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Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Who – Tommy

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15


I should warn you all that this review is going to be a long one, my longest since The Beatles and Blonde on Blonde and any other post-Sgt. Pepper 15-rated album, inclusively, and will most probably be my second longest one altogether, as my second favorite album (Quadrophenia, my favorite album, will narrowly beat this one). The Who's luck as the '60s were closing to an end did not seem like it would be as great as when they began. Crippling debt was taking over, their singles stopped charting as high (with only one major chart success after "I Can See for Miles"), and with the growing dominance of the album market over the singles market, it was high time they figure out a way to dominate that area as well, even if artistically I insist they created some of the very best LPs of the '60s. Regardless, the Who needed a catalyst of an album that would catapult them to the top alongside the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as the greatest rock band from the UK to conquer the world. And that album is Tommy.

As it would turn out, their double-LP rock opera, which Pete had been slaving over for a good year, with him already talking about it to the music press in mid-'68, is quite a controversial effort. Some dismiss the very idea of this being the first rock opera, citing the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow (and sometimes British baroque-pop band Nirvana's The Story of Simon Simopath), but that argument is pointless to me, since they had no intent of making a rock album whose story folds out in the manner it might in opera, with certain musical concepts that exist in opera, especially considering the band's "mini-opera" from 1966 and producer/co-manager Kit Lambert's classical background, which not only helped push Pete into completing his ambitious project, but also helped make clear the great scope of the idea to the others in the band when times got tough.

Another criticism is that the very idea is preposterous and pretentious, that they should have stuck to punk-ish anthems and little ditties about masturbation, but again, I disagree entirely, especially because, for an album that's supposed to be so "pretentious", the instrumentation is relatively stripped down. The core of guitar, bass and drums is immediately noticeable on the majority of the tracks, and more often than not the guitars are acoustic, and a fair number of songs are augmented by pianos, either acoustic or electric, organs, and horns courtesy of John Entwistle. And to be honest, that's all they needed to capture the big, epic sound they wanted without going overboard. Hell, Keith Moon's drumming alone more than covers half of the problem. But setting all those things aside, which are pretty much subjective, what about the story and the music? That would be the focal point of such an album, anyhow, setting a story to music. The story is widely disliked; people call it weird, meaningless, childish, whatever insult they prefer, and I simply don't understand. I may not be a big opera expert, but I do know that their storylines are often plain bizarre, yet no one in those circles would dare call out these works for it, simply because the story is more than just a story that goes from point A to point B, but it's a story with a purpose.

And the music is simply some of Pete's very best writing, in melodies and in riffs, and the structure of it as a rock opera allows for brief interlude songs that set the scene and fade out (songs that would, in other groups' later rock operas, would become longer and therefore more filler-ish) and for repetition of certain themes, not because a lack of ideas, but rather as a means to augment them, usually in different contexts and emotional settings. So, without further ado, I will go through the songs in order to try and give you an idea of what I think of the music and the story and how they all sort of go together. The album begins with the "Overture", as every good (rock) opera should, and it sets the scene perfectly. As in instrumental medley of many of the album's excellent main themes to come, it creates enough excitement and an idea of the sounds you'll witness that it can't help but be a highlight. And all the comments about the instrumentation made before apply twice as much here: the themes are transitioned into so smoothly you'll hardly notice this is a mixture of five or six different compositions, the acoustic guitar, bass and drums center and the embellishment of electric guitar, piano and organ capture every bit of majesty, epicness and beauty as needed, and the few moments of wordless vocals, such as the beautiful choir-like vocals in one of the earlier uses of the "See Me, Feel Me" theme, are every bit as emotional.

After the final selection of motif from later tracks is the first vocal section, with an excellent country-blues guitar riff (that would later be re-explored and altered in the opera's other instrumental compositions), where Pete explains how Captain Walker is a soldier missing-in-action, which based on later information we can assume was sometime late in World War I (I'm estimating late 1917/early 1918) and how he'll never get to meet his newborn child, as they believe he is dead. Aside from this introductory bit of story, that riff is truly something. It's no wonder it would often be the focus of some of the Who's live jams following the release of this album, and I myself often like to jam around that riff. But anyways, after a twangy, country-ish solo, we move on to "It's a Boy", a lovely, brief (only 40 seconds long) ballad with delicate guitar and piano arpeggios as well as a soft, soothing horn melody as Pete in the role of a nurse announces the birth of a baby boy to Mrs. Walker (in a gentle, fragile falsetto, no less), emphasized by quasi-operatic group harmonies repeating "A son! A son! A son!" over twinkling pianos and crashing drums.

