The Who-Tommy Song By Song Thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Rose River Bear, Jan 10, 2019.

  1. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    The Who's Next SBS thread was fun so I thought this may attract some participation.
    Here is some stuff from Wiki on the album.
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Studio album by
    The Who
    23 May 1969
    Recorded 19 September 1968 – 7 March 1969
    Studio IBC Studios, London, England
    Label Decca
    Producer Kit Lambert

    Tommy is the fourth studio album by the English rock band The Who. It was first released as a double album on 23 May 1969 by Decca Records. The album was mostly composed by guitarist Pete Townshend as a rock operathat tells the story about a "deaf, dumb and blind" boy, including his experiences with life and his relationship with his family.

    Townshend came up with the concept of Tommy after being introduced to the work of Meher Baba, and attempted to translate Baba's teachings into music. Recording on the album began in September 1968, but took six months to complete as material needed to be arranged and re-recorded in the studio. Tommy was acclaimed upon its release by critics, who hailed it as the Who's breakthrough. Its critical standing diminished slightly in later years; nonetheless, several writers view it as an important and influential album in the history of rock music. The Who promoted the album's release with an extensive tour, including a live version of Tommy, which lasted throughout 1969 and 1970. Key gigs from the tour included appearances at Woodstock, the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, the University of Leeds, the Metropolitan Opera House and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The live performances of Tommy drew critical praise and rejuvenated the band's career.

    Subsequently, the rock opera developed into other media, including a Seattle Opera production in 1971, an orchestral version by Lou Reizner in 1972, a film in 1975, and a Broadway musical in 1992. The original album has sold 20 million copies and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It has been reissued several times on CD, including a remix by Jon Astley in 1996, a deluxe Super Audio CD in 2003, and a super deluxe box set in 2013, including previously unreleased demos and live material.
    Tommy has never had a definitive plot, but the following synopsis was published following the original album's release.[1]

    British Army Captain Walker goes missing during an expedition and is believed dead ("Overture"). His widow, Mrs. Walker, gives birth to their son, Tommy ("It's a Boy"). Years later, Captain Walker returns home and discovers that his wife has found a new lover. The Captain murders this man in an altercation. Tommy's mother brainwashes him into believing he didn't see or hear anything, shutting down his senses and making him deaf, dumb and blind to the outside world ("1921"). Tommy now relies on his sense of touch and imagination, developing a fascinating inner psyche ("Amazing Journey/Sparks").[2]

    A quack claims his wife can cure Tommy ("The Hawker"), while Tommy's parents are increasingly frustrated that he will never find religion in the midst of his isolation ("Christmas"). They begin to neglect him, leaving him to be tortured by his sadistic "Cousin Kevin" and molested by his uncle Ernie ("Fiddle About"). The Hawker's drug addicted wife, "The Acid Queen", gives Tommy a dose of LSD, causing a hallucinogenic experience that is expressed musically ("Underture").[2]

    As Tommy grows older, he discovers that he can feel vibrations sufficiently well to become an expert pinball player ("Pinball Wizard"). His parents take him to a respected doctor ("There's a Doctor"), who determines that the boy's disabilities are psychosomatic rather than physical. Tommy is told by the Doctor to "Go to the Mirror!", and his parents notice he can stare at his reflection. After seeing Tommy spend extended periods staring at a mirror in the house, his mother smashes it out of frustration ("Smash the Mirror"). This removes Tommy's mental block, and he recovers his senses, realising he can become a powerful leader ("Sensation"). He starts a religious movement ("I'm Free"), which generates fervor among its adherents ("Sally Simpson") and expands into a holiday camp ("Welcome" / "Tommy's Holiday Camp"). However, Tommy's followers ultimately reject his teachings and leave the camp ("We're Not Gonna Take It"). Tommy retreats inward again ("See Me, Feel Me") with his "continuing statement of wonder at that which encompasses him".[2]

    Townshend had been looking at ways of progressing beyond the standard three minute pop single format since 1966.[3] Co-manager Kit Lambert shared Townshend's views and encouraged him to develop musical ideas,[4] coming up with the term "rock opera". The first use of the term was applied to a suite called "Quads", set in a future where parents could choose the sex of their children. A couple want four girls but instead receive three girls and a boy, raising him as a girl anyway. The opera was abandoned after writing a single song, the hit single, "I'm a Boy".[5] When the Who's second album, A Quick One ran short of material during recording, Lambert suggested that Townshend should write a "mini-opera" to fill the gap. Townshend initially objected, but eventually agreed to do so, coming up with "A Quick One, While He's Away", which joined short pieces of music together into a continuous narrative.[6] During 1967, Townshend learned how to play the piano and began writing songs on it, taking his work more seriously.[7] That year's The Who Sell Out included a mini-opera in the last track, "Rael", which like "A Quick One..." was a suite of musical segments joined together.[8]

