The Who – Tommy (1969; 2013 reissue)

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At once ambitious and complex, the Who’s Tommy stands as a shining moment in their vast career. Their sweeping work redefined the “concept album” and set the standard for rock operas such as Green Day’s American Idiot.

The masterpiece also courted controversy with its challenging themes of child abuse, masochism, drug abuse, worshipping false idols, and many more. Yet one song runs through the entire work: “See Me, Feel Me,” a composition functioning as a plaintive cry, a longing for connection, a desire for human and emotional contact. A groundbreaking release in 1969, Tommy still holds up, as its wide range of musical styles transcends time.

Now fans can appreciate Tommy again through a repackaging of the original album. Which configuration you choose depends upon your level of interest in the Who and the album itself.

The single-disc version consists of the original album remastered, but the two-disc deluxe package includes a “Live Bootleg,” essentially a compilation of various live performances of Tommy tracks. These songs were meant to be heard live, and their power is tripled when hearing Roger Daltrey’s wailing on “See Me, Feel Me,” or Pete Townshend’s furious guitar work on “Pinball Wizard.” John Entwistle proves why he remains one of rock’s best bassists by adding funk to “Acid Queen” and “Eyesight to the Blind (Hawker),” and Keith Moon serves as the engine for the outfit, his frenetic playing adding emotion to each track.

Interestingly, 18 tracks were rescued from a long lost recording of an October 1969 show at the Capital Theatre in Ottawa, Canada. Unhappy with the recording, Townshend ordered the sound engineer to burn the tapes; luckily he disobeyed the guitarist’s orders.

Hardcore Who fans should enjoy the super-deluxe box set, a four-disc extravaganza also including a hardcover book, an essay analyzing the work, and a replica of the original Tommy poster, all encased in a hardcover slipcase. Through this package, listeners can have a fly-on-the-wall experience of the creation of Tommy. Townshend’s original demos prove fascinating, as his voice lends a softer effect to anthems such as “I’m Free” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Those used to hearing Daltrey’s no-holds-barred vocals will find Townshend’s more subtle take an interesting change.

One can only imagine how the Who obsessed over each track, developing them to successfully narrate Tommy’s story. Today, the project would surely overwhelm many artists. Of added interest is a song that did not make the final cut, “Trying to Get Through,” and a bonus cover of Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues.” Finally, the super-deluxe version also contains the original album in high-fidelity pure audio on a Blu-ray disc.

Tommy remains a landmark work in the history of rock, and its themes and format still intrigue. The group’s musicianship and Townshend’s remarkable vision shine in the remastered version, and the live performances add passion and intensity to already superior recordings. The demos illustrate how Townshend and the group fleshed out the stark songs into mini epics, but may not appeal to casual Who fans. No matter which configuration one chooses, the remastered Tommy allows the welcome opportunity to revisit the original rock opera and marvel at its brave and innovative nature.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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