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Tommy (rock opera)

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Title: Tommy (rock opera)  
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Tommy (rock opera)

For the album by Dosh, see Tommy (Dosh album).

The Who
Released 23 May 1969
Recorded 19 September 1968 – 7 March 1969, IBC Studios, London, England
Genre Hard rock[1]
Length 75:12
Label Polydor, Track, Decca, MCA
Producer Kit Lambert
The Who chronology

Direct Hits
Live at Leeds
Singles from Tommy
  1. "Pinball Wizard"
    Released: 7 March 1969
  2. "Go to the Mirror!"
    Released: July 1969
  3. "I'm Free"
    Released: July 1969
  4. "Christmas"
    Released: November 1969
  5. "See Me, Feel Me"
    Released: October 1970

Tommy is the fourth album by English rock band The Who, released by Track Records and Polydor Records in the UK and Decca Records/MCA in the US. A double album telling a loose story about a "deaf, dumb and blind kid", Tommy was the first musical work to be billed overtly as a rock opera. Released in 1969, the album was mostly composed by Pete Townshend. In 1998, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant value". It has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.[2][3]


British Army Captain Walker goes missing during an expedition and is believed dead ("Overture"). His widow, Mrs. Walker, gives birth to their son, Tommy ("It's a Boy"). Years later, Captain Walker returns home and discovers that his wife has found a new lover. The Captain murders this man in an altercation ("1921"). To cover up the incident Tommy's parents tell him that he didn't see or hear it. Traumatised, Tommy drops into a semi-catatonic state and becomes deaf, dumb, and blind. Years pass, during which he is outwardly immobile. Inside his head, however, sensations from the outside world are changed into amazing visions accompanied by music ("Amazing Journey/Sparks").

His parents are aware of none of this, and fret that he will never find religion in the midst of his isolation ("Christmas"). Tommy's parents sometimes go on outings and leave their burdensome son with relatives, many of whom take advantage of his helplessness; he is tortured by his malevolent "Cousin Kevin", and molested by his uncle Ernie ("Do You Think It's Alright?", "Fiddle About"). Meanwhile, a pimp referred to as the "Hawker" is introduced and peddles his prostitute, who promises to return "Eyesight to the Blind" and is reputed to heal the deaf, the dumb, and the blind. Tommy is ultimately taken to this woman, who calls herself "The Acid Queen"; she tries to coax Tommy into full consciousness with hallucinogenic drugs. Although the attempted treatment affects him strongly ("Underture"), he does not lose his disabilities. Nevertheless, he subsequently gains public attention by his curious interest in pinball, which he plays very successfully by touch ("Pinball Wizard").

At last the Walkers take Tommy to a respected doctor ("There's a Doctor"), who determines that the boy's disabilities are psychosomatic rather than physical. Told by the Doctor to "Go to the Mirror!", Tommy appears to look at his reflection and later becomes obsessed with the mirrors in his house. Mrs. Walker grows so irritated at the habit that she smashes the glass into which Tommy is looking. The action somehow destroys Tommy's mental block, and he recovers his senses and speech ("Sensation", "I'm Free"). The "miracle cure" becomes a public sensation, upon which Tommy seizes (with uncertain motives) to make himself into a guru ("Welcome"). His era's interest with Messianic figures wins him a huge following. In a side story, a wealthy teenager named "Sally Simpson" becomes smitten with Tommy and tries to climb onstage as he speaks, only to be violently repulsed by security guards.

Uncle Ernie capitalises on his nephew's popularity by starting a tatty and expensive "Tommy's Holiday Camp" for the disciples, who are promised a life of hedonism therein. In fact, Tommy treats his audience brusquely and demands that they live in an austere manner in his presence. The discontent caused by this reversal is intensified when he asks the crowd to plug their eyes, ears, and mouths and play pinball—he is less interested in his recovery than in sharing the things he saw while paralyzed ("We're Not Gonna Take It"). As the story ends, the disciples reject Tommy in a body and leave the camp. In response, he retreats inward again and becomes wrapped in his fantasies ("See Me, Feel Me").

