This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is number twenty eight in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.
When it came to ‘power-house’ music coming out of Britain in the 1960’s, there were few groups that could compete with the brilliance and consistency of The Who!
“Quadrophenia” (a Rock Opera!) was released in 1973.
I have the original two-LP set with a gatefold jacket and a thick booklet which contains the lyrics, a text version of the story, and photographs illustrating the tale.
It is magnificent in terms of concept and design and the compositions and musical production is stunning. The version I have was released on TRACK Records (2409 203A); Record # 2409 203. TRACK Records was an English record label founded in London in 1966 by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, then the Managers of The Who.
Generally the best known album is the 1969 album Tommy, which spawned live stage performances as well as a movie.
In some ways Tommy was simply a precursor to Quadrophenia, and yet Quadrophenia – an infinitely better album, failed to gain the acceptance that Tommy did.
One of the key features of the gatefold cover is the stapled booklet.
Although only in black & white it is a massive 22 double sided pages filled with stills from the film and all the lyrics. This is one of the many advantages of a vinyl LP – try this with a CD!
It not only adds to the overall presentation it is quite a delight to be able to read the lyrics without the aid of a magnifying glass, and, the photo’s are of a high quality a LARGE!
When questioned about the title “Quadrophenia“, composer and concept designer, guitarist Pete Townshend, has been quoted as saying, “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.“
Quadraphonic was supposed to be the next step up from a stereo!
Whereas a stereo(phonic) sound field sets the sound out in a field ranging from the left to the right hand side of the listener, supposedly representing the way we hear. Quadraphonic’s used speakers set in the four corners , and was in fact the early forerunner to today’s ‘Surround Sound”, that is used widely with video replay such as provided for with Digital Dolby and DTS Sound.
However, it was obvious that it was a play on words for the psychiatric term, ‘schizophrenia’ – and in this case representing a person with four personalities.
In this case it was the four distinct personalities of the ‘operas’ in character – Jimmy, although it has been consistently suggested it also represents the four elements of the members of The Who.
The final production turned out to to have mixed reviews, whether it was that it was being directly compared to Tommy, or whether it represented that fact that by 1973/74 the music that had developed during the 1960’s, and bled into the 1970’s, was loosing it’s way, and its fans, can be debated.I am in full sympathy with one explanation that suggests that the album was imply to far ahead of the fans. There was no “Happy Jack“, just lonely disturbed “Jimmy“.
There was a lack of empty but power driven ‘power chords’, in their place was music and lyrics that actually reached out to touch the psyche, to project pain and angst of a young man confused, unable to think because of pills and suffering great pain with the realisation that the future held very little. This was too much for the simple minds of the ‘pop’ fans!
The Who certainly had some serious misgivings when it came to the albums release in the lucrative and extremely important USA market. The concern revolved around the fact that the whole ‘opera’ revolves a the disputes between the Mods and the Rockers.
Certainly the USA had an affinity with Rockers accept for small sub-groups, the whole concept of Mods was alien to most Americans.
If you are interested in learn more about the full story, there are many good representations on the net, none much better than “Quadrophenia – The Story“
But what of the music itself? There are 16 tracks across the double album, and more winners than at Wimbledon. Let’s start with a track listing!
|1.||“I Am the Sea”||2:08|
|2.||“The Real Me”||3:20|
|4.||“Cut My Hair”||3:44|
|5.||“The Punk and the Godfather”||5:10|
|7.||“The Dirty Jobs”||4:28|
|8.||“Helpless Dancer” (Roger’s theme)||2:33|
|9.||“Is It in My Head?”||3:43|
|10.||“I’ve Had Enough”||6:14|
|12.||“Sand and Sea”||5:01|
|14.||“Bell Boy” (Keith’s theme)||4:55|
|15.||“Doctor Jimmy (containing “Is It Me?”)” (John’s theme)||8:36|
|17.||“Love, Reign O’er Me (Pete’s theme)||5:48|
Within this track listing we see four themes, the four personalities of Jimmy as represented by the four members of The Who:
- A tough guy, a helpless dancer. (“Helpless Dancer“ – Roger)
- A romantic, is it me for a moment? (“Is It Me?” – John)
- A bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags. (“Bell Boy“ – Keith)
- A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign o’er me. (“Love Reign O’er Me“ – Pete)
The track, “Quadrophenia“, is a great example of the music composition skills of Pete Townshend.
A delightful piece of piano work is supplemented by some stunning guitar work by Townshend. It’s not so much that he jumps into ‘power chords'(in fact as a reminder, unlike Tommy this is not a ‘power chord’ based album), it’s far more sublime an emotive piece of guitar playing. It really showcases both the technical skills of the band and the arrangement skills of Townshend.
We find the brass and strings fully supplementing the understated bass playing of John Entwhistle and the playing of one of the greatest rock drummers of all time – Keith Moon.
Talking of Keith Moon, I can’t go passed “Bell Boy” without making a comment.
We all know just how Keith Moon not only played at being a great lunatic, he was one!
