'Sensation: The Story of the Who's Tommy' Lives Up to Its Name

What more is there to say about the rock opera, Tommy? Quite a lot.

Sensation: The Story of the Who’s Tommy

Director: Martin R. Smith
Cast: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Bob Pridden, Mike McInnerney, Keith Moon, John Entwistle
Distributor: Eagle Rock
Studio: Eagle Vision
Year: 2014
UK Release date: 2014-03-10
US Release date: 2014-03-11

Above: The Who Perform Tommy

Seen, Felt, Touched, Healed

The story of the incredible rock band The Who and their arguably most famous Tommy has been told almost as many times as that of Rapunzel letting down her hair. There are documentaries about the 1969 album, the tours, the resurgent concert performance with its many guest stars, the 1975 film adaptation, the motivation behind the creation of this iconic rock opera and, of course the stage musical which debuted in 1992. What more is there to say?

The answer to that question remains “quite a lot”. A related question might be “Is there a market for more documentaries on The Who’s Tommy?” The answer to that one is “Of course!”

It’s a common misconception that “Tommy made The Who”. While it's true that Tommy remains the band’s most recognizable single work (and certainly marked the dividing line between The Who as stars and The Who as SUPERstars), Tommy was hardly The Who’s first success, nor is the rock opera truly considered (by most fans and critics) to be The Who’s best album. The Who had already broken ground with iconoclastic albums like The Who Sell Out, which featured the huge hit (and incredible hard rock) of “I Can See for Miles”, which was only one of a great many big hit singles for the burgeoning, inventive British Invasion band. Tommy immediately stood out in 1969, not simply because of what it was (one of the best concept albums of all time and arguably the first bona fide rock operas ever made), but because of who it was that created this opus.

To be sure, The Who had flirted with mini-rock operas before. These include the nine-minute (and misleadingly titled) “A Quick One, While He’s Away” (from the 1966 album A Quick One), which contains several movements and tells a story about multiple (speaking) characters. Also noteworthy are the songs “Rael 1” and “Rael 2” from the aforementioned The Who Sell Out, the pair of which constitute something of a mini-opera and “Glow Girl” from the same album, some of the lyrics and music of which were rearranged for use In Tommy.

However, Sensation: The Story of the Who’s Tommy points out that while these precursors to Tommy were acclaimed and known by fans, The Who were primarily recognized as hit-makers with a long string of successful singles. Tommy, the story of a blind deaf mute, his inability to comprehend or interact with his world, his subsequent awakening, rise, fall and rise, set the band up in the public’s eyes as true visionary artists befitting of their near-peerless virtuoso-level command of their instruments. The success of Tommy, of course, led to a great many rock operas, many of which have become as (or more) iconic, such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and The Who’s own Quadrophenia.

All of these remarkable observations are made through brand new interviews with lead guitarist, singer, lead songwriter and Tommy creator Pete Townshend, as well as the dynamic lead singer (who portrayed Tommy Walker himself in the original opera and the 1975 motion picture) Roger Daltrey (who still looks about 20 years younger than he is). In that these are some of the first interviews that truly delve into the somewhat recently unearthed facts about Townshend’s childhood sexual abuse, this is an exceptionally noteworthy documentary.

Townshend’s stories substantiate the creation of Tommy and help to explain the reason why young Mr. Walker became, in fact, a “deaf dumb and blind boy”. Archival footage and interviews with the late bassist John Entwistle and the late drummer Keith Moon further enhance the personal nature of Tommy and make for a more “sensational” Sensation.

Sensation originally aired on television, but the Blu-ray version contains a (welcome) extended version of the film with full 1080i high definition widescreen (both the new and archival footage look and sound incredible here). The biggest bonus for this enchanting package is the 1969 footage from the TV show Beat Club, which has been previously unreleased between its original airing and this disc package. Beat Club features a long (and exciting) performance by The Who, including tracks from the album Tommy and an intriguing early interview with Townshend, which makes for an interesting contrast against the 2013 interview footage.

For all of the thoroughness of this “rockumentary”, it's noteworthy that the film is exceedingly light on coverage of the 1975 movie version of Tommy. Whether this is due to rights issues (most of the songs were performed by other artists besides The Who) or due to intentional omission (many fans consider the film to be the least of the incarnations of Tommy) is hard to say, however, the playing down of the film (or any part of the evolution of Tommy) is noteworthy, especially as the stage play received significant coverage here.

That said, the focus of any exploration of Tommy is, of course, the rock opera itself, the original album. Sensation: The Story of the Who’s Tommy most assuredly covers this album (and most of its scions) beautifully well. While there's no dearth of documentaries about this groundbreaking and influential album, Sensation is one that truly does live up to its name.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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