My Quadrophenia story, twenty years later

Though I first listened to Quadrophenia on 18 November 2000, my history with the album truly began in 1993. I’d been looking at my parents’ fairly paltry vinyl collection since I was a kid, but I wasn’t drawn back to it till I was thirteen and getting into classic rock and pop. Since we no longer had a record player, I had to make do with reading the story booklet and looking at the photos.

Being that classic kid who read too much and understood too little yet again, I twisted myself in knots trying to figure out just what the title meant. I thought it was a real word whose definition eluded me!

A certain lyric in “Doctor Jimmy” also greatly unsettled me for years. When you only read lyrics instead of hearing them actually sung, let alone in the context of a complex story being told through a rock opera, you tend to miss a lot of important details.

Jimmy isn’t really saying he plans to rape a virgin. He’s reached the end of his rope and isn’t thinking straight by a long shot. There’s so much clutter swirling in his head, with the four warring parts of his personality. Jimmy’s angry, confused, a hot mess who needs help.

That lyric is also nothing next to some of the jaw-dropping awfulness featured on The Rap Critic’s Worst Lyrics episodes. The all-time worst I’ve heard is the Lil Wayne guest verse in “Karate Chop,” comparing rough sex to the beating of Emmett Till.

17–19 November 2000 was my very first weekend staying on campus at UMass instead of obediently going home to Pittsfield like an overgrown little kid with no life. It’s no fun being a victim of learnt helplessness, even if in my case it wasn’t the result of deliberately malicious intentions. I also only transferred after two years of community college. While that saved lots of money, it didn’t do my emotional, psychological, or mental maturity any favors!

That Saturday afternoon, I walked into town and went to Mystery Train Records. What luck, I found Quad in the used CD section for only $16! I was hungry for a third Who album after Tommy and Who’s Next, and had heard so many people on my lists highly recommending it as one of the best albums to get early in one’s fandom journey.

Was I blown away when I got back to my single dorm room on the first floor of Chadbourne! I loved Quad so much, I played it twice that day, and many more times in the coming weeks. Love at first listen. When I finally quit trying to overanalyze the story and title, and just listened without prejudice, I got Quad.

This album would’ve meant so much to me during junior high. It’s a story just about every adolescent who’s ever lived can deeply relate to—not fitting in, being different from the others, feeling alienated from everyone around oneself, not getting along with parents, being bullied, feeling on the verge of cracking up if one more straw hits the camel’s back.

Each of the four bandmembers is represented by one of the warring aspects of Jimmy’s psyche. Roger’s theme is “Helpless Dancer” (a screen name I’ve used at a few message boards), Keith’s theme is “Bell Boy,” John’s theme is “Doctor Jimmy,” and Pete’s theme is “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The themes appear as instrumentals in the title track and “The Rock.”

In “Quadrophenia,” they’re played separately, signifying how fractured Jimmy’s state of mind is, at war with himself, wanting and trying to be so many disparate things to so many different people.

In “The Rock,” they initially appear individually, but gradually start merging, faster and faster, until finally they emerge as one and Jimmy makes peace with himself in “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

Twenty years later, Quad is still an emotional tour de force every single time. It’s been with me through half of my life and counting, and never lets me down. Words shall never express my deep love and gratitude to this wonderful band and all they’ve meant to me for so long.

Happy 45th birthday to The Who by Numbers!

Released 3 October 1975 in the U.K. and 25 October in the U.S., The Who by Numbers was the band’s seventh studio album, and my tenth Who album. I bought it together with Who Are You at Newbury Comics on Amherst’s Main Street, 15 March 2001. Being only 21 at the time, the album didn’t resonate with me on the same deep, personal level it does now (though I still loved it).

WBN has been called a musical suicide note (which thankfully was averted!), written when Pete was on the cusp of his 30th birthday and feeling really alienated from the current musical climate. This was also the guy who famously wrote the line, “Hope I die before I get old.” He really meant it. That wasn’t a mere metaphor, but the genuine wish of a 20-year-old who didn’t want to become old, boring, and irrelevant.

The songs of WBN aren’t the kinds of songs that could’ve been written in Pete’s early twenties. By the time he began writing material for this album, he’d gone through more of life and was now facing down the sobering, depressing reality of hitting middle age.

Pete has said he felt empty and was crying his eyes out when he wrote those songs, “detached from my own work and from the whole project.”

The band took turns designing their covers, and WBN was John’s turn. His artwork cost all of £32 to make, in contrast to the exorbitant £16,000 of the previous cover on Quadrophenia. Probably unsurprisingly, Pete chose the Quad cover!

