After the release of their career defining moment, Who’s Next in 1971, master crafter of tunes guitarist Pete Townshend went back to the drawing board for this release. The result? An ambitious double concept album that, although could have easily fallen apart, was seen as an underrated and artistic success for the group. It is still seen as a classic today, so let’s hear this journey through sound, and see where it takes us. It follows the core concept of a small town man named Jimmy and his progress through life, so let’s see where he goes.

We begin with I Am The Sea which begins with the sound of rushing waves, followed by keyboards and other weird textures. A strange intro, no doubt inspiring Nine Inch Nails later on in some of his work on The Fragile album. Some interesting keyboard melodies enter, and Roger Daltrey sings briefly here, with some cut up samples of vocals here. Great drama here, before segueing into the next track.

Following is The Real Me which begins with some basic guitars, powerful drumbeats and some lyrics about our main character seeing a psychiatrist. A really joyous and infectious tune, this is really great and awesome listening, and The Who put in one of their best performances here. Some of the playing here is truly fantastic, and it is an exciting and great piece which begins our story nicely. Very good music here, and a top listen by The Who, complete with horns. Keith Moon’s drumming is powerful, fresh and energetic here, he obviously knew how to impress. Great song to begin this album with, it finishes with delayed vocals.

Quadrophenia comes along next and is a six minute long piece of music. It begins with a good mesh of acoustic guitars, piano and electric guitar playing. It sounds really awesome and wonderful here, and is a genuinely good listening experience. The electric guitar motifs fight to be the star of the show. A really cool piece of music, this is much better than what many Progressive Rock contemporaries at the time were doing. Seriously. Towards the middle, we have a single repeated guitar note, some descending sounding keyboards and some nice bass and percussion work. Some repeated drum parts then enter, followed by different guitar sounds and some other well crafted textures here. In the second half, the instrumentation leads into some great keyboard and piano playing, before the band rejoins the mayhem. For an extended instrumental, this is very, very good. It builds up into a strange frenzy towards the end, before launching back into the sound of waves and some other strange sound samples.

Cut My Hair is next here, beginning with gorgeous guitar and piano. Roger Daltrey adopts his Jimmy character profile and sings about cutting one’s hair and looking a certain way in order to feel good and fit in, i.e. conformity. There are some really awesome guitar and bass guitar playing here, this is an extraordinary listen. This is a really fantastic listen about fitting in with the crowd. Really interesting and musically exciting, it evolves the story of Jimmy and his life. Interesting tune, it ends with a sample of TV speech about violent clashes between Mods and Rockers, although a very retro thing, still is a good summary of the plot so far. Good piece of music here.

Next up here is The Punk and the Godfather which begins with loud guitars and a fantastically played melody, before launching into a prophetic (for the early 1970s) tune that is glorious, different and amazing to hear. It discusses youthful angst and other ongoing events in one’s life. A fantastic listen, with some trippy sounds and great playing to boot, there is a cool call-and-response feel here to this song. The song is about ideals and movies, which influence our main character Jimmy. A really awesome piece of music, this is a grand mixture of beauty, power and melody here. The midsection has a twist about acknowledging oneself, before going back into the music at hand, with a sample of crowd cheering. Great song about a nemesis anti-hero that Jimmy becomes, and an interesting tune nonetheless. The Who really sound fantastic here, without question. It finishes with the main melodies being played over a slow fade out, very nice.

Following is I’m One begins with some great acoustic playing and some electric guitar violining. It has our main character declaring himself a loser and showing that he doesn’t think much of what he does. The song eventually bursts into a piece of music that is glorious and powerful, although it is clear that our main character has some psychological issues. A cool reference to owning a Gibson is here and some great guitar work by Pete Townshend is here, a very good song and flowing the concept album here nicely. Not bad for a two and a half minute piece.