"1921" (so somewhere about three or four years after Walker's death and the young boy's birth) – also known as "You Didn't Hear It" or "What About the Boy", depending on whether it's the original album title, the movie soundtrack title, or the Broadway show's track title – begins with a descending riff resembling the opening chord sequence to "Overture", followed thick, melodic bass under beautiful guitar arpeggios that make you unaware that the song's verses have the structure of a blues, with the same three chord pattern you might hear on a Muddy Waters record, but made unnoticeably so. It's also a pivotal plot point: Pete, in the role of Mrs. Walker's new lover, sings in a soft tenor voice where he optimistically declares that the year he'll have with Mrs. Walker will be a good one, until Mr. Walker (also voiced by Pete) enters and bitterly retorts that the year would be good "maybe for me and her/but you and her, no never".

The next part has been made pretty ambiguous since the release of the 1975 Tommy film, where the lover kills the father, whereas in the LP's liner notes, it's stated that the father kills the lover. Since Tommy ought to be around 4 years old, either possibility would have been quite traumatizing, although I assume witness the murder of the main male figure in one's life is probably more frightening, so it's really a judgment call. It doesn't help that Pete voices both men (and as an aside, his vocals on the line "I had no reason to be overoptimistic" are just stunningly beautiful) but I think it was a clever idea to allow for it to be more open to interpretation. Anyways, most of the rest of the song is an operatic back-and-forth, first wondering about Tommy's witnessing this (which from later information we can deduce is through his bedroom mirror or some other mirror), then trying to urge him into forgetting he saw or heard anything and to promise not to say anything, with Roger shyly replying to the harmony vocals in the role of Tommy, at first in contrast to their words but by the end in accordance, before reprising the opening verse, minus the father's line, and fading out on the emotionally devastating musing "what about the boy...?" and a simple, yet so beautiful repeated three-chord sequence as the song fades out.

The next track, "Amazing Journey", was actually the first one written for the album, originally as a lengthy poem explaining what goes on in Tommy's head. The lyrics are oblique – maybe even somewhat psychedelic, with references to color, a "vague haze of delirium" and "musical dreams" – but the general idea is that Tommy, for the past six or so years (the lyrics state he's now ten, so it's 1927 or 1928) has been deaf, dumb and blind, and that he only sees and hears things in the form of music, perfectly captured by the actual music in the song, with a soft, starry-eyed vocal from Roger (bizarre how it's four tracks until the group's lead singer takes the center stage), an almost surreally pretty melody, a catchy descending guitar riff and lots of explosive drum fills, as if to show the bizarre connection of synapses in young Tommy's brain, and these psychedelic whooshing noises produced by playing recordings of guitar string scrapes and possibly French horns backwards, a technique previously employed by the group on "Armenia City in the Sky" on their last album. To go further into Tommy's hallucinatory state, we get the instrumental number "Sparks", which begins with a Hendrix-chord-like electric/acoustic guitar riff (which would become monstrously rocking in the live setting) covered in the same backwards sound effects but that have become somewhat frightening, even nightmarish. Then the country-blues riff at the end of "Overture" returns, with a quasi-slap bass line wandering all over the place before finally reaching the main chord sequence, a soft rolling acoustic progression with click bassline that builds up into a dramatic riff with militant drumming, borrowed from the previous record's "Rael", but altered in mood. The track concludes with a brief reprise of the chord progression from the refrain to "Amazing Journey", as if to signify the end of this journey.

