According to Wirtz, he had been working on an idea for a rock opera since January 1966, when he was experimenting in his London studio and produced a piece of music entitled "A Touch of Velvet – A Sting of Brass", under the name of "Mood Mosaic". Following a string of successful hits, he was asked to join EMI as an in-house record producer and he accepted, starting in January 1967. He had already seen Pink Floyd start their career and he personally recommended them to be signed but thought the task of producing them would be better left to fellow producer Norman Smith. Wirtz decided to work with another band he had enjoyed, The In Crowd, who soon changed their name to Tomorrow. According to Wirtz, he dreamed up the idea of Grocer Jack soon after being contracted to EMI and in February 1967 shared the idea with his engineer Geoff Emerick, who agreed to work on it. They decided to call it Excerpt from A Teenage Opera, to imply there was more to come and the recording was produced as part of the Mood Mosaic project. The basic concept of A Teenage Opera was a series of sketches featuring different characters who lived in a fantasy village. These stories were to be told by a young man to a young girl. Wirtz intended the final project to be animated and later compared it to the Yellow Submarine by The Beatles. Wirtz used members of Tomorrow to produce the first recording.
The first song created was the story of Grocer Jack, the local grocer who was taken for granted until he died. Wirtz took an unused backing track from an old recording of his, a song called "Love Will Always Find A Way" and Steve Howe was asked to overdub the guitar. Wirtz had the character of Jack in his imagination but asked Keith West to write the lyrics for it. After West heard the music, he wrote the lyrics straightaway. Soon after, the single was recorded at Abbey Road Studios. The engineer, Geoff Emerick, who was working with The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album at the time, recorded the song in true stereo, a rarity at the time, with all the latest technology that was available. The song itself featured the "Opera" trademark, the children's chorus, with singers from Corona Stage School.
Grocer Jack (Excerpt from A Teenage Opera) was released on 28 July 1967 and was an instant hit. It was played continuously throughout the summer, later known as the Summer of Love and was helped into its number 2 spot by being played on pirate radio stations, particularly Radio London and Radio Caroline. It was also featured on the very first broadcast of Radio 1 on 30 September 1967. It was only kept off the number 1 spot by Engelbert Humperdinck's The Last Waltz and the enormous success of Grocer Jack got the media's attention. Rumours began circulating about the rest of the project; according to one source, the entire project had been completed by September and there was talk of a musical starring Cliff Richard. Another single was produced in October, "Sam," with West on vocals and Howe on guitar again. However, it did not get above 38 in the chart. Despite Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn helping promote it and Wirtz creating a special edited airplay version, the song was a failure, as it simply did not have nearly as much publicity as Grocer Jack did and was played a lot less. The fact the pirate stations had been shut down did not help things either. Following this, West made the decision to leave the project. He found it difficult to work between two very different projects and it confused fans. Wirtz meanwhile completed (He's Our Dear Old) Weatherman, which had started out as The Paranoiac Woodcutter. It was the most complex recording so far, containing more than 100 different sounds. However, like "Sam", it received very little airplay, due to Radio 1's seeming inability to play it. Wirtz had already begun working on Tomorrow's album and recorded a remake of Hallucinations for single release. It was renamed to "Mr Rainbow". Wirtz produced this song, sung by Steve Flynn in August 1967. Wirtz took another track from the album, Shy Boy and it was re-recorded by Kippington Lodge. These two songs eventually ended up on the final album released in 1996.
Uncut asserted in April 2004 that "Sam" was a major influence on Pete Townshend's Tommy.
Wirtz created a lot of material around this time, releasing it under a series of pseudonyms. Much of the music produced in late 1967 became part of the project and was released on the 1996 album. There were two particular recordings that did not survive, "The Sad Story Of Simon And His Bugle" and "Two's Company, Three Thousand's A Crowd". The latter was a musical comedy, with the voices of Tim Rice and Samantha Jones. In January 1968 Wirtz married Ross Hannaman and subsequently recorded many songs co-written with her. The track "Barefoot and Tiptoe" was one of their collaborations and featured her voice, as well as the Band of the Irish Guards. It was released as by The Sweetshop but sales were poor. Wirtz was forced to shelve the project and concentrated on Tomorrow, whose album was released in February 1968. However, many songs were released over the years that were intended for the project, for example Dream Dream Dream, performed by Wirtz but credited as Zion De Gallier. An album released in Germany in 1968 contained what was the basis for the Theme from a Teenage Opera.
Grocer Jack was parodied in the mid 1970s on a flexi-disk (Private Eye recordings) released by the satirical magazine Private Eye. The words were changed to "Grocer Heath, Grocer Heath, cover up those awful teeth", referring to the Prime Minister, Edward Heath.
In 1996 a CD was released by Wirtz with every track recorded over the years intended for use in A Teenage Opera. Some of the songs (notably the two singles) were remixed in stereo.
The tracks are as follows:
- Theme From A Teenage Opera (stereo, and little longer than the original single)
- Festival Of Kings (stereo)
- Grocer Jack (Excerpt from a Teenage Opera) (stereo)
- The Paranoic Woodcutter #1
- Mr Rainbow
- Glory's Theme (All Aboard!)
- On A Saturday
- Possum's Dance
- Auntie Mary's Dress Shop (stereo)
- Love & Occasional Rain (stereo)
- Grocer Jack (Reprise)
- Sam (stereo)
- Farewell to A Broken Doll (stereo)
- (He's Our Dear Old) Weatherman
- Shy Boy
- Grocer Jack's Dream
- Barefoot & Tiptoe
- Knickerbocker Glory
- Dream Dream Dream
- Colonel Brown (stereo)
- Cellophane Mary Jane
- Paranoic Woodcutter #2
- Theme From A Teenage Opera (end titles) (stereo)