[145] The Who - Tommy (1969)


24. Jun. 2009, 19:01

The Who - Tommy

Tommy is called the mother of all rock operas. Although there are some earlier examples like Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake from The Small Faces and especially S.F. Sorrow from The Pretty Things, none of them were as detailed in story and worked out as a fluent whole (with recurring themes) as Tommy. The Who seem to have a knack for concepts (see also The Who Sell Out).

Ironically the most important property of the album (that is it being a rock opera) is also the one thing that keeps me from calling this a masterpiece. The Who put the story before the music resulting in an album that is just a bit too long, and they have a tendency to stuff too many story into one song. Yes, Tommy’s story is more detailed than the stories made up by The Pretty Things or The Small Faces, but this has its effect on the songs. And that is sometimes a shame. The Who try to bring some darkness into their story (the young Tommy being bullied by his nephew and abused by his uncle, the murder of the lover of his mother by his father), but combine this with Tommy becoming the ultimate pinball champion and –after his cure from blindness, mute-ness (?) and deafness- a new Messiah, and you lose that darkness which could be interesting. It’s not that I’m such a lyric snob, but I do prefer good lyrics over bad ones and phrases like “I’m the school bully! The classroom cheat” or “Do you think it’s alright to leave the boy with Uncle Ernie?” or “He’s a pinball wizard” are just a bit too silly for my taste especially when they’re intended serious. That’s maybe the clue about this album: the whole concept is taken just a little too serious. Tommy becoming a pinball champion and ultimately a Messiah is probably The Who’s attempt to bring some humour into the story but they miss the point somehow because it’s just too unreal and far away. Especially during the first listening time I was a little bit annoyed by this: I was constantly wondering how some songs, for instance Cousin Kevin (with a fantastic building up), would sound like with some more decent lyrics. Masterpieces probably.

But actually, I’m sounding too negative. Anyone else would never gain my attention with a pinball musical, but The Who do it. The music on this album is FANTASTIC. So as soon I got used to the lyrics being what they were and some songs (like Underture) being too much of a filler, I started really loving the music. The beautiful voice of Roger Daltrey (so emotional sometimes and so extremely clear… he really sounds at his best here), the great guitar work, the fantastic drumming, the great variance in the songs with at the same time recurring themes… the music is one big puzzle and almost every piece is marvelous. Yes, this is a fantastic album.

I know, I know, it’s the concept of a rock opera that defines this album and that makes it so important, but I can’t help but wonder how this music would have sounded like without the constraints imposed by the story… Still, it suits The Who they can make such a silly story sound as astonishingly fantastic as this. Obviously a result of great talent. I’m not arguing against that.

(Vooral woo-hoo: Overture, Sparks, Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker) – it starts like a song from The Police!-, Pinball Wizard, Go to the Mirror!, I'm Free, Welcome, We're Not Gonna Take It)

PS: So, if I got it well, Tommy is abused by his uncle… and when he opens a house for his followers he lets that same uncle exploit it? Whaaat? Either Tommy is not so very smart either he is very forgiving… then why not give his nephew Kevin who bullied him also a little job? What about the darker undertone of child abuse? Yes, it’s this kind of things I keep myself busy with.


  • mzapa

    You should listen to the real first (and for me, best) rock operas of all time, Nirvana's "The Story Of Simon Simopath" (1967) and Family Tree's "Miss Butters" (1968). Amazing stuff.

    6. Jul. 2009, 21:37
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