“Tommy” by The Who - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1969Album Chart of the Decade: 1960s1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die external-link.png

TJR says

A rock opera you say? Groan. Thankfully, there were no shrill pantomime dames to deal with, so I console myself with the thought that it could have been worse. This was Pete Townshend's baby, inspired by the teachings of Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master who did not talk and communicated he was the Avatar, God in human form. Biographer John Atkins outlined the plot splendidly:

British Army Captain Walker goes missing during an expedition and is believed dead (“Overture”). His widow, Mrs. Walker, gives birth to their son, Tommy (“It's A Boy”). Years later, Captain Walker returns home and discovers that his wife has found a new lover. The Captain murders this man in an altercation. Tommy's mother brainwashes him into believing he didn't see or hear anything, shutting down his senses and making him deaf, dumb and blind to the outside world (“1921”). Tommy now relies on his sense of touch and imagination, developing a fascinating inner psyche (“Amazing Journey” / “Sparks”).

A quack claims his wife can cure Tommy (“Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)”), while Tommy's parents are increasingly frustrated that he will never find religion in the midst of his isolation (“Christmas”). They begin to neglect him, leaving him to be tortured by his sadistic “Cousin Kevin” and molested by his uncle Ernie (“Fiddle About”). The Hawker's drug addicted wife, “The Acid Queen”, gives Tommy a dose of LSD, causing a hallucinogenic experience that is expressed musically (“Underture”).

As Tommy grows older, he discovers that he can feel vibrations sufficiently well to become an expert pinball player (“Pinball Wizard”). His parents take him to a respected doctor (“There's A Doctor”), who determines that the boy's disabilities are psychosomatic rather than physical. Tommy is told by the Doctor to “Go To The Mirror!”, and his parents notice he can stare at his reflection. After seeing Tommy spend extended periods staring at a mirror in the house, his mother smashes it out of frustration (“Smash The Mirror”). This removes Tommy's mental block, and he recovers his senses, realising he can become a powerful leader (“Sensation”). He starts a religious movement (“I'm Free”), which generates fervor among its adherents (“Sally Simpson”) and expands into a holiday camp (“Welcome” / “Tommy's Holiday Camp”). However, Tommy's followers ultimately reject his teachings and leave the camp (“We're Not Gonna Take It”). Tommy retreats inward again (“See Me Feel Me Listening To You”) with his “continuing statement of wonder at that which encompasses him”.

Pete Townshend was largely pleased with the end results:

Keith’s playing has never been better, John’s playing has never been better, Roger’s singing has never been better – my bit, the art bit, was where the problems lay. It was great to do it. I thought I was going to have to make concessions, but not once did I have to. I mean, ideas were made much more powerful than they were originally. Although the sound itself has limitations, it has flexibility and malleability… four musicians totally involved with one another’s limitations, lives and emotions… I mean, what other three musicians would have put up with all my bullshit in order to get this album out? It’s my whole trip, coming from Baba, and they just sat there, let it come out, and then leapt upon it and gave it an extra boot. It’s an incredible group to write for, because you know it’s going to work out right.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [05:20] 6.9.png The Who - Overture (Pete Townshend) Cerebral Pop
A2 [00:38] 5.0.png The Who - It’s A Boy (Pete Townshend) Cerebral Pop
A3 [02:49] 5.2.png The Who - 1921 (Pete Townshend) Soft Rock / A.O.R.
A4 [05:04] 5.1.png The Who - Amazing Journey (Pete Townshend) Prog
A5 [02:05] 5.2.png The Who - Sparks (Pete Townshend) Prog
A6 [02:14] 5.8.png The Who - Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker) (Alex Miller) Rock
B1 [04:32] 6.4.png The Who - Christmas (Pete Townshend) Prog
B2 [04:06] 5.1.png The Who - Cousin Kevin (John Entwistle) Cerebral Pop
B3 [03:34] 5.5.png The Who - Acid Queen (Pete Townshend) Rock
B4 [10:04] 5.1.png The Who - Underture (Pete Townshend) Cerebral Pop
C1 [00:24] 5.0.png The Who - Do You Think It’s Alright? (Pete Townshend) Pop
C2 [01:31] 4.7.png The Who - Fiddle About (John Entwistle) Pop
C3 [03:01] 7.1.png The Who - Pinball Wizard (Pete Townshend) Rock
C4 [00:23] 4.6.png The Who - There’s A Doctor (Pete Townshend) Pop
C5 [03:47] 6.1.png The Who - Go To The Mirror! (Pete Townshend) Rock
C6 [01:35] 5.3.png The Who - Tommy, Can You Hear Me? (Pete Townshend) Pop
C7 [01:34] 5.0.png The Who - Smash The Mirror (Pete Townshend) Rock
C8 [02:28] 5.5.png The Who - Sensation (Pete Townshend) Cerebral Pop
D1 [00:12] 4.1.png The Who - Miracle Cure (Pete Townshend) Pop
D2 [04:10] 5.7.png The Who - Sally Simpson (Pete Townshend) Cerebral Pop
D3 [02:39] 5.7.png The Who - I’m Free (Pete Townshend) Rock
D4 [04:32] 5.5.png The Who - Welcome (Pete Townshend) Songwriter
D5 [00:23] 3.8.png The Who - Tommy’s Holiday Camp (Keith Moon) Novelty
D6 [03:28] 6.9.png The Who - We’re Not Gonna Take It (Pete Townshend) Pop
D7 [03:42] 5.0.png The Who - See Me, Feel Me / Listening To You (Pete Townshend) Soft Rock / A.O.R.

© The Jukebox Rebel 2005-2020 All Rights Reserved