The Who needed something special to make as a record. Their first few offerings were great, particularly the My Generation and The Who Sell Out albums. Although both were interesting listens, their commercial success was waning during the late 1960s. Frustrated at this, guitarist and music maker extraordinaire Pete Townshend wanted something that would achieve success on multiple levels as a group, and not just financially either.
This record achieved these goals and is now recognised as a rock classic. It’s the next step on from The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in terms of listening experience. In fact, it’s great to hear 50 years on as a masterpiece of concept album listening. It’s a mixture of great music and so-called “rock opera” concept themes that it’s never boring. It’s a take on of Pete Townshend’s early life and making it through the rock scene. Hence the concept itself. Tommy is a deaf, dumb and blind boy who changes the world by extraordinary means.
We begin with the mainly instrumental Overture which sets the scene musically. It’s got a variety of instrumentation including horns, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar. It’s such an interesting way to start the album. It goes on for over five minutes, but there is never a dull moment here. Roger Daltrey sings so well here and was a great vocalist of his time. It segues into the next piece.
The next piece, It’s A Boy continues the story about Tommy being born into the world. It’s really short after the long instrumental but sets in motion the album and concept. Brilliant.
1921 has the refrain “Gonna feel that 21 is going to be a good year.” It sounds so mint even though it’s not a major piece. Good effort.
Amazing Journey has some sweet backward tapes with guitar and some reflective lyrics from Roger Daltrey. It’s an amazing sonic journey this one.
The next track Sparks develops on the theme on Rael from The Who Sell Out. It’s an interesting instrumental which is captivating. Indeed, the instrumentals on this album are just as good quality as the songs themselves, so track skipping is not recommended whatsoever for this album.
The follow up is an additionally nteresting piece. Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker) is a brilliant continuation of the overall concept of Tommy and has some mega catchy guitar parts within it. There is a good part where Roger Daltrey does a call-and-response with the rest of the band, him versus the music. It’s great.
Christmas talks directly about Tommy being unable to understand the experience of Christmas itself, due to his ailments. It has a repeated refrain throughout, “Tommy, can you hear me?” which of course Tommy himself cannot respond to. It is moments like these that are reprised throughout the album.
Cousin Kevin is about the school bully who gets a kick out of literally torturing Tommy. Some people may laugh at this one, others will be disturbed by the imagery involved. It has some interesting twists in this one, so pay attention to the lyrics, not just the music.
After the disturbing previous track, we enter the realm of unrequested lust with The Acid Queen. A gypsy comes and gives Tommy a you-know-what session. It’s an interesting listen anyway and adds to the overall story.
Underture is a ten minute instrumental that is awesome listening, and never dull for a moment. It uses reoccurring sounds from the previous tracks and is almost prog-rock like in its operation. Excellent.
To follow, we have Do You Think It’s Alright? which is a very short excerpt, which leads into the next song. It’s part of the overall concept here.
Fiddle About is a rather necessary but disgusting piece about the drunk of Tommy Uncle Ernie who does some unmentionable things. It’s part of the concept once again, but disturbingly so.
Pinball Wizard was the main hit song from this album. It starts off with a furious acoustic guitar part, which leads into the skill that Tommy excels at: playing pinball. It’s a great pop piece by The Who and one of their most loved songs.
The next piece is the brief There’s A Doctor I’ve Found which points to a possible cure for Tommy’s unusual condition. It leads into the next song.
The concept of the album continues with Go To The Mirror! in which the Doctor tells Tommy to do as what he says in order to heal himself. It’s a very unusual piece about power over another individual, but it’s good listening.
Tommy Can You Hear Me is another linking piece which has some good harmony based singing on it. It leads on into the next song after a very short time with a long fade out.
Smash The Mirror points out the hopelessness of the situation between Tommy and his own mother. He is still unreceptive to all the movements of the world, so smash goes the mirror. It’s an interesting piece with a very funky guitar part at the start of the song.
We then learn about Tommy becoming a Sensation. It is where Tommy surprises everybody in a unique feat of purpose. It’s a good song too.
The very brief Miracle Cure goes on to explain Tommy’s newfound status, and how it hit the news. It’s a relative comparison to Pete Townshend’s life.
Sally Simpson tells the story of the said lady who falls in love with the now well know rockstar Tommy. It’s a humourous and very British tale of such things. A fun listen.
I’m Free is a reflection on Tommy’s newfound status and the joy that it brings to him. Indeed, it’s a cathartic release for our character who is now a living legend, according to the album.
The follow up Welcome is an open invitation to Tommy’s house to see the man himself. It’s a nice and reassuring piece by the sound of it, although the lyrical meaning is quite different from that itself.
The Keith Moon inspired Tommy’s Holiday Camp is a humourous and mocking piece about the idea of a holiday camp with the weird Uncle Ernie hosting it. It’s hilarious and has a banjo to boot.
The final track We’re Not Gonna Take It sums up the superstar Tommy, and is fantastic sectioned and well done. Roger Daltrey gives this his all, and we have a repeated refrain to finish. It’s an epic listen.
This is how a concept album should be, with variety, some repeated sounds and singing and just an awesome trip through the listen. It was critically acclaimed and saw The Who bring themselves one step closer to being accepted by a more mainstream audience. Tommy is such a fantastic and special listen that it no doubt influenced music for years to come, including albums such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s a great classic album of the 1960s and all people interested in what The Who were about must listen to this album.
Fans should check out the re-release of Tommy with extra tracks and also give a listen to the London Symphony Orchestra collaboration of Tommy, which is brilliant too.
A conceptual piece of masterwork.