Nov 072011

The recent post about the critical downgrading of concept albums has been an interesting read, hasn’t it? One album that was proposed for a downward revision was The Who‘s Tommy. Now, stalwart RTHer machinery stated that record only has two (2) good cuts. I’m not about to go that far, but there is undeniably some filler. Perhaps it might be possible to cut Tommy down from a double album to a single. I’m personally somewhat skeptical about that since it would probably torpedo the storyline as well as leaving out some good music. However, some of you folks might have ideas on what should be trimmed to make Tommy a really strong single album, running somewhere in the 40- to 45-minute range. So get out your scissors and razor blades and have at it! What would you snip? The full track list follows…after the jump!

Side one
  Title Length
1. “Overture” 3:50
2. “It’s a Boy” 2:07
3. “1921” 3:14
4. “Amazing Journey” 3:25
5. “Sparks” 3:45
6. “Eyesight to the Blind” 2:15
Side two
  Title Length
1. “Christmas” 5:30
2. “Cousin Kevin” 4:03
3. “The Acid Queen” 3:31
4. “Underture” 9:55
Side three
  Title Length
1. “Do You Think It’s Alright?” 0:24
2. “Fiddle About” 1:26
3. “Pinball Wizard” 3:50
4. “There’s a Doctor” 0:25
5. “Go to the Mirror!” 3:50
6. “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” 1:35
7. “Smash the Mirror” 1:20
8. “Sensation” 2:32
Side four
  Title Length
1. “Miracle Cure” 0:10
2. “Sally Simpson” 4:10
3. “I’m Free” 2:40
4. “Welcome” 4:30
5. “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” 0:57
6. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” 6:45


UPDATED: Townsman Hank Fan took matters into his own hands and posted the following EP version here! Check it out!


  64 Responses to “See Me, Hear Me, Cut Me, Shear Me”

  1. I like Tommy. I know the story is stupid, but, I can usually take a dose of the entire thing about once or twice a year. But if it came to cutting something, here are the tracks I’m not as crazy about for whatever reason: “Eyesight to the Blind”, “The Acid Queen” (I’m sure the creepy Tina Turner scene in the film has NOTHING to do with this.). If anything, I may make some of the lenghthier sections a tad shorter like ‘Welcome” or “Underture”. Some might say that “Sensation” or “Sally Simpson” or daft, but I like them.

    I do not buy Pete’s original description that the album was a collection of singles. One look at that track list proves that much.


  2. My bias: I like concept albums, but I think pretty much all rock albums with plots are incredibly dumb. They might have some great songs, as Tommy does, but I can’t think of a single rock songwriter who has any real grasp on creating an original narrative.

    That said, here’s my single-LP version of Tommy

    “It’s a Boy”
    “Amazing Journey”
    “Cousin Kevin”

    “The Acid Queen”
    “Pinball Wizard”
    “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”
    “Smash the Mirror”
    “I’m Free”
    “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

    EP version
    Amazing Journey
    Pinball Wizard
    See Me, Feel Me

  3. machinery

    I’d make it a 45.

    A side: Tommy can you hear me? (but take the razor blade to the last few “Tommys”

    B side: I’m free.

  4. Happiness Stan

    Having reconsidered my original “two good songs” comment, a double single with the catchiest two and a half minutes of Overture, Pinball Wizard, I’m Free and See Me, Feel Me, in a nice gatefold sleeve.

  5. misterioso

    I think Tommy is great, pretensions and semi-coherent “story” and all, and I think the slightly trimmed live presentation on Live at the Isle of Wight is tremendous.

  6. My interest in the actual album has been so little over the years that I can’t recall how many of the songs sound. The movie soundtrack, on the other hand, is another matter. Young James cut his teeth on the cassette, which I bought after seeing the movie. The movie, as bad as it is, fascinates me. It’s practically a “Screeching Halt” movie when I am flipping channels. I will have to pull out the real lp, get over the memories of Mike Cosgrove playing the hits from Live at Leeds, and cobble together a version. Don’t be shocked if Clapton’s “Eyesight…” makes it. And when all is said and done, can Tommy be a worthwhile lp without the recurring themes and convoluted plot? I don’t know. Maybe it is best the ambitiously flawed work it is.

