One of the strangest hits of the late 1960s was Excerpt From A Teenage Opera, which reached Number 2 in the charts in 1967. If only because it was a hit that was never meant to publicly involve its main artist, namely singer/lyricist Keith West.
Born Keith Alan Hopkins, he was lead vocalist for Tomorrow (where Steve Howe was on guitar) when he got involved with this project.
“I knew Mark Wirtz, the man who came up with the idea for …Teenage Opera [an ambitious, conceptual rock opera that inspired prog concepts to come]," West explains. "He invited me round to his place one day and played me a lot of the music he was working on. What he needed was for someone to put lyrics to the songs – that just wasn’t his thing.”
So West set about the task. And the first song he finished was Excerpt From A Teenage Opera – also known by its lyric as ‘Grocer Jack’.
“Mark had given me the title of the song, and at the time having eccentric characters at the centre of songs was all the rage. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that we were in an era when everyone was dropping acid.”
Having written the song, West then agreed to do guide vocals on a demo, the idea being that a bigger name would be brought in to do a proper job before it was released as a single. But that never happened.
“The label, EMI, liked what I’d done. And as they already had me under contract through Tomorrow, they thought it would be a good thing for me to sing on this. I agreed – it would never amount to much, and certainly wouldn’t interfere with the band. How wrong I was!”
West was on tour with Tomorrow when the label ordered him back home to promote the single, which was starting sell in major quantities.
“It just took on a life of its own. And in Germany it was even bigger than in the UK, it made it to the top of the charts. Everywhere I went I was mobbed by girls – I could have gotten used to that lifestyle.”
In the end, this was to prove a one-off hit for West, still involved in music today, but he has no regrets.
“It was a good song, and I loved the experience.”