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The Who In The Studio For 'Tommy' Anniversary


Michael Angulia | 05-13-2024

The Who In The Studio For 'Tommy' Anniversary

The 55th anniversary of The Who's iconic "Tommy" album is being celebrated by the syndicated radio show In The Studio With Redbeard: The Stories Behind History's Greatest Rock Bands.

Redbeard shared this synopsis for the episode: "Rock'n'roll is about the moment you become alone, the moment when you grow up, the moment when you leave home," The Who's Tommy composer Pete Townshend declares. "You have no protection anymore. Your family haven't disowned you, and you haven't disowned your family, but from then on you're an adult. You will never... ever... NOT be alone again. Rock'n'roll is about that moment."

Off the top of my head, I can think of several of rock history's biggest sellers that were born out of sheer desperation for fear of losing a record contract, including Queen A Night at the Opera, Frampton Comes Alive, Journey Infinity, and The Who Tommy. Of those, Tommy was the first, and possibly the most significant, of that esteemed lot. Main Who songwriter Pete Townshend believed that he had written his best song ever in 1968's "I Can See for Miles", something that would separate The Who from the pop British Invasion bands such as the Small Faces and Herman's Hermits, and elevate Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon to elite status alongside the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Cream.
Released within weeks of each other in 1969, The Who's Tommy was among the last great iconic albums of the Sixties decade, while Chicago Transit Authority may have been, in effect, the first major album of the Seventies. From this distant vantage point fifty-five years on, it is difficult for me to imagine Tommy existing anywhere BUT the latter half of the Sixties, and perhaps that is one reason why it was like wrestling a python whenever the rock opera was mounted multiple times in various formats practically every decade since, with mixed results. No subsequent version has ever come close to the breathtaking original Pete Townshend composed for The Who.

Like peeling back layer after layer of an onion, the many stages of The Who's Tommy conception, gestation, and birth as the first successful rock opera are further revealed, it seems, every time Tommy composer Pete Townshend cleans out a storage closet. Additional demos and even a complete 1969 London Wembley arena performance of the entire Tommy have now resurfaced on the deluxe/super deluxe editions, and Townshend joins me In the Studio to present this rock sonogram of The Who Tommy while still in the creative womb, in part one. Stream the episode here.

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