Geopolitical angst over technocracy, Orwellianism, dehumanization and Death Stars gave rise to the science-fiction concept album in the late '60s. Before that era concept albums were about real estate transactions. The first sci-fi concept album is a matter of much debate among music historians, but carbon-dating most frequently cites two possibilities for the distinction: Bob Dylan's Area 51 Revisited and Frank Sinatra's Songs For Swingin' Lasers. Master tapes of both albums were seized by customs officials and never released.
The first science-fiction concept album to receive popular acclaim was David Bowie's historic The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders From Mars, the focus of which was an extraterrestrial, somewhat clumsy Messianic rock star, thought to be modeled after Sonny Bono (whose plagiarism suit against Bowie was dismissed as a sketch for his TV comedy show). Ziggy Stardust capitalized on the Western World's fascination with Mars, often perceived as an alternately threatening and paradisiacal world that produced chocolate almond bars and insoles. Bowie's character arrives on Earth with intents of goodwill and refilling Earth's natural resources, but is eventually destroyed by success and a spinal dislocation administered by a woman with ripened thighs.
Further musings in the sci-fi concept album tradition were drawn directly from the popularity of digital alarm clocks, as seen below. Although the alarm clocks were not digital in the scientific sense, their hard plastic shell casings and rounded edges appealed to many rock librettists and audio engineers. The digital alarm clock was the muse for such varied works as the Alan Parsons Project's I, Robot, Kraftwerk's Autobahn (which was also about windshield repair) and The Doo Hickey's How Can This Clock Be Flashing 12:00 When It Doesn't Even Have Any Lights In It?
In the 1980s, Chicago band Styx released the quintessential sci-fi concept album, Kilroy Was Here, about a traveling Bible salesman who unwittingly stumbles into a Japanese shop that sells auto-erotic equipment. In a freak attempt to recreate the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah with his recently purchased technology, Kilroy accidentally destroys Nagasaki, the citizens of which are not amused with the repeated attention.
Science-fiction concept albums fell out of favor in 2000 when robots actually did seize control of the free world.
|Fig 1.: Faux digital alarm clock. (Courtesy of The Alan Parsons Project Archival Project.)|