Keith West – Grocer Jack (Excerpt from a Teenage Opera)
Within the never-ending, idyllic summer days of perhaps the strangest – and very much uniquely English – of all musical sub-genres, Toytown Psychedelia, ‘Grocer Jack (Excerpt from a Teenage Opera)’ surely remains its most successful export.
Taken from a proposed, yet aborted, rock opera by Mark Wirtz, ‘Grocer Jack’ is possibly the only song featuring a man suffering and dying from a heart attack to reach No. 2 in the UK charts (Madness’s ‘Cardiac Arrest’ having peaked at No. 14). Typifying a good deal of the Toytown psych pop genre, ‘Grocer Jack’ harks back to a bygone era that probably never existed. Keith West of short-lived, but long remembered, Brit-psychedelic band Tomorrow, sings the poignant tale of Jack, a forgotten relic in a world of apathy, who frets about how the unappreciative town will function if he can’t make his deliveries, even as he breathes his last.
Released in July 1967, ‘Grocer Jack’ was kept off of the No. 1 spot by Engelbert Humperdinck’s (he of the made up name and equally fictitious hair) ‘The Last Waltz’. The popularity of the song ensured it was still getting radio airplay ten to fifteen years later, by which time it would’ve been weaving its way into the consciousness of yours truly.
‘Grocer Jack’ and similar excursions by the likes of Kaleidoscope, The Idle Race, the Alan Bown Set and many, many more, offers quaint English storytelling by bands and songwriters brought up on Enid Blyton and influenced by the Trumptonshire worlds of Gordon Murray, The Magic Roundabout, and the Smallfilms productions of Oliver Postgate. Such bizarre, yet wonderfully endearing songs nowadays belong to another bygone era, the likes of which they espoused. The summer of love, an equally whimsical, semi-fictitious time, when a song about a dying green grocer in a picture postcard town could (almost) top the charts. It wouldn’t happen today. And neither would this video featuring a man sporting a jauntily-patterned jacket (Keith West) leading a group of small children off into the woods. Such is the loss of innocence.
‘Grocer Jack (Excerpt from a Teenage Opera)’ by Keith West appears on A Teenage Opera: The Original Soundtrack Recording, the collected recorded songs intended for the original 60′s project, released in 1996.
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