The Soundtrack of My Life: Rock Operas

While I have never been a fan of opera, I have always been drawn to the genre of “rock operas”. I’ve always had a love for the theater, and storytelling fascinates me. Combining the two with amazing, compelling music I suppose would be a natural draw for me. That having been said, it’s still a field rich in opportunity, that can be explored in a diverse number of ways. For every story that could possibly be told, there’s the opportunity to put it to music, and rock remains a viable format for most all of them. Here are some of my favorites.

Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell and Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell: While technically two separate albums (and technically not a rock opera), this feels like one complete work to me, and certainly Meatloaf brings an operatic feel to everything he does. The writing and composition by Jim Steinman only adds to this, with every song being a story in and of itself, and each album feels as if it is telling a complete tale when taken as a whole. When listening to the two together, it is like listening to the story of a life, and more than that, it is a moving and compelling life, which is what a great opera should be. While at times it can seem over the top, that is only when taken in comparison to other pop music. When compared to opera, it finds its comfort zone, and there is something there almost anyone can relate to. In addition to classic hits like “Bat Out of Hell”, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”, and “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That”, there are poignant and moving songs including “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, “Heaven Can Wait”, and “Objects In the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”, as well as playful takes on rock stereotypes like “Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)”. Not to be missed is the indescribably bizarre monologue “Wasted Youth” on Bat Out of Hell II.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime: The first true opera on the list is possibly also the most bizarre and definitely the most disturbing. The story of a heroin addict turned hitman, it follows a strange Manchurian Candidate-esque tale of drugs, violence, sex and corruption to a shocking and inevitable conclusion that is hinted at in the beginning after winding through its circular path. One of the more brilliantly plotted stories I’ve ever enjoyed, this one’s not for the faint of heart. While it does include a few spoken interludes, they serve only to set up each new song, and the story drives forward with the same frenetic and driving pace as the music. For those not familiar with Queensryche’s music, it is hard rock/metal, and this is one of their heavier albums, both musically and lyrically. In addition to the title track, some of the standout tracks are “Spreading the Disease”, “The Needle Lies”, “Breaking the Silence”, “I Don’t Believe in Love”, “Eyes of a Stranger”, and my personal favorite, the particularly moving “Electric Requiem”.

Pink Floyd – The Wall: While we’re on the subject of bizarre and disturbing rock operas (and that does seem to be the trend), let’s not forget one of the all time greats. While I can easily recommend almost any Pink Floyd album, this one holds a special place in my heart. The first Pink Floyd album I ever heard was A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and when some friends of mine found out that was my first exposure to Floyd, they immediately felt the need to rectify the situation. Why they chose this over Dark Side or Wish You Were Here I’m not entirely sure; it may say more about who I was at the time than anything else. Regardless, it was and remains one of my favorite albums. The tragic tale of a disturbed young musician (and semi-autobiographical, being modeled after Roger Waters), the album follows the artist’s descent into isolation and madness. Well-known for such hits as “Another Brick in the Wall”, “Young Lust” and “Comfortably Numb”, other tracks I would strongly recommend are “Mother”, “Goodbye Blue Sky”, “Vera”, “The Show Must Go On”, and “Run Like Hell”.

Pete Townshend – Psychoderelict: Yeah… I really have no idea how to describe this one. For starters, it’s Pete Townshend. Of The Who. If that’s not enough to peak your interest, it’s not exactly an opera (so no matter how you felt about Tommy, this one will be different), it’s more of a radio show, but there’s enough music that I don’t feel right calling it anything else. It’s… well, it’s just weird. The story is about an old rocker who’s not famous anymore, and his manager gets a reporter to jump-start his career through some shenanigans. There’s some implications of long-distance underage romance, although no outright impropriety on the album, and there are a few scenes that get racy (although nothing that would be completely out of place in Fifty Shades of Grey). I can’t even pick out notable tracks, other than maybe “English Boy” and “Flame”; this one is more about the complete experience than anything else. It’s a worthy experience, though. Grab a beer, settle back, and just let yourself indulge.

Related Posts:

The Soundtrack of My Life: An Ongoing Series

The Soundtrack of My Life: My Very Own Lilith Fair

The Soundtrack of My Life: Dharma Days


4 Comments on “The Soundtrack of My Life: Rock Operas”

  1. barnaby says:

    I would say that psychoderelict is more of a rock opera vs radio show than say Shooter Jennings and the hierophants: Black Ribbons (amazing album btw imagine pink Floyd doing a drug deal with SNOG in a back alley, yup it is that dirty). Since only two of these you actually consider rock operas, would it be better to consider these all concept albums?

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      It’s kind of a half-and-half. “Bat Out of Hell” was originally meant to be an opera based on Peter Pan (or so I’ve read), and I personally feel that Psychoderelict is more opera than radio drama, considering the overwhelming place that music has in driving the story (and I believe it was originally envisioned as a rock opera), but technically the format is more radio drama. Still, this is the ultimate problem with trying to categorize music: is it one thing or the other? I could also have included “Days of Future Passed” by The Moody Blues, but that definitely would have pushed it more in the direction of concept album set rather than rock opera.

  2. […] Floyd – A Momentary Lapse of Reason: As I mentioned previously, this album was my first exposure to Pink Floyd, and as such it will always hold a special place in […]

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