Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra & Chamber Choir with Guest Soloists
The Who. A band who punched above their weight.. and won for a while.
Like most Big Hitters of the '60s, the '70s saw them coming unstuck.
Ali soaked up the pressure of Foreman's onslaught and then offered
the beat down when he was all punched out. The Who punched themselves
out after the close of Tommy, and sporadically came back with the
goods. However, even a pooped 'Oo are better than an all firing
Foreman, right? Well, here we have a document, to The Who's pomposity
and sheer bloody nerve and, most of all... their downright weird
world... in the shape of Tommy - Performed by the London Symphony
Orchestra & Chamber Choir with Guest Soloists.
It's a ludicrous idea. Get the London Symphs, add a huge chamber
choir to the mix... then, stick in The Who, Richie Havens, Rod
Stewart, Sandy Denny, Ringo Starr, Stevie Winwood, Richard Harris,
Merry Clayton and more... and you've got some concept. Of course,
that's sidestepping the fact that they're all on board to sing a
tribute to a fictional disabled kid with a penchant for pinball.
Tommy is one of the weirdest footnotes in rock 'n' roll history.
It shouldn't have existed... but aren't you glad it does?
Fact is, this reissue has been a long time coming. Amongst Tommy
nuts, this has been something of a Holy Grail. The original LP is
easy enough to get yer mitts on... and the Original Soundtrack is,
well, a bit lame in chunks. As a result, people have been paying way
over the odds on this all-star jamboree, with some paying £250 for
the now-scarce '89 issue of the American CD. Get that! All those
notes on a poxy compact disc.
Well, this Repertoire re-release has pulled out the stops. We'll get
to the music in a minute... because the artwork is a feast. If you've
got greedy eyes, this'll knock you out. A fat-rump booklet filled
with ace Mucha-esque paintings of all the musicians that feature on
the LP, as well as a loada psychedelic images of floating orbs
hanging over derelict houses, with That Pinball Machine, weirdly
hanging around outside.
It's just right. It's pompous faux-high-art, which will tick a box
for anyone who likes psychedelic music. I can't stop thumbing it back
As for the grooves contained... man... again... it's ludicrous. Full
damn orchestrations of The Songs You Know from Tommy! Whaddahoot!
Fact is, some of the songs lose their funk when put into the hands of
a buncha well-paid sessionmen in penguin suits... but for the most
part, it pretty much realises what Pete Townshend was trying tah do
in the firs' place. Yup. In some cases, this LP contains the best versions.
For example, Richie Havens' take on 'Eyesight To The Blind' is
outstanding. His soulful drawl, backed by staccato strings (a la
Eleanor Rigby if you're no classical fiend) is worth your entrance
fee alone. Sure, the original cut is great and all... but jus' wait
'til you hear this version! If you could splice the two... boy oh
boy. Merry Clayton's 'Acid Queen', again, is a stonking cut. The funk
is transposed for panoramic orchestrations with Clayton showing why
she's so adored in soul circles.
The 'casting' of Ringo Starr in 'Fiddle About' is an interesting
one... I mean... it's a depressing tale of sexual deviancy and abuse
and yet, you can't help yourself from adding "...said Thomas to the
Fat Controller..." to some of the lines.
For my money, there's no definitive version of 'Tommy'. I mean, the
original LP is great, the OST has it's moments... but when you hear
Rod Stewart belting through 'Pinball Wizard' on this cut, you find
yourself beggin' for it to get rocked up... funked up... as opposed
to the knuckle cracking, long tails of the orchestra that he's found with.
That said, it's a really cool long player... this version, especially
when Richard Harris turns up with his boozy breath and dulcet croons,
feels more like the sounds that must've been in Townshend's head all
that time. While The Who were almost limited by rock 'n' roll
programming, leant to the LSO and under the guidance of David
Measham, it sounds more realised.
Of course, it's a preposterous release... it's grand, swooping and
takes itself very seriously, but it's kinda cut in a way. It's the
snapshot of when rock 'n' roll started aiming so high that it got a
nosebleed. You gotta applaud it. I mean, when listening to the
overblown arrangements, baroque strings bled together with phased
guitars, I clean got knocked out at the notion that this was played
live over two nights at the Rainbow Theatre in front of a giant
pinball machine... how great is that? All those stiffs from the LSO
hanging with Ringo and Winwood!
All in all, this is a curio that can't be ignored. If you're a fan of
The Who, then it's a long player you just have to buy. Your
collection ain't complete without it. As for the casual fan...
well... if you're open-minded about it, then you'll find a lot to
love about it. If you're 16 years old and still diggin' 'Pictures Of
Lily' and 'I Can't Explain', you'd probably be better off filing this
in your mind and coming back to it when you've more disposable
income. The rest of you? Buy it if you want the weirdest, more
preposterous record I've heard in donkey's years.