Friday, March 29, 2019

More U.K. Tracks On U.S. Labels: The sad tale of Grocery Jack

KEITH WEST-Excerpt From "A Teenage Opera" (Grocer Jack)/THE MARK WIRTZ ORCHESTRA-Theme From A Teenage Opera  US New Voice 825 1967

Imagine this, you've been fronting an underground four piece psychedelic band for a few years and you've made records with them and in their previous mod/r&b incarnations to no avail and then your producer convinces you to sing on an orchestrated pop tune that becomes a fluke hit rising to #3.  Such was the dilemma of the front man for the British psych act Tomorrow (formerly The In Crowd), Keith West when producer/arranger Mark Wirtz (described by West in an interview as "the German Tony Hatch") convinced him to sing on a studio project he was working on called "A Teenage Opera". The track's unexpected success ultimately drove a schism through Tomorrow who's underground cred no doubt suffered from being associated with such a poppy tune.

That said "Excerpt From A Teenage Opera (Grocer Jack)" was first issued in the UK as Parlophone R 5623 in July 1967 (minus the "Grocer Jack" bit in it's title). It was not issued in the US until October, where unlike the UK and Europe, it failed to chart (the 45 was issued in 12 countries outside the UK!). For those not familiar with the track it concerns the plight of an elderly shop owner named Grocer Jack ("count the days into years, this 82 brings many fears...") who fails to turn up one morning to open up for business. The town's mother's send their children to his house to harangue him not realizing that poor Jack has keeled over and died! The entire town turns out to mourn him, wracked with guilt for working him so hard.  The number perfectly encapsulates the 60's genre of "toy town psych" to a "T" and no doubt influenced the Hollies "Charlie And Fred" and Kaleidoscope's "Mr Small The Watch Repair Man". It was orchestrated by Mark Wirtz with strings, horns and mandolin with a chorus singing backing vocals behind Keith West's lead vocals and a group of small children (from the Corona Action School) are utilized in the chorus ("Grocer Jack, Grocer is it true what mommy said you won't come back...").

Wirtz and West

The flip side, "Theme From A Teenage Opera" by The Mark Wirtz Orchestral is a muzaky piece led by some twangy guitar (care of Tomorrow's lead guitarist and future Yes man Steve Howe) against a wall of strings, horns and mandolin.  Nothing earth shattering that you'd want to play more than once, but not horrible enough to lift the tone arm to terminate it.

Wirtz used West on a follow up single "Sam" (Parlophone R 5651 November 1967) but it's lack of major chart success caused the Teenage Opera to be effectively sunk.

Both tracks have been issued in a host of places, most notably on the RPM CD collection "The Fantastic Story Of Mark Wirtz And The Teenage Opera". Interestingly enough West and Wirtz collaborated last year in the production of "A Teenage Opera " play that was staged last year in England.

Listen to ""Excerpt From A Teenage Opera" :

Hear "Theme From A Teenage Opera":

No comments: