Happy 50th birthday to Tommy, Part I (General overview)

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Tommy, released 17 May 1969, was The Who’s fourth studio album, and the album that saved them. While they’d had a bunch of hit songs in their native England and played at Monterey Pop in 1967, they still weren’t giant superstars. They desperately needed a hit, both for the sake of their finances and their personal reputations.

Enter their glorious Hail Mary pass.

Tommy not only pulled them back from threatened bankruptcy and irrelevance, it also did wonders beyond wonders for Roger’s voice and self-confidence. Classic rock fans are well familiar with Roger’s powerful pipes on songs like “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Slip Kid,” “Who Are You,” and “The Real Me,” but before the experience of touring Tommy all over the world and singing the powerful role of this character who goes through such an intense journey, Roger’s voice was rather unrefined.

Just look at 1967’s The Who Sell Out for proof. Roger only sings lead on five of the thirteen original tracks. Pete sings five more, and John sings the rest. One of those songs features Pete and Roger sharing lead vocals. Roger just wasn’t a vocal powerhouse yet, and lacked ample range.

The storyline on the album (versus the slightly different one in the movie):

Captain Walker goes missing and is believed dead. His widow presently gives birth to a boy named Thomas, whom she raises with a new lover. In 1921, Captain Walker returns home and discovers his replacement. In a violent rage, he murders the lover, and Mrs. Walker tells Tommy, who witnessed the murder, that he didn’t see or hear anything. He can never tell anyone what he knows is the truth.

Tommy becomes a psychosomatic blind-deaf-mute due to this traumatic experience, similar to how the unnamed narrator of The Painted Bird becomes a psychosomatic mute after cruel, suspicious villagers horrifically attack him on the holiday of Corpus Christi.

Tommy can now only experience the world through vibrations, all of which he interprets as beautiful music, even horrible things like getting molested by his Uncle Ernie and tortured by his sadistic cousin Kevin. However, Tommy can see his own reflection in the mirror.

LP One closes with Tommy’s sexual awakening with the Acid Queen, who also gives him LSD. The ten-minute instrumental “Underture” has always sounded exactly like I’d imagine an acid trip to be.

As he gets older, Tommy becomes a pinball champion, thanks to Pete wanting to butter up music critic Nik Cohn for a good review. Mr. Cohn was a big pinball fan.

Captain and Mrs. Walker take Tommy to a doctor who cures him, but he’s still mentally blocked from engaging with his senses until his mother realises he can see his reflection in the mirror. After she smashes it, Tommy wakes up as if from a dream, and begins to see, hear, and speak again.

Tommy becomes a Messiah figure, everyone’s hero, but ultimately grows very uncomfortable with his idol status. His disciples also reject him, displeased with his teachings, and leave the holiday camp where he’s preaching. Tommy reverts back to being a psychosomatic blind-deaf-mute and plaintively cries out for healing.

Track listing:

“Overture” (mostly instrumental)
“It’s a Boy” (hearkening back to the bittersweet, haunting ending of “Glow Girl,” but for the change of the baby’s sex) (sung by Pete)
“1921” (sung by Pete)
“Amazing Journey”
“Sparks” (instrumental)
“The Hawker” (a.k.a. “Eyesight to the Blind”) (written by Sonny Boy Williamson)
“Christmas”
“Cousin Kevin” (written and sung by John)
“The Acid Queen” (sung by Pete)
“Underture” (instrumental)
“Do You Think It’s Alright?”
“Fiddle About” (written and sung by John)
“Pinball Wizard” (#4 in the U.K.; #6 in South Africa and Canada; #8 in New Zealand; #12 in The Netherlands; #14 in Ireland; #15 in Switzerland and the U.S. Cash Box chart; #19 on U.S. Billboard; #25 in Germany; #45 in Australia; #89 in France) (one of the most overplayed songs ever!)
“There’s a Doctor”
“Go to the Mirror!”
“Tommy Can You Hear Me?”
“Smash the Mirror”
“Sensation” (sung by Pete)
“Miracle Cure”
“Sally Simpson”
“I’m Free”
“Welcome” (total throwaway garbage)
“Tommy’s Holiday Camp” (sung by Keith)
“We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You”

Remembering Keith on his 40th Jahrzeit

Forty years ago today, 7 September 1978, Keith John Moon, rock’s greatest drummer, left the material world at the very young age of only 32. I was sadly born fifteen months too late to have the privilege of sharing Planet Earth with him.

