Wednesday 12 June 2019

Tommy - Trimmed

The Who have released two double-album Rock Operas which have both been turned into Films.
(3 if you include the aborted Lifehouse project which nearly sent Pete Townshend tonto, and the best bits were salvaged for the peerless 'Whos Next')

'Quadrophenia' (the second of the Rock Operas) is, to my mind, damn near perfect in both musical and celluloid format.

'Tommy' is a great album, maybe a bit of filler crept in to advance the (possibly fanciful) storyline.  The problem for me with 'Tommy' is the filler which can sometimes be a bit jarring to overall enjoyment.
I'm not convinced the film version adds anything to the Legend.  If anything, Ken Russel's vision of Tommy just adds to the confusion and fancifulness of the storyline (although it is eminently watchable - and not just because of Ann Margret writhing in Baked Beans)
One option to reduce the filler tracks would be to just live with the it, and listen as the artist intended.
But we are the receivers, and we know best (don't we?  The Customer is Always Right (Even when they're wrong) ... ?)
Another solution either press skip a few times or pre-program the CD player.
A final solution (other than not listening to it at all) would be to produce a personalised CD-R, lifting the preferred bits, or in these days of Spotify Playlists, a Playlist would be the solution).

So let us assume we want to go down the trimming route - what to leave out, but still produce a coherent story and flow?

The original album, across 4 ides of vinyl, was constructed as follows:
  1. Overture
  2. It’s A Boy
  3. 1921
  4. Amazing Journey
  5. Sparks
  6. Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)
  7. Christmas
  8. Cousin Kevin
  9. The Acid Queen
  10. Underture
  11. Do You Think It’s Alright?
  12. Fiddle About
  13. Pinball Wizard
  14. There’s A Doctor
  15. Go To The Mirror!
  16. Tommy, Can You Hear Me?
  17. Smash the Mirror
  18. Sensation
  19. Miracle Cure
  20. Sally Simpson
  21. I’m Free
  22. Welcome
  23. Tommy’s Holiday Camp
  24. We’re Not Gonna Take It
The Trimmed Version:
  1. Overture
  2. It's a Boy
  3. Amazing Journey
  4. Sparks
  5. Christmas
  6. Cousin Kevin
  7. The Acid Queen
  8. Pinball Wizard
  9. Go to the Mirror
  10. Smash The Mirror
  11. Sensation
  12. I'm Free
  13. We're Not Gonna Take It
75 and a half minutes trimmed to just over 46 minutes (not quite right for one side of a C90 cassette, but if you further exclude "Smash The Mirror" (at 1 minute 20 seconds), the final version will sit snugly on one side of a TDK).

So why did you leave out half the tracks? I pretend I hear you ask.

"Overture" remains as the opener because this is a Rock Opera, and the affectations of high culture need to be re-inforced (all Operas start with an Overture, so why should Tommy be any different?).
"It's A Boy" stays because (a) it follows naturally from "Overture" and (b) it introduces the character (a bit like a "Seven Ages Of Man" type affair).
Which brings us to the first reject - "1921" is a nice enough tune (if a bit lightweight) and does contain the lines about why the boy retreats inside himself.  But I'm not convinced bu it, and I think "Amazing Journey" explains the premise of the story (maybe not how he came to be like that).  "Sparks" stays because it is a fine instrumental, contains enough recurring themes and motifs to keep the interest going - sort of like a mini-"Overture".
"Eyesight To The Blind" is ejected, not because it is a duffer (there's no duffers here) but purely on the basis that it is someone elses song and it somehow feels levered in.  Besides, I want to retain the singular vision of the artist (oh hark at me and my arty-farty snobbishness).
"Christmas" has the sound of early Who about it, with slight Beach Boys overtones.  It rocks a long, and I would miss it if it wan't there.
John Entwistle must be represented somewhere and "Cousin Kevin" is the best of his two offerings, particularly with the light vs dark, schizophrenic nature of this track.
"The Acid Queen" never really sounds right coming from Pete Townshend's mouth - the definitive version is Tina Turner's rendition - but whether it sounds correct or not, this is one killer track.
"Underture" just feels like a jam session (with a purpose) and slapped on the record to fill the time (I may be being harsh here and it's probably someone's favourite, but I can happily live without it)
"Do You Think It's Alright?" is 24 seconds of narrative to introduce the Uncle Ernie character.  Neither this nor the characters song survives my culling.  "Fiddle About" is vaguely amusing, but entirely in-essential (apart from giving Keith a starring role in the film).
"Pinball Wizard" is the best known track on the album, and only a fool would leave it off.
The next 5 tracks ("There’s A Doctor", "Go To The Mirror", "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?", "Smash the Mirror" and "Sensation") recount the moments leading up to and immediately after restoration of the senses.
"There's A Doctor" is narrative, and "Tommy Can You Hear Me" starts well enough (if a little light) but never really goes anywhere - and the repeated "Tommy" refrain at the end just gets on my wick.

 "Go To The Mirror" also contains the refrain "See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me" - a sort of clarion call to the healing process (and a key part of the live performance) - and the bridge section repeated later in "We're Not Gonna Take It" (see, Pete did think it through, and it all hangs together).

And so to side 4 - the triumph of healing, the "new religion" of followers, the denouncement and the conclusion.  And in my version, it is reduced by two thirds.
"Miracle Cure" is a blink and you'll miss it 10 seconds.  "Sally Simpson" introduces another character and provides the narrative jump to explain Tommy's new found Messiah status.  "I'm Free" (which survives) does a similar job lyrically, and is wrapped up in a much better tune.
"Welcome" just seems to drag - it's nice enough, but does have you reaching for the skip button.  "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (written by Keith Moon) does not hang around long enough to drag, but is all a bit end-of-the-pier, and would not be missed.
The Who often saved the best (and often epic (and/or overblown) until last - "The Ox" on 'My Generation', "A Quick One While He's Away" on 'A Quick One', "Rael" on 'Sell Out', "Won't Get Fooled Again on 'Whos Next', "Love Reign O'er Me" on 'Quadrophenia', "Who Are You" on 'Who Are You'.
And 'Tommy' is no exception with the album ending with "We're Not Gonna Take It" - the moment when Tommy's Messiah status slips and he is seen for what he is - the same as everyone else.

So there you go - I've trimmed 'Tommy' by nigh on 40 minutes, and by association knocked out most of the phenomenal performance included on the expanded 'Live At Leeds' (which will always be considered as one of the greatest Live albums ever released - and in expanded form (with the second disc being a start to finish 'Tommy' performance), it's an ever better Live album

We're Not Gonna Take It