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Having been a music major in college and a music teacher for sixteen long years, I have an appreciation for just about every style of music.  But if there is one genre of music for which I truly have a distaste, its the modern pop country movement.  I dislike it so much I don’t even know the names of artists to give examples.  I think they are all named Blake anyway.  But even though I can’t stomach current pop country, I do like country western quite a bit.  You know, the classics like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, etc.  That stuff is pretty good, and it is that rich history of songwriting that Ray Charles mines for this album, while of course putting his own gospel/R&B spin on it.

I’ve always been attracted to art that defies convention and stereotypes, and this album does just that and does it well.  And I’ve always admired musicians who step outside their comfort zone to try new and different styles, and again, this is what we have here.  At the point in Ray Charles’ career when he made this album, he was an established R&B artist.  He could easily have cranked out another R&B album and it probably would have been a hit.  But instead he challenged himself and his audience by recording this country western album and it wound up not being just a hit, it became a landmark moment in an already storied career.  And I could go on about breaking racial stereotypes and challenging social norms, which this album did in fact do at the time, but the truth is this album has had longevity because it is just simply good quality music.  Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter (it is country western music after all), Brother Ray imbues a sense of joy in each song through his iconic voice and his jazz-tinged arrangements.  I remember seeing this album at the Earnest Tubb Record Shop when I was down in Nashville a few years ago, but I didn’t pick it up until I found it used for $6.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue.  It is worth every penny.

Other Lists: “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is ranked #164 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See entry #54 for The Birth of Soul for other Ray Charles accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original ranking at #104 on the original list.

My favorite track: “Half as Much”

Honorable mention: “It Makes No Difference Now”

Quote: “But that’s all in the past, and I’ll forget somehow.  Well, I don’t worry, ’cause it makes no difference now.”



Sweet Baby James

I’ve referenced it before on this blog, but when I was a wee little boy mi madre had this big wood paneled console stereo that had a turntable, an 8-track player, and a radio.  And I used to love to stand and watch the records spin for hours at a time.  But I also loved the 8-track player because it had these red lights that would indicate which track was playing, and there was always this big mechanical thunk every time it switched tracks.  Sometimes that big thunk even happened mid-song.  Well, most of mi madre’s albums were on vinyl, but JT was on 8-track.  And I remember hearing “Fire and Rain” at a very young age, and realizing it was a great song even then.

Fast forward several years to my high school days, and scamming BMG for as many free CDs as possible.  JT’s Greatest Hits package was one of those free CDs, and it made the trip with me down to Olde Columbus Towne when I started college.  The Artistic One and I were rooming together in Lincoln Tower, and despite the fact that we were trying to be tragically hipster and listening to lots of Nine Inch Nails mixed with heavy doses of The Doors and the Beastie Boys, we would frequently put JT on the stereo when we wanted to hear something soothing.  I think the Artistic One’s parents had exposed him to JT in his youth as well, and it was something that took us both back to simpler times when all hell was breaking loose around us in the dorm.

Fast forward a few more years, and in my first year of teaching in Newark, Ohio (pronounced Nerk by the locals) and there was a large section of 70s pop tunes in the choral music library.  So I found an SATB arrangement of “Fire and Rain” and I started to teach it to the 8th grade choir.  Well, it had taken awhile to win these kids over, but they had genuinely grown to like me.  But they hated this song at first.  Like truly hated it.  But then I tried to explain to them that it had meant something to me when I was younger and they gave it a shot.  And then some urban legend developed that this song reminded me of an ex-girlfriend who had died, which was totally untrue, but it motivated the kids so I never completely denied it, and the kids got real good at it and it wound up on our spring concert.  Hey, whatever works, right?