His cockney accent and crazy edge to his voice (a voice that was never going to get him rave reviews) makes “Bell Boy” a stand-out track. The track itself is not a brilliant track – but some would argue, neither was “Uncle Ernie” in Tommy – yet Moon always stole the show when he sung it live.
Once again he does another excellent job with “Bell Boy“. I can see him in his ‘bleedin’ cap, trying his best to do his job whilst being unable to stop himself from taking the ‘Mickey” out of the hotel clients.
Some of the really great tracks have clips from the movie attached to them on Youtube, so I haven’t provided the tracks to listen to within this review, but they can be found toward the bottom of this review.
These include, “The Real Me” which has a fantastic piece of bass playing in it. It’s a track that really showcases John Entwhistle‘s abilities (not that fans of The Who need reminding about John’s playing and his sound).
His playing gave such a richness to The Who sound, that it was almost like having two lead guitarists at time. The song describes how Jimmy angrily deals with several individuals to identify “the real me.”
Another track with a video clip attached is the fabulous, “Love Reign O’er Me“.
In my opinion one of the top tracks on this album of fantastic tracks. It’s the final track on the album and one would expect that The Who in general, and Townshend in particular, would want to go out with a ‘BANG’!
Jimmy, having a personal crisis and with nothing left to live for, suddenly finds a spiritual redemption in pouring rain.
His angst, his anger, his pain and confusion are cleansed by the refreshing pure rain! You could forgiven for thinking this was akin to Jesus washing away the sins of those who came to him – you would be wrong.
Townshend, a devotee of Meher Baba, was obviously greatly impressed by a comment once made by Baba. “…that rain was a blessing from God; that thunder was God’s Voice.”
It’s another plea to drown, only this time in the rain.
Jimmy goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable and you know, when it’s over and he goes back to town he’ll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he’s moved up a level.
He’s weak still, but there’s a strength in that weakness. He’s in danger of maturing.
Can make it rain
The way the beach is kissed by the sea.
Can make it rain
Like the sweat of lovers’
Laying in the fields.
Love, reign o’er me.
Love, reign o’er me, rain on me.
Can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky.
Can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high.
Love Reign O’er me.
On the dry and dusty road
The nights we spend apart alone
I need to get back home to cool cool rain.
The nights are hot and black as ink
I can’t sleep and I lay and I think
Oh God, I need a drink of cool cool rain.”
It would not be going overboard to actually discuss every track, but I will finish off with Roger‘s theme – “Helpless Dancer“.
I also love this track! I suddenly realised I had been commenting on the compositional brilliance of the pieces and the musicianship, but The Who without the powerful and emotive voice of Roger Daltrey, would be akin to a great stallion being gelded! It simply wouldn’t be great!
Daltrey’s voice is a lynch pin too much of the music on this album and non more so than this track.
“When a man is running from his boss
Who hold a gun that fires “cost”
And people die from being cold
Or left alone because they’re old
And bombs are dropped on fighting cats
And children’s dreams are run with rats
If you complain you disappear
Just like the lesbians and queers
No one can love without the grace
Of some unseen and distant face
And you get beaten up by blacks
Who though they worked still got the sack
And when your soul tells you to hide
Your very right to die denied
And in the battle on the streets
You fight computers and receipts
And when a man is trying to change
But only causes further pain
You realize that all along
Something in us going wrong…
You stop dancing.
Is it me? for a moment”
The Helpless Dancer
It is a song of urgency. Daltrey sings it a-la two parts, almost a ‘call and refrain’ type concept.
Where traditionally the soloist sings, and a chorus replies in a ‘refrain’ – here Daltry takes both parts, emphasised by the “call and refrain” split into the right and left side speakers. Is it a form of Schizophrenia … or, Quadrophenia?
The ‘hammering of the piano adds to the urgency; what Townshend has done with the music, and Daltrey, with his delivery, is to provide us with the aggression that Jimmy exhibits as he switches between his four personalities.
It is difficult not to agree with Townshend on his judgement of this album, a judgement he made many years after conceptualising it, and years after the torture of trying to convince audience of its message, and its brilliance.
Yet I would modify his statement that is made at the commencement of this review.
It is not simply the last great album made by The Who, it is THE greatest album made by The Who.
I’ll leave the final words to Pete, well, to his alter ego Jimmy!
“Schizophrenic? I’m bloody Quadrophonic!”
There seem to be very few second hand copies of the original double vinyl album available, I did find one on Ebay for around $50.00. However, a few years ago there has been a vinyl reissue, which is retailing for around for an amazingly low-price of $35.00.
Information suggests that this has actually mixed to bring Daltreys vocals out more, something he did complain about originally. On the other side coin, a number of Who fans have indicated the sound is not as good as the original!
There is also a CD available that variously retails for between $35.00 and $40.00.
We are fortunate that because Quadrophenia was made into a movie we have in fact many clips to choose from. I have chosen three to support this retro-review.
The Real Me
Love Reign O’er Me
I’ve had Enough
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
Click to open: