I should say that I’m no musical expert. I’m not some music critic who can dive deeply into the artistry (or lack thereof) of a musician’s work and poetically explain its merits to the reader. But, I know what I like. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d start a (perhaps monthly) series of retro reviews of what are some of my favorite albums.
Here’s my plan: Pick an album, give a brief overview on why I think it’s great, and then give an even more briefer review of each song on that great album. Sound like a plan?
I’ll start with my favorite album by my favorite band: Quadrophenia by The Who.
Released in 1973, Quadrophenia is the second rock opera released by this seminal band. It is the follow up to their classic Who’s Next (1971) and the use of a synthesizer, introduced on Who’s Next, continues to play a large part in the band’s sound. Quadrophenia also continues with the harder rock style that would influence the heavy metal of the later 70s and 80s.
Quadrophenia is also the only Who album entirely composed by Pete Townshend. He had always been the main songwriter, with John Entwistle as the second songwriter of the band, but this one was all Pete. That may contribute to why it’s my favorite.
The story is about a teenager who is having an identity crisis. The main character, Jimmy, is a Mod (it was a British thing dealing with fashion, drugs, and a certain attitude) who is staring ahead at adulthood. And he’s scared. He doesn’t know who he is, what his life is about, where he’s headed. He doesn’t know why he should care.
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
I know. Wrong band, but it still applies.
According to Townshend, Jimmy may be messed up, but he gets better.
This album helped me out as a young adult and I’ll always be grateful to Townshend and the boys for that.
Now the tracks! It’s a double album, so be prepared.
I Am The Sea – This isn’t really a song. It’s an intro using the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks, in which we can hear snippets of Jimmy’s four personalities. These personalities are expressed through four theme songs, each of which also represents a member of the band, which are peppered throughout the album. This is the first time The Who had used sound effects on an album. The sound effects (crashing waves, rain, trains, birds, etc) were recorded by Townshend.
Sitting on one of the rocks, Jimmy is at a crisis point as he contemplates his life…
The Real Me – Damn! What a great song! It has the fantastic bass work of Entwistle, Roger Daltrey’s voice is in fine form, and Keith Moon is out of his mind. In fact, listen closely, you can hear Moon shouting as he plays, something The Who have included on several songs, beginning with Substitute. The song presents Jimmy’s self-perceived craziness, his anger, and his frustration. And it rocks!
Quadrophenia – The title track is the first of two instrumental songs on the album. The synthesizer comes into play as this song explores the musical themes we’ll be hearing as we listen to the rest of the album.
Cut My Hair – The lyrics set up the conflict Jimmy was having with himself and with his parents. Townshend works in lyrics from early Who and High Numbers (an early name for the band) songs to help bolster the Mod connection. He does this throughout the album. And great drums with Moon yelling as he plays.
The Punk And The Godfather – Fighting against the system is difficult, because the system has all the power. Again Townshend uses early Who lyrics, this time from their legendary hit My Generation.
I’m One – This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Townshend takes on the lead vocals as Jimmy acknowledges his shortcomings, but declares he will overcome them. “You’ll all see!”
The Dirty Jobs – Townshend’s ode to the working man. Some nice use of violin (or is that synthesizer?) And, seriously, Moon ought to get a backing vocal credit for all the shouting he does on this song.
Helpless Dancer – Listed as Roger’s theme, this song continues the theme of working against the system. It’s the struggle of the common person against the power. Nice piano and acoustic guitar.
Is It In My Head? – Ever conscious of his band’s history, Townshend precedes this track with a snippet of The Kids Are Alright, another early song from The Who’s catalog. The song describes a particular low point for Jimmy as Daltrey sings about numbering all those who love the protagonist and “finds exactly what the trouble is.”
I’ve Had Enough – This is the moment Jimmy breaks from his life and hops on his Vespa scooter to revisit places that remind him of better times. And, for the first time since the intro, we hear the phrase “love reign o’er me” from the final song of the album.
5:15 – This classic rock radio standard is fantastic. The horn fills provided by Entwistle give this song an extra punch right into your ears. It starts with the sound effects of Jimmy at the train station at the beginning of his journey to find himself. This one kicks ass!
Sea And Sand – Jimmy arrives at the beach on which he had participated in the riots between gangs of Mods and Rockers. A time of triumphant fun, but now he’s thinking of his hypocritical parents, his unrequited love, and his failure to be a leader in his gang. Lyrically Townshend again draws upon early Who and High Numbers songs.
Drowned – This was a sleeper track for me. It just didn’t grab me at first, but after multiple listens it became a stand out track. That rolling piano provided by English session musician Chris Stainton (he also plays piano on The Dirty Jobs and 5:15) is infectious. It’s a rollicking song about Jimmy contemplating drowning himself. I love it!
Bell Boy – Adding to Jimmy’s feelings of depression is this song in which he discovers his hero, a Mod leader in the days of the riots, is now a lowly bell boy, resigned to the job to earn a living. Well, what are ya gonna do? Gotta pay the rent. The song features Moon’s wonderful Cockney vocals as Jimmy’s fallen hero. Keith was never much of a singer, but he doesn’t do too badly on this his theme song on the album.
Doctor Jimmy – This is John’s theme and it’s my least favorite track. I still like it, but it’s a bit too long. The song is filled with blustery bravado as Jimmy tries desperately to convince himself that he is strong, but his self-doubt continues to plague him.
The Rock – We’re back on the rock surrounded by the crashing sea for this excellent instrumental. Will Jimmy give into despair? Will he take his own life? Is he going to be OK?
Love Reign O’er Me – Of course, Pete reserved this song to be his theme. Daltrey’s vocals are at their peak on this cathartic song, in which Jimmy has a break through. He realizes he needs to allow himself to love and to be loved. He is worthy. What do you know? The kid’s going to be alright.
After all, love is all you need.
I know! Wrong band, but it still applies.
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