Category Archives: the who

Review: Tommy Super Deluxe box by the who

I still remember the first time I encountered the Who’s Tommy LP. It was one of the early ones with a high gloss finish; the artwork is spectacular, with a triple fold that opens out with the track listing on the left and the lyrics to Amazing Journey on the right. There is also a booklet insert with the full libretto (it is a Rock Opera after all) and pictures.


What then do we expect from the Super Deluxe edition 44 years later? Given that this sells for £82.99 on quite a lot. Here is what comes to mind – note this is NOT what is in the package, just my dreaming:

  • The original album in its original mix
  • The original album as remixed in 1996
  • The alternate version of Eyesight for the Blind, as on some UK editions of the LP
  • Other outtakes from the Tommy sessions
  • Tracks that presage Tommy such as Glow Girl from 1968, included on the Odds and Sods compilation. From Townshend’s notes on the song:
    • The reincarnation ploy comes at the end, where you hear ‘It’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl. When I came to write Tommy, I picked up that phrase and used it as the opening. That’s how Tommy became Tommy Walker, just because in this song which was worked on two years before, we had a little girl.
  • A live concert from the period.
  • Detailed notes on the recording sessions
  • The Tommy concept has had a long life. There is a Broadway version and a film. Would it be too much to expect the Original Cast soundtrack as well as the film here?
  • The original artwork in all its trifold glory

Unfortunately you do NOT get that here. Nothing like. Here is what you get:

  • A new remaster of the original mix of Tommy
  • A CD of Pete Townshend’s demos for the album, supplemented by two Who outtakes, Trying to Get Through and Young Man Blues (Studio version).
  • A “Live Bootleg album” for which we are not even told where the tracks were recorded, just “recorded live at various shows during the autumn of 1969”. It is said to be mostly from Ottawa.
  • A book including an essay by Richard Barnes, pictures from the original artwork and lyrics.
  • A Blu-Ray with a 5.1 DTS mix in 24/96 resolution and stereo PCM also in 24/96.

Now, there are certainly some good things here. In particular, the piece by Richard Barnes is excellent. I learned a lot about Tommy, and how the story ties in with Townshend’s admiration for the teaching of Meher Baba, and his interest in autism. There are also anecdotes like the story of how a fan was injured trying to get to Jim Morrison on stage at a Doors concert, which was apparently the inspiration for Sally Simpson.

It is also good to hear Townshend’s demos, though we have heard a lot of these over the years and there is nothing truly revelatory here; I do wonder if there are more interesting earlier demos in the vaults, as opposed to these which are close to what we hear performed by The Who in the finished album.

I enjoyed the studio version of Young Man Blues, apparently only previously released on a Track compilation LP The House that Track Built.

The Live Bootleg Album is a good listen too, though sound quality is not great and I would rather have a complete concert warts and all than one assembled from parts.

The high-resolution version on Blu-Ray seems to me somewhat superfluous especially given the age of the recording, though nice to have I suppose. There must be plenty of spare space on that Blu-Ray which makes the lack of extras like the original mix of the album even more frustrating.

Tommy in 5.1 surround is good to have though we already have one, on the 2004 SACD. I have not compared this one to the previous surround mix in detail.


What of the design of the package, essentially a hardback book in a slipcase, with cut-outs to hold the CDs and Blu-Ray in the back? It is decent quality, but I miss the tri-fold artwork and I do not feel this package does justice to the original.

I would have preferred a reproduction of the original album booklet insert as well as the tri-fold art in full size; as it is we only see it complete printed small on page 35 of the book.

As for the audio, why have the compilers omitted most of the band outtakes that were on the earlier Deluxe edition of Tommy? These included I Was, Cousin Kevin Model Child, Sally Simpson outtakes, Tommy’s Holiday Camp (Band version), and Dogs (Part2).