  7. tonyola

    Yeah, the movie definitely has a so-bad-gotta-watch vibe to it. It’s instructive to see just how utterly inept Oliver Reed and Jack Nicholson were as singers. However, the “Eyesight to the Blind” segment (Arthur Brown!) and Keith Moon’s “Fiddle About” are pretty great. As for the soundtrack, the endless blaring synths become annoying (Did I really just say that? There goes my prog membership card).

  8. I say keep it how it is. It fits on one CD and I usually listen to the whole thing. If anything goes long it’s Underture and We’re not gonna take it. Cut those down to 3:35 each and this IS a single record.

    and Cut Miracle Cure..that one goes on forever 😉

  9. As for the soundtrack, the endless blaring synths become annoying…


  10. Tommy the movie is the reason I became an unabashed Ann-Margret fan — and I even went to see her at the Andy Williams Theater in Branson, MO, a few years ago. She rode in on a motorcycle and — opened her show with old movie and TV clips — including part of this.

  11. tonyola

    I love synthesizers myself. However, outside of people like Walter Carlos and Tomita who knew the machines inside and out and could be subtle with them, synths just weren’t ready to be the primary lead instruments for rock music in 1975. At the time, even groups like Yes, ELP, and Genesis pretty much kept the synths only for some sonic reinforcing and the occasional solo. Townshend relied too heavily upon them for the whole Tommy soundtrack and that’s why they became grating after a while.

  12. 2000 Man

    Wow, that’s a really crappy album. Why is The Who considered one of the all time great british bands, anyway? Most of their albums are chock full of snippets of things that after one listen, you’re good forever. Too bad they don’t just evaporate after you play them once.

  13. I love the Who and think they’re worthy of their status for their singles and other signature songs over the years (as well as their role in promoting Rock’s Power & Glory), but you do touch on something: they may be the greatest band with the (relatively) worst albums in the history of rock. This may have come up once before: What is the greatest Who studio album? Nerds like us might say Who Sell Out, with a bunch of silly songs, half of which are sung by second-stringers Townshend and Entwistle? Who’s Next, which suffers from FM radio overplay? Has any other “great” band loaded its albums with so much filler and overblown balladry?

  14. tonyola

    Who’s Next has been overplayed on classic rock radio, but does that reflect poorly on the album’s innate merits? Haven’t Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s, Let It Bleed, and Led Zeppelin IV been overplayed too?

  15. pudman13

    “See Me, Feel Me” is the first song I’d cut. I never liked that one. I’m OK with all of the instrumental stuff and the mini songs, but the whole album is a buildup to something that I find completely underwhelming, and that’s why TOMMY has never done much for me.

  16. misterioso

    Sell Out is great, Tommy is great if flawed, Who’s Next is great, Quadrophenia is great if flawed, and By Numbers is extremely good. The singles are killer, and Leeds, Isle of Wight, and Young Vic live sets are among the best live rock of the era and, indeed, ever.

  17. My top-five Who studio albums in the order of preference.

    The Who Sell Out
    Who’s Next
    Who Are You

    I know Who Are You is not a popular choice in the Hall, but it was the first Who album I ever had, followed by the compilation The Kids Are Alright and I’ve been in the tank for them ever since.
     

  18. tonyola

    That pretty much echoes my sentiments about the Who. Mr. Mod is being a little hard on the group, I think.

  19. WELL SAID! “See Me, Feel Me” is the root of Tommy’s problems. However, on an unintentionally humorous level, it does provide much healing.

  20. Not really. I think it’s their best album, but the way it’s been overplayed – or maybe I should say the way it’s constructed to be overplayed – can be overbearing to even the most loyal, longtime Who fans. Then, you take that album away and you’re left with the oddball Who Sell Out (which I also love, when I’m in the right mood for it) and then a lot of would-be epics and pieced-together odds and sods. For a band a huge and influential as The Who I think they’ve got a really bad track record of albums.