WBN reached #8 in the U.S., #7 in the U.K., and #29 in New Zealand.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Slip Kid” (released as a U.S. single but didn’t chart)
“However Much I Booze”
“Squeeze Box” (retch) (#1 in Canada, #2 in Ireland, #10 in the U.K., #11 and #16 on two U.S. charts, #26 in New Zealand, #45 in Australia)
“Dreaming from the Waist” (the B-side of “Slip Kid,” one of Pete’s least-fave songs to perform, and one of John’s fave songs to perform)
“Imagine a Man”
“Success Story” (John’s song)
“They Are All in Love”
“Blue, Red, and Grey” (sung by Pete)
“How Many Friends”
“In a Hand or a Face”
“Squeeze Box” (live at Swansea, 12 June 1975)*
“Behind Blue Eyes” (ibid.)*
“Dreaming from the Waist” (ibid.)*

My fave tracks are “Slip Kid,” “Dreaming from the Waist,” “How Many Friends,” “Success Story” (full of John’s trademark dark, quirky humour), and “Imagine a Man.”

A double album full of eclectic goodies

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Released autumn 2001, Scoop 3 is the last of Pete’s double albums in this series, unless he decides to surprise us with a fourth installment after all these years. Owing to its fairly recent vintage, most of the material dates from the late Seventies through 2001 instead of mining the deep vault. Most of the songs are also from Pete’s solo career instead of Who demos or later revisitings of Who songs, and many are instrumentals.

As Pete explains in his liner notes, he wrote fewer songs with lyrics as of 2001, owning to not being under contract for either The Who or his own solo career. Thus, he had complete freedom to pursue a more experimental type of music, and different types of music than he had when he was obligated to produce albums.

He didn’t entirely stop writing lyrical songs, though. He simply chose to keep them unpublished in case he recorded with The Who or as a solo artist again. (To date, I’ve not listened to either of the albums Pete and Roger made after John’s passing, and have no desire to ever do so.)

Pete also started doing a lot more piano and keyboard music because he seriously hurt his wrist in a 1991 bicycle accident, and using those instruments was wonderful physiotherapy.

Amazingly, at least 27 of the 34 tracks were made in my lifetime!

Disc One:

“Can You See the Real Me” (1973)
“Dirty Water” (1979)
“Commonwealth Boys” (1984; later became closing track “Come to Mama” on White City)
“Theme 015” (1987)
“Marty Robbins” (1984)
“I Like It the Way It Is” (1978)
“Theme 016” (1987)
“No Way Out (However Much I Booze)” (1975)
“Collings” (2000)
“Parvardigar” (German version) (1971)
“Sea and Sand” (1972)
“971104 Arpeggio Piano” (1997)
“Theme 017” (probably 1983, given it was intended for the aborted final Who album Siege)
“I Am Afraid” (1990)
“Maxims for Lunch” (1983)
“Wistful” (1991)
“Eminence Front” (1995; obviously not the demo version!)
“Lonely Words” (1985)

Disc Two:

“Prelude 970519” (1997)
“Iron Man Recitative” (1993)
“Tough Boys” (1979; later became “Rough Boys”)
“Did You Steal My Money?” (1980 or 1981) (“The true story behind this doesn’t make anyone look good—especially me. It is not the time to tell it.”)

“Can You Really Dance?” (1988)
“Variations on ‘Dirty Jobs'” (recorded 1997, fully orchestrated 2001)
“All Lovers Are Deranged” (1983)
“Elephants” (1984)
“Wired to the Moon, Pt. 2” (recorded on piano 1997; strings and vocals added in 2001)

“How Can You Do It Alone” (1980) (“I quite liked The Who’s rendering of this song. Roger sang it really well. But it is probably one of those songs that needed my acidic tone to work without awkwardness. Whichever version is your favourite [and you may hate both of them] it’s good to be able to compare.”)

“Poem Disturbed” (1994) (“You can hear my phone ring. I knew who it was: my then girlfriend. These were strange times for me.”)

“Squirm Squirm” (1990)  (“At last, a song with a happy inspiration. One day I was holding my new-born son Joseph and singing him to sleep. It came into my mind that seen from high above we humans must look just like insects, or worms. As he wriggled in my arms I sang to him about the messages we all believe we get sometimes from above. At the time I was gathering material for Psychoderelict, which was—among other things—about the loneliness and collapse of a once famous and beloved rock star. The song seemed to contain and reflect both the peace and safety of this child in my arms, and the chaos and danger that surrounded us out there in the crazy world.”)

“Outlive the Dinosaur” (1990) (“The word dinosaur was of course first used to describe ageing rock stars with vicious irony and I use it here with vicious irony redoubled.”)
“Teresa” (1980; later became opening track “Athena” on It’s Hard)
“Man and Machines” (1985)

“It’s in Ya” (1981) (“Not much to say about this song. A woman I vaguely knew sent me a letter rightly complaining I was getting self-indulgent [after the release of the Who Are You album] and it later sparked this song about what makes the magic of rock ‘n’ roll. It isn’t the musician—it’s the listener.”)

