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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

What is a concept album? Who recorded the first one?

A record in which all the songs are linked by a theme. It is an idea that is generally associated with artists like The Beatles (Sergeant Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour) and later David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust), Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) and countless others. But the real pioneer was not a 60s hipster but a star from the fuddy-duddy 1940s, Frank Sinatra

In 1954 Sinatra began working on a collection of songs inspired by his recent break-up with Ava Gardner. 'I want to make an album where all the songs link together,' he told his record company, Capitol Records. 'The theme will be lost love'.

The proposal confused Capitol executives. Until that time an LPs were simply collections of unrelated songs - usually a couple of hit 45s (singles) with covers and other hastily recorded songs making up the numbers. 'Stick to the formula,' they told him. 'Lots of upbeat stuff with a couple of ballads.'

But Sinatra was convinced his 'concept' could work, and began working with the great arranger Nelson Riddle. He then flew the entire senior staff at Capitol to a special performance of the new collection of 'heartbreak' songs, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. The skeptical executives were mesmerised - and Sinatra's judgement was further vindicated in 2003 when In the Wee Small Hours ranked 100 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

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