The Who: Tommy – [Record 156]
Tommy is the fourth studio album by the English rock band The Who, a double album first released in May 1969. The album was mostly composed by guitarist Pete Townshend as a rock opera that tells the story about a deaf, dumb and blind boy, including his experiences with life and the relationship with his family.
Townshend came up with the concept of Tommy after being introduced to the work of Meher Baba, and attempted to translate Baba’s teachings into music. Recording on the album began in September 1968, but took six months to complete as material needed to be arranged and re-recorded in the studio. Tommy was acclaimed upon its release by critics, who hailed it as the Who’s breakthrough, although its critical standing diminished slightly in later years. Nonetheless, it has since been viewed by several writers as an important and influential rock album. The Who promoted the album’s release with an extensive tour, including a live version of Tommy, which lasted throughout 1969 and 1970. Key gigs from the tour included appearances at Woodstock, the Metropolitan Opera House and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The live performances of Tommy drew critical praise and rejuvenated the band’s career.
Subsequently, the rock opera developed into other media, including a Seattle Opera production in 1971, an orchestral version by Lou Reizner in 1972, a film in 1975, and a Broadway musical in 1992. The original album has sold 20 million copies and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It has been reissued several times on CD, including a remix by Jon Astley in 1996, a deluxe Super Audio CD in 2003, and a super deluxe box set in 2013, including previously unreleased demos and live material.
2. It’s a Boy!.
4. Amazing Journey.
6. The Hawker.
2. Cousin Kevin
3. The Acid Queen.
1. Do You Think It’s Alright?.
2. Fiddle About.
3. Pinball Wizard.
4. There’s a Doctor.
5. Go to the Mirror!.
6. Tommy Can You Hear Me?.
7. Smash the Mirror.
1. Miracle Cure.
2. Sally Simpson.
3. I’m Free.
5. Tommy’s Holiday Camp.
6. We’re Not Gonna Take It.
Synopsis: Tommy has never had a definitive plot, but the following synopsis was published following the original album’s release.
British Army Captain Walker goes missing during an expedition and is believed dead (“Overture”). His widow, Mrs. Walker, gives birth to their son, Tommy (“It’s a Boy”). Years later, Captain Walker returns home and discovers that his wife has found a new lover. The Captain murders this man in an altercation. Tommy’s mother brainwashes him into believing he didn’t see or hear anything, shutting down his senses and making him deaf, dumb and blind to the outside world (“1921”). Tommy now relies on his sense of touch and imagination, developing a fascinating inner psyche (“Amazing Journey/Sparks”).
A quack claims his wife can cure Tommy (“The Hawker”), while Tommy’s parents are increasingly frustrated that he will never find religion the midst of his isolation (“Christmas”). Tommy’s parents begin to neglect him; he is tortured by his sadistic “Cousin Kevin”, and molested by his uncle Ernie (“Do You Think It’s Alright?”, “Fiddle About”), and given LSD by the Hawker’s wife, “The Acid Queen”. Tommy’s hallucinogenic experience is expressed musically (“Underture”).
As Tommy grows older, he discovers he can feel vibrations sufficiently well to become an expert pinball player (“Pinball Wizard”). His parents take him to a respected doctor (“There’s a Doctor”), who determines that the boy’s disabilities are psychosomatic rather than physical. Tommy is told by the Doctor to “Go to the Mirror!”, and his parents notice he can stare at his reflection. After spending extensive time staring at a mirror in the house, his mother smashes it out of frustration (“Smash The Mirror”) This removes Tommy’s mental block, and he recovers his senses, realising he can become a powerful leader (“Sensation”). He starts a religious movement (“I’m Free”), which expands into a holiday camp (“Welcome” / “Tommy’s Holiday Camp”). The followers, however, ultimately reject Tommy’s teachings and leave the camp (“We’re Not Gonna Take It”). Tommy retreats inward again (“See Me, Feel Me”) with his “continuing statement of wonder at that which encompasses him”.