While I’ve felt a soul connection to Pete since February 1994, while I was quite ill with chickenpox, Keith has been my second-favorite member of The Who since late 2000, when I made the transition from longtime casual lawnseat fan to serious, hardcore fan. I love men with soft, boyish facial features, and brown hair and eyes. He also had such a great sense of humor, twisted as it could be.

Keith obviously didn’t have one of the greatest, most classical voices of all time, but when he did sing, it came from a very honest place, and he put his heart and soul into the few songs he sang lead on. His personality made up for his lack of smooth vocals.

Keith trades lead vocals with John in this fun, cute song. He’s more on-key than usual.

Each of the four bandmembers has a theme song on Quadrophenia, and this is Keith’s.

Keith wrote this cute instrumental for the band’s sophomore album, A Quick One.

I have this album on vinyl.

May your beautiful light shine forever, dear Keith, and may your memory be for an eternal blessing. You left us such an incredible legacy with your music, and the many wonderful stories friends and acquaintances have shared.

Celebrating The Ox on his 16th Jahrzeit

This year, in honor of the 16th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of The Who’s bassist, John Alec Entwistle, I’m featuring my favorite songs he sang lead on. He was such a dear, special treasure, and often underappreciated. My estrogen Who lists were very active in the early Aughts, and it was rather uncommon for us to get a John girl. Most of us held one of the other three as our fave raves.

My all-time favorite John song! The lyrics are particularly poignant after his premature passing. Yet again, he proved how very deep still waters run.

This is John’s solo lead vocal on Who Are You, though he wrote three of its songs. It’s quite unusual how Roger sings two John songs. Like “When I Was a Boy,” “905” too has extra poignancy since his untimely passing. I also see parallels with Brave New World and We.

One of John’s two songs from A Quick One. It’s so cute how he sings his Rs as Ls and Ws (noticeable in the words “friend” and “drink”) in the hopes that they’ll run together and come out properly. He had a hard time singing his Rs at this early stage.

One of John’s songs from The Who Sell Out. Like so many of his other songs, it’s so full of his trademark dark, quirky, deadpan humor. His sense of humor is one of my favorite things about him.

John’s song on The Who by Numbers (which I’ll be writing a proper review of soon). It’s also full of his trademark quirky, dark humor, and fits so well with the overall mood of the album. While it’s not as dark and depressing as the rest of the songs except the insipid “Squeeze Box,” it still has that same sort of edge and mood. It also brings some levity to the mix, in its own quirky way. I also love the deep Boris voice he uses on the “fairy manager” line.

Originally the lead-off track on Odds and Sods, but moved closer to the end on the CD remastering. The songs (original tracks as well as bonus songs) are arranged in chronological order on the reissue. Yet again, it’s bursting with his trademark style of humor.

Doesn’t everyone love this song? It’s one of John’s classic Who songs, and the reason I named my stuffed spider keychain Boris. The name is truly pronounced Bah-REECE, not BOR-iss, but I can’t help but use the Anglo pronunciation for my spider when that’s the one used in his namesake song.

I’ve got the VHS of their incredible 1970 Isle of Wight show, and watched it so many times in my early twenties. Sadly, I haven’t been able to play it in years, due to not having a VCR at the moment. The Who often opened with “Heaven and Hell.” The lyrics have extra poignancy since John’s passing. The studio version on the remastered Odds and Sods majorly pales in comparison to the live classic. The Who were known as a live band, not a studio one. Even their greatest studio songs gained an extra level of fire onstage.

