The Who - Tommy (1969)
By 1969, The Who was already a phenomenally successful chart band in Britain, but the release in May that year of their double-album, Tommy, transformed them almost overnight into artists of international renown.
Instantly acclaimed as the first ‘rock opera’, it famously tells the sometimes sordid tale of a ‘deaf, dumb and blind kid’ named Tommy, a story encapsulated in the classic hit single ‘Pinball Wizard’ – who ‘sure plays a mean pinball’: a metaphor for his overcoming appalling childhood abuse to develop a unique perception of the world unguided by the more ‘normal’ sensory information relied on by everybody else he encounters.
Critics were initially split between those who considered the album a pop-art masterpiece, and those that felt it was seedy and exploitative, including staid BBC barons who initially banned it from its play-lists, along with several conservative-minded US radio stations. The band had history on its side, however, and Tommy quickly became not only a critical highpoint for them but their biggest-selling album ever. Apart from its novel thematic approach, including a 10-minute ‘Underture’ and connecting tracks like ‘Fiddle About’ (featuring Keith Moon on leering vocals), Tommy also boasted several cornerstone Who moments, most memorably the towering ‘See Me, Feel Me / Listening To You’ segment and the anthemic ‘I’m Free’, both of which became worldwide hits for them when later released as singles.
In time, Tommy would also become a film, directed by Ken Russell and starring Roger Daltrey in the title role; a real-life stage production on Broadway; even a classical recording featuring an array of superstar guests like Rod Stewart (who sang the orchestral version of ‘Pinball Wizard’). Although the songs on the original album now sound somewhat rooted in a ’60s musical sensibility, its story has become a modern parable. The album’s place at the forefront of the Who’s musical canon remains unquestioned.
Overture / It's a Boy / 1921 / Amazing Journey / Sparks / The Hawker / Christmas / Cousin Kevin / The Acid Queen / Underture / Do You Think It's Alright? / Fiddle About / Pinball Wizard / There's a Doctor / Go to the Mirror! / Tommy, Can You Hear Me? / Smash the Mirror / Sensation / Miracle Cure / Sally Simpson / I'm Free Welcome / Tommy's Holiday Camp / We're Not Gonna Take It
- The album took around eight months to record because the band were often forced to re-record tracks as the story evolved and the sound of the record changed.
- It has sold more than 20m copies worldwide
- The album was banned by the BBC upon its release
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