Background: Townshend had been looking at way of progressing beyond the standard three minute pop single format since 1966. Co-manager Kit Lambert shared Townshend’s views and encouraged him to develop musical ideas, coming up with the term “rock opera”. The first use of the term was applied to a suite called “Quads”, set in a future where parents could choose the sex of their children. A couple want four girls but instead receive three girls and a boy, raising him as a girl anyway. The opera was abandoned after writing a single song, the hit single, “I’m a Boy”. When the Who’s second album, A Quick One ran short of material during recording, Lambert suggested that Townshend should write a “mini-opera” to fill the gap. Townshend initially objected, but eventually agreed to do so, coming up with “A Quick One, While He’s Away”, which joined short pieces of music together into a continuous narrative. During 1967, Townshend learned how to play the piano and began writing songs on it, taking his work more seriously. That year’s The Who Sell Out included a mini-opera in the last track, “Rael”, which like “A Quick One…” was a suite of musical segments joined together.
“The package I hope is going to be called “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy.” It’s a story about a kid that’s born deaf, dumb and blind and what happens to him throughout his life … But what it’s really all about is the fact that … he’s seeing things basically as vibrations which we translate as music. That’s really what we want to do: create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play.”
Pete Townshend talking to Jann Wenner, August 1968
By 1968, Townshend was unsure about how the Who should progress musically. The group were no longer teenagers, but he wanted their music to remain relevant. His friend, International Times art director Mike McInnerney, told him about the Indian spiritual mentor Meher Baba, and Townshend became fascinated with Baba’s values of compassion, love and introspection. The Who’s commercial success was on the wane, after the single “Dogs” failed to make the top 20, and there was a genuine risk of the band breaking up. Live performances remained strong, and the group spent most of the spring and summer touring the US and Canada but their stage act relied on Townshend smashing his guitar or Moon demolishing his drums, which kept the group in debt. Townshend and Lambert realised they needed a larger vehicle for their music than hit singles, and a new stage show, and Townshend hoped to incorporate his love of Baba into this concept. He decided that the Who should record a series of songs that stood well in isolation, but formed a cohesive whole on the album. He also wanted the material performed in concert by the band, to counteract the trend of bands like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, whose studio output was not designed for live performance.
In August 1968, Townshend gave an important interview to Rolling Stone ’s Jann Wenner. He talked about a new rock opera, which had the working title of Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy, and described the entire plot in great detail, which ran to 11 pages. Who biographer Dave Marsh subsequently said the interview described the narrative better than the finished album. Townshend later regretted publishing so much detail, as he felt it forced him to write the album according to that blueprint. The rest of the Who, however, were enthusiastic about the idea, and let him have artistic control over the project.
Recording: The Who started recording the album at IBC Studios on 19 September 1968. There was no firm title at this point, which was variously referred to as Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy, Amazing Journey, Journey into Space, The Brain Opera and Omnibus. Townshend eventually settled on Tommy because it was a common British name, and a nickname for soldiers in World War I. Lambert took charge of the production, with Damon Lyon-Shaw as engineer. Sessions were block booked from 2pm – 10pm, but recording often spilled over into the early morning.
The album was recorded onto eight track tape, which allowed various instruments to be overdubbed. Townshend used several guitars in the studio, but made particular use of the Gibson J-200 acoustic and the Gibson SG. As well as their usual instruments, Townshend played piano and organ and bassist John Entwistle doubled on french horn. Keith Moon used a new double bass drum kit owned by roadie Tony Haslam, after Premier had refused to loan him any more equipment due to continual abuse. Though Townshend wrote the majority of the material, the arrangements came from the entire band. Singer Roger Daltrey later said that Townshend often came in with a half-finished demo recording, adding “we probably did as much talking as we did recording, sorting out arrangements and things.” Townshend asked Entwistle to write two songs (“Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About”) that covered the darker themes of bullying and abuse. “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” was Moon’s suggestion of what religious movement Tommy could lead. Moon got the songwriting credit for suggesting the idea, though the music was composed and played by Townshend. A significant amount of material had a lighter style than earlier recordings, with greater prominence put on the vocals. Moon later said, “It was, at the time, very un-Wholike. A lot of the songs were soft. We never played like that.”
