Friday, January 20, 2012
Tommy Album Review
Hello readers.. It's been a while since I blogged and I have a lot talk about my trip to the Bay Area.. I played in the Northern California International and Golden State Open. More on those events to come soon. For now, I wanted to share a review of The Who's Tommy, I wrote for my Arts Journalism class. It was influenced by Daltrey's Tommy concert I saw in September at Boston University's Agganis Arena.
A Review of The Who’s Tommy (1969)
On September 17, I was one of the thousands of people astonished by Roger Daltrey’s concert at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. He played songs such as “I’m Free”, “Overture”, “Pinball Wizard” and “Cousin Kevin”. What do these songs have in common? They are all on The Who’s 1969 album, Tommy. It was a particularly successful album because of its unique genre. It is widely known as the first “rock opera”, a paradox. How often has a band as successful and famous as the Who collaborated with an opera great such as Luciano Pavarotti. On YouTube, one can find videos from a 1996 collaborative concert between Eric Clapton and Pavarotti; however, Tommy does not star any opera luminaries. To the contrary, through a series of 24 rock songs, The Who shares the story of a deaf boy named Tommy who grows up to lead a messianic movement. The album was so successful that in 1975 a movie was produced and 43 years after it was released, Daltrey has sold out a number of shows on his 2011-2012 tour, in which he played the full album each time. Tommy is a fantastic album that classic rock aficionados and others alike should appreciate because of both the collaboration of Pete Townshend’s guitar riffs and Daltrey’s voice, and its creative opera form.
One aspect that makes Tommy a unique album that is worthwhile to be in anyone’s musical collection is the melding of the guitarist Pete Townshend’s riffs and Daltrey’s voice. The first of Townshend’s phenomenal riffs occurs in the album’s opener “Overture”. Its upbeat tone with a rapid tempo sets the tone for many of the following songs. Another striking riff occurs in “Amazing Journey/ Sparks”. A common thread is the amount of repetition Townshend uses. In each of these songs, he repeats a heavy sounding riff many times. In contrast, in songs such as “Eyesight to the Blind”, he plays higher-pitched notes repeatedly to provide a sort of yin-yang event with touches of both of light and dark, thus producing a balanced mixture of positive and negative sounding effects. However, Townshend did not provide these effects alone; he required the help of the lead vocalist Daltrey. While Daltrey’s recent tour starred Townshend’s brother on guitar, not Townshend himself, it conveyed the importance of Daltrey’s ability to hit softer notes as in “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” and hard notes in others such as “Welcome”.
While the combination of Townshend’s guitar playing and Daltrey’s in Tommy is exceptional, it is not what makes it better than other The Who albums. Other terrific The Who albums such as “My Generation” and “It’s Hard” have similar quality. On the other hand, while these albums have songs that relate to each other, they do not convey stories. In contrast, if Tommy is listened in its entirety one can grasp a clear plot. For example, the album’s plot begins, when Tommy is born in the second song “It’s a Boy”. As he grows up, he faces certain obstacles such as deafness as conveyed in “ You Didn’t Hear it” and drug influences as seen in “Acid Queen”. To the contrary, he develops a talent in pinball as portrayed in “Pinball wizard”. Especially as the Who performed “Pinball Wizard” at the 2010 Superbowl, it is clear many people have heard of at least some of these songs in Tommy; however a far smaller number have likely listened to the album in its entirety. After seeing Daltrey perform all of the songs in chronological order, I can assure it is worthwhile for anyone to obtain the album and experience its complete story.