I only listened to this album for the first time in 2019, on Spotify, despite how long it’d been out. I personally would recommend the first two Scoop albums to a new fan first, since a lot of these songs seem more geared to longtime, serious fans.

While I’ve not listened to Scoop 3 nearly enough to be familiar with all the songs, I’d count “Lonely Words,” “I Like It the Way It Is,” and the German “Parvardigar” among my favorite tracks.

A has-been in search of a comeback

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Released 15 June 1993, Psychoderelict is, to date, Pete’s final studio solo album. Though he’s since released a number of other albums, they’re all compilations and live shows instead of new material. Most critics hated this album, though loyal fans have always held it as a criminally underrated masterpiece.

Many casual listeners also hated the radio play structure, with dialogues placed between songs and linking them together. To placate these whiners, Pete released a music-only version. That still wasn’t good enough for the unwashed masses, and sales continued to be poor.

Psychoderelict tells the story of washed-up Sixties rocker Raymond Highsmith (Ray High), who hasn’t had a hit in ages and is now an alcoholic recluse running out of money. His manager Rastus Knight is on his tail to produce something, anything, new, but Ray is convinced the public will hate it.

Ruth Streeting, a radio music critic whom Ray hates, comes up with a very dangerous plan to lure Ray out of retirement and into making new music. Rastus is delighted to hear this, and says they could shift millions if Ruth is successful. He’ll also cut her in on the deal.

Ray receives a letter from 14-year-old aspiring singer Rosalind Nathan, along with a naked photo of her on her mother’s grave. That definitely piques his interest, and he begins a penpal correspondence with her. Ray feels Rosalind is a kindred spirit, since “we both share complicated problems.”

He promises to tell her the secrets of stardom, so long as Rosalind doesn’t tell anyone what he says in his letters. In addition to very personal letters, Ray also sends her a tape of “Flame,” a song he wrote for his secret Gridlife project, telling Rosalind to prove her singing skills by recording it.

Scandal erupts when Ruth airs “the porno penpal story” and excoriates Ray as a nasty slimeball who took advantage of a trusting young girl who opened her heart to him and trusted him. She accuses Ray of soliciting the naked photo and using Rosalind “to test out his weird theories.”

However, the public isn’t that morally outraged, since Ray’s record sales immediately begin surging upon his catalogue’s rerelease. Rosalind’s début album, produced by Ruth, also becomes a huge hit.

Instead of being thrilled at his replenished fortune and being “back in calculator country,” Ray is outraged at Ruth for her role in the situation. When he goes to confront her, he discovers she’s having an affair with Rastus.

Will there be a happy ending to this story? And will Rosalind ever make an appearance?

Track listing (with dialogues running between all songs):

“English Boy”
“Meher Baba M3”
“Let’s Get Pretentious”
“Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box)”
“Early Morning Dreams”
“I Want That Thing”
Dialogue introduction to “Outlive the Dinosaur”
“Outlive the Dinosaur”
“Flame” (demo version)
“Now and Then”
“I Am Afraid”
“Don’t Try to Make Me Real”
Dialogue introduction to “Predictable”
“Predictable”
“Flame” (written by Pete’s baby brother Simon, a talented musician in his own right)
“Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi)”
“Fake It”
Dialogue introduction to “Now and Then (Reprise)”
“Baba O’Riley” (demo)
“English Boy (Reprise)”

In 2006, the album was reissued with bonus tracks “Psychomontage,” “English Boy” (long intro), “Early Morning Dreams” (demo; alternate vocal), “Uneasy Street,” and “There Is No Message in a Broken Heart.”

I’ve loved this album since I first listened to it in February 2002. I was so excited to see it in the used CD section of Mystery Train Records! My fave tracks are “Now and Then,” “English Boy,” “Predictable,” “Don’t Try to Make Me Real,” and “Fake It.”

The dialogues have so many awesome lines, like:

“Rumour has it the sad old lush can’t do it anymore. I mean make records.”

“Only four nipples? Poor underprivileged kid.”

“That’s all it was, my life on the road, prostitution.”

“That cow wrote that I’m ugly.”
“Well, you are ugly.”

“If you must be introspective, at least do it in public.”

“Remember, you don’t have to bury the past or the pain. You can use it.”

“It’s her job to hate your guts. She’s a journalist.”

“Insecurity is the principle driving force we performers share.”

“Her disgust is the most powerful motivator of the artist in me.”

“Although Ray High’s albums have been rereleased this week, decent, normal people will be more interested in young Rosalind.”

“I can’t wait to see Ray’s face.”
“Well, I can’t wait to see Rosalind’s fucking face.”

