The Story Of Tommy

The Who

In conjunction with 2013's Deluxe Tommy reissue, a documentary about the making of the album called Sensation - The Story Of Tommy was aired on the BBC. As if on cue, Eagle Rock has released it on DVD and Blu-ray Disc so the rest of us can watch it. If you love the Who and know about Tommy, this is a story that explains how it made the Who one of the most important bands of  the late 1960s and early 70s, as told by Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Who associates, friends and assorted journalists.

Before Tommy, the Who were a pop band, one of the original British Invaders with a wild reputation. But Pete Townshend was looking beyond the limits of a pop band; he wanted to create something with meaning and merit, something artistic. As we learn, he was encouraged by the band's manager Kit Lambert to pursue the idea of a rock opera, first with the mini-opera, "A Quick One, While He's Away," and then with a longer-form concept, which became Tommy. Around this time, Townshend had become interested in the teachings of spiritual master Mehar Baba, whom he dedicated Tommy to. Obviously, the influence is there, but as we learn there's also a great deal of personal angst put into the piece.

Never one afraid to speak his mind, Townshend addresses the issue of child abuse and his own experiences, explaining how those parts of the story were so painful, he had Who bassist John Entwistle write the songs "Cousin Kevin" and "Uncle Ernie." He goes onto to say Entwistle perfectly captured the characters, as if he had talk to others who had similar experiences. It's a part of Tommy few are aware of. As for Daltrey, he very much becomes Tommy, first in the studio singing the songs, then on stage, climaxing with a performance at Woodstock that changed the Who's fortunes. Of course, Daltrey went on to play Tommy in the 1975 Ken Russell. The subsequent Broadway play would put the spotlight back on Townshend as Tommy's creator.

Most of the songs on Tommy get a thorough examination, with "Pinball Wizard" being singled out as the album's standout track, the catalyst to critical and popular acclaim. The Who took the album out on the road for a couple years, and in the process, became one of the tightest, most fiery rock and roll units on the planet. Sensation - The Story Of Tommy spares no hard feelings in expressing how much the Who and Tommy practically became one and the same. But it wasn't an easy sell, as witnessed by the bonus 33-minute feature of a selection of Tommy songs from the 1969 German TV show Beat Club. While bits and pieces of this footage has surfaced in previous documentaries and Who segments, seeing it in its complete state with band interviews is an eye-opening view into what Tommy was originally presented as. Thankfully the goofy film clips and bad lip syncing are lost on the story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy lost in a quiet vibration land.

~ Shawn Perry

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