It’s been a pretty successful day today including a 3600m swim, breakfast out with my ladies followed up by a two and a half hour spin for the Cycle for Strong Kids event at the Port Colborne YMCA. So, yeah, I think I’ve deserved a little downtime for the remainder of the afternoon and before dinner with my book and some heady vinyl, the ‘Quadrophenia‘ album by the Who.
I admit it, I’ve never been the hugest of Who fans. In fact, there are maybe three albums that I would happily acknowledge as listenable, and this is certainly one of them. Made only cooler because it is on record. It’s not that I haven’t tried to “get it” before with the band. Actually, in high school I had two friends who I also worked with that did their very best to turn me onto the Who by copying just about everything they ever did on cassette tape for me to listen to. And while I did enjoy some of it at the time, it never really stuck me later in life as anything more than ‘meh’.
‘Quadrophenia’ is the 6th studio album by Pete and the gang, released in October of 1973 by Track Records. It is a double album and the group’s second “rock opera”. The story follows a young mod named Jimmy and his search for self-worth and importance, set in London and Brighton in 1965. It is actually the only Who album to be entirely composed by group leader Pete Townshend.
Throughout 1972, Townsend had become frustrated that the group had been unable to produce a film of ‘Tommy’ or ‘Lifehouse’ (the abortive project that resulted in ‘Who’s Next’), and decided to follow Frank Zappa’s idea of producing a musical soundtrack that could produce a narrative in the same way as a film. Unlike ‘Tommy’, the new work would be grounded in reality and tell a story of youth and adolescence that the audience could relate to.
The narrative through the album then centers around a young working-class mod named Jimmy. He likes drugs, beach fights and romance, and becomes a fan of the Who after a concert in Brighton, but is disillusioned by his parents’ attitude towards him, dead-end jobs and an unsuccessful trip to see a psychiatrist. He clashes with his parents, who favor drink, while he prefers amphetamines. He has difficulty finding regular work and doubts his own self-worth, and quits a job as a garbageman after only two days. Though he is happy to be “one” of the mods, he struggles to keep up with his peers, and his girlfriend leaves him for his best friend.
After destroying his scooter and contemplating suicide, he decides to take a train to Brighton, where he had enjoyed earlier experiences with fellow mods. However, he discovers the “Ace Face” who led the gang now has a menial job as a bellboy in a hotel. He feels everything in his life has rejected him, steals a boat, and uses it to sail out to a rock overlooking the sea. On the rock and stuck in the rain, he contemplates his life. The ending is left ambiguous as to what happens to Jimmy on the rock. So, yeah, lots of positively runs through the album.
he band had originally wanted to build their own recording studio to handle the production for the album, Ramport Studios in Battersea. However, five months later the studio was still a bust and without an adequate mixing board that could handle the recording of such a robust album; enter Townsend’s friend Ronnie Lane and his Mobile Studio.
To illustrate the four-way split personality of Jimmy, Townshend wrote four themes, reflecting the four members of the Who. These were ‘Bell Boy‘ (Moon), ‘Is It Me?‘ (Entwistle), ‘Helpless Dancer‘ (Daltrey) and ‘Love Reign O’er Me‘ (Townshend). The two lengthy instrumentals on the album, the title track and ‘The Rock‘ contain the four themes, separately and together.
The concept of a four-way personality split however might have ultimately been too obscure and confusing for a mass audience. But there’s plenty of great music anyway, especially on ‘The Real Me‘, ‘The Punk Meets the Godfather‘, ‘I’m One‘, and, yes, ‘Love, Reign o’er Me‘, likely the most popular song from the album. Some of Townshend’s most direct and heartfelt writing is contained here, and production-wise it’s a tour de force with some of the most imaginative use of synthesizers and sound effects on a rock record (for the time, anyway).
So while I still might not be the hugest of Who appreciators, I do believe that this is one of those great seminal albums that no record collection is complete without. And, here’s something neat about the album. In keeping with the ‘madness’ theme perhaps, my copy of the record has Sides 1 and 4 on the first record, and Sides 2 and 3 on the second record, meaning I have to swap the first record to the second and then back to the first again on the turntable in order to listen to the album in order as intended. That fuck? Whatever. Despite my having to get up that extra time off the couch, it’s still the perfect compliment for a well-deserved rest on the couch with the cat and my book.
Good times indeed.