The history of rock operas began thanks to a band that was feeling creatively restless. The Pretty Things were bored with making records in the usual way and decided to change things up as they began sessions for their fourth album.

Even though the English rock group might have been pioneers of a sort, they didn’t see it that way. The idea of building 1968’s S.F. Sorrow around a short story by the band’s Phil May was hardly revolutionary, from his point of view. “Pieces of music had been written for at least a 40-minute listen, and I thought the best way to do that was to overlay a storyline and create music for the various characters and instances,” he explained to The New York Times. “It was the oldest concept in the world, but at the time nobody had done it before."

The concept of building an album in that fashion had been sitting there for the taking, and it kicked off a wave of similarly structured releases. The Kinks offered up Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) in 1969. Ray Davies would lead the band through several epic and theatrical albums in the decade that followed. The Who also joined the fray that same year, issuing their landmark work, Tommy, which later became a film and eventually a Broadway production.

READ MORE: How the Who Changed Rock Forever With 'Tommy'

The sight of a gatefold album cover became one hint that a different kind of journey might be waiting in the grooves of the vinyl within. As the Smashing Pumpkins proved with their 2022-23 Atum opus, the rock opera remains a viable medium for long-form storytelling, even if it's not as common as it once was.

Scroll through the gallery below to see 40 of Rock's Most Important Rock Opera Albums.

40 of Rock’s Most Important Rock Opera Albums

It's more than just the Who's Tommy.

Gallery Credit: Matt Wardlaw