Analysis and history

Pete Townshend's inspiration for the album came from the teachings of the Meher Baba and other writings and expressing the enlightenment he believed that he had received.[4] A year prior to the album's release, he had explained many of his ideas during a famous Rolling Stone interview.

When asked what his opinion of Tommy was, John Entwistle replied:

I think it's just an association of ideas really. It took us eight months altogether, six months recording, two months mixing. We had to do so many of the tracks again, because it took so long we had to keep going back and rejuvenating the numbers, that it just started to drive us mad, we were getting brainwashed by the whole thing, and I started to hate it. In fact I only ever played the record twice- ever. I don't think Tommy was all about [what] was on the record- I think it's on the stage. The message is much stronger on stage than on record.[5]

When it was released, critics were split between those who thought the album was a masterpiece, the beginnings of a new genre, and those that felt it was exploitative. The album was banned by the BBC and certain US radio stations. Ultimately, the album became a commercial success, as did The Who's frequent live performances of the rock opera in the following years, elevating them to a new level of prestige and international stardom.[6] However, unlike later rock operas, the album was not accompanied by live theatrical shows, but simply raw concerts in which the band performed all of the album's songs in the usual live Who formation of a "power trio" along with a lead vocalist. Recordings of such shows from the Tommy tour can be heard on the second disc of the Deluxe edition of Live At Leeds and on Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Musically, Tommy is a complex set of pop-rock arrangements, generally based upon Townshend's acoustic guitar and built up with many overdubs by the four members of the band using many instruments, including bass, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, organ, drum kit, gong, timpani, trumpet, French horn, three-part vocal harmonies, and occasional doubling on vocal solos. Many of the instruments only appear intermittently—the track "Underture" features a single toot on the horn—and when overdubbed many of the instruments are mixed at low levels. Townshend mixes in fingerpicking with his trademark power chords and fat riffs. His interest in creating unique sounds is evident throughout the album, most notably on "Amazing Journey" and the curious chirping/whistle sound heard throughout the song, which was created by playing a taped recording of claves in reverse.

The tracks "Pinball Wizard", "Go to the Mirror!", "I'm Free", "Christmas", and "See Me, Feel Me" were released as singles and received airplay on the radio. "Pinball Wizard" reached the top 20 in the US and the top five in the UK. "See Me, Feel Me" landed high in the top 20 in the US and "I'm Free" reached the top 40.

Several structural precedents for Tommy exist in Townshend's work, including "Glow Girl" (1968), "Rael" (1967), and the sectional work "A Quick One While He's Away" (1966). In 2004, Uncut released a CD titled The Roots of Tommy containing music that they asserted influenced Tommy's creation. Among the included songs are the blues songs that Townshend included or attempted to, such as Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind," as well as The Pretty Things' "S.F. Sorrow Is Born," material from Mark Wirtz's A Teenage Opera, and music by groups such as The Zombies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Nirvana (UK), The Kinks. Music hall comedian Max Miller is said to have influenced the character of Uncle Ernie.

According to music critic Martha Bayles, Tommy did not mix rock with European music, as its "rock opera" title may have suggested, but instead was "dominated by the Who's mature style: ponderous, rhythmically monotonous hard rock".[7] Bayles argued that it was more acceptable to audiences than the art rock "concoctions" of the time because of the cultural climate during the late 1960s: "Tommy was considered more authentic, precisely because it consists of hard rock, rather than doctored-up Mussorgsky ... and avoids the typical pseudoromantic themes of art rock (fairy-tale bliss and apocalyptic angst) in favor of the more up-to-date subject of popular culture itself."[7] High Fidelity magazine also characterized the Who's album as a "reasonably hard-rock version" of the opera.[8]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[9]
Q 4/5 stars[10]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[11]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[12]
Piero Scaruffi (8/10)[13]
Uncut 3/5 stars[14]