Some of the material had already been written for other projects. “Sensation” was written about a girl Townshend had met on the Who’s tour of Australia in early 1968, “Welcome” and “I’m Free” were about peace found through Meher Baba and “Sally Simpson” was based on a gig with the Doors which was marred by violence. Other songs had been previously recorded by the Who and were recycled; “It’s A Boy” was derived from “Glow Girl”, an out-take from The Who Sell Out, while “Sparks” and “Underture” re-used and expanded one of the instrumental themes in “Rael”. “Amazing Journey” was, according to Townshend, “the absolute beginning” of the opera and summarised the entire plot. “The Hawker” was a cover of Mose Allison’s “Eyesight to the Blind”. A a cover of Buddy Guy’s “One Room Country Shack” was also recorded but was scrapped from the final track listing as Townshend could not figure out a way to incorporate it in the plot.
Recording at IBC was slow, due to a lack of a full plot and a full selection of songs. The group hoped that the album would be ready by Christmas, but sessions dragged on. Melody Maker ’s Chris Welch visited IBC studios in November and while he was impressed with the working environment and the material, the project still did not have a title and there was no coherent plotline. The Who’s US record company got so impatient waiting for new product that they released the compilation album Magic Bus: The Who on Tour which received a scathing review from Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone over its poor selection of material and misleading name (as the album contained studio recordings and was not live).
The Who took a break from recording at the end of 1968 to tour, including a well received appearance at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus on 10 December. They resumed sessions at IBC in January 1969, block booking Monday to Thursday, but had to do gigs every weekend to stop going further into debt. A major tour was booked for the end of April, and the group’s management insisted that the album would have to be finished by then, as it had been well over a year since The Who Sell Out. Lambert wrote a script, Tommy (1914–1984) which he professionally printed, and gave copies to the band, which helped them focus the storyline, and also decide to make the album a double. The group were still coming up with new material; Lambert insisted that the piece should have a proper overture, while Townshend wrote “Pinball Wizard” so that Nik Cohn, a pinball fan, would give the album a favourable review in the New York Times. Lambert wanted an orchestra to appear on the album, but Townshend was strongly against the idea, and time and budget constraints meant it could not happen anyway.
By March 1969, some songs had been recorded several times, yet Townshend still thought there were missing pieces. Entwistle had become fed up with recording, later saying “we had to keep going back and rejuvenating the numbers … it just started to drive us mad.” The final recording session took place on 7 March, the same day that “Pinball Wizard” was released as a single. The group started tour rehearsals and promotional activities for the single and Lambert went on holiday in Cairo. The mixing was left to Lyon-Shaw and assistant engineer Ted Sharp, who did not think IBC was well suited for the task. The album overshot its April deadline, as stereo mastering continued into the end of the month.
Release: Tommy was finally released on 17 May 1969 in the US, and 23 May in the UK, due to delays with the cover. The original double album was configured with sides 1 and 4 on one disc, and sides 2 and 3 on the other, to facilitate record changers.
The album was commercially successful, reached No. 2 in the UK album charts, and No. 4 in the US, It sold 200,000 copies in the first two weeks in the US alone, and was awarded a gold record for sales of 500,000 on August 18. “Pinball Wizard”, “I’m Free” and “See Me, Feel Me” were released as singles and received airplay on the radio. “Pinball Wizard” reached the top 20 in the US and the top five in the UK. “See Me, Feel Me” reached the top 20 in the US and “I’m Free” reached the top 40. An EP of selections from the album was planned to be released in the UK in November 1970, but was withdrawn. As of 2012, Tommy has sold 20 million copies worldwide.
