While almost everyone agrees that the Beatles set the bar for the concept album, many would argue about possible precursors, rivals, and imitators. Two releases frame the Beatles’ two most important albums: the Byrds’ Fifth Dimension appeared on July 18, 1966, just weeks before the release of Revolver on August 5 and 8 (the British and US releases, respectively); while Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing at Baxter’s was released in late November 1967, nearly six months after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band appeared on June 1 and 2.
Fifth Dimension and After Bathing at Baxter’s each provides its own interpretation of how thirty to forty minutes of music, articulated by a break halfway through between the end of side one and the beginning of side two, should proceed. The Byrds create an artful succession of songs familiar from single releases and new material, generating a multitude of stylistic cross-references and binding the album together despite the variety of styles it embraces, including Dylanesque psychedelia, Coltrane-inspired jazz, and items from the traditional folk repertory. The Airplane, on the other hand, attempt to string groups of two or three songs together into “suites,” as the band terms them on the jacket, with greater or lesser success. But the overall structure of the album depends on the strength of the material with which each side begins and ends. Both Fifth Dimension and Baxter’s contribute their own perspectives on how the album could become a well-integrated, thoughtful, and creative collection of material.