is the first Zappa album I ever owned — also his funniest.

  41. I understand what you are saying, but I can’t imagine changing a thing on it. My favorite Who album as well.

  42. tonyola

    When it comes to concept albums, as far as I am concerned, they live or die more by their musical merits than the story line. For instance, I think Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is a great album. I’m fully aware that the surreal story about a NYC Puerto Rican street punk is both impenetrable and hopelessly overwrought. However, I ignore the problematic story and concentrate on all the terrific music. Same with The Who Sell Out. It doesn’t matter to me anymore whether the story peters out. The music more than compensates.

  43. cliff sovinsanity

    Good call on Southern Rock Opera. Any album that makes me sympathetic toward Skynyrd gets my vote. Very underrated album.

  44. That’s me, Tonyola, I usually can;t get too bogged down by the logistics like “concept” and “story,” so it boils down to whether or not I like the music. I don’t need a narrative to dig the tunes. So, my enjoyment of Tommy or Sell Out isn’t based on anything more or less or than I enjoy hearing the songs collected.


  45. After much though and consideration, my critical downgrade is going to be…

    Sgt. Pepper!

    I like it. I used to think it was the most important thing ever recorded by anyone anytime. Since then I have come to the realization that I do love the album, I just just don;t believe all the hype. If you listen to Macca and George Martin, it’s all wonderful, technicolor genius. Harrison and Lennon had different takes. It is what it is. There are better Beatles albums and I don’t view it as the crowning jewel of their recorded output. It’s just not all that to me.

    I like most of the albums mentioned above. The Zombies, The Pretty Things, Love, The Kinks, Genesis, and The ‘Oo.

    I liked that Days of Future for about 5 minutes in high school, but I have no need for it anymore. I just can’t dig on Moody Blues.


  46. When I read the topic Sunday, I put Days Of Future Passed near my keys to listen to in the car. You saved me from that.

    I actually think it is the only Moody’s worth a damn (outside of some OK radio singles) but the orchestral poetry thing slides into self parody. The 2nd level British Invasionisms might be better without the pretension.

  47. Happiness Stan

    Like you, the first time I heard Sgt Pepper (about five or six years after it was released) it sounded like the most innovative, exciting music I could imagine. By the time punk happened about three or four years later it sounded dated to these ears, but still listenable. The last time I heard it, which was possibly about thirty years ago now , it sounded no different to the music it had supposedly replaced, middle of the road and safe, and shown up by the Beatles own albums before and after. Definitely, definitely due that downgrade.

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