What can I say about The Who‘s Tommy that hasn’t already been said? Since its release in 1969, Tommy has been written about nearly as much as Sgt. Pepper. Tommy was a peak moment for a band that has had enormous impact on rock and roll, and broke new ground in several ways.
Arguably the first “rock opera,” Tommy spanned two LPs, and takes the unusual approach of telling a single (if somewhat muddled) story over the span of its 24 tracks.
If you listen to classic rock radio, you’ve almost certainly heard some of Tommy: “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” and “See Me, Feel Me” have all been issued as singles and get airtime separately.
But Tommy really begs to be heard in its entirety. It’s a bit of an undertaking, running a bit more than 75 minutes, but well worth it.
From the opening instrumental “Overture,” to “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Tommy is an outright masterpiece. This isn’t just the band that trashed its equipment on stage at the end of shows, it’s a mature band at its full power writing and performing complex and wonderful music.
Some of my favorite Who moments are the intricate bass parts of “Overture,” “Underture,” and “Sparks.” If you have any appreciation for bass, it’s hard not to fall in love with John Entwistle’s contribution to Tommy. Then again, his contribution is no more substantial than Keith Moon’s, Pete Townsend’s, or Roger Daltry’s.
As a teen, I was only passingly familiar with The Who until I lucked into a ticket to see them play at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The band were touring in 1989 as a “final” reunion, minus (sadly) Keith Moon. I boned up a bit on their music beforehand, but it was the live show that really sent me hunting for more.
I don’t have the slightest idea how many times I listened to Tommy in the year or two after the 1989 Who show, but it must be in the hundreds. It’s not in quite as heavy rotation as it was in my younger days, but Tommy still fills me with joy whenever I put it on.