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03/16/04
Reviewed by - George Bennett


The Who
Tommy
Released: October 28, 2003
Origination Year: 1969
Time: 75:03
Tracks: 10
Produced by: Pete Townshend
Style: Studio
Format: SACD
Enhancement: Bonus Disc
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Okay, let us get this out of the way before we begin. There are those who would say that The Who are arguably the best rock'n'roll band ever. They would be wrong. There is no argument to it, as far as I'm concerned. The Who ARE the best rock'n'roll band ever! In their prime, with Moon and Entwistle on board, there was not a band (before or since) that could touch 'em!

If you were lucky enough to see them live (whilst Mooney and the Ox were "live"), you know this to be true. I was lucky enough, three times...Okay, now that my bias is exposed...

I have been a Who fan since the earliest days (we're talkin' the mid-60's here). Ever since My Generation first blasted over the AM airwaves, I knew these guys were different and special. I rushed out and bought the 45rpm single and "The Who Sing My Generation" on LP. (My band learned every song on that record, front to back.) They had a sound that set them apart from all the other British Invasion bands, and they rank right up there with The Beatles and The Stones in the pantheon of rock royalty/greats/originals. I was in New York in 1969, and had the everlasting distinct thrill of seeing The Who perform at Bill Graham's Fillmore East...not once, but twice!! That, my friends, is something one never forgets and often recalls fondly and with reverence. A life changing experience it was, and here's why...

Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon put on the best, biggest, loudest, most incendiary live show ever performed. (They still hold the record for loudest concert ever measured at, as I recall, 115dB.) During both Fillmore East shows The Who performed their regular live set in its entirety - SPLIT at the mid-point by the entire Tommy opera. AND, to fan the flames of your rock'n'roll imagination even higher, this was months before the Tommy album was released in the USA. It is little known that The Who were, before the release of Tommy, in dire financial straits, and that Tommy was the make-or-break album for them. If it had stiffed, they were off the label and in deep debt.

This was the period when The Who were at the top of their game. Moon the Loon was the drum-god, moving faster than lightning all over that double kick-drum kit with what seemed like 10 or 12 ride and floor tom-toms all around him...a maniac of the skins, he, seemingly made of rubber (otherwise he certainly would have broken his neck!), encircled by his instrument. Entwistle (aka Thunderfingers and The Ox) actually anchored the unit with his rock-steady rhythm sense and lead guitar-like bass figures (he had alot of fills to make, what with this being a three piece band). He became known for his stoic stance and straight face while all around him went crazy. (And, I maintain, to this day, no one has come up with a better, more recognizable bass fill than John's in My Generation's breaks.) He was, and still remains, the best rock bass player ever, period. This was the time when Townshend was wearing his white flight suit (as he calls it - it looks more like a mechanics uniform), windmilling his arm off, and generally abusing himself - with what seemed like 6 ft. jumps straight-up into the air, landing sprawled back on his knees, running road-runner circles all over the stage, sliding across the stage on his knees - and his equipment, strangling his guitar in sacrifice, kicking and spearing his Hi-Watt speaker cabinets. No one put on a better live show than Pete Townshend at this time. Daltrey was the rock sex-god front man, a voice that screamed as much as it sang, running marathons in place, and hurling that microphone out by its cord in circles bigger than the stage! Add a great light show and the ambience of The Fillmore East, and, well, you can imagine...I left those shows unable to hear well into the next day, with a continuous tinnitus-like ringing in the ears that was like a badge of battle!

From this background I come to discuss the fourth (near as I can figure) incarnation of The Who's Tommy, remixed and remastered by Pete Townsend himself (and who better to know how it should sound!?), on a 2-disc, muti-channel and stereo SACD hybrid set with outtakes and demos newly discovered along with the 'thought-lost' master tapes. (First was the LP, then the first CD, then the re-mastered CD, coming from Townshend's own copy of the master tapes, which were slightly different than the original LP/CD masters, thought to be lost at the time. They have since been found, and Townshend uses the original masters for this SACD job. Disc 1 contains Tommy in its entirety, while Disc 2 contains outtakes and demos.)

It would be superfluous to herald the greatness of the music of Tommy yet again, so we will concentrate mostly on the sound quality and judgements used for the remaster/remix of the SACD. (Suffice it to say that it is considered in the ranks of Sgt. Pepper's and Pet Sounds as a defining moment in the rock'n'roll canon.) The stereo version is awesome - as close to what The Who heard in the studio during playback as we're likely to get (so say the liner notes, and I believe it.) However, the real revelations come in the 5.1 multi-channel mix, and boy are they revelatory!

