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Rock opera
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Rock opera

A rock opera or rock musical is a musical piece in the form of an opera or a musical in a modern rock and roll style rather than more traditional forms. It differs from conventional rock and roll music, which is often a song that is unlinked in plot or story with other songs, but overlaps considerably with concept album or rock musical. More recent developments include metal opera and rap opera.

Which of these categories a particular work falls into is largely defined by the intent and self-definition of the work by its creator. The formal distinction may be that the rock opera tells a coherent (if sometimes sketchy) story, often with first-person lyrics sung by characters, while a concept album sets a mood or maintains a theme, but some albums share aspects of both of these cases. The rock musical is generally first performed as a theatrical production rather than appearing as an album, has little or no identification with a particular band and a generally stronger air of show business. The categories are flexible, to say the least.

Pete Townshend of The Who is considered the inventor of the term. In 1966, he played a comedy tape to his friends called "Gratis Amatis." One of his friends made the comment that the odd song was "rock opera." Kit Lambert, the Who's producer, is than believed to have said "Now there's an idea!"

Pete Townshend, both with and without his band The Who, is arguably the single artist most associated with the term "rock opera". The earliest example of the form was seen in the track "A Quick One While He's Away" from The Who's second album, A Quick One (Happy Jack) (1966), a nine-minute suite of song snippets telling an operatic story. In 1968 The Pretty Things released S.F. Sorrow, thought to be the first attempt at a single thematic concept expressed over an album's worth of songs. Less than a year later The Who returned with Tommy, the first album explicitly billed as a rock opera. Tommy remains the most famous rock opera, with concert, film and theatrical productions mounted over the course of three decades. The Who would later release Quadrophenia, also made into a film.

Examples of notable rock operas include:

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