The Dirty Jobs follows which begins with some piano and keyboard, and Keith Moon’s glorious drumming, before launching into a very good Classic Rock piece that sounds fantastic. Talking about those who have work that isn’t great lyrically, Roger Daltrey proves himself to be a fantastic Rock singer here and sings with precise melody and delivery that is different, unique and awesome. One of the top ten singers of his time, without a doubt or question, he delivers perfectly here. There is some gorgeous violin and other supporting instrumentation to keep this piece going along, a really cool listen by The Who. Towards the end is some sampled chanting, which is definitely different. A great five minute piece that is definitely worth hearing, nice job by The Who. It ends with some pig grunting sounds and some military music, how odd.

Helpless Dancer begins with some brilliant piano, horn sections and a sense of grand beauty to The Who’s music. Strummed acoustic guitars then enter, and Roger Daltrey sings about social issues at hand. It’s a weird piece of music here, but is essential to the progress of the album and just sounds very interesting, although it is only two and a half minutes long. It eventually takes us to the scene of said dancer at the end, with samples of songs by The Who, guess which ones? Brilliant melodramaticism though.

Next is the piece Is It In My Head? which begins with gorgeous acoustic guitars, piano and horns about psychological issues at hand. A really excellent song, this is wonderful listening about the way our main character sees things, asking if it is in his head or heart. Some fine music is delivered here, with a precise and wonderful deployment of sound. A really great song about the way one perceives things, with some really interesting keyboard parts, this is a great song. Not bad for a three minute piece on this double disc concept album, there is some gorgeous slide guitar here as well. Nice and awesome, it concludes sharply.

Following is the last song on side one, I’ve Had Enough. It begins with some extraordinary drum fills, great guitar work and a melodic sensibility unlike anything else. It continues the story of our main man Jimmy and the troubles he is facing. Musically, it sounds wonderful and has some awesome reoccurring lyrics here, before going into a great keyboard driven midsection piece that sounds really awesome. Roger Daltrey puts in an amazing career defining performance, before banjos, bongos and other instruments enter here nicely. A really awesome listen here, despite the undercurrent of negative emotions that run through the story, it is a very good conclusion to side one and sounds very wonderful and articulate. A great piece of melodic Classic Pop/Rock, The Who do wonderfully here. The various sections are repeated here for dramaticism, and the whole thing sounds really different. Jimmy sure is fed up here for sure. The conclusion here is brutal, with a loud scream as the worst happens here.

5:15 begins side two, with some background speech recorded at the start, before melancholy guitar and piano enter. By this point, the main character here is full of dismay and despair. The tune quickly changes into a more upbeat and provocative piece that sounds really great. This is another showcase for Roger Daltrey’s phenomenal voice, it is certainly a case of a great performance by him. The theme here goes on nicely, with our main character Jimmy losing it. A really cool piece of music all the same, with reference to mental health issues, this is a very confrontational piece of music. Brilliant musically and lyrically, this is a decent piece of music. It finishes with some fantastic piano and drum rolls, sounding great.

Sea and Sand is next, with the sounds of waves and seagulls painting the scene, before launching into a melodramatic piece of music about counting one’s losses. It is a great performance all the same, and just sounds like Jimmy is down on his luck. In any case, this is good music that sounds awesome quality wise, with instrumentation in particular sounding wonderful. The story, lyrics and artistry here are wonderful, and it is borderline suicidal for the main character at this point, although no more should be said to spoil the journey for those who haven’t listened yet. There are some great guitars, pounding drums and brilliant singing here to keep you listening. Towards the end is a very good guitar solo that is excellently played by Pete Townshend. Brilliant listen, and album too.

Next up is Drowned which begins with joyful piano, excellent bass guitar and electric guitar playing that is fantastic. It’s about facing difficulties in life head on at the beach, thinking it over. In any case, the music here is really excellent. The band here are delivering a great performance from start to finish. Towards the middle, we go into a great set of harmonies and singing, before re-emerging with guitar parts that are subtle, yet complex. A really energetic and exciting listen, with horns enter in the second half. This is Classic Rock at one of its best points in history, and this isn’t even The Who’s best album. It is quite simply that good. Our main character threatens suicide after all he has been through, and this piece is powered on by Keith Moon’s underrated drumming. Great music here, it ends with some samples of Roger Daltrey singing at a crowded beach.

