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The Who - Tommy CD (album) cover


The Who



3.98 | 554 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars One of a kind.

The magnum opus for The Who is perhaps the best thing that they have done; a genuine rock opera that the band were able to perform live on many occasions. It became a movie which is my first taste of the music and I owned the soundtrack on double vinyl. However the soundtrack was very different and I was used to hearing the guest musicians singing the songs over the years such as Tina Turner's energetic 'Acid Queen' and Elton John's stunning version of 'Pinball Wizard'. So this original version of "Tommy" took some getting used to but I certainly feel this is a masterpiece album; it was ground breaking, very daring in its time and still the music stands the test of time.

The concept album was not a regular thing in 1969 but "Tommy" made sense, the story is coherent and each song adds to the drama and tension of the tale of the deaf, dumb and blind kid who is abused as a child by his lascivious Cousin Kevin who tortures Tommy like a plaything for amusement. Tommy had seen the murder of his mother's lover at the hands of his father and was ordered to forget everything he saw or heard, thus turning him into the deaf, dumb and blind kid. His parents want to cure him and try the church but the religious dogma is futile. Next they take him to the Acid Queen who introduces him to LSD but cannot cure him. Tommy lost his father wounded during World War II killed by his Uncle Ernie. Some years later Tommy discovered that Uncle Ernie had taken his father's place. Tommy is subject to more brutal abuse, of a sexual nature, by Uncle Ernie, and then he runs to the pinball parlour and his super sharp reflexes turn him to a champion player, becoming famous for it. He meets all sorts of quacks who claim to be able to cure him and becomes a celebrity. His mother knows as much as the doctor that Tommy has to smash the mirror to be cured; a mirror is where he holds all his emotions inside and he needs to release these to be free. But he is held back due to his celebrity status. He draws girls to him with this new found status and meets one special girl. Sally Simpson becomes his young lover, and she visits him on stage in one of his messianic performances but "she and Tommy were worlds apart". Sally leaves him after this event, seeing his delusional persona, and marries a rock musician she met in California. Tommy is freed from his helpless state by a miracle cure. He becomes a false messiah and many follow him expecting some kind of answer. The only thing that Tommy can offer is to begin his own Holiday Camp. Here his followers follow him like some cult figure. He gains full awareness in an epiphany of his purpose in life. He tells his followers in order to follow him they must give up all their material possessions and pleasures including smoking, drinking, or debauchery. The followers are not happy with this and Tommy adds fuel to the fire by suggesting they become like he was, deaf, dumb and blind in a sense so they can experience the trauma of this and thus find enlightenment and be free spiritually. He even goes overboard and requests they have their own pinball machine. But the crowd rebel and shout 'We're not gonna take it'. They "don't want no religion" and "never did and never will. We forsake you, gonna rape you, let's forget you better still." They attempt to crucify him in a blatant allegory of the fate of Christ, but they decide to leave him so he will not become a martyr. Tommy is left to think over the events. He is finally free from his followers and the media once and for all.

The Who are really an incredible band world famous for this album and many infectious singles. Roger Daltrey is the legendary lead vocalist who can also play a mean harmonica. Guitar hero Pete Townshend is a brilliant guitarist and also plays keyboards. The bass of John Entwistle keeps rhythm and he is backed by drummer extraordinaire Keith Moon. On this album the guest vocalists are none other than Simon Townshend as Pete's brother, and Paul Townshend plays the other brother.

The music tends to grow on the listener and there are some very progressive moments such as the instrumentals namely 'Amazing Journey' and 'Sparks'. 'Underture' is one of the most progressive tracks with a duration of 10 minutes and featuring many time sig changes and arrangements with a powerful performance by Keith Moon. The melodies are original and fresh, such as 'Cousin Kevin' "I'm the school bully, the classroom cheat", and the rocking 'The Acid Queen' "guaranteed to tear your soul apart" The lyrics are very witty and poetically bordering on genius. There are powerful phrases on this album but none more powerful than the oft repeated phrase, "see me, feel me, touch me, heal me" and "Listening to you, I get the music, Gazing at you, I get the heat, Following you, I climb the mountains, I get excitement at your feet."

'Pinball Wizard' is a great song by any standards, though Townsend hated it. The rhythm is still fantastic, and Daltrey is a great vocalist, with Townsend's stirring lead riffing. Another highlight is the bright guitar driven trilogy of 'Go To The Mirror!', the acoustic harmonised 'Tommy Can You Hear Me?' and the raucous bluesy 'Smash The Mirror'. I like the way it ends "Do you hear or fear or do I smash the mirror", the mirror cracks and an ominous drone is heard.

'Sensation' sounds like The Beach Boys but it is okay as a diversion. 'Sally Simpson' is a great melodic song with very important plot exposition. The finale is well known and as progressive as The Who get, 'We're Not Gonna Take It. And 'See Me, Feel Me/ Listening To You' are great ways to end the opera.

It is a happy uplifting end though features some dark shadowy events that were daring at the time and still pack a punch. The album is famous for all the aforementioned reasons and deserves masterpiece status; there will never be another like it and The Who have lived in Tommy's shadow ever since.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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