The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” turns 50 this year.
Yes, Tommy is very 1960s. Pinball competitions and psychedelic acid trips are not exactly hallmarks of today’s world. But of course, what makes the album sotimeless is the music. From great singles such as “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” and “The Acid Queen” to the more intricate musical tapestry and recurring themes laid out in the five-minute overture, this is an album one can, and should, listen to front-to-back in one sitting.
While hailed as a triumph by most critics upon its release, Tommy did have its detractors. Some found the theme overly twisted and its ideas of physical and sexual abuse and subjecting children to acid trips just too distasteful. Even at the ripe old age of 23, when he began work on the project, Pete Townshend was not a simple man. It should be noted that to compose songs for the two most disturbing parts of the opera, “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About,” Townshend asked bassist John Entwistle to do the honors. Having been sent by his parents to live with a clinically insane grandmother for two years as a child, they brought up too many dark memories better left to his autobiography.
I discovered The Who about the same time I discovered pop music – I was a moody adolescent, and Pete Townsend was a moody arrested adolescent, so it wasn’t a huge stretch. I think I was 15 when I first checked out Tommy from the library. I did in fact sit down and learn the whole thing on guitar – I probably could have played it from memory, almost, at one point.
And I thought – next year, Tommy will be closer to the end of World War I than to the present day. Or,, to put it another way, neither were all that long ago, really…