Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about.
Released in late November 1979, progressive rock pioneer Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio LP, The Wall, was a creative triumph. In a nutshell, it’s a semi-autobiographical rock opera — mostly conceived and written by bassist/vocalist Roger Waters — about an insecure and reclusive musician whose childhood traumas and rock star excesses force him into complete psychological and physical isolation.
True, its largest themes and inspirations (loneliness, insanity, mortality, war, fatherlessness, classism, totalitarianism, and, of course, the tragic departure of founding frontman Syd Barrett) were previously investigated on classics like The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals; however, The Wall saw the quartet tackle it all at once within their sole narrative sequence (that is, unless you count its follow-up, 1983’s The Final Cut, as a pseudo sequel).
Commercially and culturally, The Wall — their last album to feature founding keyboardist Richard Wright as an official member until 1994’s The Division Bell — fared just as well. For one thing, it sold millions of copies within its first couple of months and earned the No. 1 spot on roughly a dozen international charts upon release (including 15 weeks at the top of the US Billboard 200).
Beyond that, its corresponding tour took Pink Floyd’s legendarily elaborate stage shows to new heights, with ambitious gimmicks like inflatable characters, animated projections, and the construction of a 40-foot wall around the band making it a truly immersive multimedia experience. Obviously, 1982’s faithful yet flamboyantly batshit film adaption — directed by Alan Parker and starring Bob Geldof as Pink — deserves its cult following, and in subsequent years, The Wall has appeared on countless “Greatest Albums of All Time” lists.
Although it’s perhaps the most widely known progressive rock concept album of all time, it’s far from the only one. After all, the genre formally began a full decade prior, and it’s always been simultaneously beloved and berated for its virtuosic musicianship, prolonged compositional lengths, and over-the-top ideas. In fact, the majority of progressive rock LPs contain at least some sort of multipart suite (usually as the album closer) or sustained conceptual niche across several tracks.
Naturally, this led many of the style’s most important creators to try their hand at a singular story at one point or another. Often mixing colorful absurdity, deeply personal universality, and biting social commentary, progressive rock concept albums represent the pinnacle of artistic expression in popular music.
It’s in celebration of The Wall’s recent 40th anniversary — as well as the form in general — that we compiled this list of 10 prog-rock concept albums every music fan should know about. A mixture of commonly known classics, relatively new gems, and moderately under-the-radar must-haves, the following picks are definitely not the only essentials (so feel free to share your own favorites below); but, they undoubtedly signify precisely what makes progressive rock so special.