By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
Back before long-form videos and CD-ROMs existed, musicians used the concept album to overextend their half-baked ideas. Not content with letting one song do its job, groups charged an entire collection with the mission of delivering a single dunderheaded message. What follows are the worst of a very bad lot. As we count down these aberrations on this Thanksgiving Day, let us be grateful that the concept-album trend seems to be a thing of the past--at least for now.
10. The Bee Gees/Peter Frampton
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Original Soundtrack (1978)
First Bad Sign: Seeing George Burns credited on any record sleeve for his singing contribution should be warning enough.
Concept: People still blame the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper for spawning the concept album, despite the fact that there's no unifying theme beyond the title track and its reprise. Evidently, somebody thought there was a story linking Billy Shears, Lucy in the Sky, the Hendersons, the Lonely Hearts Club Band and Mr. Kite and talked Robert Stigwood into bankrolling this stinky idea into a major motion sickness starring Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees and Steve Martin. And you thought Charles Manson was the only Beatles fan with an active imagination.
Worst Moment: When, knowing Beatles producer George Martin was enlisted to maintain some kinda Fab integrity, you discover the entire cast neighing "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."
Grand Finale: Only single-engine airplane crashes could claim more rock-career deaths than this disaster movie. And because of numerous counterfeit copies of the soundtrack, it became the first album to ship platinum and return double-platinum.
9. Frank Sinatra
Trilogy: Past, Present, Future (1980)
First Bad Sign: The subtitle of platter three, "Reflections on the Future in Three Tenses." But how?
Concept: A three-record set devoted to Frank's love of music past, present and future. The Past disc (old standards) is a pleasure, the Present disc (songs by writers of the rock era) is hit or miss, but the Future--whoooaaaa! What the Frank is this? A space operetta where the Chairman of the Board zips through the galaxy looking for a planet that doesn't know about his Mob ties and will grant him a gaming license?
Worst Moment: Glancing at the lyric sheet and seeing Frank and the chorus about to sing, "Uranus Is Heaven! Heaven! Heaven!" The Hoboken crooner quickly averts disaster by using the queen's pronunciation of the seventh planet (your-ann-us). Whew--that was a close one.
Grand Finale: The kinder, gentler Frank that writer/producer Gordon Jenkins envisions for the future quickly becomes a thing of the past when WNEW deejay Jonathan Schwartz airs the album before its release date and dismisses it as "narcissistic" and "a shocking embarrassment in poor taste." A peeved Francis Albert calls the station's owner and gets Schwartz suspended for six weeks. Too bad their exchange isn't on the record.
8. Tommy Roe
12 in a Roe (1969)
First Bad Sign: Surely, the sight of thirteen Tommy Roes on the cover should paralyze superstitious bubblegum fans with unspeakable fright.
Concept: The predictable contents of this greatest-hits compilation is offset by a terrifying concept never before and never again attempted in the annals of rock: Roe allows himself to be interviewed in between every song by a Gary Owens impersonator. You've never known true dread until you hear Roe reveal the demonic inspiration behind "Sweet Pea."
Worst Moment: Roe's sinister tirade on "Party Girl," during which he sneers, "Dance your last dance/Have yourself a time/After the party's over/I'm gonna marry you/Instead of learning the bossa nova/You'll be learning how to cook." For God's sake, don't do it, Party Girl.
Interviewer: "Put it all together, and that's a whole bunch of success."
Roe: "I guess the best way to express my feelings about it is to borrow a phrase my dad used to use when everything was groovy. I even wrote a song about it."
That song, friends, is the vaginally retentive yet damned cheerful "Jam Up and Jelly Tight."
7. Emerson, Lake and
Palmer Tarkus (1971)
First Bad Sign: The inside cover art spells out the gobbledygook story in eleven panels. Stylistically, it's a bad mix between Destroy All Monsters and the stations of the cross.
Concept: Rejected Transformer toy prototypes ravage the Earth to the sound of ripped-off Bach riffs played in weird time signatures. Tarkus, (half armadillo, half Sherman tank) battles Manticore (half lion, half scorpion with a human's head) and a combination pterodactyl/bomber plane. There is also a combo grasshopper and safari helmet that looks like a real pushover, even with the cruiser missiles.
Worst Moment: "Aquatarkus," when the hideous creature/artillery takes to the water and Keith Emerson gets to unload all his farting-in-the-bathtub Moog sounds.
Grand Finale: In an unrelated story, the album concludes with "Are You Ready, Eddie," an attempt by these lofty classical-music bandits to rip off something more current: Little Richard's "Ready Teddy." For two minutes and eight seconds, Greg Lake quizzes engineer Eddie Offord on whether he is indeed ready to shut down his sixteen-track recorder. Why couldn't he have done that 38 minutes and 56 seconds ago?
Music From the Elder (1981)
First Bad Sign: Q: Why is KISS afraid to show its fully made-up faces on an album cover for the first time? A: This ain't rock and roll--this is Genesis.