When it was released, critics were split between those who thought the album was a masterpiece, the beginnings of a new genre, and those that felt it was exploitative. The album had a hostile reception with the BBC and certain US radio stations, with Tony Blackburn describing “Pinball Wizard” as “distasteful”. Nevertheless, BBC Radio 1 received an advance copy of the album at the start of May and gave the material its first airplay on Pete Drummond’s show on 3 May. Townshend promoted the album’s release with interviews in which he attempted to explain the plotline. Unfortunately, because it fundamentally dealt with the abstract concept of Baba’s spiritual precepts, the interviews often gave confusing and contradicting details.
Critical reception: The initial critical reaction to Tommy was positive. Chris Welch, writing for Melody Maker, went to the press launch show at Ronnie Scott’s and although the volume left his ears ringing for 20 hours, he concluded “we wanted more.” Disc and Music Echo ran a front-page headline saying “Who’s Tommy: A Masterpiece”. Critics and fans were confused by the storyline, but Lambert pointed out this made Tommy no less confusing than the operas of Richard Wagner or Giacomo Puccini a century earlier.
In a 1969 column for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau said that, apart from The Mothers of Invention’s We’re Only in It for the Money, Tommy is the first successful “extended work” in rock music, but Townshend’s parodic side is more “profound and equivocal” than Frank Zappa. He praised Townshend for deliberately constructing the album so that each song can be enjoyed individually and felt that he is determined to “give his audience what it wants without burying his own peculiarity”. Albert Goldman, writing in Life magazine, said that The Who play through “all the kinky complications” of the narrative in a hard rock style that is the antithesis of most contemporary “serious” rock. Goldman asserted that, based on innovation, performance, and “sheer power”, Tommy surpasses anything else in studio-recorded rock. Christgau named Tommy the best album of 1969 in his year-end list for Jazz & Pop magazine.
According to music journalist Richie Unterberger, Tommy was hailed by contemporary critics as the Who’s breakthrough, but its critical standing diminished slightly in the subsequent decades, because of its occasionally pretentious concept and flimsy songs that functioned as devices to “advance the rather sketchy plot.” Christgau wrote in 1983, “Tommy ’s operatic pretensions were so transparent that for years it seemed safe to guess that Townshend’s musical ideas would never catch up with his lyrics.” In his review for Allmusic, Unterberger said that, despite its slight flaws, the album has “many excellent songs” permeated with “a suitably powerful grace”, while Townshend’s ability to devise a lengthy narrative introduced “new possibilities to rock music.” Uncut wrote that the album “doesn’t quite realise its ambitions, though it achieves a lot on the way”, and felt it was not as well developed as their later album, Quadrophenia. Mark Kemp, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), felt that “in retrospect, Tommy isn’t quite the masterpiece it was originally hyped to be”, suggesting The Who Sell Out was better, though because of Townshend, it produced several “bona fide classic songs”.
In 1998, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant value”. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Tommy number 96 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album is one of several by the Who to appear in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
According to music critic Martha Bayles, Tommy did not mix rock with classical music, as its “rock opera” title may have suggested, but instead was “dominated by the Who’s mature style: ponderous, rhythmically monotonous hard rock”. Bayles argued that it was more acceptable to audiences than the art rock “concoctions” of the time because of the cultural climate during the late 1960s: “Tommy was considered more authentic, precisely because it consists of hard rock, rather than doctored-up Mussorgsky … and avoids the typical pseudoromantic themes of art rock (fairy-tale bliss and apocalyptic angst) in favor of the more up-to-date subject of popular culture itself.” High Fidelity magazine also characterized the Who’s album as a “reasonably hard-rock version” of the opera.
Marsh thought the problem with the album’s narrative is that there isn’t enough transitional material provided by the lyrics. There are no stage directions, no cast, and narration is restricted to key phrases (such as “Tommy can you hear me?”) Key problems included an unclear explanation of what Tommy didn’t hear or see in “1921”, how or why he plays pinball, why “Smash the Mirror” leads into “I overwhelm as I approach you” (the opening line in “Sensation”), why Tommy tells his followers in “We’re Not Gonna Take It” they cannot drink or smoke but can play pinball, and what the “you” is in “Listening to you, I get the music”.
