I was almost tempted to skip Tommy in my Who retrospective. There have probably been many hundreds of reviews and half a million or so words written about this album and I’m not sure if anything new can be added.
Tommy will remain as Pete Townshend’s and The Who’s grand musical statement. He had toyed with the rock opera concept on two of the group’s early albums but few were prepared for this incredible epic. It was all the more amazing because of how early it came in their career
Conceptually, Tommy is one of the most creative albums in rock history. Pete Townshend combined opera, a touch of classical and rock into a brilliant mix. Nearly four decades after its release, it remains one of the most respected and critically acclaimed albums of the rock era.
This is an album that needs to be played as a whole. Only a few of the songs work on their own when presented individually. In the early 1970’s I attended a Who concert at the old Boston Garden where they played Tommy as the second part of the show and it was spectacular. As I remember it, they left some of the songs and the short connector music out which made the basic story songs all the better and more powerful.
I am primarily a vinyl person, but a few years ago I received the SACD copy of Tommy. It makes my old LP sound antiquated. This new CD, with Pete Townshend’s involvement, presents a crystal clear sound which allows the layers and textures of the music to be easily heard.
The story can be a little obscure here and there but it holds together fairly well. It is dark in places as it contains death, abuse, torture, rejection and loneliness. And let’s not forget the deaf, dumb and blind boy who plays pinball.
The tracks that are my particular favorites are the opening “Overture” with its almost classical elements, “Go To The Mirror” which contains one of the best vocal performances of Roger Daltrey’s career, and the classic rock ‘n’ roll of “Pinball Wizard.” In fairness there are 24 songs and many deserve to be not only listened too but experienced and savored.
Very few groups and artists can say that they have established and popularized a new musical form. Through the rock opera Tommy, Pete Townshend and Who expanded the boundaries of the rock format. It remains a remarkable achievement and an essential listening experience for any fan of rock ‘n’ roll.