When I looked at the catalog of recordings from The Who, I mentioned that they were about to launch a ‘super deluxe’ version of their classic rock opera Tommy. Now that it has arrived, and I’ve had a few weeks to listen to it thoroughly, I wanted to check back. My thoughts? It is at once essential, solid, and throw-away.
Musical Genre: Rock
Where to buy: iTunes
Artist: The Who
From the artist:
Tommy, The Who’s defining, breakthrough concept album – a full-blown rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy that launched the band to international superstardom is to be released in Deluxe and Super Deluxe editions this Autumn.
Originally released in May 1969, The Who were at a career crossroads, known mainly as a singles band, but this project launched them as a serious ‘albums band’ and it has now sold over 20 million copies as well as regularly turning up in lists of the most influential albums of all time.
Perhaps the easiest way for me to break down my thoughts is to separate the three CDs. CD1 is the remastered album, CD2 is the demo collection, and CD3 is a live version of the full opera. I am going to take these out of order, saving the best for last.
CD2 – Tommy Demos
Here is the basic question – how deep do you dive into the extras when you get a DVD? If you don’t care at all, this CD is a throw-away. If you check them out once – you can do the same here; and if you savor DVD extras, this is pretty much the same thing. Personally, I have found Pete’s demos a mixed bag, and these really added nothing new for me.
CD3 – Tommy Live
Given that the film and sountrack of ‘The Kids Are Alright’ is the foundation of my love of The Who, and that their Woodstock performance is a key part of that … it should be clear that I would already have some opinions on this CD.
To add value for a ‘super deluxe’ edition, they needed to provide new material. That happened with the demos, but adding a live set of Tommy adds even more incentive to buy. The inherent problem is that several versions of Tommy Live from 1969 have surfaced in recent years, including on the reissued ‘Live at Leeds’ and perhaps most notably from their appearance at Tanglewood. The result is that this set is ‘good’, but nothing that would sell on its own.
CD1 – Tommy Remastered
With the gift of hindsight it is very easy to understand both the acclaim and mild backlash over Tommy. The acclaim came from the recording being the first major rock work to jump from ‘concept’ to an actual, fully realized story told through words and music – a ‘rock opera’. We have a central tragic figure, several villains, trials for the main character to endure, and a triumphant conclusion.
The reason that critical acclaim dulled a bit has to do with how coherently the story was told, the lack of clarity over key elements, and some of the songs feeling rather tossed in.
But now again in recent years opinion has started to tick upwards again – and that will only continue with this release. The reason for this is that people have begun to really dig into the amazing musical story behind Tommy.
Listening to the remastered version really brings everything together in the mix in a way I have never heard before. The CD release I own is one of those ‘just get it out fast’ things done when CD player sales picked up back in the 80s. And while there was a digital remaster done nearly a decade ago, I didn’t find that it helped much at all – and actually made some things worse! And while I own the original vinyl (a first edition), I’ve never had a turntable system that could do it justice.
The music in this remastered edition brings the bass much higher in the mix without muddling the rest of the instruments. The stereo separation means you get the symphonic effects of the guitar-drum interplay, and can appreciate Keith Moon’s brilliance.
‘Quick Hit’ Song: “Underture” – this has always been my favorite song, representing both the best use of the themes of Tommy along with a ‘theme and variation’ format that allows the instrumentalists to open up and change things around. Because of the increased clarity and separation, the interplay and development of themes from all three instruments is enhanced.
Would I recommend?: Absolutely! As I said, the remastered version of the opera is essential listening, but whether the
Suggested audience: Beyond just fans of The Who or classic rock, Tommy is one of the great recordings of rock music, and is something worth owning and appreciating for all fans of modern rock and pop music.
Source: Publisher provided review CD
Here is the promo video: