The Who: Tommy – with “Christmas” video cover

The Who - TommyPart 7 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me

By far, Tommy is the oldest album on my list. The ’70s and ’80s are entirely unrepresented, but this rock opera from 1969 was always an obvious one for me to include.

The reason? Story. Every album I listen to, I try to tease out a storyline, even if one clearly was never intended. The idea that a collection of songs should be more than that, should be bound together and greater than the sums of their parts, undoubtedly stems from hearing Tommy in my childhood.

That might not be the case if Tommy actually told its story a little better. There are plenty of gaps to be filled in by the listener; official movie and musical versions of Tommy even interpret some events differently. What exactly happens that prompts the titular deaf, dumb, and blind boy to suppress his senses? What is the actual mechanism behind his eventual cure? What is it he does afterward that earns him a throng of followers?

Because of that, of course it seemed like any other album could be just as narratively rich – you just had to fill in the gaps. The lines between rock operas, concept albums, and plain old everyday albums can be a bit fuzzy. Shoving songs onto a record together simply because they were the ones you had recorded recently? Ugh. Lazy.

Musically, Tommy is an impressive set of compositions. The five-minute “Overture” introduces just about every theme you’ll hear – you know, like overtures generally do – and instrumentals “Sparks” and “Underture” reiterate them. The breakout hit “Pinball Wizard” was famously written to appeal to a single critic, but for my money, the album reaches its peak charm with “Sally Simpson”, a complete story in itself. After getting injured basically throwing herself onto a stage where Tommy is preaching, the rest of her life is summed up in two lines:

Sixteen stitches put her right and her Dad said ‘don’t say I didn’t warn yer’.
Sally got married to a rock musician she met in California

How could you hear that and not take up guitar?

What? It’s July. It’s the 25th. Roll with it.

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