The Who: Quadrophenia [Record 92]
Quadrophenia is the sixth studio album by English rock band The Who. Released on 19 October 1973 by Track and Polydor in the United Kingdom, and Track and MCA in the United States, it is a double album, and the group’s second rock opera. Its story involves social, musical and psychological happenings from an English teenage perspective, set in London and Brighton in 1965.
The name is a variation on the popular usage of the medical diagnostic term schizophrenia as dissociative identity disorder, to reflect the four distinct personalities of Jimmy, the opera’s protagonist – each said to represent the personality of one member of The Who. At the same time, the title is a play on the term quadraphonic sound, then a recent invention. Composer Pete Townshend has said: “The whole conception of Quadrophenia was geared to quadraphonic, but in a creative sort of way. I mean I wanted themes to sort of emerge from corners. So you start to get the sense of the fourness being literally speaker for speaker.”
Record One, Side One.
1. I Am the Sea.
2. The Real Me.
4. Cut My Hair.
5. The Punk and the Godfather.
Record One, Side Two.
6. I’m One.
7. The Dirty Jobs.
8. Helpless Dancer.
9. Is It in My Head?.
10. I’ve Had Enough.
Record Two, Side One.
12. Sea and Sand.
14. Bell Boy.
Record Two, Side Two.
15. Doctor Jimmy (containing “Is It Me?”).
16. The Rock.
17. Love, Reign o’er Me.
Synopsis: James Michael Cooper, or Jimmy for short, is first shown on a rock in the middle of the sea while a thunderstorm is taking place. He reflects his very dark past up to that point while the waves are crashing against him and the rock, in the end screaming out “Can you see the real me? Can ya? CAN YA?” (“I Am the Sea”). And so, Jimmy’s past begins to show as he attempts to be understood, recalling his meeting with a psychiatrist, his mother and the preacher (all with no help whatsoever) while he also notes the ones in his neighborhood are just strangers and they cannot understand him (“The Real Me”). It is then revealed that Jimmy has a mental disorder nicknamed “Quadrophenia” as he has four different identities that are not him (“Quadrophenia”, see “Musical Structure” section for more details). As a direction he felt was right to take, Jimmy decides to become one of the Mods that were around at the time and follow their music and fashion, and decided it became true with his belief in them. Despite this, Jimmy is also rejected by his companions in the movement, but he deals with it (since it is all he’s got) as he tries to become the perfect Mod (“Cut My Hair”). In search of a desperate relief, Jimmy heads to see a top Mod band in concert (in this case, The Who), however, it was a matter of time before he realized they were a reflection of their audience, and the band agrees to that, so this was yet another letdown. He wants, even needs, someone to look up to who faced his problems and dealt with them successfully. After that, he found out he was kicked out of the house he returned to by his mother who apparently found drugs (more specifically leapers) in his room (“The Punk and the Godfather”).
Now really alone, Jimmy somehow still has the courage and the Modism ideas that these other people weren’t up to his standards; he admits he has problems while also admitting the strength to overcome them (“I’m One”). He eventually gets a job to be a dustman, but maintains his rejection over doing it and declared himself so, and in the end, he quits after two days (“The Dirty Jobs”). Once again depressed, Jimmy starts to rage against life, and is not finding any fairness in life that he is looking for. He ultimately decided that giving up was the best solution, which was not one at all (“Helpless Dancer”). Jimmy then starts to think the problem lies with himself, and with no interaction with anyone around him as evidence, it must have been his fault (“Is It in My Head?”). Searching for a solution which seems unreachable, Jimmy rides his GS scooter, still declaring his Modism as he still strives to be a perfect Mod, but then sees the one girl he formerly loved with (who broke up with him as found out in “The Real Me”) with who was going to be his former best friend named Dave, revealing to be the last straw for Jimmy as he became upset and angry enough to crash his own bike; he also even found the Mods to appear corrupt as well (“I’ve Had Enough”).