John’s song on Who’s Next. It’s one of his most belovèd and quintessential, and of course full of his trademark style of humor. So many of his songs are bursting with it.

John’s solo lead vocal on the rather unfairly denigrated Face Dances, though he also wrote “You.” This is one of his signature songs, and perfectly sums up so much about who he was. There are so many parallels between him and George Harrison, starting with the obvious fact that each was labeled The Quiet One of his respective band. Speaking from personal experience, once you’ve been saddled with that label, it’s damn-near impossible to throw it off, and people often don’t take you seriously. We have to prove how very deep still waters can run.

May your beautiful light shine forever, dear sweet Junnykins. The world is a better place because you were in it for 57 years. It was an honor to share Planet Earth with you for 22 and a half of those years.

Happy 50th birthday to The Who Sell Out!

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The Who’s third album, released 15 December 1967, came into my own life on 6 December 2000, and is one of my absolute favorites of theirs. They always had a new sound and themes with each album, in spite of the so-called fans who rant and rave about how they dared not do Who’s Next for their entire career.

This, unlike the most overrated album of all time, is a shining example of a consistent concept album. While the concept kind of fizzles out in the middle of the original album, it’s unique and cohesive. The CD remastering improves the concept’s flow.

Sell Out is a spoof of Radio London, a pirate radio station which operated from 23 December 1964–14 August 1967, from a ship anchored in the North Sea. In addition to songs advertising real products, there are also little jingles running between the songs.

The album ended with an instrumental version of a Track Records ad in a locked groove. The CD remastering changed it to a vocal jingle.

Track listing and lead vocals, with stars by bonus tracks:

“Armenia City in the Sky” (using the pronunciation Ar-men-EE-yah, not Ar-MEEN-ee-yah) (written by Speedy Keen and sung by Roger)
“Heinz Baked Beans” (John)
“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” (Roger and Pete)
“Odorono” (Pete)
“Tattoo” (Roger)
“Our Love Was” (Pete)
“I Can See for Miles” (Roger)
“I Can’t Reach You” (Pete)
“Medac” (John)
“Relax” (Pete)
“Silas Stingy” (John)
“Sunrise” (Pete)
“Rael” (Roger) (the name of my sixth journal)
“Rael 2” (Pete)*
“Glittering Girl” (Pete)*
“Melancholia” (Pete; famously previously released on Scoop, with the hilarious commentary, “I’m pretty sure The Who never heard this one”)*
“Someone’s Coming” (written by John but sung by Roger)*
“Jaguar” (written by Pete but sung by Keith)*
“Early Morning Cold Taxi” (written and sung by Roger)*
“In the Hall of the Mountain King” (instrumental; written by Edvard Grief)*
“Girl’s Eyes” (Keith)*
“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” (U.S. Mirasound version)*
“Glow Girl” (Roger and Pete)*

The album reached #13 in the U.K., and #48 in the U.S. “I Can See for Miles” reached #10 in the U.K., and #9 in the U.S. This was their only Top 10 song in the U.S., and the first Who song I was consciously aware of hearing, back in ’93. Since they were an active band till I was three, I probably heard them on the radio, but “ICSFM” was the first I specifically remember hearing.

My favorite songs are “ICSFM,” “Sunrise” (which a lot of guy fans hate and bash), “Our Love Was,” “I Can’t Reach You,” “Rael,” “Rael 2,” “Glow Girl,” “Tattoo,” and “Silas Stingy.”

Back in the days of Yahoogroups, the main estrogen Who list was called Glow Girls. It contains the genesis of Tommy, with the music that became “Sparks” and “Underture,” and the outro verse “It’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl,” as the girl in the song dies in a horrific plane crash and is reincarnated. “[O]nly of course Tommy was a dear little boy.”

