50 years of Tommy, the masterpiece of The Who

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On March 23, half a century after the publication of one of the most important rock albums has passed

50 years of Tommy, the masterpiece of The Who

On March 23, 1969, the world got to know the rock opera that today, half a century later, still has something to talk about. Perhaps the most popular, for many the best in this small category, but without a doubt a masterpiece that managed to crown The Who as one of the most interesting bands of all time. On March 23, 1969, Tommy would arrive at the record stores to sell more than 20 million copies, according to Rolling Stone.

Leer en español: 50 años de Tommy, la obra maestra de The Who

It is considered a rock opera, because it tells in principle the story of a character, in this case, the deaf and dumb blind child. Other known examples of 'concept albums' are The Wall by Pink Floyd and American Idiot by Green Day. While this was not the first rock opera to hit the market, several experts, according to The Atlantic, consider it as the first at that time to be listed as one. A year earlier came what is known as the first rock opera, SF Sorrow of The Pretty Things, but it did not have a good diffusion.

At first, Tommy was conceived as an album to test the maturity and enormous talent of the British, not to record a movie or special musical or live performances. Of course, when the album came out and immediately reached the commercial and artistic glory, they toured several countries and played most of the album, but it was not until 2017 that the band, live, played the album from beginning to end. This happened at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

While the band had three studio albums that led them to sell hundreds of thousands of singles and tour their home country and the United States, where they were a great success since their first tour in 1967, it was Tommy the album that catapulted them to complete success. The critics loved the record, people killed themselves for attending their concerts and this work was what made them millionaires, according to Billboard.

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This story was devised by Pete Townshend, guitarist of the band, inspired by the numerous abuses that he lived as a child, both physical and sexual. In his biography entitled Who I Am, published in 2012, he says that his maternal grandmother made him spend long days without food and usually dipped his head in a bucket full of water until the young man could not take it anymore. By then, Townshend was six years old.

His traumas remained locked with him until, in 1967, a friend gave him a book by Indian spiritual leader Meher Baba, who called himself God. Baba's philosophy and teachings had a strong impact on the idiosyncrasy of Townshend and he quickly began writing what Tommy would be based on what he learned from the Indian.

The recording of the disc was delayed a lot for that time, when the great rock bands were forced to make an annual record. The recording of Tommy was delayed a lot by the infinite time they spent in the studio recording and re-recording until everything was perfect and immersive. Also, when they finished the original album, Townshend decided it was not enough, that Tommy should be a double-LP to be deeper. The disc that was supposed to be published in December 1968  and ended up coming out at the end of May of the following year.

Such was the success of both the album and its live performances inside and outside the UK that the group received and accepted several offers to transform Tommy into several works, mostly symphonic. Some of these include the Montreal group ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, of 1970; an opera of the Seattle Opera in 1971; the following year of the London Symphony Orchestra and in 1975, perhaps the most memorable production, the independent film that tells the story of Tommy.

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This film, produced by the businessman Robert Stigwood and directed by the British Ken Russell, adapts the whole album to the big screen. Its success is partly due to the cast that included not only the entire band, but several musicians who at that time were at the peak of fame, such as Tina Turner, Elton John, and Eric Clapton. The actors' cast was not bad at all, as it included, among others, the American Ann Margaret and Jack Nicholson. According to Box Office Mojo, the film grossed 34 million dollars at the box office alone.

Tommy tells the story of a boy of the same name in the postwar period. His mother gave birth without his partner and father of his son, because it was thought that he had died with the fall of his bomber plane during the Second World War. The reality is that the father was alive, although very badly wounded. He returns to the house and discovers his wife in bed with his new partner. Blinded by rage, Captain Walker, Tommy's father, attacks the new lover of his former partner, but this dominates and ends up killing him. Little Tommy, who was about six years old at that time, witnesses this unfortunate act. His mother, Nora, tells him that "he did not see or hear anything." What he just saw and his mother's words traumatize him and leave him blind and deaf.


LatinAmerican Post | Pedro Vergara

Translated from "50 años de Tommy, la obra maestra de The Who"

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