Genere: Classic Rock, Rock Opera
Musicians: Roger Daltrey – Vocals and harmonica, John Entwistle – Bass, French horn and vocals, Keith Moon – Drums,Pete Townshend – Guitar, keyboards and vocals
Producer: Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp
Engineer: Damon Lyon-Shaw
Tommy is the fourth studio album by the English rock band The Who, a double album first released in May 1969. The album was mostly composed by guitarist Pete Townshend as a rock opera that tells the story about a deaf, dumb and blind boy, including his experiences with life and his relationship with his family.
From Wikipedia: Townshend came up with the concept of Tommy after being introduced to the work of Meher Baba, and attempted to translate Baba’s teachings into music. Recording on the album began in September 1968, but took six months to complete as material needed to be arranged and re-recorded in the studio.
The Who started recording the album at IBC Studios on 19 September 1968. There was no firm title at this point, which was variously referred to as Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy, Amazing Journey, Journey into Space, The Brain Opera and Omnibus. Townshend eventually settled on Tommy because it was a common British name, and a nickname for soldiers in World War I. Lambert took charge of the production, with Damon Lyon-Shaw as engineer. Sessions were block booked from 2pm – 10pm, but recording often spilled over into the early morning.
This LP is really a work of art and the sound quality is fantastic especially on the UK release, Mobile Fidelity release and the original Decca release with the white and rainbow bar in the middle on the label, which is the one I have. It is very well-engineered and mixed, one can hear every instrument and it ‘s true stereo, not electronically enhanced stereo.
From Wikipedia: The album was recorded onto eight track tape, which allowed various instruments to be overdubbed. Townshend used several guitars in the studio, but made particular use of the Gibson J-200 acoustic and the Gibson SG. As well as their usual instruments, Townshend played piano and organ and bassist John Entwistle doubled on french horn. Keith Moon used a new double bass drum kit owned by roadie Tony Haslam, after Premier had refused to loan him any more equipment due to continual abuse. Though Townshend wrote the majority of the material, the arrangements came from the entire band. Singer Roger Daltrey later said that Townshend often came in with a half-finished demo recording, adding “we probably did as much talking as we did recording, sorting out arrangements and things.” Townshend asked Entwistle to write two songs (“Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About”) that covered the darker themes of bullying and abuse. “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” was Moon’s suggestion of what religious movement Tommy could lead. Moon got the songwriting credit for suggesting the idea, though the music was composed and played by Townshend. A significant amount of material had a lighter style than earlier recordings, with greater prominence put on the vocals. Moon later said, “It was, at the time, very un-Wholike. A lot of the songs were soft. We never played like that.”
Some of the material had already been written for other projects. “Sensation” was written about a girl Townshend had met on the Who’s tour of Australia in early 1968, “Welcome” and “I’m Free” were about peace found through Meher Baba and “Sally Simpson” was based on a gig with the Doors which was marred by violence. Other songs had been previously recorded by the Who and were recycled; “It’s A Boy” was derived from “Glow Girl”, an out-take from The Who Sell Out, while “Sparks” and “Underture” re-used and expanded one of the instrumental themes in “Rael”. “Amazing Journey” was, according to Townshend, “the absolute beginning” of the opera and summarized the entire plot. “The Hawker” was a cover of Mose Allison’s “Eyesight to the Blind”. A cover of Mercy Dee Walton’s “One Room Country Shack” was also recorded but was scrapped from the final track listing as Townshend could not figure out a way to incorporate it in the plot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_(album)
From Wikipedia: Tommy was originally released as a two-LP set with artwork designed by McInnerney, which included a booklet including lyrics and images to illustrate parts of the story. The cover is presented as part of a triptych-style fold-out cover, and the booklet contained abstract artwork that outlined the story. Although the album included lyrics to all the songs, indicating individual characters, it did not outline the plot, which led to a concert programme being prepared for shows, that carried a detailed synopsis.
Townshend thought McInnerney, a fellow follower of Baba, would be a suitable choice to do the cover. As recording was near completion, McInnerney received a number of cassettes with completed songs and a brief outline for the story, which he immediately recognised as being based on Baba’s teachings. He wanted to try to convey the world of a deaf, dumb and blind boy, and decided to “depict a kind of breaking out of a certain restricted plane into freedom.” The finished cover contained a blue and white web of clouds, a fist punching into the black void to the left of it. The inner triptych, meanwhile, showed a hand reaching out to light and a light shining in a dark void. Townshend was too busy finishing the recording to properly approve the artwork, but Lambert strongly approved of it, and said it would work. The final step was for record company approval, who decided the cover was more sensible than The Who Sell Out, though making one concession that pictures of the band should appear on the cover. These were added to the web on the front.