In a 1969 column for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau said that, apart from the Mothers' We're Only in It for the Money, Tommy is the first successful "extended work" in rock music, but Townshend's parodic side is more "profound and equivocal" than Frank Zappa. He praised Townshend for deliberately constructing the album so that each song can be enjoyed individually and felt that he is determined to "give his audience what it wants without burying his own peculiarity".[15] Albert Goldman, writing in Life magazine, said that The Who play through "all the kinky complications" of the narrative in a hard rock style that is the antithesis of most contemporary "serious" rock. Goldman asserted that, based on innovation, performance, and "sheer power", Tommy surpasses anything else in studio-recorded rock.[1] In 1974, the writers of NME magazine ranked Tommy sixteenth on their list of the top 100 albums of all time.[16]

According to music journalist Richie Unterberger, Tommy was hailed by contemporary critics as the Who's breakthrough, but its critical standing diminished slightly in the subsequent decades, because of its occasionally pretentious concept and flimsy songs that functioned as devices to "advance the rather sketchy plot."[9] Christgau wrote in 1983, "Tommy's operatic pretensions were so transparent that for years it seemed safe to guess that Townshend's musical ideas would never catch up with his lyrics."[17] In his review for Allmusic, Unterberger said that, despite its slight flaws, the album has "many excellent songs" permeated with "a suitably powerful grace", while Townshend's ability to devise a lengthy narrative introduced "new possibilities to rock music."[9] Uncut wrote that the album "doesn't quite realise its ambitions, though it achieves a lot on the way", and that The Who would make a more substantial version with Quadrophenia (1973).[14] Mark Kemp, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), felt that "in retrospect, Tommy isn't quite the masterpiece" it was originally "hyped" to be and that it was not as "fun" or "enlightening" as The Who Sell Out (1967), although because of Townshend, it produced several "bona fide classic songs".[18]

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Tommy number 96 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[19] It was also ranked number 90 on VH1's 100 Greatest Albums of Rock & Roll and appeared in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[20] Q ranked it 9th on their list of "The Music That Changed the World: Part One 1954–1969" in 2004.[21]

Editions and cover art

Tommy was originally released as a two-LP set with a booklet including lyrics and images to illustrate parts of the story. The cover is presented as part of a triptych-style fold-out cover. All three of the outer panels of the triptych are spanned by a single pop art painting by Mike McInnerney. The drawing is a sphere with diamond-shaped cutouts and an overlay of clouds and seagulls rendered with a figure-ground ambiguity. To one side a star-spangled hand bursts from the dark background, index finger pointing forward. (The image above only shows the central panel of the triptych.)

Polydor Records re-released the album on compact disc in the UK in 1983. The CDs were packaged in a double CD case, with the front and back panels of the case reproducing the middle and right panels of the triptych respectively. The booklet reproduced the tryptych in full, with black and white reproductions of the inner artwork. The booklet also contained the full lyrics, with black and white selections of the artwork from the original LP booklet. MCA re-released the album in the United States as a two-CD set in 1984. The CDs were packaged in separate jewel cases and each had a copy of the original artwork and lyrics in the insert, though the cover only included two panels of the triptych. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab later published it on a single gold-plated Ultradisc in their Original Master Recording series, with a higher-quality reproduction of the artwork (including a fold-out of the full original cover), and with the substitution of an alternate take on "Eyesight to the Blind" and an extensive break on the glass to "Smash The Mirror". Polydor Records and MCA Records released a newly remixed version on a single disc in 1996, complete with artwork and a written introduction by Richard Barnes. This version included instrumental parts that were not present on any earlier version, particularly noticeable in the cymbals of "The Acid Queen" and the "See Me Feel Me" vocals in "Christmas".

In 2003 Tommy was made available as a deluxe two-disc hybrid SACD with a 5.1 multi-channel mix. This was done utilising master tapes that were thought long lost. When Tommy was first released, a "sweetened" master tape was used incorporating echo effects and doubling the vocal harmonies. This bare-bones master is said to have a more warm and natural sound to give a more "live" feel. Many critics have hailed this release to be the more definitive edition. The remastering was done under the supervision of Townshend and also includes some outtakes and other cuts during the same sessions. One cut called "Dogs-Part 2" that was only previously available as the B-side of the "Pinball Wizard" single and on the 1987 collection Two's Missing is included. The initial deluxe hybrid SACD edition was replaced in 2005 in Europe by a stereo-only two-CD set in similar packaging.