Editions and cover art: Tommy was originally released as a two-LP set with artwork designed by McInnerney, which included a booklet including lyrics and images to illustrate parts of the story. The cover is presented as part of a triptych-style fold-out cover, and the booklet contained abstract artwork that outlined the story. Although the album included lyrics to all the songs, indicating individual characters, it did not outline the plot, which led to a concert programme being prepared for shows, that carried a detailed synopsis.
Townshend thought McInnerney, a fellow follower of Baba, would be a suitable choice to do the cover. As recording was near completion, McInnerney received a number of cassettes with completed songs and a brief outline for the story, which he immediately recognised as being based on Baba’s teachings. He wanted to try and convey the world of a deaf, dumb and blind boy, and decided to “depict a kind of breaking out of a certain restricted plane into freedom.” The finished cover contained a blue and white web of clouds, a first punching into the black void to the left of it. The inner triptych, meanwhile, showed a hand reaching out to light and a light shining in a dark void. Townshend was too busy finishing the recording to properly approve the artwork, but Lambert strongly approved of it, and said it would work. The final step was for record company approval, who decided the cover was more sensible than The Who Sell Out, though making one concession that pictures of the band should appear on the cover. These were added to the web on the front.
Tommy was first released on CD in 1984 as a two disc set. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab subsequently released a special single-disc edition of the album in 1990, featuring an alternate take of “Eyesight to the Blind” and a low volume extensive break on the glass in “Smash The Mirror”.
Polydor and MCA released a new version on a single disc in 1996, which had been remixed by Jon Astley. Astley was able to access the original 8 track tapes and bring out instruments that had been buried, such as the guitar in “Christmas”, the French Horn in “Sparks”, the cymbals in “The Acid Queen” and the organ in “We’re Not Gonna Take it”. This release came with McInnerney’s complete artwork and a written introduction by Richard Barnes.
In 2003 Tommy was made available as a deluxe two-disc hybrid Super Audio CD with a 5.1 multi-channel mix. The remastering was done under the supervision of Townshend and also includes related material not on the original album, including “Dogs-Part 2” (the B-Side to “Pinball Wizard”), “Cousin Kevin Model Child” and “Young Man Blues”, plus demos for the album and other unreleased songs that were dropped from the final running order.
In 2013, a super deluxe version of Tommy was released as a 3-CD / Blu-ray disc box set. As well as the original album, the package includes additional demos, and a live performance mostly taken from the Who’s show at the Capital Theatre, Ottawa, Canada on 15 October 1969. The live disc was significant, as it debunked a long-standing myth that the tapes for the tour were burned in preference for the Leeds University show in February 1970 that made up Live at Leeds.
Live performances: The Who had planned to perform Tommy live since starting the project. The group spent April 1969 rehearsing a live version of the show at the Hanwell Community Centre in Ealing including a final run down of the entire stage piece on 23 April. The running order was changed, and four songs (“Cousin Kevin”, “Underture”, “Sensation” and “Welcome”) were dropped entirely. Townshend later said the group “did the whole thing from start to finish and that was when we first realized we had something cohesive and playable.” Daltrey’s voice had improved substantially since the group’s early tours, and they realised their new live act could completely change their career.
After a few warm up gigs towards the end of April, the group gave a preview concert to the press at Ronnie Scotts, London on 1 May. Realising the opera’s narrative was difficult to understand, Townshend explained a synopsis of the story, before the Who played Tommy all the way through at full stage volume. The next day, the group flew out to New York to start the US tour, with the first gig on 9 May at the Grande Ballroom, Detroit. At the end of May, the group played four nights at the Kinetic Playground, Chicago, and they noticed the audience would all stand up at the same time, and stay standing. This indicated that live performances of Tommy had a significant positive response.