    The package I hope is going to be called "Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy." It's a story about a kid that's born deaf, dumb and blind and what happens to him throughout his life ... But what it's really all about is the fact that ... he's seeing things basically as vibrations which we translate as music. That's really what we want to do: create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play."
    Pete Townshend talking to Jann Wenner, August 1968[9]

    By 1968, Townshend was unsure about how the Who should progress musically. The group were no longer teenagers, but he wanted their music to remain relevant.[10] His friend, International Times art director Mike McInnerney, told him about the Indian spiritual mentor Meher Baba,[11] and Townshend became fascinated with Baba's values of compassion, love and introspection.[12]The Who's commercial success was on the wane after the single "Dogs" failed to make the top 20, and there was a genuine risk of the band breaking up.[13] Live performances remained strong, and the group spent most of the spring and summer touring the US and Canada[14] but their stage act relied on Townshend smashing his guitar or Moon demolishing his drums, which kept the group in debt. Townshend and Lambert realised they needed a larger vehicle for their music than hit singles, and a new stage show, and Townshend hoped to incorporate his love of Baba into this concept.[15] He decided that the Who should record a series of songs that stood well in isolation, but formed a cohesive whole on the album. He also wanted the material performed in concert, to counteract the trend of bands like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, whose studio output was not designed for live performance.[16]

    In August 1968, in an interview to Rolling Stone, Townsend talked about a new rock opera, which had the working title of Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy, and described the entire plot in great detail, which ran to 11 pages.[17] Who biographer Dave Marsh subsequently said the interview described the narrative better than the finished album.[18] Townshend later regretted publishing so much detail, as he felt it forced him to write the album according to that blueprint.[19] The rest of the Who, however, were enthusiastic about the idea, and let him have artistic control over the project.[20]
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  2. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter


    :00-3:50 on the clip below.

    Starts with a descending bass in the chords mostly C power chords with Moon, The Ox and Pete doubling on piano. At :18 a shift to E flat major-B flat and then G minor at :34. The entire chord sequence from the beginning to :34 still gives me goosebumps. At :38 the tune does a major lift with trademark Townshend chords and The Ox on French Horn. At 1:00 a shift to G with the blues chords of G-D-C and then a key change at 1:09 with the song using the Baba O'Riley chords of F-C-B flat but.....this came first. A beautiful variation of a melody heard later is stated by John on the French Horn. You wished it would repeat but that is not what this Overture is is about presenting a bunch of the musical ideas on the albums in one succinct package. At 1:35 it is back to the E flat chord but now with a closer exposition of the See Me, Feel Me chords only hinted at :18 in the intro.....brilliant stuff. Beautiful harmonies. At 1:50 Moonie ramps it up and it is back to the rock progression Pete adores...and so do we. But now it is stated in E major! Key changes galore. At 2:20 we hear the "Listening to you" theme. It is played twice and then at 3:06 Pete plays the major lift chords previously heard at :37 with The Ox playing a crazy sounding glissando rising figure on the horn. Finally at 3:22 Pete presents the Pinball Wizard chords and the Overture ends with a swirl of cymbals in grand style.

    One of PT's masterpieces of composition. An exposition of some of the themes heard throughout the album with also a presentation of rhythmic hooks and chords shapes/embellishments as well that anchor the entire album. Brilliant use of key changes that sometimes only last a flash. Accomplishes just what an Overture is supposed to.....expose in variation much of the thematic, rhythmic and harmonic material that will be heard later in the songs to follow. Based on classical music structure but changes just enough to make it completely original as only The Who can do it.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2019
  3. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Back cover and the songs.
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  4. RogerB

    RogerB Forum Resident

    Great album that deserves a song by song thread and should be a lot of fun to follow! Appreciate the effort Bear!

    Overture - wow what a sublime beginning to the album! I absolutely love it! Every time I hear it I am reminded of the incredible voyage I’m beginning.

    Never disappoints! John’s horns...Pete’s fantastic acoustic guitar playing and then of course Moon lights it up!!! What’s not to like??
  5. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I agree and thanks in advance for posting. A stunning musical work. Groundbreaking in many ways. I am not sure if anyone ever did what Pete did in the Overture prior to this. Maybe in simplified form but never on a scale this grand.
  6. RogerB

    RogerB Forum Resident

    Anybody know what acoustic guitar Pete is playing on Overture?? Love the sound! The album is recorded beautifully!
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  7. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

  8. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I am pretty sure it is his Gibson J 200.
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  9. Randal_SS

    Randal_SS Active Member

    Cleveland, OH
    Agreed. If I recall, it's a '66 and was used almost exclusively through the end of The Who. Was rebuilt sometime around '89 and was later donated to the Rock Hall.
  10. RogerB

    RogerB Forum Resident

    What always amazed me about this largely acoustic album is how they transformed it into the powerhouse it became on stage. The genius of Pete Townshend!