“Careful what you’ll say, I’ll print it.”
“I don’t give a smorgasbord about that load of old bollocks you churn out.”

Longtime fans will recognise a lot of Pete’s own life in the story of Ray High, including the parallels between his magnum opus Lifehouse and Ray’s Gridlife. Eerily, there also ended up being parallels with “the porno penpal story” when Pete (along with thousands of other innocent people) was falsely accused of the unthinkable during the severely mishandled Operation Ore in 2003.

Since this album bombed so badly, Pete decided not to make any new albums. Ironically, many people have since pestered him for something new besides compilations. What did they expect would happen after panning so many of his solo albums as pretentious and not commercial enough!

Read more in Pete’s own words

A double album of gourmet chocolate and fine wine

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Released 8 July 1987, Another Scoop is the second of Pete’s three double-albums of demos, outtakes, and unreleased songs, both for The Who and his own solo career. I bought it the same day I bought Scoop, in late January 2002, on the $2 wall at Mystery Train Records in Amherst.

Though I love both albums, I’ve always slightly preferred Another Scoop. Whereas the songs on Scoop have a really fun, cute feel, like candy and soda pop, Another Scoop feels more mature and polished, like fine wine and gourmet chocolate.

As with the first installment, Pete wrote liner notes for each song, some very funny. Unlike the first album, Another Scoop provides dates for every song. Ten of the 25 tracks were recorded in my lifetime.

Pete dedicated this album to the memory of his dad, jazz musician Cliff Townshend (28 January 1916–29 June 1986).

Track listing:

LP One:

“You Better You Bet” (1980)
“Girl in a Suitcase” (1975; a rejected Who by Numbers track)
“Brooklyn Kids” (1978)

“Pinball Wizard” (1969; infamously written and recorded only to butter up music critic Nik Cohn. Mr. Cohn, a huge pinball fan, had panned a sneak preview of Tommy, and Pete wanted to ensure a much better review upon its official release.)

“Football Fugue” (1978)
“Happy Jack” (1966)

“Substitute” (1966) (“Interesting that in eulogizing two of my most important influences [and ripping off a few ideas] I should end up with one of the most succinct songs of my career.”)

“Long Live Rock” (1972) (“At one point I had a whole concept album planned called LONG LIVE ROCK, UGH. This is an innocent, bouncy little demo that contains enough cynicism to make it bearable.”)

“Call Me Lightning” (1964) (“The song is a very clear example of how difficult it was for me to reconcile what I took to be Roger’s need for macho, chauvinist lyrics and Keith Moon’s appetite for surf music and fantasy sports car love affairs.”)

“Holly Like Ivy” (1982) (“Written and recorded in Dallas after a post-show party at some restaurant at which a girl called Holly shook hands with me. I received a very large shock of static electricity at the same time. I think I stood on her hair.”)

“Begin the Beguine” (1969; written by Cole Porter)
“Vicious Interlude” (Pete warns one of his daughters not to put something on the wall and says she has a mischievous look in her eyes)
“La-La-La-Lies” (1965)
“Cat Snatch” (1982–83; instrumental; planned for the aborted last Who album, Siege)

LP Two:

“Prelude #556” (1982; instrumental) (“This short prelude was written, recorded and mixed in Florida while the other guys in the band were playing hockey with a load of schoolgirls. I felt superior at the time. After all, I was writing a prelude. This should really be described as a fanfare:
‘… for the entry of Roger Daltrey in a gym-slip!'”)

“Baroque Ippanese” (1982; instrumental)
“Praying the Game” (1978)
“Driftin’ Blues” (1981; always been my least-fave track; written by Charles Brown, Eddie Williams, and Johnny Moore)
“Christmas” (1968)
“Pictures of Lily” (1967)
“Don’t Let Go the Coat” (1980)
“The Kids Are Alright” (1965)
“Prelude: The Right to Write” (1983; instrumental)
“Never Ask Me” (1977; intended as an alternative ballad for Who Are You)
“Ask Yourself” (1982–83; planned for Siege)
“The Ferryman” (1978; written for an amateur production of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha)
“The Shout” (1984)

Side Four, which begins with “Prelude: The Right to Write,” took on great emotional evocation for me after my third love Jason broke my heart in October 2002. From that first haunting, insistent, pounding piano note, I’m gripped by an aching, yawning heartache that lasts through the last song, as though I’m back in Massachusetts and a heartbroken 22-year-old again. Every single time for almost eighteen years.

Pete’s music is that powerful, truly a soundtrack of my life.

My fave tracks are “Girl in a Suitcase,” “Brooklyn Kids,” “Football Fugue,” “Holly Like Ivy,” “Praying the Game,” and the abovementioned Side Four.

Pete turns 75 tomorrow, 19 May. May he have many more happy returns and continue blessing us with such wonderful music!