The next few tracks involve Mr. and Mrs. Walker trying to deal with their son's condition. "Eyesight to the Blind" (subtitled "The Hawker"), originally a Sonny Boy Williamson swampy harp-driven blues, is now operatic blues-rock, with a pagan ritual feel to it, built on crunchy staccato guitar chords and this rolling, descending bass and drum fill, where the rhythm section play in complete unison despite the brief complexity of the sequence. This is Roger's first really powerful vocal performance, with a rocking howl akin to his '70s singing prowess, in the role of a forceful preacher in this weird cult that's devoted to using his woman's sexuality as a means of spiritual enlightenment and healing, which I guess Mr. and Mrs. Walker only knew about the two results, but not the method. I suppose the attempt of this cult was to be very convincing, given the weirdly hypnotic guitar solo based on one note slowly rising upwards, not to mention the final verse, which is sung in an uplifting way, with Roger's boisterous "she's got the power to heal you, never fear!"

Continuing on this religious path is "Christmas", the best Christmas song you never knew existed, where Tommy's parents question whether a boy who can't see, hear or speak can be enlightened to be able to go to heaven (possibly a sly critique of religious worries in this epoch, much as the last one was a critique of the various make-shift religions sprouting in the '60s, and even well into the late '70s, according to the various sitcoms from that era that I watch). It goes through a number of moods depending on the parts of the song, with my favorite being the verses, with a catchy vocal melody from Roger backed by John's falsetto "oohs" and followed by childlike "ah-ah-ah-ah" panting vocals as if a bunch of children bouncing along in the snow or caroling or in glee over their presents, with crunchy chugging guitar riffage underneath for good measure. The chorus is now slouch either, as Roger roars how "Tommy doesn't know what day it is" and the harmonies ask "how can he be saved?"

In the bridge, we're introduced two vocal motives from later in the album, with Pete, in the role of the father with a slight Scottish sailor impression, rapidly pleading "Tommy-can-you-hear-me?!", with the guitar/bass/drum combo from the previous track backing him, and, during a brief glimpse into Tommy's mind, we hear him sing the lines to "See Me, Feel Me", his silent plea to those around him from whom he isolated himself, returning to the father's vocals in more frustrated agitation (as emphasized by Pete's final lines in the bridge, the stuttered "can ya, can ya, can ya hear me?!"). And just as an aside, the final refrain catches Roger at the exact moment I can confidently say his vocals officially transform from his youthful, '60s pop/rock scamp-like self into the tough, self assured lion-roaring vocalist God of the '70s, all in a might "YEAH!" we'll get better acquainted with in two years time (from the release of the album, not of this review's writing).

The next track shows some of the struggles Tommy would face because of his disability, as his parents left him in the care of his cousin (either as the went to a play, as an outtake from the album's sessions suggest, or to search for the next person to try and cure him, as one can infer without said outtake in the track listing). The two tracks displaying Tommy being tortured by relatives had to be penned by John because of his skills with black humor, whereas Pete couldn't do just that, and John certainly delivers with "Cousin Kevin". The guitar arpeggios that the verses are built upon are a minor-key variation of a "Chopsticks"-like theme, with thick, mildly foreboding harmonies, which, along with the melody, become ugly by the pre-refrain, with John adopting a possessive vocal tone and the melody whirls around like a storm, which becomes even more harrowing in the refrain itself (beginning with the line "I'm the schoo-oo-oo-ool bully!"), with crunchy electric guitars substituting for ringing arpeggios. The growing fear caused by the music fits the shift from somewhat dark playfulness to outright psychotic torture that Kevin concocts (putting spikes in his seat and letting him out in the rain and the like), and the immediate shifts back into the calm verses make the darkness even more pronounced, especially as the song fades out on a calm note, as if its Kevin trying to convince his aunt and uncle that everything worked out fine.

The Walkers find their next "healer" in "The Acid Queen", a clearly psychotic woman who tries to cure Tommy with hallucinogenic drugs. I find a good number of people are dismissive of the original album recording of the track, far preferring the soundtrack version as sung by Tina Turner in a delirious psycho-soul delivery. While that was certainly the highlight of the somewhat pitiful soundtrack, this Pete-sung version is every bit as good (and superior musically, in my opinion). Pete's whiny vocals are terrific, making him sound like a cackling witch, and the descending verse arpeggio riff (which sounds like an alteration of the "It's a Boy" arpeggio) and crunchy chorus riff are catchy, and the song becomes more intense as the Acid Queen drugs Tommy, with the guitars gaining strength, the drumming becomes explosive and the electric piano staccatos become more repetitive. The best part of the song for me is actually the instrumental interlude, with a lightweight guitar/piano solo, where Pete plays a speedy one-note-at-a-time piano staccato melody and rapidly picks and later strums guitar notes in harmony with the keys, and throughout most of this section, we witness a calm(!) Keith Moon playing a quasi-funky drum pattern before he reverts to his usual self with a drum kit-wide fill. And speaking of Keith, don't you love it when you hear him scream when he plays a difficult fill, like he does in the final verse?

