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 Amazon.co.uk 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.