History of the song: From a teenage opera by Keith West
LLike Paul McCartney and “Yesterday”, Mark Wirtz had a dream. In 1967, Wirtz was a producer in EMI studios at Abbey Road: “I saw this door-to-door grocer who was taken for granted by the village and taunted by the children,” he said. declared, explaining his vision. But after Jack the grocer died, the townspeople and the village children were heartbroken. It wasn’t an obvious topic for a hit single, but in 1967 pop was bringing together brilliant ideas from all sides. Wirtz wanted to tell his dream story using rock music: “Not just a rock record – a rock opera. A recorded film. Large screen, Technicolor. Special effects. With a cast of hundreds.
Wirtz worked on the soundtrack with fellow Abbey Road producer Geoff Emerick between legitimate EMI sessions, burying the extra expense in his studio budget. The pair layered on brass and strings and a Clavioline pattern for the introduction. Keith West, the lead singer of the psychedelic group Tomorrow, has been asked to prepare a “libretto”. Wirtz decided that a children’s choir would add a sadly nostalgic touch and move to the Corona Drama School in London, footing the bill himself. The hook sold the record.
Then Wirtz remembered American producer Kim Fowley. “One of Kim’s many peculiarities was his habit of prefacing virtually every name with the adjective ‘adolescent’,” he said. Wirtz had found the title of his opus. He went public in April 1967, playing “From a Teenage Opera (Grocer Jack)” to EMI Product Manager Roy Featherstone; and encountered a bewildered silence. “Featherstone finally gasped, ‘Have you gone mad? Think someone’s going to buy a rock record with kids on it? Wirtz recalls. They did, enough to make it one of the most original hits of the decade. But the public quickly grew tired of waiting for the work in its own right. After two other tasters failed to rank, EMI unplugged what would have been the world’s first rock opera.