The group continued to play large halls in the US, organised by tour promoter Frank Barsalona, and generally avoided festivals, but made an important exception with the Woodstock Festival on 16 August. After spending all night arguing with Barsalona, the band agreed to perform at Woodstock for $12,500. The festival ran late and the Who did not take to the stage until the early morning of 17 August. During “Pinball Wizard”, Abbie Hoffman took to the stage to protest about the imprisonment of John Sinclair before being kicked offstage by Townshend, while during “See Me, Feel Me”, the sun rose, almost as if on cue. Two weeks later, the group played the second Isle of Wight Festival, using one of the largest live PAs available. Though media attention was on Bob Dylan playing his first major live show since 1966, the Who stole the show. Townshend later said, “We know that the stage act we had, with Tommy in it, would work under any circumstances, because it had worked many times on tour.”
By 1970, Tommy had achieved sufficient critical acclaim to be performed live in the Metropolitan Opera House.
Tommy remained in the Who’s live set through the rest of the year and into 1970. In October 1969, The Who played six shows at the Fillmore East, where Leonard Bernstein praised them for their new music. The group’s show on 14 December at the Coliseum Theatre, London, was filmed for a possible future Tommy feature. Lambert was keen for Tommy to be taken seriously and wanted the Who to perform at opera houses. In June 1970, the group performed two shows at the Metropolitan Opera House, which was the first time Townshend announced the show as being the “last Tommy ever”. The group made a second trip to the Isle of Wight, appearing at the 1970 festival on 29 August, before an audience of 600,000. The last live performance for 1970 was at The Roundhouse, London on 20 December. Townshend said “This is the very last time we’ll play Tommy on stage”, to which Moon promptly cried, “Thank Christ for that!”
Public reaction to the Who’s concerts that included Tommy was overwhelmingly positive. The touring helped keep the album in the public eye, and cleared the band’s debts. Several live recordings of Tommy from the Who’s 1969–70 tours have been released. A complete performance is available on the 2002 Deluxe Edition of the live album Live at Leeds, recorded on 14 February 1970. The second Isle of Wight performance is available on Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, released in 1996. The Coliseum Theatre gig is available on the 2007 video release At Kilburn 1977 + Live at the Coliseum. Portions of the Woodstock performance of Tommy were released on the Woodstock film and later on The Kids Are Alright. The complete show was recorded, but has never been officially released.
The Who continued to play a smaller selection of Tommy live in subsequent tours throughout the 1970s. They revived Tommy as a whole for its twentieth anniversary during their 1989 reunion tour, reinstating the previously overlooked “Cousin Kevin” and “Sensation” but still omitting “Underture” and “Welcome”. Recordings from this tour can be found on the Join Together live album and the Tommy and Quadrophenia Live DVD. The Los Angeles version of this show featured Phil Collins as Uncle Ernie, Patti LaBelle as the Acid Queen, Steve Winwood as the Hawker, Elton John as the Pinball Wizard and Billy Idol as Cousin Kevin.
1970 Les Grands Ballets Canadiens: In 1970 Ferdinand Nault of the Montreal ballet group Les Grands Ballets Canadiens created the first dance-based adaptation of Tommy. The ballet performance toured New York in April 1971, which included a light show and accompanying films by the Quebec Film Bureau.
1971 Seattle Opera production: In 1971, the Seattle Opera under director Richard Pearlman produced the first ever fully staged professional production of Tommy at Seattle’s Moore Theater. The production included Bette Midler playing the role of the Acid Queen and Mrs. Walker, and music by the Syracuse, New York band Comstock, Ltd.
London Symphony Orchestra version: On 9 December 1972, entrepreneur Lou Reizner presented a concert version of Tommy at the Rainbow Theatre, London. There were two performances that took place on the same evening. The concerts featured the Who, plus a guest cast, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Measham. The concerts were held to promote the release of Reizner’s new studio recording of this symphonic version of Tommy.
The album and concerts featured an all-star cast, including Graham Bell (as The Lover), Maggie Bell (as The Mother), Sandy Denny (as The Nurse), Steve Winwood (as The Father), Rod Stewart (as The Local Lad), Richie Havens (as The Hawker), Merry Clayton (as The Acid Queen) and Ringo Starr (as Uncle Ernie). Townshend played some guitar, but otherwise the music was predominantly orchestral. Richard Harris played the role of the specialist on the record, but he was replaced by Peter Sellers for the stage production. The stage show had a second run on 13 and 14 December 1973 with a different cast including David Essex, Elkie Brooks, Marsha Hunt, Vivian Stanshall, Roy Wood, and Jon Pertwee.