Following is Bell Boy which begins with some thunderous drum rolls, weird keyboard sounds, excellent guitar leads and some great singing by Roger Daltrey. A really great song, which has an interesting twist to the concept album here, it is a surprising listen. A Cockney styled accent is here singing along, delivered nicely. Excellent progression and great music, too. It transforms into a loud and rocking number that sounds really interesting and wonderful musically. There is a proto-1980s keyboard in the background here, but is a piece very reminiscent of the glory of Classic Rock, not Synth Pop. This music really cannot be taken out of context, but is wonderful listening all the same, finishing very nicely.

Doctor Jimmy is the longest piece on this album, at over eight minutes long. It begins with whooshing wind sounds, thunder and (seemingly so) rain. Shortly into it enters violins and horns, before a drumroll enters and we get underway. Roger Daltrey sings with a hint of aggression here, showing that the raging lunacy of our main character. A wonderful piece of music to hear, and this is powerful and electrifying listening, although very confrontational. The chorus in particular is very direct, but sounds wonderful all the same. The midsection here is really interesting, sounding a bit like Miles Davis or something similar. Before long, singing begins again and this piece is a wonderful and exciting listen here. There are a multitude of exciting and different sections here, showing that The Who could do drama very well, and succeed at it. The chorus is excellent and very well delivered and memorable here, a must listen for fans of Classic Rock. Great stuff here, this is truly excellent music to listen to. Towards the end, we hear Roger Daltrey sing wonderfully, before pounding drum rolls and other great instrumentation make this flow very well. Some intricate and crashing piano parts conclude this here, and we finish with some strange electronic sounds which segue into the next song.

The Rock is next, which continues the progression of the concept here. It has some glorious horn sections, electrified guitar playing and some powerful drumming by Keith Moon. There are also some grand sounding piano parts which sound awesome. The vocal melody is played on a clean electric guitar sound, whilst other instrumentation and melodies back this one up. Really suspenseful, exciting and original music, The Who show here that they can do drama very well. This is an instrumental, but a very good one at that. It goes into a section with clean guitar playing and some great drumming to match it. Some hi-tech keyboard sounds then follow, certainly interesting listening for a Classic Rock instrumental. With a mixture of brilliant sounds which are very gorgeous, this goes to show that The Who at their peak were excellent musicians. An excellent bluesy guitar solo then enters, with repeated keyboard melodies over the top. Great melodicism and musicality, rarely matched elsewhere. It ends with dual tracked keyboards and more excellent drum fills, before we hear thunder and rain.

Very last here is Love Reign O’er Me which continues from the last track with gorgeous piano, tom-tom drum rolls and the sound of rain here. The piano playing here is really excellent, and just sounds really pretty. Our main character finds what he is looking for, and Roger Daltrey puts in an amazing vocal performance here, putting many other vocalists to shame. Strummed acoustic guitars are in the background here, as is some great keyboard. The singing here is absolutely fantastic, and this is an awesome conclusion to this album. Our character leaves the pitfalls he has experienced and finds a decent solution to his troubles. A good tune with character and suspense, a very nice listen indeed. The screaming vocals towards the end sound awesome, great stuff. A grand finale here, and a decent album to hear. It ends with a huge, pounding set of drumrolls, before finish with crashing instrumentation.

This is no doubt a fine moment for Rock music, and a very influential album and set of songs by The Who. The only real flaw here is that this album is very lengthy, and could have benefitted from some of the length of it cut a little via editing. Still, despite that, this is a golden classic and a must listen for those who dig music history in particular. A great and interesting journey through life’s difficulties and how to resolve them.

Grand Rock Opera.



If you liked the article and would like to support the author in his musical review quest, please donate to show your support. Thank you for your consideration. Chris Airey