  21. BigSteve

    You don’t listen to opera for the story. I like the way Tommy sounds, though I listened to my LP so much when it came out that it’s hard to hear it with fresh ears. Like a lot of bands around this time, the Who were finally learning how to record themselves. So I can listen to Moon’s drumming if nothing else.

    One thing no one has brought up yet is the way Pete mimics classical sounds. The way the overture and underture weave together motifs from the other songs on the album was unprecedented at the time, and I can’t think of many good examples since. With Entwistle’s horn he can play with evoking the sound of an orchestra, which some people might find pretentious, but I think it’s done with a sense of humor, sort of mock heroic.

    Like a lot of people, I find it hard to hear See Me, Feel Me anymore. But there are some great moments. I love the pounding Go To The Mirror Boy! I love “I had no reason to be over-optimistic, but somehow when you smile I can brave bad weather.” How can you resist the beginning of Christmas? “Did you ever see the faces of the children? They get so excited.”

    I also think part of the problem is that things go downhill after the mirror gets smashed. That god the one song everybody seems to agree on (I’m Free) is on that last side. The rockstar/Messiah thing is kind of hard to take.

  22. Here’s my issue with plot re: “rock operas” and the like. If we give songwriters a pass for not having a clue about plot (and character), then how can we excuse turds like “There’s a Doctor” and “Miracle Cure” which exist solely to move the plot… which supposedly doesn’t matter!

    Notwithstanding Tommy’s success in other mediums, I think as a story it hardly compares to well-written (there’s that phrase Mod hates) Broadway musicals, films, novels, blah blah blah. It’s fine when you’re 14, though. Whereas a concept album like Village Green Preservation Society does compare!

  23. I love Sell Out too, but my point was that it’s not a “universally” beloved album. It’s an oddball. Lots of normal Who fans hear that and wonder why it’s got so many wussy songs.

    I love Quadrophenia, but that’s tough listening, isn’t it? Maybe I take it too personally, but these days I rarely feel like driving my scooter over a cliff. I know it’s got a few amazing staples of Power & Glory, but I think the album’s greatness is diminished a bit by its grandiose recurring themes. For me it’s a bit like Lou Reed’s Berlin. It’s a powerful piece for certain times; it’s not an album you can throw on at a party or for a drive to the shore (unless you want to drive off a cliff, that is).

    I guess I should have clarified a bit what I meant by saying the band produced a dearth of great albums. I mean albums you just put on, lay the needle down (or whatever), and dig. Albums you can pull from for mix tapes. Albums you can play at parties or in mixed company. So many of the Who’s biggest studio albums require intense commitment. I love some of them, or at least what I get out of some of them (never needing to hear “Behind Blue Eyes” ever again in my life, for instance but still loving the fact that it’s there for me to skip), but Quadrophenia’s like an opera or something. I’ve got to get out the libretto and enter a private world of teen torment. It’s not just a rock album. It’s not a bad thing that the Who operated this way – they are one of my most influential bands and their great singles (INDEED!) resonate as deeply as ever – but I think it’s weird. The humble Kinks made better albums than the mighty Who.

    I think By Numbers BLOWS, but that’s just my opinion. To me that’s a musty old roll-neck cardigan of an album. I like a couple of songs, but I find listening to the entire album to be a drag.

    I’m not counting live albums, despite the fact that I don’t like Live at Leeds very much. I’m especially not counting albums pieced together long after the fact – only real albums released during the band’s truly active years.

    I will go as far as to say that there are bands I don’t even like very much at all, like Pink Floyd, that put out better albums than The Who. Although maybe I’m only going that far to get a rise out of someone, so scratch that.

  24. See, the fact that Who Are You can even be considered in someone’s Top 5 says it all – and that’s not to demean your opinion, Funoka? In terms of the Stones or Bowie or even the Kinks Who Are You would barely crack a few fans’ Top 10 lists. If the Who had an album catalog like the Stones it would be their Goat’s Head Soup or Emotional Rescue.

  25. machinery

    who by numbers is good man! Slip kid and squeeze box alone put this over most of their albums. Plus it has a county vibe on a few songs that is cool. give it another listen mr. mod.

