By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Back before there were long-form videos and CD-ROMs for overweening artiste types to wallow in, musicians used the concept album to overextend their half-baked ideas. Not content with letting a single song do its job, groups charged an entire collection of tunes with the mission of delivering a single dunderheaded message. What follows are the worst of a very, very bad lot. As we look back on these aberrations at the beginning of a brand-new year, 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: Evidently, someone believed there was an actual story linking Billy Shears, Lucy in the Sky, the Hendersons, the Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Mr. Kite. Whoever it was, he or she then convinced Robert Stigwood to bankroll the 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 Fab Four integrity, you discover the entire cast neighing "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."
Grand Finale: It became the first release to ship platinum and return double-platinum.
9. Frank Sinatra
Trilogy: Past, Present, Future (1980)
First Bad Sign: The subtitle of disc three, "Reflections on the Future in Three Tenses." But how?
Concept: A three-record set devoted to Sinatra'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-and-miss, but the "Future" -- whoooaaaa! What the Frank is this? A space operetta where the Chairman of the Board zips through the galaxy in search of a planet that will grant him a gaming license?
Worst Moment: Glancing at the lyric sheet as Frank and the chorus are 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.
Grand Finale: The kinder, gentler Sinatra that writer/producer Gordon Jenkins envisions for the future quickly becomes a thing of the past when WNEW disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz airs the effort 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 album.
8. Tommy Roe
12 in a Roe (1969)
First Bad Sign: Surely the sight of thirteen Tommy Roes on the cover should paralyze superstitious bubble-gum fans with unspeakable fright.
Concept: The predictable contents of this greatest-hits compilation are offset by a terrifying act 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!
Grand Finale: 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
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's also a combo grasshopper and safari helmet creature that looks like a real pushover, despite its cruiser missiles.
Worst Moment: "Aquatarkus," when the hideous animal/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, Tarkus concludes with "Are You Ready, Eddie," an attempt by these lofty classical-music bandits to rip off something less ancient: 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 earlier?
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.