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Top 10 Rock Operas
Wikipedia classifies a rock opera as “a rock music album or stage production that intends to evoke the sense of music drama commonly associated with opera.” This is a list of the ten greatest rock operas; all are well worth listening to if you are not familiar with them.
10 Jesus Christ Superstar
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice introduced this rock opera in 1970. It follows the life of Christ (based on the canonical gospels) from his arrival in Jerusalem to his death by crucifixion. The opera focuses a lot of attention on Judas and his relationship with Christ. Due to it being primarily based around Christ as a man and not God, Jesus Christ Superstar offended many fundamental Christian groups. Originally released as an album, the opera moved to film and Broadway, where it has had great success.
Operation: Mindcrime excellently treads on political themes, mainly attacking the Reagan era and shedding light on the corruption of many contemporary leaders. This is regularly thought of as Queensryche’s breakthrough album; they decided to cut loose from the mindless lyrics of their previous work and start making more meaningful songs. The story detailed in the album follows a man disheartened with current culture and, in retort, joins an organization planning to assassinate fraudulent leaders. The band tossed in a common love story to counterbalance the dark aspects which wasn’t well-received by fans. The album also features a large orchestra to further embellish the story, led by Hollywood composer Michael Kamen.
When Green Day released its first album in 1994, their ideas were scattershot, more informed by feeling than sociopolitical thought. But 10 years later, the band found their political voice and released their manifesto: American Idiot. Billed as a “rock opera,” the album was a sophisticated, horrifying portrait of America in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the conservative Bush presidency, and rapidly disappearing opportunities for those living close to America’s poverty line. American Idiot was a smash, selling 15 million records – and in 2010, a stage adaptation landed on Broadway. The album’s driving rock structure was coupled with songs from Green Day’s next album, 21st Century Breakdown, and caressed into soaring, edgy vocal arrangements and new orchestrations by the band and composer Tom Kitt.
One of the first concept albums, S.F. Sorrow, was based on a story written by singer/guitarist Phil May. The album tells about the life of Sebastian F. Sorrow, his birth, his involvement in World War I, and his disillusionment with old age. The music on the album is simply amazing, from the psychedelic intonations of “S.F. Sorrow Is Born” to the piano-driven emotion of “Trust.” The album is still considered hugely significant to this day and is acknowledged as the inspiration behind Pete Townshend’s writing of Tommy.
6The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spider From Mars
This album is about a Martian, Ziggy Stardust, who comes to Earth to free all humans from their dullness and predictability. Ziggy is the idealistic rock star: wild and promiscuous but still bearing the message of peace and love. His own irresponsibility, his excessive intake of drugs, and his overindulgence of sex destroy him. In many previous albums, David Bowie was drawn to sci-fi themes, but it was in this one where he would go all-out, often dressing up as Ziggy during the tour.
Released in 1969, all of the songs on Tommy were composed by Pete Townshend, with some contributions by John Entwistle. It follows Tommy Walker, blind, deaf, and mute from a young age. He is discovered to have a fantastic talent for pinball and soon becomes an international icon. This lead to Tommy gaining a guru-like status and opening a cult, but soon, things turn for the worse as his followers revolt against him. A film based on the opera was released in 1975, receiving lukewarm reviews. Interestingly, Ann-Margret, who played Tommy’s mother, got an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
4Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Arthur followed a rough period for The Kinks, with the commercial letdown of the highly praised The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. The story is based on songwriter Ray Davies’ brother-in-law Arthur, who emigrated from England to Australia. Arthur is a carpet-layer and is concerned about the lack of opportunities in post-war England. The songs mainly encompass Arthur’s views on war, the England he once knew, and the emptiness of his shallow yet happy life in Australia. Arthur was somewhat a commercial success and is now considered as a turn-around from The Kinks’ failures before it.
3The Lamb Dies Down on Broadway
The last Genesis album to feature their extraordinary flute-playing frontman Peter Gabriel, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, is an astonishing album utilizing abstract storytelling and recurring themes of Greek folklore. The album weaves a surreal storyline involving a juvenile delinquent being swept underground to face strange creatures and frightening dangers in a quest to rescue his brother John. Lamb showcases Genesis’s peak; the lyrics and music are extremely intricate and beautiful. It is their most notable and best-selling release to date, and yet the sound does not bear any similarities to any other Genesis albums.
Nothing needs to be said about The Wall. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time and is psychotically brilliant, both lyrically and musically. Even though it is billed to Pink Floyd, this is basically a psychological journey through Roger Waters’s mind, telling of the trials and tribulations of being a beloved musical icon. Centered on the main character, Pink, The Wall is a dark, intricate haze of pain, misery, and obsession. This epic spawned a cinematic equivalent that is easily as captivating and amazing as the album. The Wall helped end the 70s era of rock and was a crucial part of the progressive rock movement. Its elaborate guitar work, melancholy lyrics, and depressing ambiance have greatly influenced hundreds of artists.
While many people would choose Tommy as The Who’s greatest work, Quadrophenia is a more realized and beautiful album. Recorded at the height of Pete Townshend’s songwriting, Quadrophenia features intricate and obscure music, which is much more developed than any other The Who album. By the time they released this double album in 1973, Townshend was already a well-known rock opera god. While Tommy was an ambitious vision of fantasy, Quadrophenia examined the band’s mod roots and British adolescent society of their early years. An unquestionable classic featuring a plethora of utterly amazing songs, Quadrophenia is a must-hear for any The Who fan or any music fan in general.