So yeah, I make fun of JT a bit for being about the only dude in the whole California folk-singer/songwriter movement of the early 70s.  And it does seem like he shoes up for guest vocals on a lot of his ex-girlfriends records from that era (and apparently Carole King wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” as a response to “Fire and Rain”).  But the truth is I dig JT, and especially this album of his, quite a bit.  He was discovered by the Beatles and was one of their first signings to the Apple music label, and if the Beatles dug it, it gots to be good, right?  I picked this album up at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue for $4.99.  The case was broken, which is a pet peeve of mine, so I switched it out, and now it sits proudly on my CD shelf.  If only I could find an 8-track copy…

Other lists: “Fire and Rain” is ranked #227 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs.  JT is ranked #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #84 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its initial ranking of #103 (we are still feeling the aftershocks of the meteoric rise of Kid A).

My favorite track: “Fire and Rain”

Honorable mention: “Sweet Baby James”

Quote: “People live from day to day, but they do not count the time.  They don’t see their days slippin’ by…and neither do I.”

Giant Steps

The last time John Coltrane showed up on this list, way back at #47 with A Love Supreme, I talked about how I played saxophone all the way through my senior year of high school and how it was kind of an important thing for me when I was growing up.  Well, there is a continuation to that story, and I’ll tell it here.  Back in the fall of ’94, I packed up my beat-up blue Grand Am and drove three hours south to the ‘Bus to start college at The Ohio State University.  I brought my saxophone with me, and even though I was enrolled in a pretty rigorous pre-med track of courses, I had it in my head that I was going to major in music.  I was also completely mind-fucked at the time, as bad as I’ve ever been, but that’s another story (see entry #37 Hotel California).  At any rate, the first thing they told me at the School O’ Music was that I had entirely missed the audition process and I would have to wait until next quarter to audition.  So I said fine and auditioned for the university wind bands, and I was pretty surprised when I was placed in the lowest band possible.  I thought I was a pretty decent player…I had been first chair in my high school and second chair all-county.  But this was the big time: the giant university in the big city, and it was a completely different ballgame…I just didn’t realize it yet.

So my time finally came to audition three months later, and the powers that be said “Sure kid, we will let you in provisionally: you have two quarters to prove you can hack it.” And that was my introduction to traditional saxophone studio (I was certainly not a jazz player).  And the people were cool, as you would expect saxophone players to be, and some of them I still talk with to this day.  And they were all immensely talented.  Like out of this world talented.  And honestly, I just didn’t have the chops to keep up.  And my heart just wasn’t in it either.  And by the time my jury came up (music major juries are probably the most intense and scariest thing I have ever experienced and survived in my lifetime), the panel knew it too.  Fortunately, by then I had begun to do more than just dabble in singing, and I was able to audition on voice and get into the program as a vocal music major.  And that is how I eventually wound up as a choir director for sixteen years before going the administrative route.

But enough about me.  Let’s talk about the album a bit.  I think this set is much more accessible to the typical listener than A Love Supreme was.  This is more of your standard collection of jazz tunes…like what you would hear in a smoky jazz club on the weekend in a major city.  Coltrane is at the top of his game here, and his manic runs are balanced by his more lyrical moments.  The backing band does more than just keep up…they add character to the tunes, along with an occasional piano solo.  Overall, it’s a fun set of songs that gets better with repeated listenings.  I picked this up at the Half Price Books by me on Bethel Road for $4.99, and it was worth every penny.

Other lists: n/a

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its rank of #102 on the original list.

My favorite track: “Syeeda’s Song Flute”

Honorable mention: “Naima”

Quote: n/a

Fresh Cream

Wow.  Other than playing lead on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the White Album, this is Clapton’s first true appearance on the List.  As prolific as he’s been for the last 50 years, I’m kinda surprised it took this long to run into a Clapton album.  Of course, living here in the Capitol City, there are always rumors of Eric Clapton sightings.  Supposedly his most recent girlfriend-turned-wife is from around here, and it seems like everybody but me has seen him doing laundry in the German Village or taking in a local rock show at the former Thirsty Ear.  The more recent stories say he has a large house out in Dublin where he stays when they visit family, and apparently he fancies some sushi restaurant up on that side of town.  I don’t know if any of these stories are true or not, but it is a cool urban legend to have one of the most influential guitarists of all time hanging out in your city.  Although, I wonder when he visits he feels weird being only the second greatest guitarist in Central Ohio, after the great great Willie Phoenix, of course…

