Thirty five years ago, Pete Townshend embarked on an ambitious creative trek. Only in his mid-twenties, the Who’s chief protagonist sought to expand upon his earlier mini opera “A Quick One While He’s Away” with a full blown rock opera; a series of compositions built upon an expansive central theme. The result of his efforts was the 1969 album Tommy, a monumental achievement for its time. Regarded as brilliant by many in the music press, but derided by the BBC as “sick”, the grandiose project was the saving grace for a band that had found itself deep in debt despite successful tours and album sales. Once the Tommy album was released, and the rock opera taken to the stages of Woodstock, the Metropolitan Opera House and everywhere in between, the Who found themselves firmly entrenched among rock’s premier acts. Had it not been for the commercial success of Townshend’s brainchild, the Who may not have survived into the ‘70s.
Tommy: Deluxe is the fourth entrant in a continuing process of re-releasing classic albums from the Who’s catalogue. Beginning with 2001’s superbly remastered Live at Leeds and progressing with My Generation and Who’s Next in 2002 and early 2003, respectively, Tommy: Deluxe is a fine addition to any Who fan’s library. The twin CD set includes the complete original album on Disc One, as well as an entire second disc consisting of studio out-takes and demos.
Revisiting Townshend’s opera in remixed/remastered form is a fascinating endeavor. While some of the material has lost its conceptual luster with age, the scope of the musicianship remains impressive. From the opening strains of “Overture”, to the beautiful simplicity of “Sparks”, to the power of “Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard”, to the glorious conclusion of “See Me Feel Me/Listening To You”, the album finds the band in peak form. When comparing the songs on record with their live counterparts, it is hard to believe that a mere four-piece was able to pull it all off. The richness of the remastered material is ample proof that no band but the Who could have brought the Tommy idea to fruition with such results.
As special as the original album is in all its remixed glory, Disc Two provides 17 tracks of bonus material that serve as interesting behind-the-scenes fodder. Listeners are afforded the opportunity to sit in the studio along with the band and experience the development of material from its early stages. The instrumental noodlings of “Christmas”, “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”, and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” are intriguing works in progress, while a tame version of “Young Man’s Blues” presents an appropriate counterbalance to ferocious stage versions from Leeds and The Isle of Wight. Two of the more attractive cuts come by way of a stereo version of “Pinball Wizard” and the energized jam of “Dogs (Part 2)”. Perhaps the most entertaining gem on all of Disc Two is found in the “Sally Simpson” out-takes; Keith Moon’s maniacal cackle is sure to bring a smile to every Who fan’s face.
If there is one complaint about the enhanced version of Tommy, it is that the bonus material more closely resembles the mediocre added content from the remastered My Generation rather than the electrifying extra tracks from Live at Leeds and Who’s Next. That said, Who aficionados will appreciate any newly revised offerings from the world’s greatest band, and should find the deluxe Tommy quite satisfying.
Let’s hope that the release of Quadrophenia: Deluxe is not too far off.