At this point, Jimmy felt he lost everything and everyone he loved, being that this is the low point of his life, but despite that depression and frustration he still holds on to the idea of Modism as his savior, as they are the only group he has and tries to find a group of true believers that are not corrupted. Thus, he takes his leapers with him and gets a train to Brighton, remembering everything as being a perfect Mod over there. The leapers make him go into a dreamy mental state as the whole journey is a trip primarily on observation, images put in through a haze. (“5:15”). As he arrived, Jimmy notices that the seaside has been less than perfectly Mod, as there are no Mods around the area, so he heads for the beach where he recalls the days where things were the way it should be while moaning about his current situation and thinking of evil on girls and more specifically his former girlfriend (“Sea and Sand”). Jimmy then considers the thoughts of drowning in the sea and eventually decides to get a boat instead (“Drowned”, later on though). Jimmy has then becomes shattered to pieces when one of his heroes, a Mod nicknamed “The Ace Face”, has become a Bell Boy, after being a rebel-like Mod whom he used to follow to being one working for & with rather than ruling out everyone in the Brighton hotels the Mods used to crash in 1963. Jimmy had truly had enough of the life he is in, where everyone he loved and looked up to, even the Mods, had let him down; it was nothing but a mockery of what he both wanted and needed and there was never any solutions from it. (“Bell Boy”).
With nothing there to save him from which was never within, Jimmy gets a bottle of gin and begins to rage on with every weakness he sees and hates now denies, even every cruel & ugly behavior he can think of and all of the things he can’t do despite wanting, he now claims as his own. Jimmy does nonetheless realize he released the beast that was within him, and it was time for it due to the lost connection to everything around him (“Doctor Jimmy”). Along with this, Jimmy also has flashes of rationality in which he wonders which of his four personalities is the real him. Jimmy however can no longer reconcile with these identities that he is, yet he comes to the solution he has been waiting for as it’s all too much for his mind to deal with, all part of trying to figure what is going on now while still taking the pills and drinking the gin with aggravation (“Is It Me?”). Jimmy then steals that previously-mentioned boat being angry, disgusted & high like he is right now heading to a lone rock in the bay, where he thinks he could figure out and find the answer and solution; he has now cooled down and began to be reflective again. As he gets to the rock, the boat goes away and he gets stuck out there because of it, leading to where the story began before (“The Rock”).
At this moment, Jimmy made a realization that all the problems and all its solutions come from within, as no one else can solve it. He should deal with one challenge at a time by himself and trust himself to do so. Still having all those problems, Jimmy now finds a way to deal with them as they are not crushing as they seemed, not impossible at all. He now embraces the rain running over him feeling overjoyed, free, and very spiritual, washing away all the pain and bringing in his soul; as this spiritual redemption is indeed showing, now he is drawing love instead of rejecting it and it cleans him as it happens. As only it matters in the end, Jimmy now notes that love, how fleeting and temporary it is, is a goal worth seeking anyway, and life is empty and dry without it (“Love, Reign O’er Me”).
History: Quadrophenia reached #2 on the US Billboard album chart (kept from #1 by then-labelmate Elton John with his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album) and was the highest position of any Who album in the US as they would never hit #1 on the US album charts.
Quadrophenia was originally released as a two-LP set with a gatefold jacket and a thick booklet containing lyrics, a text version of the story, and photographs illustrating the tale. MCA Records re-released it as a two-CD set in 1985 with the lyrics and text story line on a thin fold-up sheet but none of the photographs. The original Polydor CD issue included the complete booklet in miniature, as did the remastered MCA and Polydor CD reissues of 1996.
Quadrophenia was originally released in the UK as Track 2406-110/11. on 26 October 1973. However, it appears that owing to a vinyl shortage caused by the OPEC oil embargo, only a limited number of copies got to stores before production had to be halted. Most British Who fans failed to find a copy until after The Who’s UK tour. In the UK, Quadrophenia reached the #2 position, being held out of the top spot by David Bowie’s Pin Ups, which contained cover versions of The Who songs “I Can’t Explain” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”.
In the liner notes to the remastered Odds & Sods Townshend revealed that Quadrophenia evolved from an idea for a self-indulgent autobiography of the band (which was allegedly to have been titled Rock Is Dead—Long Live Rock!). Two of the opera’s tracks date from 1972 (“Is It In My Head?” and “Love Reign O’er Me”), a year that also produced The Who’s singles “Join Together”, “Relay” and “Long Live Rock” (the last not actually released until 1974). However, by the time Quadrophenia was released, the band’s role in the story was only symbolic, through Jimmy’s four personalities.
