The Who: Tommy

ON THIS DATE (43 YEARS AGO)
May 23, 1969: The Who: Tommy is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
Tommy is the fourth album by The Who, released on this date in May 1969 by Track Records and Polydor Records in the UK and Decca Records/MCA in the US. In 2003, the album was ranked number 96 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was ranked number 90 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Albums of Rock & Roll and appears in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. NME named it the 16th on “NME Writers All Time Top 100” in 1974. Q ranked it 9th on their list of “The Music That Changed The World: Part One 1954–1969” in 2004. Upon its release in 1969, Life declared, “For sheer power, invention and brilliance of performance, Tommy outstrips anything that has ever come out of a rock recording studio. In 1998 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant value”. It has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
A double album telling a loose story about a “deaf, dumb and blind boy” who becomes the leader of a messianic movement, Tommy was the first musical work to be billed overtly as a rock opera. The album was mostly composed by guitarist Pete Townshend.
The definitive rock opera, Tommy liberated the Who from a “singles band” stigma, marking them as a substantial artistic force. Composer Pete Townshend had flirted with the conceptual format on two previous releases, but here his vision is spread over two ambitious records that play to the Who’s main strengths. Anthems such as the raucous “Pinball Wizard” and the surprisingly serene “I’m Free” emphasize the kinetic power of the band, while Townshend’s cast of characters (the perverted Uncle Ernie, the inscrutable Tommy) reveals a wild and unconventional imagination. Townshend even incorporates Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind” as part of his fable about the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid,” making a successful reference to the past in what is an undeniably groundbreaking and forward-looking achievement.
REVIEW
by Richie Unterberger, allmusic
The full-blown rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy that launched the band to international superstardom, written almost entirely by Pete Townshend. Hailed as a breakthrough upon its release, its critical standing has diminished somewhat in the ensuing decades because of the occasional pretensions of the concept and because of the insubstantial nature of some of the songs that functioned as little more than devices to advance the rather sketchy plot. Nonetheless, the double album has many excellent songs, including “I’m Free,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Sensation,” “Christmas,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the dramatic ten-minute instrumental “Underture.” Though the album was slightly flawed, Townshend’s ability to construct a lengthy conceptual narrative brought new possibilities to rock music. Despite the complexity of the project, he and the Who never lost sight of solid pop melodies, harmonies, and forceful instrumentation, imbuing the material with a suitably powerful grace.
TRACKS:
All songs written by Pete Townshend, except where noted.
Side one
1.         “Overture”       3:50
2.         “It’s a Boy”      2:07
3.         “1921”             3:14
4.         “Amazing Journey”     3:25
5.         “Sparks”          3:45
6.         “Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker)” (Sonny Boy Williamson II)   2:15
Side two
1.         “Christmas”     5:30
2.         “Cousin Kevin” (John Entwistle)        4:03
3.         “The Acid Queen”       3:31
4.         “Underture”     9:55
Side three
1.         “Do You Think It’s Alright?”              0:24
2.         “Fiddle About” (Entwistle)     1:26
3.         “Pinball Wizard”         3:50
4.         “There’s a Doctor”       0:25
5.         “Go to the Mirror!”     3:50
6.         “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”             1:35
7.         “Smash the Mirror”     1:20
8.         “Sensation”      2:32
Side four
1.         “Miracle Cure”            0:10
2.         “Sally Simpson”          4:10
3.         “I’m Free”        2:40
4.         “Welcome”      4:30
5.         “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” (Keith Moon)       0:57
6.         “We’re Not Gonna Take It”   6:45
Deluxe edition
In 2003, Tommy was released as a deluxe edition on a Hybrid SACD and DVD-Audio. The two formats featured the original album remixed into 5.1 surround sound and both featured a bonus disc of “out-takes and demos”. The DVD-Audio edition also includes a bonus video interview with Pete Townshend plus a demonstration of his remixing the original recording into 5.1 sound.
Bonus disc
The first twelve tracks are out-takes and demos and the last five are stereo-only demos.
   1. “I Was” – 0:17
   2. “Christmas” (out-take 3)   – 4:43
   3. “Cousin Kevin Model Child”  – 1:25
   4. “Young Man Blues” (Version one) (Allison)  – 2:51
   5. “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” (alternate version)   – 1:59
   6. “Trying to Get Through”  – 2:51
   7. “Sally Simpson” (out-take)  – 4:09
   8. “Miss Simpson”  – 4:18
   9. “Welcome” (Take two)   – 3:44
  10. “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” (band’s version)   – 1:07
  11. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (alternate version)   – 6:08
  12. “Dogs (Part Two)” (Moon)  – 2:26
  13. “It’s a Boy”  – 0:43
  14. “Amazing Journey”  – 3:41
  15. “Christmas”  – 1:55
  16. “Do You Think It’s Alright”  – 0:28
  17. “Pinball Wizard”  – 3:46
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Filed under John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, the who

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