As rock and roll was starting to get a bit nastier, all of the focus seemed to go more towards the power behind the song. Instead of the Beatles singing your traditional love songs like everyone else, here were bands coming through with songs that morphed more into jams than concise songs, with everything circling back to the main riff that drove the song forward. There was still a lane for songwriters though, and these people were looking to tell stories in between their guitar riffs.
That being said, these concept albums can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Even though there might be some overarching theme behind what each of these songs are saying, most of the inner details are left pretty ambiguous, leaving the listener to project their own feelings about what the song might mean.
In between the complex solos or the amazing vocal runs, it always circles back around to serve the story at hand. And since these are known to be on the harsher side of rock, not all of these stories are meant to be necessarily family friendly. Going through the actual “scripts” of each of these, you get into some pretty grim subject matter, from being left alone by your family to spiraling forms of drug abuse with no real end in sight. There’s a lot of beauty to be found here, but it’s going to be a fairly rough ride.
10. Clockwork Angels - Rush
The idea of the concept album feels like it was tailor made for a band like Rush. These guys were always known for writing songs that had long sweeping narratives, so why not translate that into a full project? For their entire duration though, these Canadian icons never really bothered to go the full narrative direction for any of their records. If they were going to go conceptual though, they were going to do it right.
Adapted from a book that drummer Neil Peart was writing around the same time, Rush's swan song Clockwork Angels is one of the greatest albums of their later period, taking the bombast side of their sound and pushing it even further. With a narrative set in a steampunk world, you can feel that kind of otherworldly atmosphere from the minute that Caravan starts, as if it's the train pulling into the station before the real adventure starts. Going through the rest of the project, you can even hear bits and pieces of different characters, as well as moments that get borderline metal by Rush standards like Headlong Flight and The Anarchist.
Being a much more operatic experience, the band also made it a point to bring in as much musical threads as they could, having an orchestra used on some songs and even touring with a string section for the promotional tour for the project so that nothing was lost when translating it to the stage. Since Rush is now firmly etched in stone, this feels like the best way to wrap up their career, remembered as the masterful storytellers of prog rock.