The Who's Pete Townshend Celebrates Tommy In The Studio
Like peeling back layer after layer of an onion, the many stages of The Who's Tommy conception, gestation, and birth are further revealed, it seems, every time Tommy composer Pete Townshend cleans out a storage closet. In this week's rock sonogram, additional demos and even a complete 1969 concert performance of the prenatal Tommy have now resurfaced on the new deluxe and super deluxe editions.
In May 1969 the rapidly expanding audience for the rock counterculture already thought that they had seen it all. The Beatles had followed their ground breaking Sgt. Pepper's… album with the prolific double White Album in 1968. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had obliterated any boundaries of the electric guitar by Electric Ladyland. The Doors' Jim Morrison challenged the sensors singing 'Couldn't get much higher" on live U.S. television on the top-rated Ed Sullivan show and The Rolling Stones were cultivating a notorious bad boy, anti-Beatle alternative image that would, a year later, manifest itself as witness to murder at Altamont. But in May 1969 The Who's release Tommy would roll rock into a realm never before imagined: the rock opera.
Until then, The Who was known as a singles band with "I Can't Explain", "My Generation" and "Substitute". Ironically, Pete Townshend tells InTheStudio host Redbeard that the failure of The Who's 1968 single "I Can See for Miles" to reach the top of the charts was a huge blow to his confidence, setting the stage for a new direction and unorthodox composition.
"When I got to Tommy, I thought, 'Well, this isn't working anymore'. I had done "I Can See for Miles", it didn't hit in the UK, it hit quite well in the States. I always thought it was going to be my kind of global # 1. And it wasn't, it was just another song which was obviously charting our slow decline... What are we going to do?... We decided to do an opera. It felt not only a dangerous thing to do, but it did actually feel like an exception to the rule. I actually felt like I was stepping outside my job. I was abandoning my rock'n'roll legion. I was leaving my boys behind."
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