I kid.  I don’t mean to take anything away from Clapton.  He is one of the all time greats.  His playing is lyric and bluesy, and he doesn’t rely on any gimmicks or effects…he just plays.  This is Cream’s first album, and I went into it expecting some phat riff rock along the lines of “Sunshine of Your Love”, but instead its a mashup of psychedelic originals and blues covers.  And honestly, I don’t really dig the psychedelic stuff (it pales in comparison to the Beatles and the Doors and other masters of the genre), but the blues stuff is really great…covers of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, some of the best that ever was.  Cream was one of the first supergroups, but I’m not sure they had really gelled musically yet at this point.  Ginger Baker’s drumming is powerful, Jack Bruce’s bass playing is tight and his harmonica solos are bluesy, and of course Slowhand’s leads are nearly flawless, but somehow it feels as if they are all competing against each other rather than playing together as an ensemble.  I guess I’m just being critical…it’s definitely a good listen.   I picked this up for $6.99 at the Half Price Books out on Brice Road one day after work this last school year, and it was worth the price of admission.

Other lists: Eric Clapton is ranked #2 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists and #55 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.  Ginger Baker is #3 on the recent list of the 100 Greatest Drummers, and the band Cream is #67 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists (to my knowledge, Rolling Stone has not done a list of bass players yet…nobody loves the bass player).

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original position at #101.

My favourite track: “Spoonful” (which was not actually on the original U.S. album release)

Honourable mention: “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”

Quote: “Sweet wine, hay making, sunshine day breaking.  We can wait till tomorrow.  Car speed, road calling, bird freed, leaf falling.  We can bide time.”

In the Wee Small Hours

I was born back in the Dark Ages in the Land Time Forgot.  Which I suppose is strange for someone who is only 40 years old, but it seems that progress seemed to hit Northeast Ohio a bit slower than the rest of the world.  Some of my earliest memories involve black and white televisions, huge console stereos, and big Chevy Impalas that ran on leaded gasoline.  But one of my fondest memories from my childhood is the day we got cable television.  I’m pretty sure it was a new thing in the area, and honestly it was totally unexpected.  But one day, my mom stopped by this tiny little office in downtown G-town and listened to a sales pitch on the benefits of cable tv.  And I think the selling point was actually a free subscription to the Disney Channel, which she thought would be edumactional for me, but I’m sure access to MTV, AMC, and the home shopping network, helped sway her decision as well.  At any rate, we went home with the little black box and my life was never the same after.

I bring it up here because cable tv was actually a major thing for me when I was a little kid.  I pretty much watched it for hours on end everyday (ironically, even though I pay three times what I should for cable nowadays, I hardly watch anything on tv except for live sporting events), and what I mostly watched were all the old movies.  And I don’t remember if it was on the Disney Channel or on American Movie Classics, but I remember seeing the musical Guys and Dolls about a hundred times, and that was my first exposure to Frank Sinatra.  Actually, I always thought Sinatra stole the show from Marlon Brando, who was technically the lead.  But Sinatra was spot on perfect with his acting and singing as Nathan Detroit, the down-on-his luck gambler trying to keep the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” afloat. Years later, I even adopted “Luck Be a Lady” as my audition song in high school.

