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.”
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