In summary then, while a nice enough package in itself, this falls short of what I would hope to see in a “super deluxe” Tommy edition and does not strike me as good value. A missed opportunity, sadly.

There is an argument that the earlier (and much cheaper) Deluxe edition is actually more interesting to the Who collector, with its more extensive outtakes as well as high quality stereo and 5.1 versions of the complete album.

That said, it does have Richard Barnes’ excellent long essay, which combined with the new live audio and some previously unheard Townshend demos means it is not a complete write-off.

Update: There are a few more details about the 1969 concert here, together with the offer of a free download:

We found an unreleased concert from Ottawa 1969 in our vaults, when all tapes from that tour were thought to have been destroyed. There was a complete performance of Tommy save for ‘I’m Free’, ‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, which were probably lost during tape changeover at the show. On the Box Set these tracks were replaced by 3 tracks from a show at Swansea in 1976, as no further recordings from 1969 were thought to exist. Since the Box Set was completed, two of the missing tracks,’Tommy’s Holiday Camp’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’,  have turned up. Although we know they are from the 1969 tour we don’t know the specific show, but we are offering them to fans this week as a free download.

Click HERE to download.

Quadrophenia Exhibition in London’s Carnaby Street

A shop called Pretty Green -  The Jam, mods, geddit? – has an exhibition devoted to The Who’s Quadrophenia, which I visited today as it is a favourite album of mine.

The exhibition is in the basement and darkly lit; the backdrop picture builds anticipation as you descend the stairs.


Unfortunately the exhibition did not live up to the promise from my point of view. I am a big fan of the photographs in the booklet that comes with the double LP and these form an important part of the exhibition as you would expect. Sadly it appears that nobody can find the originals so they seem to have been scanned from the printed booklet and do not look particularly good blown up large. Photographer Ethan Russell says:

After Quadrophenia I slowly backed away from photography. I proposed a television film of it, and it almost got made. I became a writer and, working on my first book, went to England to find the Quadrophenia negatives. They were gone.

Since Russell himself sells reproductions scanned from the book that is clearly all that anyone can find. A great shame.

So what else is in the exhibition? There are a couple of scooters including this one:


This is a modified Vespa PX 125 including “mod-style extra mirrors”. The description advertised is a competition to win it; I followed the instructions only to be told that the competition had finished.

There is also a box of demo tapes


as well as some of Pete Townshend’s original story notes and various panels describing the Quadrophenia recording process. These are interesting in themselves, though if you have the recently issued box set you will find they are taken straight from the book.

Two things would have made the exhibition much better from my point of view. One would have been high quality reproductions or the originals of the photographs as mentioned above. The other would have been greater depth and variety of information – as it is, there is really nothing here that is not already in the deluxe book and box, and the box itself is disappointing in that it is really Pete Townshend’s project and lacks contributions from other band members, Who outtakes, or any audio from the original (unsuccessful) Quadrophenia tour.

Still, the exhibition is free and it is worth looking in if you are in the area.

Review: Quadrophenia director’s cut

This might be my favourite album ever.

It connects somehow, the frustration of My g-g-g-generation extended to an entire double album, played with the frenetic energy and genius of The Who, and intermingled with a dash of Pete Townshend’s mystical leanings. I am the sea.

It is not only the music, the whole package was perfect when it arrived in autumn 1973. The black and white cover with the scooter and the four faces of the band reflected in its mirrors, and a breathtakingly good series of monochrome photographs. If any record deserves a deluxe edition, this one does.


And here it is – or is it? What we have is something half-way between the sumptuous, informative, historic collector’s edition which the album merits, and the kind of money grabbing release you get when some record company notices how much people are paying for boxed sets these days and says, “Quick, let’s get Quadrophenia out before the CD market disappears completely”.

Because there is a lot wrong with this release.