However, this album is far cry from carefree humor of Guys and Dolls,  even though they came out in the same year.  In the Wee Small Hours is Frankie with a touch of melancholia, depressed over a break-up with a girl (or more likely, his tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner).  The Chairman of the Board’s singing is masterful, as you would expect from one of the all-time greatest crooners.  His phrasing and delivery are second to none, and everyone once in a while he shows a little power and range by belting out a high note.  But not often…Ol’ Blue Eyes was always known for subtlety more than showmanship.  And as a whole, the album is dripping with noir atmosphere.  My only problem with it is that it really doesn’t belong on this list.  On this album, Frankie has the blues, but he’s not singing the blues, if you get my meaning.  This is a standard pop vocal record with orchestral accompaniment, something more akin to art song and chamber music than rock and roll.  I guess you could classify Sinatra as a swing or a jazz vocalist, and argue that it belongs here that way, but this album certainly doesn’t swing.  Quite the opposite, every song is slow and depressing.  But that’s not to say that it’s bad…actually, I dig it quite a bit for what it is. Apprarently, it was one of the first true LP albums,  and I feel I got a bargain on it when I found it used at the Exchange in Westlake for $6.00 last summer when I was up in the Land.

Other lists: None.  I would think that Sinatra would make Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 100 Singers, as he is typically considered one of the all-time greats.  But not so much with the Rolling Stone list, which reinforces my point that this isn’t rock and roll or any of its many derivatives.  Frankie was a crooner, with more in common to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole than to Mick Jagger or John Lennon.  And that’s okay.

Ch-ch-changes: This album fell one spot from its original position at #100 on the 2003 list.

My favorite track: “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”

Honorable mention “Mood Indigo”

Quote: “In the wee small hours of the morning, that’s the time when you miss her most of all.”



Odessey and Oracle

Wow.  #100.  And it’s only taken me 3 3/4 years to get this far.  At this rate, I will finish this list in 2031.  Sweet.  I wonder how many editions of the list Rolling Stone will have published by then?  Oh well, whatever, nevermind.  So yeah, the Zombies.  This was the third album on the list that made me go hmmm (after Love’s Forever Changes and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica).  I was pretty sure I had never heard of the Zombies or any of the songs on this album.  Then I listened to it, and I recognized “Time of the Season” from lite rock radio, but that was it.  And on my initial listen, I began to wonder if they called themselves the Zombies because they had no soul.  I mean there is absolutely no soul anywhere on this record.  Or put another way, perhaps the pale flesh associated with a zombie inspired them to make the whitest album ever.  Other than “Time of the Season” being a pale imitation of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” (with the accents on beats one and three, no less), this album is pretty much a Baroque dance party.  No blues scales, no blue notes, no bends, or slides.  Just pure Western harmonies straight outta “The Well-Tempered Clavier”.

All kidding aside, though, it’s a pretty good album.  It sort of reminds me of one of my favorite former-indie rock bands, The Decemberists, in as much as there are lots of story songs from the viewpoint of prison inmates, WWII soldiers, etc., as well as literary allusions to Edgar Allen Poe and William Faulkner.  The vocal harmonies are very Beatlesque, and the melodies are catchy and stick in my head.  I found myself listening to this album for about two weeks straight as I was driving to work, and somehow it always put me in a good mood.  It doesn’t seem like the Zombies made much of an impact on rock history as a whole, but this one album is definitely worth a listen.  I picked it up on Amazon for the bargain price of $2.97.

Other lists: nada

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped 20 spots from its original position of #80 on the list.  Harsh!

My favourite track: “Hung Up on a Dream”

Honourable mention: “Time of the Season”

Quote: “They spoke with soft persuading words about a living creed of gentle love, and turned me on to sounds unheard and showed me strangest clouded sights above, which gently touched my aching mind and soothed the wonderings of my troubled brain.  Sometimes I think I’ll never find such purity and peace of mind again.”