The first thing I noticed upon slipping the disc(s) into my machine was that - gadzooks! - Tommy was/is actually mostly an acoustic guitar work! Now remember, I had seen it live twice as an all (VERY) electric show, and I suppose this transmogrified my listening to the previous recorded issues as an electric experience with acoustic guitar thrown in (this also speaks to the new, revealing clarity of the SACD). As I listened, throughout the disc, the acoustic guitar and piano/organ are at the fore, with electric guitar added for emphasis, as a side instrument. (I have since heard that it was Townshend's intent to reveal this with the SACD issue.) This is really an acoustic work, and the SACD brings it out in spades! It can honestly be said, without reservation, that if you have not heard Tommy in SACD multi-channel, you have not heard Tommy. With this more acoustic guitar-al edition, and with its additional openness and three-dimensionality, the case is made even more clearly that Townshend's chord structures are arguably the most melodic and flowing in pop/rock songwriting - ever!

Other things that stand out in the 5.1 multi-channel mix include: Townshend uses the 5 speakers more to envelope the listener in the music rather than to pin-point the location of specific instruments. However, additional percussion (such as tambourine, maraca, triangle, bell) and harmony vocals are placed in the L/R surrounds. Daltrey's voice (often thought too thin!) is clearly often doubled and usually placed equally in all 5 speakers. Bass lines are more delineated, and the trademark low bass with 'treble pluck' sound Entwistle is known for is outstanding in the new mix! One can hear so much more into the music that it becomes apparent that Mooney often clicked his sticks together in their travels or hit a drum rim. (This is awesome, intimate clarity we're talking here!)

'Underture', which honestly, after so many listens over the years, I usually skipped, now becomes a major instrumental work on par with the rest of the album. The repeated musical themes take on new stature, importance, and heft. I won't be skipping this one again! It's now an aural sensation, surrounding the listener in a beautiful, translucent cloud of music. There is so much air and space, the sound is so open, that the soundstage seems to go on for miles and miles. Elsewhere throughout the disc, Townshend's 'lead-chords' change from major to minor to diminished to suspended beat by beat, again showcasing his awesome fluidity... the sound of pick on strings putting him in the room with you. It is this writer's belief that 'See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You' is one of the most beautiful, powerful pieces of music ever written. Townshend eschews convention here and uses an odd chord pattern to marvelous effect. The guitar, organ, Moon's perfect drumming, and majestic harmonies surround the listener in orgasmic release...

Disc 2 is of interest in that we hear studio banter between the boys, alternative outtakes sans vocals, and the genesis of these great songs taking shape. Townshend's demos, with his lead vocals and harmonies with himself and his amazing guitar and keyboard abilities, in particular on the totally acoustic 'Pinball Wizard''s "genius at work", show how and why The Who's canon, and Tommy in particular, are some of the greatest rock songs ever written. A welcome addition, but not wholly necessary (unless you're a Who/Pete Townshend freak.)

So, crank it up and be in the studio with The Who. The 'you-are-there' factor is breath-taking. This SACD ranks with the absolute best sonically. At louder volumes, the low end bass, kick drum and tympani are a visceral experience not likely to be forgotten. Relive, all over again for the first time, one of rock's true masterpieces, now able to be appreciated, even more so, for the awesome accomplishment it is. Tommy on SACD is a must-have!


Track Listing:
Disc One

Overture / It's a Boy / 1921 / Amazing Journey / Sparks / Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker) / Christmas / Cousin Kevin / The Acid Queen / Underture / Do You Think It's Alright? / Fiddle About / Pinball Wizard / There's a Doctor / Go to the Mirror! / Tommy Can You Hear Me? / Smash the Mirror / Sensation / Miracle Cure / Sally Simpson / I'm Free / Welcome / Tommy's Holiday Camp / We're Not Gonna Take It / See Me Feel Me / Listening To You.

Disc Two - Outtakes and Demos

I Was / Christmas (Out-take 3) / Cousin Kevin Model child / Young Man Blues (Version One) / Tommy Can You Hear Me? (Alternate Version) / Trying to Get Through / Sally Simpson (Out-take) / Miss Simpson / Welcome (Take 2) / Tommy's Holiday Camp (Band's Version) / We're Not Gonna Take It (Alternate Version) / Dogs (Part Two).

Stereo Only Demos -

It's A Boy / Amazing Journey / Christmas / Do You Think It's Alright? / Pinball Wizard


The Who: Roger Daltrey - Vocals; Pete Townshend - Guitars / Keyboards; John Entwistle - Bass; Keith Moon - Drums.


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