Still, time to stop rambling and tell you what you get. Within a very solid slipcase you will find a poster advertising the original double album (actually this is a fine reproduction and one of the better things here), a colour envelope holding various bits of memorabilia: reproductions of some of Townshend’s draft lyrics, a rather darkly reproduced colour photo of Jimmy (the central character) on a scooter, and a 7-inch single of 5.15 backed with the slightly rare track Water.

Then there is the main event: a 100-page hardback book of photos and an essay by Townshend, within which nestle the original double CD, a DVD with 8 tracks remixed for 5.1 surround sound, and two CDs of Townshend’s demos for the album.

The book is certainly nice to have, though bear in mind that the original album came with a 46 page insert which is all included in the book, so that accounts for nearly a quarter of it. I am also upset to report that the quality of those wonderful photographs is poor; I was really hoping that I would get better copies than those in my falling-apart LP but in fact these are noticeably worse; they have that grainy look you get when photos are reprinted from a print rather than from the originals.

Still, the *other* photos in the book are nicely reproduced and the essay is fascinating if you love Quadrophenia half as much as I do. Townshend recounts how he came up with the story that is printed in the front cover of the LP (and also here), when remembering how he slept under Brighton pier once “after a riotous night at the Aquarium ballroom.” He also describes how the album came together, how it was recorded, and adds notes on the songs and demos.

If you are a fan, you will definitely want to hear the demos too. They form a sort-of alternate version of the album, lacking the Who’s energy but with its own appeal. There are also songs here that are not on the album, and others that did not show up until the soundtrack of the Quadrophenia film. Some of the songs have overdubs which I personally would rather had been omitted.

The 5.1 mix is enjoyable too. This album is ideal for surround sound, especially at those moments when sea noises swirl around.

It’s curious though that only 8 tracks have been mixed to 5.1. Why? But the rest of 5.1 Quadrophenia is not the only thing missing.

The important thing to realise is that this is Townshend’s deluxe box, rather than The Who’s deluxe box. I have not spotted any contribution to the package from Roger Daltrey, despite his massive contribution to the quality of the album, nor even any attempt to collect existing quotes from the two members of the band who are no longer with us, Keith Moon and John Entwistle. There are no outtakes from band sessions, nor are there any live tracks from when Quadrophenia was performed live back in the day; yes I realise that the concerts at the time had some problems but I would still love to hear how they sounded.

Quadrophenia was remixed in 1996 and it is the remix that is offered here (it sounds the same as before), but for completeness I would have liked both mixes to be included, in line with what has been done in deluxe boxes for other classic albums such as Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and King Crimson’s In the Court of. To my mind the original mix is still important, the Quadrophenia that is as I first heard it in the seventies.

So this is a frustrating production, much less than it should be; but then again frustration is what Quadrophenia is all about so that is curiously fitting.

Fans will still want this package, hard though it is to justify the cost – especially when you consider that 11 of the 25 demos are also on the Deluxe 2-CD set at one sixth of the price, and that even more memorabilia is also available online at the new Q-Cloud site, accessible to anyone who has purchased or ripped the CD.


And I suppose when and if the full 5.1 release is done eventually we will be asked to pay again.


Just when you’ve finished paying for Live at Leeds, here comes the Quadrophenia super deluxe box

Details are scant, but Amazon is now listing a new edition of The Who’s Quadrophenia, complete with book and (from the picture) five discs of some description.


Quadrophenia is one album I still play regularly. I am not sure why, but it has some kind of hold on me. I guess it is an anthem for anyone who has felt misunderstood and who likes The Who.

I am therefore keen to hear things like the rumoured 5.1 mix of Quadrophenia as well as any demos, concerts from the period, and so on, that might be thrown in. I would also like a good copy of the photos from the original insert, because mine has fallen apart. Most of them did, since the stitching was not strong enough to hold the booklet to the LP cover.

That said, I do not need new vinyl, nor a book that I will browse through once and never again.

The snag with this type of box is that they are all or nothing; and usually carefully designed so that there is at least one exclusive thing that you don’t want to do without.