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Pete Townshend, except where noted. 
Side one
No. TitleLead vocals Length
1. "Overture"  Townshend 3:50
2. "It's a Boy!"  Townshend 2:07
3. "1921"  Townshend, Roger Daltrey on chorus 3:14
4. "Amazing Journey"  Daltrey 3:25
5. "Sparks"  Instrumental 3:45
6. "The Hawker" (Sonny Boy Williamson II)Daltrey 2:15
Side two
No. TitleLead vocals Length
1. "Christmas"  Daltrey, Townshend in middle eight 5:30
2. "Cousin Kevin" (John Entwistle)Entwistle and Townshend 4:03
3. "The Acid Queen"  Townshend 3:31
4. "Underture"  Instrumental 9:55
Side three
No. TitleLead vocals Length
1. "Do You Think It's Alright?"  Daltrey and Townshend 0:24
2. "Fiddle About" (Entwistle)Entwistle 1:26
3. "Pinball Wizard"  Daltrey, Townshend on bridge 3:50
4. "There's a Doctor"  Townshend, with Daltrey and Entwistle 0:25
5. "Go to the Mirror!"  Daltrey and Townshend 3:50
6. "Tommy Can You Hear Me?"  Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle 1:35
7. "Smash the Mirror"  Daltrey 1:20
8. "Sensation"  Townshend 2:32
Side four
No. TitleLead vocals Length
1. "Miracle Cure"  Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle 0:10
2. "Sally Simpson"  Daltrey 4:10
3. "I'm Free"  Daltrey 2:40
4. "Welcome"  Daltrey, Townshend ("more at the door") and Entwistle (spoken part) 4:30
5. "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (Keith Moon)Townshend 0:57
6. "We're Not Gonna Take It"  Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle 6:45

Deluxe edition

In 2003, Tommy was released as a deluxe edition on CD, Hybrid SACD and DVD-Audio. The SACD and DVD-A formats featured the original album remixed into 5.1 surround sound, and all three featured a bonus disc of "out-takes and demos". The DVD-Audio edition also includes a bonus video interview with Townshend plus a demonstration of his remixing the original recording into 5.1 sound.

Bonus disc

The first twelve tracks are out-takes and demos and the last five are stereo-only demos.

  1. "I Was" – 0:17
  2. "Christmas" (Outtake 3) – 4:43
  3. "Cousin Kevin Model Child" – 1:25
  4. "Young Man Blues" (Version one) (Allison) – 2:51
  5. "Tommy Can You Hear Me?" (Alternate version) – 1:59
  6. "Trying to Get Through" – 2:51
  7. "Sally Simpson" (Outtake) – 4:09
  8. "Miss Simpson" – 4:18
  9. "Welcome" (Take two) – 3:44
  10. "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (Band's version) – 1:07
  11. "We're Not Gonna Take It" (Alternate version) – 6:08
  12. "Dogs (Part Two)" (Moon) – 2:26
  13. "It's a Boy" – 0:43
  14. "Amazing Journey" – 3:41
  15. "Christmas" – 1:55
  16. "Do You Think It's Alright" – 0:28
  17. "Pinball Wizard" – 3:46

A cover of "One Room Country Shack" was also recorded and considered for inclusion but was scrapped from the final track listing as Townshend could not figure out a way to incorporate it in the plot of "Tommy."[22]

On November 11, 2013, yet another Deluxe version of Tommy will be released, with a new digital remaster, and 21 previously unreleased live tracks from 1969 on a bonus disc.

Live recordings

While the Who regularly played Tommy live at the time of its release, they rarely, if ever, played it in the form in which it was released. They instead decided to change the running order and omit some tracks entirely. Four tracks that were never performed during The Who's initial tour were "Cousin Kevin", "Underture", "Sensation" and "Welcome".

A live recording of Tommy in this altered state is available on the 2002 Deluxe Edition of the 1970 live album Live at Leeds. It is also available on the official release Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 from the same period, which was released in 1996. Another live version is available on the 2007 video release At Kilburn 1977 + Live at the Coliseum. Also, a bootleg of their performance at the Woodstock Festival is available online. In addition the website Wolfgang's Vault released a live recording of "Tommy" recorded on 7 July 1970 at Tanglewood as part of Bill Graham's The Fillmore at Tanglewood series.