The first disc's closer is possibly the most criticized track of all. "Underture" is 10-minutes long, and it's basically a reprise of the main parts of "Sparks" (all but the Hendrix-chord-like riff, which some editions of the album include as a coda to "Amazing Journey"), that's three to five times the length (depending on your edition of the album's idea of what "Sparks" consists of, as mentioned in the previous set of parentheses). I agree that it is somewhat filler-ish, even if the idea of it, to get a fuller vision of Tommy's druggy hallucinations, isn't a bad one per se. But anyways, there's nothing wrong with enjoying a few more instance of the "Sparks" melodies, especially since they vary the mood a bit throughout the ten minutes, with a couple of new riffs and melodies, such as the speedy Eastern-sounding rising guitar drone with spooky harmonies that conclude with echoey drum fills that bounce of Pete's guitar or something. And Keith's drumming near the final reprise of the softer main melody is his best playing on any studio recording of the riff, be it on "Sparks" or "Rael". And the final chords that ring out like warning sirens is an interesting touch as well.

Disc two begins somewhat oddly, with an operatic interlude piece, but fortunately it's a good one. On "Do You Think It's Alright?", Roger, probably in the role of the mother, given the more notable concern, wonders whether it's a good idea to leave Tommy with an inebriated Uncle Ernie whilst they're away (looking for another cure for the boy?), to which Pete in the role of the father dismissingly says its fine, with off-kilter harmony vocals forming a call-and-response around the title, with Roger singing "do you think it's alright?" over the last half of which Pete says "I think it's alright", until the final chord, where they both sing "I think it's alright", although the open-ended chord makes them sound a bit unsure. And as they should be, as John's "Fiddle About" that follows proves that Uncle Ernie is only there to molest poor Tommy, knowing he can't hear, see or say a thing about it. The cyclical power chord riff, the drunken trumpets, and John's nasal whine are all perfect for this contrastingly lightweight black humor piece, and while some might call the repetitive melody annoying, I think it makes it more unintentionally humorous, especially as the song approaches its end, where it gradually begins to sound like a record player that gets stuck, concluding with a repeated sequence of the same piano notes, chaotic drum fill, horn blast and drunken harmonies singing "fiddle".

From here on out, disc two is practically flawless, in my opinion, beating out the nine-song stretch that made the first disc ideal. "Pinball Wizard", one of two songs that I consider the best of the album, and one of the best-known songs on the album and by the group, was ironically not originally part of Pete's plan. When he realized he needed some sort of activity for Tommy to attribute as his **SPOILER ALERT** cure, he thought of a critic friend of his who was a big fan of pinball, and figured writing a song about the game would garner the album, or at very least the single, at least one favorable review. Not only did it do that, it also managed to be one of Pete's best compositions, despite starting life as a throwaway (and you know that says a lot about a songwriter if a throwaway song becomes genius; see Lennon/McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jagger/Richards and maybe Ray Davies for further reference).

The song is basically arena-folk, starting with a moody acoustic intro before heading into the rapidly-strummed main acoustic riff with a buzzing rising electric guitar chord surrounded by a hypnotic bassline with a confident lead vocal from Roger as a local teen pinball champ who graciously gives up his crown as pinball champ to Tommy in glowing admiration, with some catchy harmonies at the end of each verse line ("Sure plays a mean pinball") followed by crunchy electric riffage, with tough power chords in that pre-refrain and the catchy power-pop of the refrain itself ("I thought I was the mighty table king"). What's interesting is throughout the song, Pete adds additional guitar sounds to imitate the game, with sparse guitar harmonics and clicking repetitive one-note guitar fills. And how about that bridge, that starts with a country-ish electric guitar riff before a terrific arpeggio riff and a Pete and Roger call-and-response, where Pete, as another local kid wonders in amazement how Tommy plays and Roger claims not to know. It makes it all the more believable with these kids who are impressed with another kid's pinball talents. You could take the song out of context and assume it's about a regular kid, but whose pinball playing is so great he could be deaf, dumb and blind and still be the champ. And just one more thing; isn't that closing arpeggio hypnotic? It's a shame they got rid of it for live performances, opting for a more "final" chord.

