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"Everyone brought in their
Tommy LPs on vinyl so that
Pete would give them an autograph "

December 19, 2008

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Tommy - The Who

It seems appropriate to start with this Who album because it affected me on so many levels.

Remember the Cameron Crowe movie, "Almost Famous," when the 15 year old kid discovered his sister's hidden albums and dropped the needle on "Sparks" from Tommy? His brain exploded as the eclectic music he'd never heard before changed the way he thought about music forever. That was me.

In 1974, my sister went away to Queen's University. She came back at Christmas with stories of Morris Hall, and the album, "Tommy," by The Who. Now I knew about The Who, but I wasn't a true follower, believing their biggest hit was called, "Teenage Wasteland." Yep, I was one of those.

Tommy had a cool cover. It was a Rock Opera - the only other Rock Opera I'd heard of was Jesus Christ Superstar, and THAT was pretty cool (see a later Top 100 entry) - so I gave it a try. Besides, it was a double album and I had a lot of time to kill through the Christmas holidays. I dropped the needle on side one, stretched out on the orange and brown shag carpet in my parents' living room and started listening to the Overture. I was drawn into the story right away...

...then BANG! Amazing Journey segued into Sparks and the world changed.

That was a Rock and Roll band making that music? Making those noises? Distinct acoustic and electric sound at once; a bass riff that made me realize for the first time that a bass guitar might be the thing for me; drums that were both rock 'n roll and symphonic timpanic (sorry) at the same time... I didn't know you were allowed to make music like this!

Now the 14-year old me was a little naive. I didn't understand the whole creepiness of the story of Tommy, it was really the music that I was listening to. These guys could go from See Me, Feel Me, to Fiddle About, to Pinball Wizard without compromising their sound or the story. Tommy's Holiday Camp...right into We're Not Gonna Take It? Brilliant!

So today's entry isn't really about the album itself, but the experience around the album. You'll get some of that from my list. It's like when I was 18 and a friend recommended I read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Slaughterhouse Five. After years of high school, only reading serious things like the Lord of the Flies, The Stone Angel and Hamlet, I read these and thought, "I didn't know you were allowed to write like this!" Those changed me too. Changed the way I read stories and discovered there was no right and wrong way to write a novel. The Who's Tommy made me reshuffle my right brain and realize rock 'n roll was just a label, and anything was possible when you had some guitars, some drums and some mates to fiddle around with.

Album details:
Released: May 1969
Recorded: Sept 1968 Mar 1969
IBC Studios, London
Length: 74:00
Producer: Kit Lambert

[Just so you know, this is neither the Number 1 album on the list, nor the Number 100 album on the list. It is just the first one I started with.]

Thanks and good luck.

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