  26. I’ll give it another listen next time I feel like smelling Garrison Keillor’s crotch.

  27. I don’t know, I like Jungleland’s comment that the whole thing fits on 1 CD so all of it can stay. The “connector” songs are short and go by quick leaving you with about 2 serious songs per side. And it gets to a conclusion with “We’re not Gonna Take It / See Me, Feel Me” and the attendant “healing”.

    I like a majority of the tunes on Sell Out but it’s an easy concept but they just chuck it halfway through side two. I’m not sure it’s fair to judge this way, but they left great material that fit the concept off the record and left in the work-in-progress “Rael” stuff. That kind of bugs me.

  28. misterioso

    Well, I don’t know much about Keillor’s crotch, but I think you are all wet about By Numbers. It isn’t exactly a fun record, but I think it is Pete as his most painfully self-lacerating: However Much I Booze, Dreaming from the Waist, Imagine a Man, How Many Friends, In a Hand or a Face–these are painful songs but powerful. Musty old cardigan, no: a cracked mirror held up to Pete’s prematurely middle-aged psyche.

  29. misterioso

    I get it, Mod: the Who produced a dearth of great albums by your series of peculiar criteria and they require “too much commitment.” Bummer.

  30. tonyola

    I agree with misterioso and machinery here (see, there’s hope for me yet!). I like The Who By Numbers. In additions to misterioso’s and machinery’s comments, “Success Story” is a funny Entwistle cruncher and “Blue, Red, and Gray” is one of Townshend’s most beautiful songs, underpinned by the ukulele and lovely horn-work by John.

  31. tonyola

    If Mr. Mod can’t easily make a good mix tape (tape? what is this, 1985?) of Who songs, either he’s not trying hard or his rock credentials are in danger of slipping. I think most of us could assemble a perfectly good Who mix CD with our eyes shut.

  32. I sort of see what you are saying — Who Are You — is a personal thing, because it was the first “hard rock” album I ever bought, but you’re bringing Bowie into this? I love Bowie, but flawed albums are his stock in trade.

  33. I got myself into this, but I’m telling all Townspeeps: please do not thank me next time you see me on the street for taking this stance if you don’t first thank me here. You know who you are, right?

  34. A highlight of my life was running into Bob Moog at a Bela Fleck concert in Asheville, NC. I shook his hand and said said thank you. No more heartfelt words have ever been spoken. I’m sure he thought I was a geek but he was gracious anyway. It’s a big check on my bucket list.

  35. I will defend Mr. Mod here a bit. Albums were not The Who’s strong suit. They were about singles, live shows, The Power and the Glory and, a bit later on, arena anthems.

    Who’s Next is great, albeit overplayed. Sell Out is great, but I do think it’s missing… something. More Daltrey, weird as that sounds? Tommy, eh. Quadrophenia, Mod has a point. I love it, but side four is exhausting (“The Rock” is probably my least favorite Who song.)

    Unlike, Mr. Mod, I love Live at Leeds, particularly the expanded versions. I’d point to that, Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy and The Kids are Alright (film AND soundtrack) as Who items that are as essential, if not more, than any studio album of theirs.

  36. That means a lot, Oats. That’s what the Hall is all about: Townspeople picking up Townspeople… I agree that Meaty and the Kids soundtrack are essential. I also agree that expanded Leeds is better – it’s got more real songs. However, because it’s not a release from their prime as a band it does not count.

  37. My feelings exactly, Mod. Any band with Keith Moon and John Entwistle is a great band, by definition. And Pete is a rock star’s rock star. Their live shows were amazing, but the albums never really hit the mark. Who’s Next is probably the best, but it has been so overplayed that we never need to hear it again. Their other great studio work came out in 1960s (Substitute, I’m A Boy, Magic Bus, I Can See For Miles), but did not congeal into a great album. My Generation suffers the same problem as the songs on Who’s Next–overexposure. One more thing about the Who is that they were the perfect rock band for teenage boys. I loved them a ton when I was 15. But it’s hard for the same band to appeal to both 15 year olds and 45 year olds.

