Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sgt. Pepper is frequently named as the album that launched the idea of the Concept Album, and while it may be true from the perspective of influence, as a matter of “who got there first” it’s just silly. The Beach Boys’ “surf” and “car” albums pre-date Pepper by a few years, and if you consider that popular music did not begin with rock and roll, you find Ella’s “Songbook” albums on Verve, starting from the mid-’50s, among the first “album-oriented albums,” as distinguished from un-unified collections of songs, along with Sinatra’s contemporaneous “lamp-post and cigarette” records on Capitol. But Ella’s first “songbook” actually came out in 1950 on Decca, a lovely 8-song collection, originally on 10-inch LP, called Ella Sings Gershwin. And the first thematically unified album I know of dates from 1940, Woody Guthrie’s monumental Dust Bowl Ballads.

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I fixed the broken link to evidence that Dylan lifted lots of lines in his memoir in the post from a few nights ago -- here’s the link again.

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My list of favorite (Anglophonic) musicians (in vernacular styles) for “breadth and intensity and variety of wonderfulness” a few nights ago had some omissions, notably James Brown and John Lydon, the latter for a mere 3 records, the Sex Pistols debut and the first two Public Image albums. I recognize that lots of other acts “belong” on the list, but they aren’t my favorites. Which points to the inherent problem with such lists. They begin in enthusiasm and end in regret.

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“America is deeply rooted in Negro culture: its colloquialisms, its humor, its music. How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America’s culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed, that the Negro, who has exemplified the humanities in his very exitence, is being rewarded with inhumanity.” -- Sonny Rollins, 1958, album notes to Freedom Suite

I thought it pretty widely accepted at this point that the pioneering concept albums were Sinatra Capitol releases in the 50s...
You're probably right, but I still stumble across music discussions that begin with the premise, "Since 'Sgt. Pepper' ushered in the concept album. . . ." It's unclear to me whether others would accept "songbook" albums as "concept," but they do bring a unifying something. In any case, move over Sinatra, Guthrie deserves the palm.
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