Anyways, next is "There's a Doctor", a jaunty music hall piece which begins with just Pete and a descending piano chord proclaiming he's found a doctor who can cure Tommy, which builds up to include fun, operatic harmonies and bombastic drums to exclaim the great joy in finding said cure. The doctor's song itself, "Go to the Mirror!", is built off a crunchy three-chord guitar riff (which oddly enough is partially borrowed from the Kinks' "Johnny Thunder" from the previous year"), which another fantastic howling Roger vocal, which is especially impressive right before the "See Me, Feel Me" quotes. Speaking of which, on this track is the only instance on the album where Tommy's main theme is sung by Pete rather than Roger, which I think symbolizes his barriers are breaking down, with Pete's more fragile voice and all, and the more stripped-down instrumentation, of just a bass drum and a quiet rising piano melody, could support that theory. As the song progresses, the riff is augmented by some grooving honky-tonk pianos, the refrain only appears once for great affect (the commanding singing of the title), and it's also the first instance where you hear Tommy's second theme, "Listening to You", which could be his reaching out to his family, even if the doctor can't find a cure. The finale is probably the best part, at least emotionally speaking. The father (also Roger), who ignores the doctor's inability to explain why Tommy blocks out these senses when tests show they function, asks "What is happening in his head?" with full force before, in defeated desperation, sighing "Ooh, I wish I knew", before fading out on a quieter run-through of the main riff (mostly played on percussive bass and piano).

"Tommy, Can You Hear Me?" is very different from the way that line was sung on Christmas. It's basically a fun, campfire sing-along tune with delightful harmonies and a rising chord progression (where they go through the chord sequence in one key and then raise it for the next refrain) played on folksy strummed acoustic and a percussive picked bassline. It concludes with the band repeatedly singing "Tommy" over and over until only Roger is heard, possibly to symbolize Tommy himself singing along with his family in his head. Next is supposedly the mother having just enough of Tommy's isolation in "Smash the Mirror", a ferocious blues rocker with terrific opening drum fill and twangy country-blues guitar licks, both of which proceed to spice up the entire track. Roger's pissed-off vocals are mighty, and the rising harmonies (which almost crack at the highest falsetto note) – on the line stating the mother's temper is rising – really amp up the tension, with the guitars following the melody but the bass sticking to the first chord, for some effective mild dissonance. What could constitute the tune's refrain ("Do you fear or hear or/Do I smash the mirror?") has some fantastic swirling organ and spinning piano melody around Roger's confident vocal, and the tune concludes with the sound of a mirror shattering, followed by a hallelujah-type sound effect (some sort of primitive synthesizer?) indicating that Tommy is cured.

I've actually read some reviews that complain that Tommy's first song after being cured should be a lilting pop song rather than something more epic, but I disagree entirely. This serene pop sound with ringing acoustic and electric guitar arpeggios, pretty, bouncy, piano chords and cascading horns turn it into a quasi-religious "aha!" moment. You wouldn't be super ecstatic about regaining a lost sense, you would be calmly awe-struck, in which case this song works. Besides, Pete couldn't simply dispose of this lovely melody, which he performs wonderfully in a flower-power-esque falsetto. Supposedly, this song began as "She's a Sensation", one of Pete's spiritual love songs à la "Can't Reach You" (which also used the sight, feel and touch connection between romantic love and spiritual love as this song and "See Me, Feel Me"), for possible use in a marking time album between The Who Sell Out and this one, but I'm glad it made it here. I especially love how, during the bridge, it becomes a bit more tense as Tommy announces his arrival, as he's finally accustomed to his newly rediscovered senses and now feels spiritual uplift that would lead to his becoming a messiah, and the closing "I am the li-i-i-i-i-ight" (with Pete spinning around the world "light") is every bit as beautiful and catchy.

