Thursday, August 05, 2004

Conceptually Speaking

This snippet about Bobby Bare, Jr in The Village Voice claims:

Bobby Bare Sr., [was] responsible for one of country's first concept albums not penned by Willie Nelson (1973's Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends, and Lies, a collaboration with enduring buddy and lyricist Shel Silverstein.)

Which I immediately mentally disputed. What about Johnny Cash's early 60s albums like Bitter Tears or Ballads of the True West? What about, to go even further back, about Hank Williams' Luke the Drifter album from 1955? Or Hank Thompson's drinking albums from the 1960s? There must be others and a Google of "country concept albums" got me thinking. This definition of concept albums, from the usualy helpful Wikipedia, got me confused first off.

Usually, in popular music, an album of an artist or group simply consists of a number of songs that the members of the group or the artist have written or have chosen to cover. In a concept album, on the other hand, all songs contribute to a single effect or unified story.

So far so good. It then goes to to call Sgt Pepper's the first concept album, but maybe it really isn't after all since the fictional characters supposedly adopted by the Beatles "have little life beyond the introduction on the first track." The odd part is the list of other concept albums including Pet Sounds because it "is a somewhat autobiographical work about love and life."

Well, that sounds like most pop records, surely a concept album requires more of an, um, concept. (The list also includes this toe-tapper: "Fetus - Franco Battiato (1972) - About potential people who are never born due to contraception, as well as unwanted children who are born.")

This person thinks country music sucks and unsurprisingly can't think of one country concept album. We've been through this issue with the Ian Shedden article and I won't revisit my indignation here.

This names the first concept album as possibly Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours. The concept is songs about heartache set to spare Nelson Riddle arrangements. So a mood is enough to get you a concept album? The same source says country didn't have concept albums because the singles market was paramount but what of the examples above?. And frankly country's traditional accent on stories and narratives lends it to the, uh, concept.

I don't know. Somehow for me an album all about trains seems like more of an actual full-on concept than songs all about love. I think there's a substantial difference between the concept behind Blood on the Tracks and the concept behind Tommy.

New definitions needed!

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