    The first time many years ago when I saw their Woodstock performance I was blown away!!! Still am all these years later.
  11. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Good point. I sometimes forget how acoustic based it really is!
  12. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    PS- Discussion of any version of Tommy is OK by me. I know there are a lot of versions! However, I would like to see a few posts specifically about the studio album. :)
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  13. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Out of My Element
  14. Randal_SS

    Randal_SS Active Member

    Cleveland, OH
    Probably my favorite aspect of that Who era... the studio work was dominated by Pete's vision and love of studio minutiae, but live Who was all piss and vinegar, led by Keith and John. Live at Hull is a good example of this.
  15. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

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  16. Safeway 1

    Safeway 1 "mad, bad, and dangerous to know"

    Manzanillo, Mexico
    "Overture" was the B side to the "See Me, Feel Me" 45. Great work Bear! Love these Who albums you are reviewing.

  17. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks. I was hoping most of the folks that liked the Who's Next thread would like this as well. Hopefully interest will keep up on this one until the end.....this one will be a little longer than most SBS threads!
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  18. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Out of My Element
    I came to the "Tommy" studio album in the weird way of seeing the film multiple times and owning the soundtrack LP (first as a homemade cassette I made with a microphone in front of the TV speaker!) before I ever heard the proper studio album. The acoustic guitar foundation (vs. the synthesizer foundation) was quite the breath of fresh air (although there are two soundtrack versions I prefer - both, coincidentally maybe, Pete vocals vs. Roger vocals). Maybe that's why "Overture" always sounds absolutely gorgeous to me.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2019
  19. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for the info about how you came to know the album. I can't tell you how many albums/music I discovered after seeing films!
  20. Rich C

    Rich C Forum Resident

    Northbrook, IL
    Great way to begin, or end, an album.

    I first had this record on 8 track, and yes, they stuck Overture at the very end of program 4. Thought it very odd even though I was too young to realize that this was common practice with 8 tracks and what the proper order of Tommy should be.

    In retrospect, they probably chose to tack this one at the end in order to keep the rest of the sung narrative in order.

    Love the organ that kicks in towards the end of the track. It still creates goose bumps.
  21. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Wow. I did not know they did that on the 8 Track. I heard many 8 tracks but not Tommy. Just the vinyl in this case. I probably did not have enough money to get both!
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  22. Thievius

    Thievius Blue Öyster Cultist

    Fittingly, I was introduced to Tommy on Christmas morning circa 1979 or '80. The Kids Are Alright film/soundtrack was my introduction to the band, and the Tommy songs contained therein must have made an impression because this album was one of the records on my Christmas list. I believe I got Who Are You as well. Nevertheless, as a child my face was excited waking up on Christmas morning hours before the winter's sun ignited. :D

    Anyway, Overture was my true introduction to the LP, Townshend and company drifting in and out of the various themes and passages of the rock opera. And my absolute favorite moment, aside from Pete's acoustic gymnastics, is when the organ suddenly erupts and plays the "Listening To You" theme in dramatic fashion. Its such a stunning moment.

    But Tommy is an old favorite. I play it year round, but its an absolute staple around Christmas time just because it sparks (heh) some fond memories. Its an amazing journey! (Ok, enough with the puns. :p )
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  23. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Forum Resident Thread Starter

    A great story. Funny how the "Overture" teases us to are some "samples" of the music and makes you think..... there is something else here...and you can't resist finding out what else there is.
    905 likes this.
  24. Gregster

    Gregster Forum Resident


    Yes, I doubt that there's too many folks that don't like this instrumental piece after listening to it. Lots of musical twists & turns, key changes, French-horns combined with a melody that's not only instantly identifiable, but one that you can hum back to yourself too. That = success in anyone's language...

    Probably important too, is to remember Kit Lambert & his pushing & shoving to get it all right, & to make the world's first "Rock Opera" for an entire album & one that found international success too. ( Of course we had the mini-opera from "A Quick One" first, & then another from "Sell Out", but not of this finesse, quality & duration IMO ).

    Many people rightfully remind us of the impression that the Beatles had on rock music, but for some reason forget the impression that the Who had too, with their influence affecting a great many more genres IMO, ( AOR & Progressive rock for example ). And all starting with Tommy...

    It's now interesting to see how in the later years of their careers, that Tommy was fully embraced by Roger, & Quadrophenia by Pete. I guess that many people including Roger see it as "his" coming-out moment.

    The only problem I have with any Who album, & especially this one, is making sure that you have the time to listen to it from start to finish !


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  25. Dylancat

    Dylancat Forum Resident

    Cincinnati, OH
    I like how they got a full “symphonic “ sound on the “Overture” with the use of acoustic and electric guitar, bass, piano, organ, drums, a French horn and timpani.

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