The 8-track tape version of this album has the distinction of being one of the few 8-tracks that is arranged exactly like the album, with no song breaks.
The band viewed the tour in support of the album as disastrous. Owing to extensive use of synthesisers and sound effects on the record, the group elected to employ taped backing tracks for live performance, as they had already done for “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Initial performances were plagued by malfunctioning tapes. Once the tapes started, the band had to play to them. The band felt constrained in playing to these recordings, preferring a more free-form attitude.
On the first night of the US leg at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, drummer Keith Moon passed out onstage due to an excessive intake of alcohol and drugs. Scot Halpin, an audience member, was brought on to finish the show.
Pete Townshend now looks back on the album with great pride. “The music is the best music that I’ve ever written, I think, and it’s the best album that I will ever write”. “We never really ever made a truly great album again.”
In May 2011, English writer Peter Meadows published a novel called To Be Someone based on characters presented by the album. On 1 June 2011, Townshend stated in a blog entry on The Who’s official website that he had begun working on a deluxe edition of the album. It was released as a 5-CD box on 15 November 2011.
During the album production Pete Townshend made many field recordings with a portable reel-to-reel recorder. Some of the location sounds that made it to the record were waves washing on a Cornish beach and the doppler whistle of a diesel train was recorded close to Townshend’s house at Goring-on-Thames. The sound of a kids playing on Brighton beach is in fact Wallingford swimming pool dubbed over Pete Townshend walking on the gravel outside the studio singing “Come sleep on the beach…keep within my reach”. The ending of “The Dirty Jobs” also includes a musical excerpt from The Thunderer, a march by John Philip Sousa. Townshend recorded this while listening to a brass band perform at a park.
Musical Structure: Townshend noted in 2009 that, rather than Jimmy’s personalities representing a Who member, he chose the personalities of each member to illustrate each of Jimmy’s four personalities, or “personality extremes” or mood swings.
The liner notes illustrate this concept as follows (names added):
- A tough guy, a helpless dancer. (“Helpless Dancer” – Roger Daltrey)
- A romantic, is it me for a moment? (“Is It Me?” – John Entwistle)
- A bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags. (“Bell Boy” – Keith Moon)
- A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign o’er me. (“Love Reign O’er Me” – Pete Townshend)
In addition to describing a personality/band member, the four descriptions refer to four musical themes that portray Jimmy’s personalities in the opera: “Helpless Dancer”, “Is It Me?”, “Bell Boy”, and “Love Reign O’er Me”. The four themes (or “leitmotifs” as described by Townshend) are mixed together in both the title track (bridging “The Real Me” and “Cut My Hair”), and the penultimate track, “The Rock” (bridging “Doctor Jimmy” and “Love, Reign O’er Me”). The two pieces were the most musically complex pieces that Townshend ever wrote for The Who, combining all four themes into two six-minute instrumental medleys. The two pieces have neither a definite beginning nor end, as they begin with a fade-in from the previous track, starting with the theme of “Bell Boy” (Moon’s theme). This is followed by the themes of “Is It Me?” (Entwistle’s theme), “Helpless Dancer” (Daltrey’s theme), and “Love, Reign O’er Me” (Townshend’s theme). “Quadrophenia” fades into rain sound effects after the “Love Reign O’er Me” theme. “The Rock” however ends with a combination of the four different themes, using the “Bell Boy” theme as the chord sequence, the “Helpless Dancer” theme as the melody, the “Is It Me?” theme as a lead (played on guitar and synthesiser), and the keyboard part to “Love Reign O’er Me” as a countermelody. The whole song abruptly ends on a downbeat layered with the sound of thunder and descends into “Love Reign O’er Me” proper.
The four themes also surface on many other songs throughout the album; the most subtle example being when the “Helpless Dancer” theme appears on “Bell Boy” (the main song) played on synthesiser as a brief interlude. Some themes from other songs also make “surprise” reappearances here and there. These leitmotifs help give the work an impression of a cohesive unity.
Critical reaction and impact: In 2000 Q magazine placed Quadrophenia at #56 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2001, the TV network VH1 named it the 86th greatest album of all time. In 2003, the album was ranked #266 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. IGN placed Quadrophenia at #1 in their list of the greatest classic rock albums of all time. In 2005, Quadrophenia was ranked number 314 in Rock Hard magazine’s book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time.