  38. Tommy should have been done as a single song just like “A Quick One While He’s Away.” It could have had four main parts (representing the four best songs: Amazing Journey, Pinball Wizard, Tommy Can You Hear Me, and I’m Free). Stick in some of the other nice musical bits where they fit and you could pull the who thing off in a nice 13 minute package. If you want to make it a little longer, it could be one side of an LP. Fill the other side of the record with stand alone songs from the same era like The Seeker and Naked Eye. That might have been a great album.

  39. trigmogigmo

    Well. I kind of went through it, and removing 25 to 30 minutes from Tommy leaves a very enjoyable and solid single album. They do meander a bit more than “single candidates” because of the nature of the whole thing. But I piped this playlist into the stereo while doing some writing and it was pretty thoroughly good!

    Weirdly, some of the track lengths on my CD are way, way different from Tonyola’s listing at the top. I wonder if it’s a different edition, or a typo.

    05:21 Overture
    02:50 1921
    03:47 Sparks
    04:34 Christmas
    03:35 The Acid Queen
    03:02 Pinball Wizard
    03:50 Go To The Mirror Boy!
    01:36 Tommy Can You Hear Me?
    01:35 Smash The Mirror
    02:28 Sensation
    04:12 Sally Simpson
    02:40 I’m Free
    07:08 We’re Not Gonna Take It

  40. You people are on fire! There’s a riot going on, and tonyola, this thread’s title is a classic!

  41. tonyola

    I got the track lengths from the Wikipedia entry for Tommy. I assumed that the times were accurate, but I didn’t double-check them and they could very well be off.

  42. tonyola

    I’m pleased and gratified that my posting has generated so much much discussion. It makes me feel like I’m really contributing here.

  43. tonyola

    “Much much”? Gack, I’m obviously up too late.

  44. tonyola

    By the way, good choice of tracks overall, but it’s a shame that “Fiddle About” got left out. I know it doesn’t really advance the story, but it could have been left in and “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” left out.

  45. trigmogigmo

    I do think “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” would be the one to omit next on my list. But “Fiddle About” is just icky!

    A song I think is underrated (it is never mentioned) is “Sally Simpson”. A charming song from a rather unusual perspective. It’s almost a standalone story within the story. Wasn’t there a movie a few years ago about (fictional) Beatle fans trying to get into the famous Ed Sullivan Show appearance? “Sally Simpson” could be made into a movie of that sort.

  46. Happiness Stan

    I’m with Mr Mod (at least most of the way) here, and think that Oats has put his finger on the point with the Who being a singles band. Also agree that Live at Leeds was improved by being expanded, I always thought that it was a rather aimless pudding-like thing until the rest of it was put back, and there are not many live albums I’d say that about.

    The failure of “I Can See For Miles” to get to the top of the charts in the UK is always cited as a turning point for Townshend, and marks the moment when they morphed from possibly the best ever singles band in the world at the time to the Oo Phase II, the biggest and noisiest and crashiest and bangiest of the prog rock dinosaurs, replacing the melody, clever hooks and impeccable sense of knowing when to stop of their singles and the best tracks on A Quick One and Sell Out for thumping and bashing things even harder and louder and longer and longer and longer than the impressively thumpy and bashy and noisy way they’d thumped and bashed and broken and blown things up before. And even though they very consciously and deliberately stopped being a singles band, they still couldn’t make consistently good albums, which I think is why these debates will always be had, and why the discussions are so interesting.

    Even on the singles like Join Together, The Seeker, I’m Free etc. they only rarely allowed themselves to recall any sense of when a song should be allowed to finish while still leaving the listener wanting to hear slightly more, I can’t think of any Oo song after anything on Sell Out which wouldn’t benefit from being a bit bloomin’ shorter, and that includes Who’s Next, which along with A Quick One, Sell Out, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, I wouldn’t want to be without.

    I’ve just realised that I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to By Numbers, which seems a bit of an omission. I see on Wikipedia that a few of the songs on that clock in at less than four minutes, but am surprised that Squeeze Box is one of them, if that really is only two minutes forty-five it always felt twice the length that the concept merited. It’s not that I object to long songs (I don’t – I have a compilation of my favourite 6-to-twenty-minute tracks in the car – hello Tony!), just ones which have no need to be as long as they are.

