Peter Townshend Steve Simels - Essay

Steve Simels

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Tommy raised some complicated questions.] Like, for instance, what the hell was it, anyway? If it was, as they were claiming, an opera, how come the plot was so hard to follow?… Or was it, perhaps, as some suggested, really an oratorio, an interpretation seemingly borne out by the now infamous All-Star Christmas presentation of the work with the London Symphony Orchestra …?

Actually, all of Townshend's operatic pretensions were simply gimmicks, no different really from his outfitting the band in Union Jack T-shirts for publicity ends. What it finally came down to was that "Tommy" was just another Who album (though a bit more padded than usual) filled with some great Who songs, some spectacular Who playing, and the first indications that Roger Daltrey was no longer just an endearing punk-rock vocalist but one of the great rock singers period. And I, for one, have never regretted the tremendous commercial success it brought the band, despite the fact that in its wake (and Townshend, aware of his position in rock history, is profoundly conscious of this) we have had to suffer through such unmitigated imitative garbage as Jesus Christ, Superstar and the like. It is testimony to Townshend's genius (and I use that word with all due deliberation—if there is anyone in rock who deserves that appellation, it's Pete Townshend) that no one has yet been able to pull off another major conceptual piece of rock-and-roll—until he himself tried it again, that is, and far more successfully, in my opinion, with the "Quadrophenia" album.

Steve Simels, "The Sound Track of 'Tommy'," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1975 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 34, June, 1975, p. 80.