There's a Riot Goin' On

So here we have another answer to Marvin Gaye’s essential question What’s Going On?…well, apparently there’s a riot goin’ on.  And that may be a reference to riot that happened at a concert when Sly went on stage late (shades of Axl Rose there), or it could be a general statement on the racial violence gripping American in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.  Either way, this is not the fun, happy Sly Stone we met on the Greatest Hits record.  This album is much darker, and while it still grooves, it certainly isn’t the fun summertime party music he had been making previously.  For the most part, it sounds like one long, extended jam session that has been cut up into separate tracks.  Except it’s not really a jam session, nor is it really a Family Stone album, because it’s mostly just Sly doing the Prince/Trent Reznor thing (prior, of course, to Prince or Trent Reznor doing the Prince/Trent Reznor thing) and playing most of the instruments himself with a few guest artists like Billy Preston (who played with Beatles), Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack helping out.  I picked this up for $7 at the Exchange in North Olmstead this past summer when I was up in the Land for a weekend at the Princess’ alma mater.  It takes a few spins to really dig into it.  And even the remastered CD is still a little murky from all of Sly’s overdubs.

Other lists: See entry #61 on Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits.

My favorite track: “Time”

Honorable mention: “Spaced Cowboy” (nice yodel work)

Quote: “My only weapon is my pen, and the frame of mind I’m in.”

This Year's Model

“Yes he was alright, the song went on forever.” — Z. Stardust

So it’s been awhile.  Four months actually.  New job.  Grad school.  Life.  It all adds up.  But my new year’s resolution is to get back to posting.  So here we go again.  Still a little sad over the passing of the Man Who Fell To Earth a couple days ago.  But the show goes on and here we are with a British rocker who I’m sure was influenced by Bowie, Elvis Costello.  Well, some Bowie, and a lot of Buddy Holly’s personal style, and of course Elvis Presley’s first name (I suppose if my birth name was Declan Patrick MacManus, I would think about changing it too).  So the leader of the new wave is a combination of several different influences.  My first Elvis Costello album was actually given to me by ma soeur about 20 years ago…it was a CD copy of “My Aim Is True”.  I listened to it a few times, but it really wasn’t my thing at the time.  Then, when I was teaching middle school, I remember doing a unit on Costelllo in general music when he was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.  The kids hated it.  But I picked up a greatest hits album at Used Kids so I could play “Radio, Radio” in class.  And about that time it started to notice how much airplay he got, and still gets, on the local independent alternative radio station here in the Bus, CD101@102.5.

As such, I guess I would consider Costello to be one of the fathers of alternative rock.  And for that reason I dig his place in music history.  However, this album, which I picked up for $6.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue, is a little too new wave for my taste.  It’s the over use of synthesizers that bugs me most, which I suppose is hypocritical of me since “Radio, Radio” and its big synthesizer hook is my favorite song on the album.  And “Pump It Up” also works with the synthesizer over a very strong “My Sharonaesque” beat (actually, I think “Pump It Up” came first, so maybe “My Sharona” is “Pump It Upesque”…and what about that Escape Club song from the late 80s “Wild, Wild West”, which pretty much rips off “Pump It Up”).  Anyhow, I wish this album were a bit punkier and more guitar driven.  But I suppose if the new wave had never happened in the 80s, alternative rock would never have happened in the 90s, and then we’d all be a bunch of angry metal heads waiting for the next Disturbed album to come out, and who really wants to be that person?

Other Lists: Elvis Costello is #80 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favourite track: “Radio, Radio” (I am still going to count it even though it was only on the American release of the album)

Honourable mention: “Pump It Up”

Quote: “I wanna bit the hand that feeds me.  I wanna bite that hand so badly.”

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

So I’m surprised I haven’t talked about it yet on this blog, but Bob Dylan was my first concert.  I guess I haven’t mentioned it yet because, unfortunately, I don’t really remember much about it.  See, I was only 10 years old in the summer of 1986 when Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and the Grateful Dead played a triple bill at the Akron Rubber Bowl.  It was a family affair that night, as mi madre is a huge Bob Dylan fan, mon soeur is a huge Tom Petty fan, and mon frere, well, he has his Dead Head moments.  So, being the youngest of the bunch, they packed me up in the family truckster (actually, I think it was a grey Impala) and we made the rare journey outside the Geneva city limits to see the show.  What I do remember is that Petty played first, then Dylan, then the Dead.  And at some point during the Dead’s set, Dylan came back out and played a few songs with them.  I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before the end of the show.

