Album no. 145/1001
*extreme ‘Rock Lobster’ voice* ROCK OPERA!
Possibly the second (following SF Sorrow), but certainly the much better known rock opera, Tommy was in part an effort by The Who to make an album that would let them stop smashing their instruments into bits at the end of every show.
It’s radically different from everything else they’d done up to this point, and pretty different from pretty much everything everyone else had done as well. This album spawned a movie and a stage show, without the band ever being completely sure what the story was. At the very least you can say it’s a fair bit darker than anything else they’d done up to this point.
Have you listened to this album before?
NK: I reckon I have listened to this once and once only. I have heard a couple of songs multiple times, but the whole thing (which is kind of the point) only once.
CL: I have not. It’s always been one of those ones I’ve wanted to hear, so I’m looking forward to it!
NK: ‘Pinball Wizard’ is about the only traditional pop song here, but that’s not really the point of the album.
CL: I’M HAVING A LOT OF FEELINGS. Wow. Well. First thing to say is that some of the themes in this ‘rock opera’ make for very uncomfortable listening eg ‘Fiddle About’. Eg ‘Cousin Kevin’. Eg ‘The Acid Queen’. To be honest, it’s probably the first half of this album where everybody’s talking about all the horrid things they can do to Tommy because he won’t know. I didn’t like that very much.
NK: It’s super bleak. Even ‘1921’ when he gets told he didn’t see nothing, didn’t hear nothing and won’t say nothing. A properly sad story of child abuse basically. 😦 Apart from ‘Pinball Wizard’, I really like the second part of ‘Go To The Mirror’ when he sings “Listening to you, I get the music, gazing at you, I get the heat” is really really good.
CL: Obviously the standout is ‘Pinball Wizard’ – probably just because it’s the only song that sounds like a standard song (with a pretty killer riff too). I quite liked ‘Christmas’ as well.
When would be the best time to listen to this?
NK: You really have to give this some attention. I don’t know if you’ll get much out of it if it’s just on in the background.
CL: If you’ve got a bloody long time. We’re talking 75 minutes here – a lot of musical interludes. I would not recommend putting it on when you’re in bed. I fell asleep and then was abruptly awoken in the middle of ‘Pinball Wizard’. It was unsettling.
Why has this album been included on the list?
NK: The big rock opera! A whole serious story told in a pop (sort of) album! I think this was another step towards pop music being regarded as a legitimate art form, and it’s a pretty massive jump for The Who. Since The Who Sell Out there had just been a couple of scratched-together albums of B-sides and songs that hadn’t made it on previous albums, and then suddenly they’re back with a massive artistic statement. There might not be the hits that they had on previous albums, but it’s definitely different!
CL: I can appreciate that it’s one of the first ‘rock operas’ – although, this is questionable based on our previous experience with The Pretty Things – but the problem I have is that it’s pretty abstract. Like, it’s difficult to really get what’s going on without reading a synopsis of the whole story. For example – I definitely thought ‘The Acid Queen’ was about a prostitute. Turns out it’s about a drug-addicted woman who gives Tommy some LSD. The next song is supposedly a hallucinogenic trip he’s having on the LSD. So… I read that wrong.
Will you be listening again?
NK: Yeah probably.
CL: Yes, but not to ‘Fiddle About’. I went back to listen to the whole thing again – you know, give it a proper listening to – and I had to skip it. It’s too gross and uncomfortable.
Listen to Tommy on Spotify or buy it in iTunes.