EMI did David Bowie’s Station to Station box, making it the only source for the new surround mix.

The other thing all these boxes have in common is an extravagant price. Live at Leeds Super Deluxe came out last year and is the only way to get the complete Hull performance on CD, though you can download from Apple’s iTunes. The box was always expensive; now it is out of print and optimistic resellers on Amazon are asking nearly £400.00 for it.

So I have mixed feelings about the new Quadrophenia, but will probably buy it anyway.

If you let them do it to you You’ve got yourself to blame.
It’s you who feels the pain

SHM-SACD – super-expensive, but how super is the sound?

The problems facing the music industry are well-known: the CD market is fast disappearing thanks to digital downloads, both legal and illegal, and income gained from downloads does not look likely to match that lost from CD. But what about the niche market for recordings of superior quality? Universal Music Japan has come up with a product that combines several ideas. The first is SHM, or Super High Material, first used for CDs with the claim that, despite being a digital medium, players would extract better quality sound from CDs made with it. The next theory is that the high-resolution SACD format will play back more accurately if the disk only includes a stereo layer, rather than including stereo, multi-channel, and standard CD layers. The result is a new SHM-SACD series, remasters of classic titles at premium prices.

The source used for these titles varies. Some are new DSD (Direct Stream Digital, the digital format of SACD) master made from copy master tapes held in Japan. Some are re-issues of existing DSD transfers. Some are newly mastered from original master tapes.

Who’s Next is apparently in this last group, newly mastered from the original tapes. It is said to have been done as straight as possible,  with no equalization or compression, and is the original mix.

This is a favourite of mine, so I bought a copy. It comes in typically over-the-top Japanese packaging, SHM-SACD in a plastic film sleeve inside a paper sleeve inside a card sleeve. There is a fold-out cover with a photograph I’ve not seen before, liner notes, obi, and a card to return with suggestions for future titles.


I played the disk and compared it to my existing CD. In fact, I must confess, I have several copies. Who’s Next has been issued many times, and the most obsessive fans know that the best CD is an early one mastered by Steve Hoffman and made in Japan for the US market. He has written about how he mastered it on his forum, using as little processing as possible though he did add some modest EQ.

Both the Hoffman CD and the new SACD sound very good. I am not quite sure which I prefer, but it may be the SACD which sounds exceptionally clean and lets you easily follow John Entwistle’s fantastic bass lines. Or it might be the Hoffman CD which is remarkably crisp and muscular. There is an odd problem with the SACD, which is that the last track is noticeably louder than the others. It was recorded separately, but that seems no reason not to match the volume.

So do I recommend the SACD, and by extension, the new SHM-SACD range? Well, I am all in favour of mastering CDs with full dynamic range, no attempt at noise reduction, minimal processing, and without the excessive compression that mars so many new releases. The Who’s Next title shows what great results you an get with this approach.

That said, it is tragic to have these high quality new remasters restricted to a niche format at an excessive price. The SHM thing I suspect is nonsense; if CDs and SACDs made with ordinary material did not work properly, we would have noticed it years ago. The advantages of SACD are doubtful too, certainly for stereo, because the limitations of human hearing make the extended frequency response pointless. I have researched this to the best of my ability and while I don’t know for sure that high-resolution formats like SACD are completely pointless, it does seem that standard CDs can sound either the same or nearly the same when the audible difference is put to the test with any rigour.


The SACD format is also rather inconvenient. You cannot easily rip to to a music server, you have to make a further digital copy from the analogue output of the SACD player, and then rip the copy, probably breaching your license in doing so, and potentially degrading the sound quality.

I also compared stereo-only and hybrid SACDs using Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, which was issued in both guises. The stereo version sounds identical.

Still, even you are paying for a certain amount of stuff and nonsense, you are also getting SACDs that genuinely sound good, at least in the case of Who’s Next. Perhaps it could even be worth it.

