Landmark Album Reviews IV

Greetings TGWTG fans.  NOTYETUSEDNAME here today to bring you the next installment of:

LANDMARK ALBUM REVIEWS

The show where I collaborate with another music reviewer to look at an album that defined a group and inspired the music world.

Today’s Landmark Album is Tommy by The Who

tommy album cover

Joining me again is JotaKaPF from Album in Depth.

NYUN:  Thanks for collaborating with me again, my friend.

JK: Always a pleasure, NYUN. This album was an album I bought long time ago and heard it just a few times before, so let’s get it on.

Released May 23, 1969, Tommy was English Rock Group The Who’s 4th Album and the first record to be labled as a Rock Opera.  It landed at #2 on the UK charts for 17 weeks and #4 on the Billboard charts for 16 weeks, sold over 20 million copies and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 for it’s historical and cultural significance.

Warning:  Spoilers ahead if you haven’t heard this story before

Written largely by Guitarist Pete Townshend, this Album tells a story about Tommy, the son of presumed lost WWII fighter Pilot Captain Walker, who witnessing a traumatic event in his childhood retreats within himself to exhibit the symptoms of severe autism-literally deaf, dumb and blind to the world around him.

The album shows the cruelty that’s inflicted upon him by his sadistic cousin Kevin the Schoolyard bully, and his evil pedophile Uncle Ernie who know they can abuse him with impunity since he’ll never tell anyone.

His only outlet to the real world is Pinball which he’s so good at he easily defeats the town champion, and develops a cult following.

The album explores the attempts his mother and stepfather take to try and cure him-including holistic healing, Halucinogenic drug therapy with the Acid Queen and a slew of medical testing that results in the doctor determining that the cure lies with Tommy as it’s psychological in nature.

Finally, frustrated by Tommy’s incessant staring in the mirror, his Mother Smashes it, and Tommy becomes fully aware of the real world.  This event becomes heralded as the miracle cure, and propels Tommy to messianic status.  As the new sensation, Tommy tries to help everyone through his concerts/sermons where groupie Sally Simpson is slashed in the face by security when she tries to go onstage to touch him.

Tommy then welcomes his followers into his house which soon grows too small for them so he goes so far as to build a camp for people to come to to learn to play pinball while blindfolded, ear plugged and gagged.  In the end, his followers rebel against him and Tommy is left alone to discover a new enlightenment.

So, is this album worth the hype and accolades it gets?  Let’s take a listen and find out.

To review this album, we’re going to be looking at 5 criteria:  Music, Lyrics, Production Quality, Hooks you can’t get out of your head(in a good way) and overall cohesion of the songs for the whole of the album.  Ratings on a scale from 1-blow this record up with a 12 gauge to 10-I want this album with me if I’m stranded on a deserted Island with only 1 choice of what to listen to for the rest of my life(well, OK, maybe not THAT great, but right up there).

MUSIC

Using the instruments honed by The Who, Keith Moon lays down an erratic-yet metered rhythm to the tracks that is intense and wild.  John Entwistle keeps the pulse with his bass and adds touches with the French Horn for effects.  Pete Townshend uses electric power chords and surprisingly subtle accoustic guitar lines(except for his flamenco stylings on Pinball Wizard) and Roger Daltry belts out one great soul stirring song after another.

Using their unique 3 part harmonies, this is the very best example of the early sound of The Who-their next album, Who’s Next would usher in a new sound with a heavier use of Synthesizer accompaniment(Baba O Reiley, Won’t get fooled again) but that’s for a future review…..

NYUN:  I love this album a lot for the music in it.  There’s so much variety in it whether it’s the pulse pounding (I’m free, Pinball Wizard), the Dramatic (Sally Simpson, Cousin Kevin, Fiddle about), the whimsical(There’s a doctor, Christmas, Welcome) and the really hard to classify(1921, The Hawker).  Throughout, there are recurring phrases used, “Tommy can you hear me?”  “See me….Hear me…Touch me…Heal me.” “Listening to you…I hear the music…Gazing at you, I feel the heat…Following you, I climb the mountain….etc.”  They tie the whole of the story together and leave a very satisfying listen with you.  My score-9

JK: I agree completely with you, but I guess the variety got me by the leg sometimes going to a complete mess on the music department. More precisely, I don’t really like “Fiddle About”, as that to me is the lower point of the whole Tommy experience. Overall, my score – 8

LYRICS

Pete Townshend uses very descriptive language to convey the frustrations and fears of adolescence to great effect.  His rhymes are very clever and there’s a definite moving forward of the story in the way the lyrics convey the passage of each experience in the album.

NYUN:  Very good lyrics in these songs.  Even before I saw this in the film and later in the broadway stage show, I could envision what was happening in this album from the lyrics sung.  My score-9

JK: Excelent lyrics, as they explain what the hell is going on in the story that the album present and try to not make the listener lose interest because it’s getting too complex. My score – 8

PRODUCTION QUALITY

Produced by Kit Lambert and engineered by Damon Lyon-Shaw, Tommy wasn’t recorded for perfection, but rather for the feeling of the band doing what it does.  The band fought hard with the studio to keep it bare of orchestrations and multi-tracking that would’ve been hard to produce live in tours.  The results are an album that has flaws but they’re very honest flaws.  There’s a raw element to the recording that’s hard to deny.

NYUN:  I like the sound-it’s like the band itself-wild and full of piss and vinegar.  I think there’s an argument to be made for a raw recording that doesn’t take the time to eliminate the flaws of the sessions.  My score-9

JK: I gotta say that this one is pretty well recorded. I didn’t find any flaws in recording sessions and bad effects and look that I tried really hard to do so. Even the transition between each track is treated preciously. My score – 10

HOOKS YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD(IN A GOOD WAY)

Almost every track on this album comes with a hook that you’ll have a hard time forgetting.  They’re catchy like all great hooks are.

NYUN:  See meeeee  Hear meeee  Touch meeee…Heal meeee….  That deaf, dumb and blind kid SURE PLAYS A MEAN PINBALL…..TOMMY CAN YOU HEAR ME?….Fiddle about….fiddle about fiddle about!….  OH YEAH, these hooks are golden.  My score-10

JK: For me, just “See me, Hear me, Touch me, Heal me” saves the album. There are, of course, some other major earworms, but this one goes to sleep with me every time I hear it… See me… Hear me… My score – 10

OVERALL COHESION OF THE SONGS FOR THE WHOLE OF THE ALBUM

Using a chronological storyline accented by recurring lines and themes(the mirror, pinball) this album ties together nicely-even though many of the tracks stand alone as great songs, together they’re well matched.

NYUN:  This is a rare album where each song can be listened to both separately and as a whole work.  That’s really difficult to do.  My score-10

JK: This one I disagree with you in one topic. Even though there are some songs that are kind of okay as a standalone, only listening to the entire album is that this album shines like it should. This is a concept album after all, and a heck of one in that department. My score – 10

NYUN’S FINAL SCORE OF TOMMY BY THE WHO-9.4

JK’S FINAL SCORE OF TOMMY BY THE WHO – 9.2

NYUN:  I’d like to thank JotaKaPF for reviewing this album with me today.

JK: The pleasure is entirely mine, NOTYETUSEDNAME. And I’m quite of surprised this album got such a great grade as it been sleeping in my chest for quite a long time. This is JotaKa, signing off.

NYUN:  I’d also like to thank TGWTG fans for giving us some of your time to read as well.  I hope you enjoyed our review.  If you have an opinion on this album, we’d love to hear it.  Peace.

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