Inside a life-changing moment from Savatage’s 1991 triumph Streets: A Rock Opera

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Hall of the Mountain King is a bona fide metal classic, but Streets: A Rock Opera — released on released on October 4, 1991 — might be Savatage’s finest moment from a musical standpoint.

Based on a rock opera named Gutter Ballet (not to be confused with the 1989 Savatage album of the same name) that Paul O’Neill had composed in the 1970s, it told the story of a rock star who’d fallen on hard times. He turns into a drug dealer and junkie, but eventually finds a path back. A high point arrives late with Savatage’s “Believe.” The closing ballad of the story, it’s a soaring, moving and absolutely amazing moment.

“I wrote that in like 1979, and I’ve always loved that song,” O’Neill tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “It’s the end of Gutter Ballet, after this guy goes through all these unbelievable hardships. It’s about redemption. The verses are designed to find the wound in the soul, and the choruses are designed to heal it.”

Paul O’Neill later resurrected the Savatage song with a slightly different flavor as a bonus track on Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Night Castle to introduce the upcoming Gutter Ballet concept. Along the way, “Believe” came to have an even greater meaning for O’Neill, after he learned the story of how it impacted one fan.

“Jon Oliva sang the heck out of it on Streets, but I think Tim Hockenberry sang the hell out of it on Night Castle,” Paul O’Neill says. “We once got a letter from a girl in Greece who was bullied in high school and was thinking about killing herself. Some of her friends gave her that song, and she sat in her room listening to it over and over again. She talked with her parents, they got her help, she went to college and now she’s a doctor. That song made a difference. It’s amazing somehow, the difference a song can make.”

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse
Fred Phillips
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  • Matthew Rizzo

    I’m sorry, as beautiful as a story it is – you simply cannot compare the musical passion in Savatage’s Believe and TSO’s. They are not even remotely close.

    Shame on Paul for saying the TSO version is better – anyone with ears would disagree.

    I’m sure the girl would have had the same reaction to the Streets version – a much more emotional version of the song.

    • Timothy Barr

      I cannot agree more, with you

  • Ed Ajlouny

    We need to see it on Broadway!