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Album: Tommy

Tommy is the fourth album by the English rock band The Who, released by Track and Polydor in the United Kingdom and Decca and MCA in the United States. 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. Released in 1969, the album was mostly composed by guitarist Pete Townshend. In 1998 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value. Synopsis The opera was written to express how Townshend felt after being taught by Meher Baba and other writings and expressing the enlightenment he believes he received — "a metaphorical story of different states of consciousness." Characters Tommy Walker: The main character of the story, from whom the album gets its name. Captain Walker: Tommy's father. Mrs. Walker: Tommy's mother. (First name given as Nora in the film version) The Lover: a romantic partner of Tommy's mother. (Uncle Frank Hobbs in the film version) Uncle Ernie: Tommy's "wicked uncle", a paedophile. The de facto antagonist Cousin Kevin: Tommy's cousin, the sadistic "school bully" who brutalizes Tommy when left at home with him. The de facto antagonist The Hawker: The leader of a cult, where Tommy's mother takes him in hope for a cure for his affliction. Local Lad: The reigning champion of a pinball tournament, until Tommy defeats him and takes the title of "Pinball Wizard". (This character was merged with Cousin Kevin for the Broadway version.) The Acid Queen (AKA "The Gypsy"): A prostitute who deals in hallucinogens and attempts to heal Tommy. The Doctor: A doctor who attempts to heal Tommy and finds out that his disabilities are mental rather than physical. (also known as The Specialist, and in the film, "A. Quackson" is the payee on Frank's check.) Sally Simpson: One of Tommy's "disciples". Story in chronological order "Overture"/"It's a Boy" - British Army Captain Walker is reported missing in action during World War I, and is not expected ever to be seen again. Shortly after his wife, Mrs. Walker, receives this news, she gives birth to their son, Tommy. In the film version, Captain Walker is a Royal Air Force pilot "1921" - Approximately four years later, Captain Walker returns home and discovers that his wife has found a new lover. Captain Walker confronts the two and kills the lover. Tommy witnesses this through his mirror. To cover up the crime, Tommy's parents tell Tommy that he didn't see it, didn't hear it, and he will say "nothing to no one ever in life". A traumatized Tommy becomes deaf, dumb, and blind. (In the film version, however, this plot point is changed: Captain Walker confronts his wife and is killed by the lover.) "Amazing Journey"/"Sparks" - Tommy's subconscious reveals itself to him as a tall stranger dressed in silvery robes, and the vision sets him on an internal spiritual journey upon which he learns to interpret all physical sensations as music. "Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker)" - Tommy's parents take him to a church of a cult religion to try to cure him. "Eyesight..." is the cult leader's song. "Christmas" - Tommy's parents, reminded by the advent of a religious time of year, worry that his soul is at risk of damnation, since he is unaware of Jesus or prayer. "Cousin Kevin" - Tommy's parents become complacent and leave him in the care of his cousin Kevin, who bullies and tortures Tommy without fear of anyone finding out. He ultimately gets bored with Tommy's limited reactions. "Acid Queen"/"Underture" - Tommy's parents once again try to cure him, this time by placing him in the care of a woman who tries to coax Tommy into full consciousness with hallucinogenic drugs and sex. "Underture" is an extensive instrumental representing Tommy's experience on acid. "Do You Think It's Alright?"/"Fiddle About" - Tommy is left in the care of his uncle Ernie, an alcoholic child molester who, like cousin Kevin, takes the opportunity to abuse Tommy without fear of being caught. "Pinball Wizard" - Tommy is discovered to have a talent for pinball, and quickly defeats the game's tournament champion. This propels Tommy to international celebrity status. "Pinball Wizard" is the reigning champion's song. "There's a Doctor"/"Go to the Mirror" - Tommy's parents find a medical specialist to once more try to understand and cure his symptoms. After numerous tests, they are told that there is nothing medically wrong with him, and that his problems are psychosomatic. However, as they are trying to reach him, Tommy's subconscious is also trying to reach out to them. "Tommy Can You Hear Me?"/"Smash the Mirror" - Tommy's mother continues to try to reach him, and becomes frustrated that he completely ignores her while staring directly at a mirror. Out of this frustration she smashes the mirror. "Sensation"/"Miracle Cure" - The smashing of the mirror snaps Tommy back into reality. Tommy's cure becomes a public sensation and he attains guru-like status. Thereafter he assumes a quasi-messianic mantle and tries to lead his fans to an enlightenment similar to his own. "Sally Simpson" - One of Tommy's "disciples", Sally is a reverend's daughter who sneaks out of her home to attend one of Tommy's sermons. She ultimately attempts to touch him, only to be thrown from the stage by security and suffers a gash on her face. "I'm Free" - Tommy attempts to spiritually enlighten those that are listening to his sermons. All subsequent versions (except Live at Leeds) place this song immediately after "Smash the Mirror" as a direct reaction to his "cure." "Welcome"/"Tommy's Holiday Camp" - Tommy opens his own home to anyone willing to join him, and urges them to bring as many