After a catchy set of folksy harmonies, bouncy chords and speedy drum fills to which a newsboy announces Tommy, the pinball wizard, has been cured miraculously (the little 10-second ditty accurately titled "Miracle Cure"), we get to a song that doesn't directly deal with Tommy Walker. "Sally Simpson" is about a girl who wants to see Tommy's sermon since he's her teenage idol, but her preacher father understandably refuses, even if her mother is more permissive. The bulk of the song is in the form of a delightful pop rocker with saloon-ish piano, tom-heavy drumming, picked bass and light folksy guitar strumming, with a terrific chorus melody built on lovely harmonies for the mother's advice to Sally. At Tommy's sermon, Sally reaches up on the stage to touch him, only to be pushed down by security and rushed to the hospital to get stitches after her faces is cut on a chair, which was inspired by Pete's witnessing an event at a Doors concert when they opened for them (and is it any wonder, given Jim Morrison often got such adulation, or the infamous religious aura around him as a frontman and performer?), and the harmonies in this bridge section, perfectly capture the delirium felt at such public events in the '60s, and Keith's stiff, stomping drum fill – which also shows he could play normally yet still be himself – after the first bridge line is just as effective. The highlight of the track is possibly Roger's howling vocal in the role of the father in the final verse, with the dismissive "Don't say I didn't warn ya!", one of his best deliveries on the record, in fact.

Next is the second or third best known single from the LP, "I'm Free". It manages to perfectly combine driving electric riff-rock and ethereal, spiritual vocals (especially at the end of each verse, except for the last verse where Roger goes into his trademark rocking roaring) in this example of one of Tommy's sermons. The falsetto lead vocal and harmonies are uplifting, as are Keith's wild fills, and the bridge with Roger's almost condescending vocal of people's desire to reach spiritual salvation without any effort, complemented by a moody, descending, echoed three-note piano fill, is a clear highlight of the track. I'm also fond of Pete's excellent, fluid acoustic guitar solo with a terrific country/folk vibe that partially borrows from the closing solo of the "Overture" and the tense falsettos singing "how can we follow?" over a "Pinball Wizard"-style riff (with the electric guitar over the acoustic riff replaced by solemn piano) in the coda, which is appropriately sheep-ish of Tommy's flock, as they sing along to his theme.

A lot of people seem to hate "Welcome", but it's such a welcoming, relaxing ballad with folk meets classical guitar playing, warm falsettos and sweet vocal motifs that I could never understand that point of view. What's interesting is how that inviting vibe fades as it becomes more difficult for Tommy to accommodate his disciples into his home, as you can infer from Roger's vocals becoming more tense, especially as he exclaims "Into this house!" in the refrains. In parts, tensions are replaced with moodiness and even creepiness, especially Pete's harmonica solo complete with ominous whispering and tango-esque piano staccatos, or the quasi-rapped vocal parts from Roger over equally subtly haunting piano parts. John's deep-voiced spoken part "there's more at the door", and the energetic operatic harmonies repeating that line are also catchy, and the increasingly dramatized melody shows how well arranged and performed this track is. The two remaining solos are also quite nice, with an acoustic guitar part reminiscent of the Zombies' more guitar-oriented songs (see "I Must Move" or "Maybe After He's Gone" for reference), and the pretty, yet spooky rising piano melody played twice in the coda is suitably placed around a frighteningly whispered "welcome".

The solution to Tommy's problem is in the form of a holiday camp (where working class British people went on vacation for a better price). The song presenting said solution, "Tommy's Holiday Camp", sees the return of Pete, in this Keith Moon-credited but Pete Townshend-penned piece (the location was Keith's idea, but the song was Pete's, although Pete insists Keith would have written it like this anyways). The song is based around a goofy, yet frightening organ melody – which occasionally sounds backwards, maybe even like an accordion from the depths of hell or something – and playful banjos, and Pete's falsetto (especially on the line "the holiday's forever") makes him sound exactly like I imagine the type of clown in children's nightmares might sound like. To complete the silly/scary dichotomy of the track, we conclude once more with the whispered "welcome" over a droning organ part.