The orchestral version was also performed twice in Australia on 31 March 1973 at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl and on 1 April at Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse. Moon appeared as Uncle Ernie (in Melbourne only), Graham Bell as the Narrator, with local stars Daryl Braithwaite (as Tommy), Billy Thorpe, Doug Parkinson, Wendy Saddington, Jim Keays, Broderick Smith, Colleen Hewett, Linda George, Ross Wilson, Bobby Bright, Ian Meldrum (as Uncle Ernie in Sydney), and a full orchestra. The Melbourne concert was videotaped, then televised by Channel 7 on 13 April 1973.
1975 film: In 1975 Tommy was adapted as a film, produced by expatriate Australian entrepreneur Robert Stigwood and directed by British auteur Ken Russell. The movie version starred Daltrey as Tommy, and featured the other members of the Who, plus a supporting cast that included Ann-Margret as Tommy’s mother, Oliver Reed as “the Lover”, with appearances by Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Arthur Brown, and Jack Nicholson. Russell insisted on having a known cast, though Townshend wanted people who could sing the material, and was particularly disappointed at not being allowed to cast Stevie Wonder as the Pinball Wizard. In several cinemas, the film supported a multi-track soundtrack billed as quintaphonic sound, which placed speaker banks in the four quadrants of the house and directly behind the centre of the screen.
Townshend also oversaw the production of a soundtrack album, on which the unrecorded orchestral arrangements Lambert had envisaged for the original Tommy LP were realised by the extensive use of synthesizer. He started work on the soundtrack album immediately after the Who’s 1973 US tour in December, and worked on it almost continuously for the next four months. As well as the Who, the film’s music track and the original soundtrack LP also employed several session musicians including Caleb Quaye, Ronnie Wood, Nicky Hopkins, Chris Stainton, and longtime Who associate John “Rabbit” Bundrick. Due to Moon’s commitments with the filming of Stardust, Kenney Jones (who would take over as the Who’s drummer after Moon’s death in 1978) played drums on much of the soundtrack album.
“Pinball Wizard” was a major hit when released as a single. This sequence in the film depicts Elton being backed by the Who (dressed in pound-note suits); the band portrayed the Pinball Wizard’s band for filming, but on the music track and soundtrack album, the music was performed entirely by him and his regular touring band. Most of the extras were students at Portsmouth Polytechnic and were paid with tickets to a Who concert after filming wrapped.
The film and its soundtrack album featured six new songs, all written by Townshend, and an alteration to the running order compared to the original album. The CD reissue of the film soundtrack also included an additional Overture.
Broadway musical: In 1991, Townshend broke his wrist in a cycling accident and could not play guitar. Looking for alternative work while recuperating, he responded to a request from the PACE Theatrical Group for the rights to a Broadway musical adaptation of Tommy. The group introduced him to La Jolla Playhouse director Des McAnuff, and the pair began to develop the musical together. It opened at La Jolla in summer 1992, and was an immediate commercial success. Townshend wrote a new song, “I Believe My Own Eyes”, to explain the relationship between Tommy’s parents, but otherwise tried to be faithful to the music on the original album.
The musical had a mixed response from critics, while Daltrey and Entwistle thought the show was too passive. Anthony DeCurtis, writing in Rolling Stone, said the orchestra drummer had “the thankless task of having to reproduce Keith Moon’s parts”. Townshend and McAnuff rewrote parts of the musical when it moved from La Jolla to Broadway, to show a darker side for the title character. McAnuff won a Tony Award in 1993 for Best Director, while Wayne Cilento won the award for Best Choreographer. The Broadway run lasted from 1993 to 1995. McAnuff revisited Tommy during the 2013 season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.