    Tony’s point about classic rock radio is interesting, from a Brit perspective there is (and never has been) classic rock radio over here, (apart from the pirate station Radio Caroline which everyone had heard of but practically nobody listened to), and I’d be surprised if even the titles of Dark Side, Let It Bleed and Zep 4 were known to anyone under about forty unless they read serious music magazines or had parents who played them around the house. That probably goes for Sgt Pepper as well, I doubt that our fourteen year old has ever knowingly heard a Beatles record, although to his credit he can spot Trout Mask Replica when it is unleashed. The only time I have ever heard Floyd or Zep played on the radio in the UK was on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show in the late seventies/early eighties. It’s very likely that the DAB-only Radio 6 plays them, but their listening figures are extremely small, and serious rock has always been considered “difficult” radio over here.

  47. Happiness Stan

    Agreed, great thread.

    I’m so fired up that this lunchtime I’m going to wander down to Northampton museum (an approximately one minute walk from my desk) to have a look at these again

  48. tonyola

    Interesting, because “I Can See For Miles” was the song that really broke the Who in the US. It got to #9 on the Billboard charts whereas the earlier singles barely registered. After that, the Who attained big success in America and a ton of their songs from “Miles” forward have been endlessly rotated on album-oriented and classic rock radio to this day. Perhaps they became one of those bands who were prophets without honor in their home country?

  49. This is weird because I’ve always thought that Tommy was way overrated, but now that I’m looking at the tracks, I’m not sure which to cut. Individually, the songs seem decent enough but the album is somehow lesser than the sum of it’s parts.

    I need to listen to Hank Fan’s abridged version.

  50. Although I am a big fan of Tommy, I have t agree that The Who are a singles band. They were born to be complied into a 2-lp set (and have been about one million times)

    Some of my favorite songs (Naked Eye, Water, Young Man Blues, Early Morning Cold Taxi, Shakin All Over) were never on a real LP at all.

    I find that I prefer a good best of to any record (and I kinda consider Who’s Next and Live At Leeds to be “best of” records along with Meaty Beaty, Kids are Alright and of course Who’s Greatest, a tape that I played one billion times as a kid.

  51. Yes! Sally Simpson is the sleeper on that album. I love that song.

  52. Penn State University’s theater department is producing a play based on “Fiddle About.”

  53. Even the short version suggests that The Who is not very good “head” music.

  54. diskojoe

    The German Beat Club TV show had the Who on doing songs from Tommy which was a good summary of the album. I couldn’t find the whole thing on YouTube, although you could probably find bits & pieces of it.

  55. misterioso

    Sorry, but if you do not find yourself moved by the “Listening to You…” section then you need remedial lessons on the Power and Glory of Rock.

  56. misterioso

    Again, I strongly recommend the full-ish length performance on Live at the Isle of Wight. Gone is the dicey production of the Tommy lp, and also gone are: “Cousin Kevin,” “Underture,” “Sensation,” and “Sally Simpson.” Ditto the version on the expanded Live at Leeds, which omits different songs. Both performances are simply light years beyond the record.

  57. My band recently played a gig with Townsman shawnkilroy’s band and they closed their set with some stuff from Tommy. It was both powerful and glorious, and I’m kind of glad that we didn’t have to follow it.

  58. That part’s good; it’s the “see me/feel me” part that I find excruciating and embarrassing after the first 2 rotations through.

  59. I just want to chime in here just to say that I think, judging from his remarks above, Mod has misinterpreted the ending of Quadrophenia. The scooter goes over the cliff without Jimmy on it. It’s an extreme version of old bible bit about putting away childish things. He’s throwing away what was once important to him when he was defining himself through the mod scene and growing up a bit, NOT committing suicide by driving off a cliff.

  60. pudman13

    That’s what you say. I say I’d rather hear “Cobwebs and Strange.”

  61. 2000 Man

    Dude, too soon.

  62. Sorry, I know that was tasteless, but I hate bigtime college sports and this story is about as sickening as it gets.

  63. “Down with the jockstrap,
    Up with the jersey,
    Fiddle about!
    Fiddle about!”

    Yes, I went there.

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