In contrast to this silly penultimate track (which dismisses the "Tommy is excessively pretentious" nonsense) is the epic, three-part grand finale. The first part, "We're Not Gonna Take It", takes us to Tommy's holiday camp, where he becomes a bit of a religious despot, insisting that his followers simulate his deafness, dumbness and blindness and learn how to play pinball to achieve enlightenment, which is perfectly represented in the militant drumming and guitar riff coupled with angelic harmonies (symbolic of the bossy vs. spiritual contrast), which causes the people to revolt against their newfound messiah. What's interesting is how the first chorus begins with a whisper, as the anti-Tommy propaganda starts to spread, but the second half of this chorus and the entirely of the second chorus is anthemic, with angry group harmonies and drum fills, which also sports the song's main riff as heard in the "Overture", which also happens to be one of Pete's best riffs, energetic and life-affirming and all (which is bizarrely embellished by boogie piano and droning organ, but hey, it works). The funny thing is Pete is both denouncing organizing religion and denouncing anti-religious people, especially in the line "We don't want no religion, not as far as we can tell", as if to imply non-spiritual people are somewhat unsure of their beliefs, so they choose not to believe (clearly inspired by his adopting the principles of one Meher Baba, whose spiritual message can be found in most of Pete's subsequent works, within and without the Who, if you'll pardon the Beatles-related pun).

The last two parts, after the angry mob either decides to leave Tommy behind rather or plunder the camp and kill him and/or his family (as depicted in the film), Tommy seemingly reverts to his deaf, dumb and blind state, with the full version of "See Me, Feel Me", a solemn desperate prayer with one of Roger's most tender vocal parts, complemented perfectly with "ooooh" harmonies and organ as well as slowly unfurling guitar and piano chords, which transitions into the anthemic "Listening to You", one of the most uplifting finales in my entire music collection, with excellent harmonies, crunchy guitars, swirling organs and powerful drumming. Some might be inclined to dismiss it, but its lyrics are every bit as prayer-like as "See Me, Feel Me", and it would be pretty silly to dismiss a prayer as being silly. Besides, some of the sentiment explored in the lyrics is beautifully put, with my favorite line being "Right behind you, I see the millions/On you, I see the glory", but pretty much every couplet here can be meaningful to me, or any listener, in some way. And, as many parts of the album, this finale is open to interpretation. Does he revert to his past state or is he killed? Is it him realizing he can't force his way of reaching spiritual enlightenment, but rather that he should teach the importance of said enlightenment? And so on and so forth.

As a matter of fact, therein lies the beauty of the entire piece. Like any good opera, the entire story is open to interpretation. What's more, beyond that of the "ordinary" opera, the cast only consists of three vocalists, so even the boundaries between different characters is open to interpretation, an artistic decision I commend, even if a more varied vocal cast could be every bit as valid (as some of the choices in the album's orchestral performances in 1972/1973 or the movie soundtrack might prove). Even with something like the "Underture", this is an easy 15 for me, and I can't imagine the album without that track, and pretty much any omission would change how I feel about it. I should add that I have the first deluxe edition from 2003, which contains the double-LP on one CD and a second CD of bonus material.

The bulk of it is outtakes, with some interesting alternate versions (the best of which are the instrumental, full band versions of "Tommy Can You Hear Me?" And "Tommy's Holiday Camp", which predict the arrangements they would adopt in the live setting, if you take out the keyboard parts), and a couple of unreleased tracks, including "I Was", a gospel-ish, 17-second wordless vocal piece that implies Tommy was resurrected, "Trying to Get Through", a more rocking sermon of Tommy's with a snide Pete vocal and echoey, crunchy guitars which could have worked okay with some tweaking, and would have been even better in the live setting, and an excellent studio rendition of "Young Man Blues", which isn't too different than the live version, only with terrific nasally backing vocals forming a call-and-response with Roger's lead during a jamming portion, plus two other tracks I'll get to in later reviews ("Cousin Kevin Model Child" and b-side "Dogs Part Two"). The last five tracks are some of Pete's demos, and it's interesting to hear how well fleshed out songs were before he presented them to the Who. This edition is only suited for big fans, but it should be something to hear at least once. I'm actually looking for the 2013 deluxe edition, which includes a live disc, mostly recorded in Ottawa during the original Tommy tour in 1969 but which substitutes the last four tracks with some 1976 performances from Swansea. If ever I get that, I might review the live disc as a separate album.

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