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Mark Wirtz

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"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. ~ Richie Unterberger

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1943 in Cologne, Germany

Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s