Friday, February 27, 2009

February 27: The Who, "Tommy"

Artist: The Who
Album: Tommy
Year: 1969
Label: MCA

Over the decades, countless bands have attempted to make records that tell a complete story. Most of these efforts end up with a handful of loosely connected songs, telling an annoyingly predictable story. From time to time, a band will succeed and present a coherent tale through music. When it comes to the "rock opera," one name stands high above the rest. The first true rock opera, the unmistakable, the unbeatable, The Who's Tommy.

The production on Tommy is peerless. The perfect combination of folk, classical, and rock and roll intermingle in a stunning manner. From the moment this double album begins, it is obvious that Tommy is like nothing else ever recorded. Full orchestration with a rock feel, moving beautifully over acoustic guitars creates an amazing mood for the album. The bulk of the record was written (music and lyrics) by guitar legend Pete Townshend and Roger Daltey brings his words to life with his famed vocal style.

As most are aware, the story follows the rise of the albums' namesake from his birth to his rise as an icon to masses of youth. The key in the story is that Tommy "becomes" "deaf, dumb, and blind" after witnessing the brutal murder of his mothers' new lover by his thought to be dead father (yes, that's a bit confusing, but it is correct). A majority of the first first two sides of the record concern Tommy's parents attempting to find a cure for his problems. The album also gets quite dark with songs of abuse in "Cousin Kevin" and "Do You Think It's Alright/Fiddle About." Overall, the entire first record of Tommy is somber and grim, following Tommy as he spirals further and further from society.

Perhaps the best known song off of all of Tommy, "Pinball Wizard," signals the change in the mood of the record. After defeating the long-standing pinball champion, Tommy begins to progress and "get better." This culminates when he "wakes up" in the song "Smash The Mirror." many critics see this song as an implication that Tommy achieves enlightenment during the song. The remainder of the record follows Tommy as he becomes a cultural icon, preaching to masses of adoring "disciples." Tucked into the final side of Tommy are two of the finest songs in "Sally Simpson" and "We're Not Gonna Take It."

The late 1960's and early 1970's produced some of the most innovated and phenomenal musical creations in history. No style or combination was "off limits" and bands were very free to shift styles at will. UK rock-gods, The Who, had already established themselves as one of the finest groups on the planet with hits like "My Generation" and "Magic Bus." However, when they released Tommy, the landscape of music was permanently changed. Doubled, and even tripled harmonies, a brilliantly told story, and some of the most famous guitar riffs in history make Tommy something far beyond the term "legendary."

Standout tracks: "Amazing Journey," "Sally Simpson," and "We're Not Gonna Take It."

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