Thanks to the magic of the world wide interweb, I’ve been able to take a look at the set list from that night, and all I can say is damn, I wish I had been older and could remember it better.  Dylan played pretty much everything song of his I would want to hear live, including “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Masters of War” from this album.  Actually, I do remember all the Dead Heads singing along to “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35”.  I wonder if I can find a bootleg of this concert somewhere.  I’d love to hear it again.

As for this album, I picked it up at the Half Price Books on High Street near Worthington for $6.99.   It’s Dylan’s second record and the one that catapulted him in the national spotlight with “Blowin’ in the Wind”, possibly the greatest protest song every written.  The record it mostly folk and blues, but Dylan waxes poetic on “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fail” and he hits hard on “Masters of War” (Edward Louis Severson III and Michael McCready of Pearl Jam fame do a powerful cover of the latter on Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration).  We also get the first example of a Bob Dylan dream song, simply titled “Bob Dylan’s Dream” (although it’s not funny like “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”), and we also get his first use of the talking blues in “Talking World War III Blues” (witty, but not quite as funny as “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues”, an outtake that got left off the album).

Other lists: “Blowin’ in the Wind” is #14 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

My favorite track: “Masters of War”

Honorable mention: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

Quote: “How much do I know, to talk out of turn?  You might say that I’m young, you might say I’m unlearned.  But there’s one thing I know, though I’m younger than you: even Jesus would never forgive what you do.”

#96: “Tommy” by The Who


I’m a Tommy junkie.  I have been since college.  How did that come about?  Well, the story kinda connects to another rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar.  Back when I was a wee little boy, mi madre used to have Superstar on an 8-track.  Later, when I was in high school, it had major revival due to the sudden popularity of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.  We even did an entire competition show devoted to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music when I was a sophomore in the marching band, and we had a commissioned arrangement of “Superstar”.  So I was into it, and the year after I graduated, the Ashtabula Arts Center was doing Superstar at their summer Straw Hat Theater.  So I auditioned…and didn’t get in.  I was bummed.  Black Cloud got in.  And some of my other friends.  But not me.  I was cast in Fiddler on the Roof, which I promptly quit.

But the next summer, I auditioned for another Andrew Lloyd Webber show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and this time I got in.  And that became my initiation into the Arts Center crowd, some of the most fun people I’ve ever hung out with, and I spent the next three summers of my life doing shows at the Arts Center, eating bread bowls (with ranch dressing) at Perkins, nightswimming at Walnut Beach, and generally living the bohemian, starving-artist lifestyle while I was home from college (I guess I pretty much lived the starving-artist lifestyle while I was in college too, but really, who doesn’t?).  So how does this connect to Tommy?  Well, the Broadway Musical version had just come out around that time, and all those budding young musical theater artists were Tommy junkies (and Rent junkies too).  Always the teacher (and historian), I was quick to point out that it was based off a concept album by the Who. This remaster had been newly released, and I remember picking it up somewhere at a local record shop (one of the rare times I have paid full-price for a CD) so that we could all listen to the original.  This was back in the days of the old Blue Bomber and the talking CD player (“HELLO-CD-PLAY”), and I have fond memories of tearing through the back streets of the Ashtabula Harbor while we all song rousing choruses of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

So there are three distinct versions of Tommy that I am familiar with: the original, the movie, and the Broadway musical.  Each one has strengths and weaknesses, but I really do enjoy all three.  There is a fourth version as well, performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and some pretty famous guest stars (Rod Stewart as the Pinball Wizard and Ringo Starr as Uncle Ernie), but it has been out of print for about 30 years and I have never heard it.  Oddly, it is being remastered and re-released on 9/11/2015, so I’ll try to check it out and update this post afterward. But anyway, the general plot of the story goes like this: Man meets woman.  Man lost at war.  Woman has baby.  Woman takes new lover.  Man returns.  Man kills lover.  Boy witnesses lover’s murder.  Boy retreats into self, essentially becoming deaf, dumb, and blind.  Conventional treatments don’t work.  Unconventional treatments don’t work.  Boy shows aptitude for pinball.  Frustrated mother smashes family mirror.  Boy suddenly cured.  Boy becomes celebrity.  Boy becomes Messianic figure.  Boy’s followers become disillusioned and leave.  Boy finds enlightenment.  End.  Not exactly Shakespearean quality storytelling, but then again, neither was Ziggy Stardust or the Wall.