The original mix had many of the vocals mixed a bit low and Daltrey was quoted at the time complaining. The initial CD release used the same original mix, but the album was remixed in 1996 bringing the vocals up, with good results, but some Who fans still prefer the original mix. In 2011, Townshend remixed the album yet again, and a deluxe box-set was released on 15 November that year. Notably, this 5-disc set contains some early test recordings of the band playing several songs that were written for the album but not included when Quadrophenia was released. These include such Who rarities as “Get Out and Stay Out”, “Quadrophenic Four Faces”, “You Came Back”, and “Joker James”.
Awards and honours: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend received the Classic Album Award for Quadrophenia from the Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards at The Roundhouse, 9 November 2011, in London, England.
Subsequent productions: Further information: Quadrophenia (musical) and Quadrophenia (film)
In 1979 the film Quadrophenia was released, with three additional songs written by Townshend (see Quadrophenia (soundtrack)). The film was an accurate visual interpretation of Townshend’s vision of Jimmy and his surroundings, and included the casting of a young Sting as the Ace Face. In the film, the music was largely relegated to the background, and was not performed by the cast as in a rock opera.
In 1995, the rock group Phish performed Quadrophenia in its entirety as their second Halloween musical costume at the Rosemont Horizon, Chicago, Illinois. The recording was later released as a part of Live Phish Volume 14. The jam band also covered the tracks “Drowned” and “Sea and Sand” on their live album New Year’s Eve 1995 – Live at Madison Square Garden, and played an extended version of “Drowned” in several of their concerts since.
In summer 1996, The Who, with a large backing group featuring, among others, Zak Starkey on drums (his first appearance as The Who’s drummer), Geoff Whitehorn and Simon Townshend on electric guitar (the former played lead guitar on almost all of the songs) and keyboardists Jon Carin and John “Rabbit” Bundrick, performed Quadrophenia in its entirety for the first time in many years in London’s Hyde Park, with guest performers Phil Daniels as the Narrator/Jimmy, Gary Glitter as The Rocker, Adrian Edmondson as the Ace Face/Bellboy, Stephen Fry as the hotel manager (screaming, “Bellboy!”), Trevor McDonald as the newsreader and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour as the bus driver. Gilmour also played additional lead guitar for that first performance; he sang and played lead guitar on “The Dirty Jobs”, plus performed lead guitar on “Sea and Sand”, “Dr. Jimmy”, “The Rock”, “Love, Reign O’er Me”, and “5.15” (reprise). A subsequent tour of the US and UK followed, employing most of the same players but with Billy Idol replacing Edmondson.
In 2005, a live performance of Quadrophenia from The Who’s 1996/1997 tour was included in a three-disc DVD box set released by Rhino Entertainment, also featuring a live performance of Tommy from 1989 as well as other hit songs performed live. Townshend and Daltrey provided special commentary, and an interview with Billy Idol was also included.
The Who performed Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 March 2010 as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust series of ten gigs. This one-off performance of the rock opera featured guest appearances from Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam; and Kasabian’s Tom Meighan. Tom Norris, jazz musician and violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, played violin in the production.
2012 tour: On 1 November 2012, The Who started a 37 date U.S. tour of Quadrophenia. Dubbed “Quadrophenia + More”, the album was played in its entirety, with a selected hits encore included. As with the 1997 Quadrophenia Tour, Zak Starkey and Simon Townshend accompanied the two surviving founding members, playing drums and rhythm guitar, respectively. Pino Paladino, who replaced John Entwistle after his death in 2002, played bass on the tour.
Plans for sequel: There have been two attempts at a sequel. An earlier attempt, by the Who themselves, and an effort in 2011 involving writer Martin Stellman. The 2011 version, which has been referred to as “Quadrophenia 2”, was to use Richard Jobson as a director, and was slated to start pre-production in 2011. It was given approval by Pete Townshend, a friend of Jobson’s, and involved film and music producer Bill Curbishley, who is reportedly also working on a biographical film focusing on Keith Moon. It has also been reported that Bill Curbishley has recently been working on his own script for a Quadrophenia sequel, which would be based on a story that carries on 10 years from the original.