Monday, June 14, 2010

Mark Wirtz - Theme From A Teenage Opera (1996)


Mark Wirtz - A Teenage Opera: The Original Soundtrack Recording Theme from a Teenage Opera

The Teenage Opera - one of the legendary long lost projects of the sixties - comes to life for the first time. RPM is presenting the soundtrack for The Teenage Opera - in as near a form to the original concept as possible - as it would have been had EMI not pulled the plug back in 1968. Producer Mark Wirtz began work on The Teenage Opera story idea in 1966 when contracted to EMI, and teamed up with a group of musicians including Steve Howe and Keith West plus engineer Geoff Emerick.

The story of The Teenage Opera was to include sketches of different characters who inhabited a fantasy village, which in turn was part of a story being told by a young man to a young woman. Two singles were released as Excerpts from the Teenage Opera - "Grocer Jack "and "Sam", both here in stereo for the first time and featuring Keith West's vocals (the former also including "Theme From A Teenage Opera" on the b-side). Whilst "Grocer Jack" became a huge UK & European hit, "Sam" failed to emulate it and after EMI saw how much money the two singles had swallowed up they lost interest, patience or whatever, and refused to finance The Teenage Opera project. Undeterred, Mark Wirtz continued to use his musical ideas and a number of Teenage Opera characters and themes appeared over the years on a variety of singles by different bands or as solo releases.
It is by using these singles and tracks which Mark Wirtz has collected together that we are at last able to present for the first time, after 30 years, A Teenage Opera. There are 24 tracks - most never reissued on any format, six previously unreleased. With the full cooperation of Wirtz, the Opera is presented as a Film Soundtrack and includes incidental music linking the tracks together, taken from Wirtz's own library of original demos. These include different versions of the 'Theme', 'Grocer Jack', and 'Weatherman'. At the time, 1967, the Teenage Opera was very newsworthy with Cliff Richard being mooted to play the leading role in the film. The hype reached crazy proportions and made the daily newspapers. Today The Teenage Opera is still talked about in "whatever happened to" circles and its emergence now will be of immense interest to all lovers and collectors of 1960's music.

1 Theme from a Teenage Opera 2:33

2 Festival of Kings 2:45

3 Grocer Jack [Excerpt from a Teenage Opera] 4:40

4 The Paranoiac Woodcutter, No. 1 1:25

5 Mr. Rainbow 2:32

6 Glory's Theme (All Aboard!) 4:51

7 On a Saturday 3:11

8 Possum's Dance 2:36

9 Auntie Mary's Dress Shop 2:45

10 Love & Occasional Rain 4:44

11 Grocer Jack (Reprise) 1:08

12 Sam 5:12

13 Farewell to a Broken Doll 3:22

14 (He's Our Dear Old) Weatherman 4:01

15 Shy Boy 2:36

16 Grocer's Jack Dream 3:34

17 Barefoot & Tiptoe 2:44

18 Kinckerbocker Glory 2:23

19 Dream, Dream, Dream 2:14

20 Colonel Brown 2:51

21 Cellophane Mary-Jane 2:31

22 Paranoiac Woodcutter, No. 2 1:10

23 Theme from a Teenage Opera [End Titles] 2:44

"A Teenage Opera," like the Beach Boys' infinitely more celebrated Smile, was never truly completed as such; collectors have always wondered, however, if the project exists as a "lost" album of sorts. This 23-track sequence of tracks by Keith West, Tomorrow, Wirtz, Kippington Lodge, the Sweetshop, Zion de Gallier, and Steve Flynn (some previously unissued), is as close an approximation as can be delivered. The psychedelically-influenced baroque rock-cum-easy listening arrangements are interesting, but really this is too twee and precious to qualify as anything like a lost masterpiece. Nor is it much of an orchestral pop suite; it's more a grouping of songs with a similar sunny fairyland vibe, sounding like an in-progress version of a children's rock record. You're far better off hearing "Teenage Opera," "Sam," and the Tomorrow cuts — which are the gutsiest and most durable selections here by a wide margin — on RPM's The Complete Keith West compilation, or the original (and only) Tomorrow album.

Mark Wirtz

"Easy listening" isn't really an appropriate classification for Mark Wirtz; "instrumental pop" may suit him better. An EMI staff producer in the late '60s, Wirtz's most enduring contributions to contemporary music were as producer of Tomorrow, one of the finest overlooked British psychedelic groups (featuring guitarist Steve Howe in his pre-Yes days). (It's also been reported that Wirtz turned down a chance to work with Pink Floyd in the Syd Barrett days.) Wirtz also made some "mood music" albums on his own, the most ambitious of which was a "Teenage Opera" song cycle of sorts that he began working on in 1967. Tomorrow lead singer Keith West was enlisted as lyricist, and one piece developed into West's 1967 "Excerpt from a Teenage Opera" single. A grandiose, multi-part orchestrated narrative, it became an unexpectedly huge (number two) hit in Britain in the summer of 1967.

This led to reports that an entire "Teenage Opera" was in the works, and indeed West did record a marginally successful follow-up ("Sam") in the same vein. The entire opera, however, never appeared, partly because West wasn't entirely keen on the project, and was far more eager to continue playing underground psychedelic rock with Tomorrow (which would break up in 1968 anyway) than to sing far more pop-oriented material as a solo act. Wirtz continued to work as a producer and issue more rock-influenced easy listening albums; dribs and drabs of songs that may have been earmarked for the "Teenage Opera" project would appear under the names of both himself and non-entities like Sweetshop and Zion de Gallier. While the "Teenage Opera" and "Sam" singles sound as much like kiddie rock as grand concepts in the making, it's possible that their suite-like construction influenced the Who's Tommy and the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow, both of which are usually referred to as the first full-blown rock concept albums that followed a storyline. In 1996, a mock-up of what the "Teenage Opera" album may have sounded like was built from tracks by Wirtz, West, Tomorrow, and others, and issued on the RPM label.
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