Let’s start with the original.  It’s the best.  ‘Nuff said.  Moving on…just kidding.  It is the source material, and the only version entirely performed by the Who, so it is the best.  The songwriting really shines through, and of course, the Who plays extremely well together as a band.  And the remaster that I have (I think its the ’96 version) really brings out the French horn in the “Overture”.  Apparently the Who destroyed the master tapes after the initial vinyl pressing, so I was awhile before a quality CD version was released, but this one is real good.  However, the plot is really hard to follow in the original version.  Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend pretty much sing everything, but there is no distinction between the characters.  Sometimes Daltrey is Tommy, sometimes it’s Townshend.  Sometimes Townshend is the father, sometimes he’s the mother, sometimes he’s a relative like Cousin Kevin or Uncle Ernie.  And overall, the vocals are pretty bland on this recording.  Townshend’s voice is just too thin, and Daltrey hadn’t had the benefit of a million live performances to grow into the role yet.

Tommy Blu RayTommy Movie

Then there’s the movie, which is largely terrible, but the soundtrack is great.  The movie itself tries to be psychedelic, but the symbolism is painfully obvious and it comes across as campy instead.  The plot is solidified though, and they make the interesting choice to kill off Tommy’s father instead of the lover.  This changes things dramatically, as the whole movie you get to root against the sleazeball lover (well acted, but poorly sung, by Oliver Reed).  There is also a fantastic guest appearance (again well acted, but poorly sung) by Jack Nicholson as the Specialist who cannot cure Tommy (but hits on his mother).  Elton John is hilarious as the Pinball Wizard, and Tina Turner rocks the house as the Acid Queen.  Eric Clapton gives a surprisingly bland performance as the Preacher (changed from the Hawker in the original), but his guitar work is great.  The real treat, however, is Daltrey’s performance as Tommy.  By the time this movie was made in 1975, he had several years of live performances under his belt, and thus his vocals much more powerful and soaring than in the original recording.  He simply owns the second half of the movie.  And his acting is decent too.  Unfortunately, the movie used quite a few studio musicians, and instead of orchestrations it gets really synthesizer happy at times.  But Pete Townshend played on every track (except for “Pinball Wizard”…Elton used his own band) and it holds together.

Tommy Broadway

And then there’s the Broadway musical.  If you hate Broadway voices, don’t bother with it.  It you can handle a good belting mezzo or a tenor with soaring vibrato, check it out.  The Who doesn’t play anywhere on this record, but it was completely overseen by Townshend.  He even wrote a new song for it (yes, it’s easily the worst song on the album).  And the recording was produced by George Martin.  Yes, that George Martin, the studio wizard behind Saints John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to how the French horn flares shine throughout.  It’s as if Tommy grew up on Penny Lane.  Joking aside, I think it’s a pretty good rendition of the source material.  The plot is as clean and tight as it’s ever been, and Tommy’s father is restored to his rightful place as the survivor of the fight with the lover.  There is a lot of incidental music for dance numbers and scene changes that bogs it down a bit, and some extra dialog that is somewhat inane, but in the long run it’s more faithful to the original than the movie.

Other lists: See the entry for Who’s Next (#28) for the accolades Rolling Stone bestows upon the Who.

My favourite track: “Go to the Mirror”

Honourable mention: “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

Quote 1: “How can men who’ve never seen light be enlightened?”

Quote 2: “If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high, you’d laugh and say ‘Nothing’s that simple’.”