Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tommy (AM9)

1968 was the sixties; a time when everyone was immersed in the era. '69 on the other hand saw many artists looking back. Let It Bleed (AM10) put an end to the 60s long before anyone else was ready; the LP was an expose of the dark underbelly of the decade - it was a glimpse, not of Woodstock, but of Altamonte. The "New Yardbirds" appeared on the scene but quickly became Led Zeppelin, poised to be the biggest band in the world; and they did so, not just with the eponymous, bluesy first album (AM7), but six months later with the release of LZII (AM8). The band showed an immediate focus and seeming instantaneous maturity - not to mention one memorable riff after another. Hard edged, roots driven and meant to be loud, Led Zeppelin was a 70s band and survival for any outfit was based on that. Abbey Road (AM10) would close up shop for the Beatles; the decade was over. Many would break on through to the to other side, The Doors did not; The Byrds did not; and those that couldn't shed that 60s ideology would muddle along (Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater, The Moody Blues) less inspired. 

But it was albums like Tommy that would prove the mile markers, those albums destined to influence rocks' heyday. Tommy was The Who blown open. Keith's drumming (never appreciated by Pete Townshend) is wild, expressive and over the top; it's Moony who ushers The Who into a new decade, not Townshend, despite the beautiful melodies and uncompromising guitar. The Who individually were the best at what they did, but it was Moony who propelled the band into a new age. 

Taking its cue from the band's 9-minute story song "A Quick One While He's Away." Tommy takes things a step further by telling its story across the entirety of a work.  Pete Townsend's concept involves little Tommy Walker, a boy rendered deaf, dumb and blind when he witnesses a terrible event, but who goes on to achieve messianic status when once again he regains his senses.  The concept is used to comment on everything from poor parenting and snake-oil salesmen to commercialism and organized religion.  With only 24 tracks to tell Tommy's tale (many of them little more than minute long snippets), Townsend's compositions often get bogged down by ensuring a story is told rather than that the individual songs work. The album fits all the bullets for a ten with that exception: the songs as the concept ends are mere snippets that do not fulfill a climax to over the top disk 1. 

It may not have been the first (Days of Future Past?), but Tommy is an album one must listen to in totality. There's no point in which you can happily let your mind wander, other than "Underture," (which may explain it as one of the most popular tracks on the album, providing  a chance to put the kettle on, to throw something in the microwave or even roll a spliff). Let It Bleed was the first truly 70s album; Tommy was the first album to move the music center stage. This wasn’t background music, it was something you "did," and despite "Pinball Wizard" it wasn’t radio play. Tommy set the pace for a decade to come.