Some of my favorite tracks on this LP are:
Overture: A strong start to this LP rock opera. Pete Townsend’s playing is at its peak, just fabulous. I like the changes in this piece as well. For instance how it goes from full band to just acoustic Guitar and vocals, which are also handled by Pete Townsend on this.
Amazing Journey/Sparks: This is one of my very favorites. This is sort of prog sounding with all the timing change-ups. The sound effects heard in the background are all done on electric guitar while the acoustic guitar is in the front. The drumming and bass work is also fantastic. Vocals are handled by Roger Daltry.
Eyesight To The Blind: Wikipedia has this wrong listing it as The Hawker for the 1969 version of the LP. I like the lyrics to this song and it’s just a fun tune as well. This is the only song on this LP not written by The Who. “Eyesight to the Blind” is a 12-bar blues song originally written and recorded in 1951 by Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck “Rice” Miller)
Side Two: This is a dark section of the opera
Acid Queen: No, this is not about Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane.
Underture: I guess if you have an Overture in a rock opera, you must have a Underture. This is an instrumental that starts out with the great bass work of John Entwistle. In one section there is an interesting and brilliant use of pan effect for the drums. It’s not aggressive or purposeful. It’s used in a slight fashion that actually enhances the drums making them sound fuller.
Pinball Wizard: Yes, big hit and well, you know the rest.
Go To The Mirror Boy: I love the structure of this tune. The song invokes two recurring themes of the album, “See Me, Feel Me”, and “Listening to You”, which first appear (in lyric form) as the “Christmas” interlude, and is also the song cycle’s finale (as part of the track “We’re Not Gonna Take It”). This version in “Go to the Mirror!” is sung by Pete Townshend rather than Roger Daltrey. Though Daltrey sings the majority of Tommy’s parts, here he has been singing as the Doctor, so Townshend singing as Tommy provides effective contrast.
Tommy Can You Hear Me: Great bass playing again by John Enwistle, but also overall on everyone’s parts.
Sally Simpson: Great song in every way. Roger Daltry does the vocals.
I’m Free: This was a hit as well and released as a single, one of the best known tracks from Tommy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27m_Free_(The_Who_song) :Pete Townshend has claimed that the song was partly inspired by the song “Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones.
‘I’m Free’ came from ‘Street Fighting Man.’ This has a weird time/shape and when I finally discovered how it went, I thought ‘well blimey, it can’t be that simple,’ but it was and it was a gas and I wanted to do it myself.
— Pete Townshend
On “I’m Free,” drummer Keith Moon only played on the breaks of the song. According to bassist John Entwistle, Moon was unable to perform the intro the way Townshend wanted, resulting in Townshend and Entwistle having to perform part of the drums.
On ‘I’m Free’, me and Pete had to play the drums and Keith played the breaks because he couldn’t get the intro. He was hearing it differently from how we were, and he couldn’t shake it off. So we put down the snare, the hi-hat and the tambourine part and he came in and added all the breaks.
— John Entwistle
Welcome: This is an interesting track with many elements including harmonica and piano. There are also many change-ups in it.
We’re Not Gonna Take It: Another popular song from this LP and released as a single. From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We%27re_Not_Gonna_Take_It_(The_Who_song) According to Pete Townshend, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was not originally written for the Tommy story line. He instead says that it was inspired by the people’s reaction to politics. Again something written before Tommy had actually been formed as a total idea, and that particular song wasn’t about Tommy’s devotees at all. It was about the rabble in general, how we, myself as part of them, were not going to take fascism, were not going to take dreary, dying politics; were not going to take things the way they were, the way they always had been and that we were keen to change things.”
— Pete Townshend
In the storyline of Tommy, this song describes Tommy’s followers rejection of Tommy’s new religion that bans drinking and drugs and centers around pinball. The song reprises the “See Me, Feel Me” and “Listening to You” themes that were seen previously throughout the album.
“They’ve paid their money and they’ve walked in the door thinking they’re going to get a shortcut to God-realization. [Tommy] starts to make the rules hard. He says ‘you can’t drink, you can’t smoke dope, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’ve got to play pinball, you’ve got to do it my way; if you don’t do it my way, you’re out.’ And he starts to get so tough that they rebel. ‘We don’t want your religion. What we want is a shortcut away from all our problems.’ That’s what they really want.
— Pete Townshend
The disciples become disillusioned with Tommy; that is often the way with heroes. They feel that the whole idea has become commercialized and begin to question their hero worship.
— Pete Townshend