The who’s music brilliantly discussed

Ever wondered what Tommy is really about? Curious about those odd Who tracks like Dogs and Circles? Interested in what reviewers at the time thought about the Who’s classic tracks? Or where to get the best-sounding versions?

I highly recommend this discussion on Steve Hoffman’s forum, and especially the contributions by a Norwegian called Chris who goes by the user name Devotional. He has written meticulous, affectionate and well-informed essays on every Who release he knows, and they make excellent reading. Unfortunately the thread and Devotionals contributions are taking their time, and after 9 months it is only up to 1970, but good things are worth waiting for.

As the thread is lengthy, here’s a few entries to get you started:

Anyway Anyhow Anywhere

My Generation

My Generation (Album)


The Kids are Alright

Happy Jack

A quick one

I can see for Miles

The Who Sell Out


Magic Bus

Pinball Wizard


You will also find the thread stuffed with photos and press clippings, many of which I had not seen before.

Review: Quadrophenia on tour

Last night I saw the stage adaption of The Who’s Quadrophenia by Jeff Young, John O’Hara and Tom Critchley, at  the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. The venue was well filled though not quite sold out, a good effort considering that it is on for several days.

Quadrophenia is one of my favourite albums, though I don’t know how much this is because of inherent artistic quality, and how much because it resonated with me when it first appeared 36 years ago. It is not really about multiple personalities, more about the multiple roles that all of us play, such as child, worker, lover, rebel, and the conflicting feelings that can engender. It is about dysfunctional families, drugs, sex, gangs, and the stress of trying to conform to conflicting norms, such as dutiful worker vs rebellious youth culture. It is quasi-religious, with the rain and the sea representing some higher power.

The show was disappointing. Why? Well, the first problem is the stage layout. The musicians are at the back of the stage, on an extraordinary two-storey platform, and it’s pretty hard to see what they are doing since during most of the show the lights are elsewhere. During the second half of the performance, it is even harder to see the band because of a big circle thing that appears in front. I suppose this was somewhat like having the orchestra in a pit at a classical opera; but I didn’t like it. A rock concert is about the dynamics between the band and the audience, and if you put all these barriers in the way, it makes it hard for the music to live.

The main part of the stage was where the action took place. Jimmy, the lead character in Quadrophenia, is played by four actors, the idea being that each one represents a different face of his internal personas. In an early scene we see Jimmy seated on a sofa between his parents; just as he gets comfortable, an alter ego Jimmy comes and turfs him out of his place, only to be displace in turn shortly after. I thought that was effective; but in general having four actors did not work well. The first problem was that they were not sufficiently distinct; frankly, I couldn’t tell you what kinds of characteristics each of the four was meant to represent. Second, the artifice of having four Jimmys on stage together when in a sense there was only one of them was largely unsuccessful. I would rather have had them mostly on stage one at a time.

There was no speech, just the music and singing Who songs. Not all the songs were from Quadrophenia – we also got some other early Who numbers like My Generation. However, the singers also did a poor job of engaging with the audience – in fact, at some points I wasn’t sure if they were singing or miming to a recording. There was a lot of jumping around and climbing up the big circular thing, which rotated.

The show is lacking in contrasts. Quadrophenia is a album of transitions: the claustrophobia of a small terraced house where Jimmy lives with his mum and dad; the scooter as the vehicle to the freedom of the open road; the “5.15” train which takes Jimmy to Brighton, place of conflict and redemption, and to the sea. The show does a poor job of representing these contrasting places and colours; each scene feels the same as the one before it.

The singers were competent but not strong enough for what they took on. Roger Daltrey is a hard act to follow, for sure. At times during choral sections Quadrophenia reminded me of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, a jolly musical originally intended for schools; I do not think Quadrophenia should ever sound like that.

My advice for the next tour: bring the band into view; lose half the actors; have one Jimmy at a time; sing at the audience not at one another, and sing your heart out. Quadrophenia deserves it.