The Who also performed Tommy for its twentieth anniversary during their 1989 reunion tour, reinstating the previously overlooked "Cousin Kevin" and "Sensation" but still omitting "Underture" and "Welcome". Recordings from this tour can be found on the Join Together live album and the Tommy and Quadrophenia Live DVD. The Los Angeles version of this show featured special guests such as Phil Collins (Uncle Ernie), Patti LaBelle (The Acid Queen), Steve Winwood (The Hawker), Elton John (The Pinball Wizard) and Billy Idol (Cousin Kevin).

Other incarnations

1971 Seattle Opera production

In 1971, the Seattle Opera under director Richard Pearlman produced the first ever fully staged professional production of Tommy at Seattle's Moore Theater. The production included Bette Midler playing the role of the Acid Queen and Mrs. Walker, and music by the Syracuse, New York band Comstock, Ltd.[23]

1972 orchestral version

On 9 December 1972, entrepreneur Lou Reizner presented a concert version of Tommy at the Rainbow Theatre, London. There were two performances that took place on the same evening. The concerts featured the Who, plus a guest cast, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Measham. The concerts were held to promote the release of Reizner's new studio recording of this symphonic version of Tommy, which was released on Ode Records

Both in concert and on record, major singing roles were performed by leading pop and rock stars of the day – Graham Bell (as The Lover), Maggie Bell (as The Mother), Sandy Denny (as The Nurse), Steve Winwood (as The Father), Rod Stewart (as The Local Lad), Richie Havens (as The Hawker), Merry Clayton (as The Acid Queen) and Ringo Starr (as Uncle Ernie). Pete Townshend also plays a bit of guitar, but otherwise the music is predominantly orchestral. Richard Harris sang-talked the role of the specialist on the record, but he was replaced by Peter Sellers for the stage production, which was repeated with a substantially different cast including David Essex, Elkie Brooks, Marsha Hunt, Vivian Stanshall, Roy Wood, and Jon Pertwee on 13 and 14 December 1973.

The studio version of the orchestral Tommy was issued in boxed-set format. It featuring original artwork and photography, which used a pinball as its main motif, was designed by Tom Wilkes and Craig Braun and won the Best Album Package Grammy in 1974.

The orchestral version was also performed twice in Australia in March and April 1973, to thousands at open air venues (Melbourne's Myer Music Bowl and Sydney's Randwick Racecourse). Moon appeared as Uncle Ernie (in Melbourne only), Graham Bell as the Narrator, with local stars Daryl Braithwaite (as Tommy), Billy Thorpe, Doug Parkinson, Wendy Saddington, Jim Keays, Broderick Smith, Colleen Hewett, Linda George, Ross Wilson, Bobby Bright, Ian Meldrum (as Uncle Ernie in Sydney), and a full orchestra.[24] The Melbourne concert was videotaped, then televised by Channel 7 on 13 April 1973.

1975 film

Main article: Tommy (film)

In 1975 Tommy was adapted as a film, produced by expatriate Australian entrepreneur Robert Stigwood and directed by British auteur Ken Russell. The movie version starred Daltrey as Tommy, and featured the other members of the Who, plus a supporting cast that included Ann-Margret as Tommy's mother, Oliver Reed as "the Lover", with appearances by Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Arthur Brown, and Jack Nicholson. In the Who's original version, Tommy's father Capt. Walker kills The Lover when he finds him with his wife upon returning home from being missing in action; however in the movie version The Lover (Tommy's "Uncle Frank" Hobbs) kills Capt. Walker—the latter who subsequently appears to Tommy in fantasy scenes (i.e., as the "guide" in "Amazing Journey").

Tommy was one of the first music films released with a multichannel hi-fi soundtrack and many major cinemas, billing it as quintaphonic sound, which placed high-powered concert-style speaker banks in the four quadrants of the house and directly behind the center of the screen, reflecting the locations of the vocalists onscreen. The film received mixed reviews but was a commercial success on release and has achieved cult film status.