Many people have seen parallels between “Rael” and Israel, both because 1967 was the year of the Six-Day War, and lines like:

“My heritage is threatened/My roots are torn and cornered”
“Rael, the home of my religion/To me the centre of the Earth”
“The country of my fathers/A proud land of old order/Like a goldfish being swallowed by a whale”

The album has received many positive reviews, both then and now, and is widely considered one of The Who’s very best. Interestingly, Roger only sang lead on five of the original tracks, the same number as Pete. Roger still didn’t have the greatest range or vocal confidence yet. Touring Tommy all over the world was what turned him into a vocal powerhouse.

I highly recommend this album!

Happy 50th birthday to A Quick One!

aqo-cover

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Released 9 December 1966, A Quick One was The Who’s sophomore album. From my experience in the fan community, this seems to be one of those things which is largely judged differently along sex-based lines. A lot of guys tend to hate it or think it’s junky bubblegum, while female fans are more forgiving and are even known to like it more than a little.

This isn’t one of the greatest albums of all time, but it’s not the worst either. It’s a typical 1966 album, in that there are a few hits and radio favorites padded out with a bunch of filler. For the most part, I find the filler fun and cute. One guy on the old album reviews section of thewho.net claimed he wanted to throw up every time he played it. As I said in my own review, why would someone play any album he hates so much it makes him want to throw up?

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

 “Run Run Run” (written by Pete)
“Boris the Spider” (written by John)
“I Need You” (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Whiskey Man” (written by John)
“Heat Wave” (cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song)
“Cobwebs and Strange” (instrumental) (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Don’t Look Away” (written by Pete)
“See My Way” (written by Roger)
“So Sad About Us” (written by Pete)
“A Quick One, While He’s Away” (written by Pete)
“Batman”*
“Bucket T”*
“Barbara Ann”*
“Disguises”* (written by Pete)
“Doctor, Doctor”* (written by John)
“I’ve Been Away”* (written by John)
“In the City”* (written by John and Keith)
“Happy Jack”* (written by Pete)
“Man with the Money”* (cover of an Everly Brothers’ song)
“My Generation/Land of Hope and Glory”* (first part written by Pete; second by Edward Elgar)

As per the custom of the era, the album was repackaged for the American market, and retitled Happy Jack. The U.S. version removed “Heat Wave,” and added “Happy Jack” between “Cobwebs and Strange” and “Don’t Look Away.”

The album failed to chart in the U.S., though it reached #4 in the U.K. The only successful single was “Happy Jack,” which charted at #3 in the U.K. and #24 in the U.S. “Boris the Spider” became one of John’s most popular songs, one of the songs most associated with him. “So Sad About Us” also became very popular, as well as the original closing track.

By 1966 standards, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is a complete anomaly, particularly on an album full of songs ranging from 1:53 to 3:04. It clocks in at 9:10, and, true to what Pete admits is his own pretentious nature, it was billed as a mini-opera. The subject matter is also pretty risqué for 1966, since it’s clearly about an affair and cuckoldry. It consists of six parts:

“Her Man’s Been Gone”
“Crying Town”
“We Have a Remedy”
“Ivor the Engine Driver”
“Soon Be Home”
“You Are Forgiven”

Pete wanted cellos in the concluding section, but since The Who didn’t exactly have the type of budget as The Beatles did, they had to sing “Cello cello cello cello cello cello cello” several times.

The band were under a contractual requirement to write at least two songs each, though Roger only wrote one. Pete was always their predominant songwriter, though John showed a real talent for songwriting already at this early point. I love the dark, twisted humor in his songs. Roger did go on to write some pretty nice songs, but I think we’re all glad he chose to stick primarily to singing.

It’s fun, cute bubblegum pop, not the hard rock The Who became known for, but that just makes it different, not wretched and inferior. Too many so-called fans seem to think they had to sound a certain way for their entire career, instead of God forbid trying out different musical styles and evolving over time. It’s fine to have a personal preference, but not to bash them for failing to measure up to that preference every single time.