PS for some alternate views see the official forum; lots of praise on there. At Nottingham the audience reaction was mixed; strong applause at the end, yet the seats in front of us were filled for the first half and empty for the second.

On Quadrophenia, rock classics, tribute shows, and aging

The Who’s Quadrophenia is currently on tour in the UK – but it is not performed by The Who. No, this is the Quadrophenia Rock Show, Music Lyrics & Concept by Pete Townshed – stage adaption by Jeff Young, John O’Hara and Tom Critchley.

Quadrophenia is among my favourite albums – not for the daft story, but because the music and lyrics speak to me of the frustration and glory of being human, or something. But do I want to see it performed by musicians other than The Who? At one time I’d have said, no way. Why settle for an imitation when you can have the real thing?

The trouble is, you can’t any more. Keith Moon died in 1978; John Entwistle in 2002. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend still tour and no doubt put on a good show from time to time – I saw The Who in January 2002, at which time Entwistle was still around, and enjoyed it tremendously. Still, at best with these aging bands there is always an element of “it’s amazing how good they are considering”, and at worst it can be embarrassing. I saw Jethro Tull in Derby in 2007, and while the musicianship was generally impressive, my memory is dominated by the failings of Ian Anderson’s voice, which spoilt most of the songs through no fault of his.

It is also rather strange to see bands whose music is laden with the sexual tension of youth performing the same songs at a later stage of life. What is “Hope I die before I get old” meant to mean, sung by a 65-year old Daltrey?

The bottom line is that I have mixed feelings about seeing performances like these. I still go to see Bob Dylan, who is even older, but that’s partly because I see it as a pilgrimage to see one of the greats, and partly because Dylan is more able to be his age, thanks to the songs he writes and continues to write, and the fact the he’s been fixin’ to die since his very first album in 1962.

So when I saw that the Quadrophenia show is on locally, I thought twice about it. Is it possible that tribute show of younger performers could put more energy into it than the current Who? Well, yes, it is possible. And once old rockers like The Who and The Rolling Stones hang up their touring boots for the last time, it will be this or nothing.

I’m also encouraged by knowing that Pete Townshend is involved to some degree in the show. He talks about it – or actually writes, since it’s an email interview, in an illuminating piece in The Times. He includes a comment pertinent to this post:

Have you ever been to see a rock musical based on a back-catalogue?

I live inside one. Musicals based on back-catalogues are becoming a saturated market. How can rock musicals avoid being watered-down exercises in asset-stripping?

Let me ask another question. When all those nostalgic for the music of their youth have moved on, will today’s revered rock classics ever be performed live? In most cases, I’m guessing the answer is no. In a few cases though, maybe an evening out to hear a performance of Blonde on Blonde or The Dark Side of the Moon or Quadrophenia will be accepted in the same way as we treat other music from composers long gone, who knows?

I’m booking to see Quadrophenia.

Live at Kilburn a must for Who fans – but for the Coliseum concert, not Kilburn

The recent DVD / Blu-ray release of The Who at Kilburn 1977 is a must-have if you have any spark of interest in The Who. I found it utterly compelling. I got the DVD, because I can play it anywhere, and I’m not convinced Blu-ray has much advantage for something like this.

What gripped me was not the Kilburn concert though. It’s OK, but this is among Keith Moon’s last performances and he is far from his best.

No, the gem here is the 1969 London Coliseum concert, from the best years of The Who. The Coliseum is an opera house, and was booked in order to perform the rock opera, Tommy. The band members realise how pretentious this is and joke about it; yet at the same time there was a genuine desire to push rock music to a new place.

That’s exactly what they do, not because Tommy is an opera, but through sheer energy and virtuosity. The quality varies from reasonable to bootleg, especially the picture which is very dark at times, but it matters little; this is The Who from when they could reasonably claim to be the best live band in the world.

Sparks indeed. You’ll love it.

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