Townshend also oversaw the production of a new double-LP recording with the same name, that returned the music to its rock roots, and on which the unrecorded orchestral arrangements he had envisaged for the original Tommy LP were realised by the extensive use of synthesiser. Besides the Who, the film's music track and the original soundtrack LP also employed many leading session musicians including Caleb Quaye, Ronnie Wood, Nicky Hopkins, Chris Stainton, and longtime Who associate John "Rabbit" Bundrick. Due to Moon's commitments with the filming of Stardust, Kenney Jones—who would take over as the Who's drummer after Moon's death in 1978—played drums on much of the soundtrack album.

The song "Pinball Wizard" was a major hit when released as a single. This sequence in the film depicts Elton being backed by the Who (dressed in pound-note suits); the band portrayed the Pinball Wizard's band for filming, but on the music track and soundtrack album, the music was performed entirely by him and his band. Most of the extras were students at Portsmouth Polytechnic and were paid with tickets to a Who concert after filming wrapped.

The film and its soundtrack album feature six new songs, all written by Townshend:[25]

  1. "Prologue – 1945"—Tommy's mother and father romance each other, only to see Tommy's father called to duty and shot down; "Captain Walker/It's a Boy" follows.
  2. "Bernie's Holiday Camp"—"Green coat" Frank Hobbs (who is later Tommy's stepfather) introduces 6-year-old Tommy and his mother to his "holiday camp", which inspires Tommy to eventually open his own camp.
  3. "Extra, Extra, Extra"—Arranged similar to "Miracle Cure", a newsboy sings about Tommy's successes at pinball, pending is confrontation with "the champ" in "Pinball Wizard".
  4. "Champagne"—Tommy's mother sings about the riches Tommy is winner her but wonders, "What's it all worth?", since Tommy can't enjoy any of it; Tommy sings, "See me, feel me" in the interludes.
  5. "Mother and Son"—Tommy, his senses now restored, asks his mother about his life; she tells him how he's worshipped by millions as a "pinball wizard", and he tells her about his new messianistic mission.
  6. "T. V. Studio"—Tommy's mother does a commercial for Tommy's new camps while his Frank revels at all the money to be made with "a Tommy Camp in every city"; song segues into "Tommy's Holiday Camp".

Also, "It's a Boy" is retitled, "Captain Walker/It's a Boy", "1921" (also called "You Didn't Hear It") becomes "1951/What about The Boy", and "Do You Think It's Alright" is expanded into three separate parts, preceding "Cousin Kevin", "Fiddle About" and "Sparks" respectively. The general sequence of existing songs is also changed. Finally, an overture (which borrows from more songs than the 1969 overture does) is included at the beginning of the CD version of the album; however, the film, LP, and cassette versions omitted the overture.

1993 stage version

Main article: The Who's Tommy

In 1993, Townshend and La Jolla Playhouse theatrical director Des McAnuff wrote and produced a Broadway musical adaptation of Tommy. The production, titled The Who's Tommy, featured a new song by Townshend ("I Believe My Own Eyes"). Initially, the show received mixed reviews; for example, while The New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich praised it,[26] the same paper's music critic Jon Pareles argued that "Their (Townshend's and McAnuff's) changes turn a blast of spiritual yearning, confusion and rebellion into a pat on the head for nesters and couch potatoes".[27] Later, Townshend partly responded to the criticisms.[28] Ultimately, the production won five Tony Awards that year, including Best Original Score for Townshend. Various touring revivals have met with popular acclaim since.

The setting of the musical is in post-World War II Britain, as in the film version. Nevertheless, unlike the film, the lyrics "Got a feelin' '21 is gonna be a good year" remain the same, though now referring to Mrs. Walker's age at her birthday. Also, Captain Walker kills the lover, as in the original album and unlike the film, where the lover kills Captain Walker and takes his place. Perhaps the most striking change vis-a-vis previous versions is that after the "Sally Simpson" scene, Tommy renounces his messianic role and returns to his family, embracing and praising the kind of "normality" that everybody else has and that he has been deprived of (significantly, the new version introduced lines such as "freedom lies here in normality" and excluded the earlier versions' "Hey, hung-up old Mr. Normal, don't try to gain my trust").