people with them as they can. His house is quickly filled though, so he builds a holiday camp to try to accommodate everybody. Tommy's uncle Ernie is running the holiday camp and it's implied he is using the camp as an opportunity for profit and is ignoring the camp's purpose of heightening people spiritually. "We're Not Gonna Take It" - Tommy demands that his followers play pinball and blind, deafen and mute themselves in order to truly reach their spiritual height, but the heavy-handedness of his cult and the exploitation of its followers by his family and associates cause his followers to revolt against him. Abandoned by his followers and worshipers, Tommy gains a new enlightenment. This is also the path the movie takes. In its original album version, the story is quite scattered, and details were often filled in post facto by Townshend in interviews. As other adaptations of the album appeared, some details were filled out and others were changed. Notably, some later versions change the time frame from post-World War I/1921 to post-World War II/1951. The film version of Tommy also changes a major plot point: instead of Captain Walker killing his wife's new lover, the lover kills Captain Walker. Analysis and history When Tommy was released, critics were split between those who thought the album was a masterpiece, the beginnings of a new genre, and those that felt it was exploitative because of its dark theme. The album was banned by the BBC and certain U.S. radio stations. Ultimately, the album became a huge commercial success, as did The Who's frequent live performances of the rock opera in the following years, elevating The Who to a new level of prestige and international stardom. Although Tommy is conventionally described as a rock opera, author and Who historian Richard Barnes states that this definition is not strictly correct, since Tommy does not utilise the classic operatic formulae of staging, scenery, acting and recitative. According to Barnes, Tommy could be more accurately described as a "rock cantata" or a "rock song cycle". It most closely resembles an oratorio (e.g. Handel's "Messiah") in form, as it includes instrumental, choral and solo sections, with no dialogue between characters, and no sets, costumes or choreography. A counter argument to Barnes would be that new operas are frequently performed without the first three features before a full mounting, similarly to Tommy, and some of its songs, such as "1921", "Christmas", "Do You Think It's All Right?" and "Go to the Mirror" have the qualities of recitative and dialogue, while it has subsequently been performed with choreography and costuming, including by the Seattle Opera in 1971 and by a Canadian ballet company (dancing to the album recording) shortly thereafter. Musically, the original album is a complex set of pop-rock arrangements, generally based upon Townshend's acoustic guitar and built up with many overdubs by the four members of the band using many instruments, including bass, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, organ, drum kit, gong, timpani, trumpet, French horn, three-part vocal harmonies and occasional doubling on vocal solos. Many of the instruments only appear intermittently—the 10-minute "Underture" features a single toot on the horn—and when overdubbed many of the instruments are mixed at low levels. Townshend mixes fingerpicking in with his trademark power chords and fat riffs. His later interest in synthesizers is foreshadowed by the use of taped sounds played in reverse to give a whistling, chirping sound on "Amazing Journey". The tracks "Overture", "Pinball Wizard", "I'm Free", and the "See Me, Feel Me / Listening to You" reprise were released as singles and were hits on the radio. "Pinball Wizard" reached the top 20 in the U.S. and the top five in the UK, and was a hit for Elton John in 1975/76 (who played the part of the pinball champion in the film). "See Me, Feel Me / Listening To You" landed high in the top 20 in the U.S. and "I'm Free" reached the top 40. The tracks "Overture", "Christmas", "I’m Free", and "See Me Feel Me" were released on an EP in late 1970. The "Overture" was also covered by a band called The Assembled Multitude and received a lot of airplay. Tommy was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. Several structural precedents for Tommy exist in Townshend's work, including "Glow Girl" (1968), "Rael" (1967), and the sectional work "A Quick One While He's Away" (1966). In 2004, Uncut released a CD titled The Roots of Tommy containing music that they asserted influenced Tommy's creation. Among the included songs are the blues songs that Townshend included or attempted to, such as Mose Allison's "A Young Man" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind," as well as The Pretty Things' "S.F. Sorrow Is Born," material from Mark Wirtz's A Teenage Opera, and music by groups such as The Zombies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Nirvana, The Kinks, and music hall comedian Max Miller, who apparently influenced the character of Uncle Ernie. A year before the album came out Townshend explained his ideas and apparently actually thought out some of the structure of the opera during a famous Rolling Stone interview. John Entwistle claimed years after the release that he had never actually listened to the album because he was so sick of it after the endless takes and re-takes. Recognition 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 #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. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.

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