On May 17, 1969, The Who's Tommy's album was released.
A perfect concept album, a masterpiece that is also considered the first rock opera in the history of music.
The first seeds for this masterpiece were sown somewhere in 1966 on the album "A Quick One", the band's second album. The theme song on the same album, "A Quick One, While He's Away", is a mini-epic that spans over 9 minutes and tells a short story. The Who will later develop this idea into a complete rock opera that spans an entire album. This would first happen with "Tommy" in 1969 and later also with the masterpiece "Quadrophenia" in 1973.
Townshend's genius with "Tommy", is actually in the primacy. The connection between two genres, almost opposites, which previously could not have been thought to be possible to unite together. The first, the extroverted, dramatic and bombastic "opera" genre, based on a complex plot story, and the second, the simple and basic "rock and roll", which manages to summarize an entire story and distill it into a few minutes.
This is the first time that a rock work has been written based on a complete plot story and a central character built just like an opera. Townshend was able to take all the elements that exist in opera, and apply and assimilate them into rock and roll. In this way, "Tommy" opens up with "Overture" - an introductory section that includes all the melodies we will meet later in the story, "Underture" - which summarizes the first half of the pieces and includes musical elements that have already been heard, and a concluding section a kind of "Medley" that sums all up. The album also includes musical pieces that are repeated in minor changes, just like in the creation of classical music.
But this legendary epic not only created a match between different and contrasting styles of music, but also between Townshend's two great loves - music and literature (Townshend is a "bookworm" that has devoured mythology and philosophy books, among other things).
In 1975, the album became a feature film directed by Ken Russell. The film featured stars like: Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson, Oliver Reed, and of course the singer Roger Daltrey who plays the role of Tommy and more.
(Photo: Barrie Wentzell)
And now for the plot story behind the musical piece.
Tommy is a deaf-mute-blind boy, a pinball game wizard, whose father, Captain Walker, is declared missing and is believed to have been killed during World War I (an idea that would be used 10 years later on the album "The Wall"?).
Captain Walker returns home, surprisingly, after many years, on New Year's Eve 1921, and discovers that his wife, Tommy's mother, has found a lover. In a fight between the father and the lover, the father, Captain Walker, was murdered as Tommy witnesses everything.
The lover and mother convince Tommy that he has not seen or heard anything and influence him not to say anything about what happened. Following the trauma, Tommy becomes psychosomatically deaf-mute-blind.
Over the years Tommy grows up and experiences abuse from family and others, with no ability to stop them or respond.
Despite all this, Tommy develops a rare talent in the "pinball" game, becomes a wizard in the game, and accumulates a devout fan base, just like a rock star (again "The Wall"?).
Later in the plot, a doctor presents Tommy with a mirror as part of his healing process. In a moment of frustration, Tommy's mother shatters the mirror, after Tommy does not respond to her cries. The experience of smashing the mirror causes Tommy to heal abruptly. Tommy's miraculous recovery and the fact that he's become a pinball wizard with a fan base is causing him a growing complex, he believes he has special powers.
Tommy who becomes a real guru - a cult leader, sets up camp with his fan base and tries to lead them "to redemption". However, his fans' dissatisfaction with their situation causes them to rebel against him and destroy the camp.
As if in a vicious circle and in response to what is happening, Tommy is locked up again within his detached world.