The play and its soundtrack album include two additions (written by Pete Townshend) to the standard playlist:

  1. "I Believe My Own Eyes"—Occurs between "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?" and "Smash the Mirror!" and details the strain of Tommy's condition on his parents as they consider institutionalizing him.
  2. "Sally Simpson's Question"—Precedes "We're Not Gonna Take It", and shows Tommy getting disillusioned about his messianistic vision as he listens to the girl.

"Captain Walker/It's a Boy" also contains the tag verse from the film version, "We've Won", albeit with slightly different lyrics. In general, the song sequence and some of the lyrics more closely mirror the film version than the original, although the phrasing and internal song arrangements usually echo the original, and none of the six songs Townshend added for the 1975 version are included. Finally, many songs (i.e., "Sensation") feature reprises at various locations in the playlist, and there is a small amount of dialogue at the beginnings and endings of some songs.

McAnuff also revisits Tommy during the 2013 season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival,[29] at the end of his tenure as its Artistic Director.


  • The climax of Tommy was said by many to be the highlight of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. As Daltrey began to sing "See Me, Feel Me", the sun began to rise, as if on cue. Entwistle later joked that "God was our lighting man." The moment is captured on film in The Kids Are Alright and Woodstock.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ran an exhibit on Tommy called "Tommy: The Amazing Journey" in 2005–2006.
  • The original album inspired the creation of Larry Harlow's Hommy, a Latin Opera (1973), about a blind, deaf, and mute musician who becomes the world's greatest percussionist.
  • In the 2000 film Almost Famous, the protagonist (whom screenwriter-director Cameron Crowe based on himself) becomes excited about rock music for the first time when he listens to Tommy, or more specifically to the track "Sparks".

Sales chart performance

Year Chart Peak Position
1969 Billboard Pop Albums 4[30]
1969 UK Chart Albums 2[31]
1975 UK Chart Albums 37[32]
"Pinball Wizard"
The Who's "Pinball Wizard" from Tommy

Problems playing this file? See media help.
Year Single Chart Peak Position
1969 "Pinball Wizard" Billboard Pop Singles 19[33][34]
1969 "Pinball Wizard" UK Singles Charts 4[31]
1969 "Pinball Wizard" Dutch Singles Charts 12[35]
1969 "I'm Free" Billboard Pop Singles 37[34]
1969 "I'm Free" Dutch Singles Charts 20[36]
1970 "See Me, Feel Me" Billboard Pop Singles 12[37]
1970 "See Me, Feel Me" Dutch Singles Charts 2[38]

Sales certifications

According to two articles published in The Daily Telegraph in 2006 and in Gibson Guitars' website in 2012, the album Tommy sold 20 million copies worldwide.[2][3]


The Who
Additional musicians

See also



Further reading

  • Barnes, Richard and Townshend, Pete (1977). The Story of Tommy. Eel Pie Publishing. 128 pp.
  • Cawthorne, Nigel (2005). The Who and the making of Tommy. Unanimous Ltd (Vinyl Frontier 5). 224 pp. ISBN 1-903318-76-9
  • Townshend, Pete (1993). Tommy : The Musical. Pantheon. 173 pp. + a CD w/ the song I Can't Believe My Own Eyes. ISBN 0-679-43066-0. Also titled The Who's Tommy: The Musical.
  • Townshend, Pete (1996). Tommy : The Interactive Adventure Then and Now. Eel Pie Publishing. Kardana & Interplay Productions. Cdrom for PC (CD-MCR-263-0 / CD-C95-263-0) or for Mac (CD-MCD −263-UK)

External links

  • Discogs (list of releases)
  • Lyrics
  • A number of interviews where Pete Townshend has commented on the concept and meaning of Tommy:
    • a 1968 Rolling Stone Interview (by Jann Wenner),
    • by Rick Sanders & David Dalton – Rolling Stone (no. 37 12 July 1969)
    • Interview with Pete Townshend at Manchester Arena, England, 12 December 1996, by Stephen Gallagher (British Youth & Popular Culture Editor, Ubu).
  • Tommy liner notes – Song-by-song liner notes for the original album

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