Bruce Beatlefan (March 25, 2008)
In 1989 The Who staged a magnificent concert at RFK Stadium in Washington DC which I attended. The crowd roared when Pete Townshend opened the concert with the recognizable chords signalling the start of the Overture to Tommy, and remained transfixed as the entire two-record set was replicated (I believe a couple songs were not played). What other twenty-year-old album would receive this level of respect, to be played practically verbatim?
The Tommy project, Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert's "Rock Opera", remains a watershed moment in the history of rock music. It has been discussed and dissected as a unified project, a collection of rock songs, and a study into Pete Townshend's spirit and psyche-- and it became a movie. And for me, it succeeds on all levels.
As a 'unified project' it is a series of songs that tell the story of the deaf, dumb, and blind boy Tommy Walker. The story is compelling and Tommy is a mysterious and sympathetic character. Townshend pulls no punches in including cruelty ("Cousin Kevin"), drugs ("Acid Queen"), even rape ("Fiddle About")...but there is also wonder ("Amazing Journey"), fun ("Pinball Wizard"), humor ("Sally Simpson"), and a most gratifying miracle cure ("Smash the Mirror"). The story examines some fascinating questions regarding the marriage of spirituality and pop art, our culture's expectations of a messiah figure, and ends sadly as Tommy seems to succumb to these illusions.
As a collection of songs, Tommy gives some of The Who's most unforgettable songs, the hit singles "Pinball Wizard", "I'm Free", and "See Me/Feel Me", along with concert favorites "Overture", "Sensation", and "We're Not Gonna Take it". Several songs simply carry the story along, but among these are a few excellent tracks which are diminished for that reason, such as "Go To the Mirror", "Sally Simpson", and "Welcome". Overall, the music is comparable to any of the greatest rock albums of the late 1960's.
In 1976 a much-criticized movie was based on the story of Tommy. Directed by Ken Russell and starring Roger Daltrey as Tommy and Ann-Margret as Mrs. Walker, "Tommy" was a glamfest, jamming as much eye- and ear-candy as can be imagined. If you saw the movie at that time and wrote it off as so much 1970's overindulgence, I suggest that you check it out again--it is exquisite. Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret both pulled off the performances of their lives (Ann-Margret was nominated for an Oscar), Tina Turner and Eric Clapton revived their dormant careers with their performances, and Paul Nicholas (Cousin Kevin) and Ken Russell's daughter Victoria (Sally Simpson) made names for themselves with their electric performances.
However you choose to see Tommy, it remains one of the greatest creations of popular music, fully deserving of its legendary status.
Andrew Creamer (November 28, 2006)
\"Album Rock\" at its finest, Tommy set the bar for that genre. This is the first truly great \"theme\" record, and it will always be the impetus that so many other artists tried to capture, yet so few were able to realize. Only Pink Floyd\'s The Wall can be cited as an appropriate example of what can be described as a visionary genius\' skewed opus on the world he lives in. Quadrophenia attempts to resurrect the theme, but fails compared to this masterpiece.
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