Friday, November 18, 2011

Quadrophenia: The greatest album ever made

Don Woods (Mr. Jim): One of my favorite party tricks involves my friend Tom. You see, I become a bit out of depth when the subject of music comes up in party conversation. As I've admitted before, I've always appreciated music but to call myself a music-person would seem obscene to those that make it their life. But during these conversations I try and steer the direction of discussion to great albums. I state my case as to the best album of all time, get met with disbelief, and instantly grab a random member of the party to back me up. Grabbing my friend Tom (he is tall, you can't miss him in a room), we immediately babble on about the greatest album of all time: Quadrophenia. Then me and Tom get wrapped up talking about The Who and forget there is a party around us. With last week's re-release of Quadrophenia, it seemed a good time to finally talk about it on here.

It's not an album, it's an experience.

(Aforementioned friend) Tom Henry (Dr. Jimmy): Every year Guitar World releases a review of the best concept album of all time and year in and year out the winner is The Who’s Tommy. All I have to say to that is: bollocks. Tommy revolutionized rock n’ roll when it came out in 1969 and became The Who’s first commercially successful album. Until that point, The Who was an immensely popular Mod band trying to make it big. Most of the money they made on album sales and touring was spent to pay for damages the band made to concert venues and hotel rooms.

Keith Moon taking a break between wrecking hotel rooms.

Tommy eventually led to a movie and Broadway play which made the band economically viable, thus allowing them to explore further into rock. What followed are four of the greatest albums of all time: The Who by Numbers, Who’s Next, Who Are You and of course the single greatest album of all time, Quadrophenia.

DW: It's a completely lazy comparison, but I see Quadrophenia as being like an album version of Catcher in the Rye. It's a violent, seedy, coming of age story. Jimmy, the protagonist of the rock opera, represents all of us frustrated with life. Thank god Pete Townshend has such a large nose, or else the frustration that sells the album would never be there. The sound and fury of Townshend's guitar and Roger Daltrey's wail speak out for generations of disillusioned kids. By listening to this album we know that we are not as lost as we think we are. And though we maybe stuck on a rock, we can still find redemption in the rain.

Here is the soundtrack of the film based on an album.

I found Quadrophenia in my senior year of high school. Senior year is obviously trying for any adolescent, and my existential crisis seemed more severe than most. Through my lows during that year and summer, I knew I could always turn to The Who. And though I'm sure it's trite to say, I owe a lot to Quadrophenia. That album consoled me more than anything else.

It's not emo if you kick ass at the same time.

TH: While I have never been particularly plagued with angst, Quadrophenia has struck a cord with me ever since I first heard it. My uncle is responsible to introducing me to my Who-obsession. While I have always been a big Who fan (the first album I bought was a greatest hits album) I was a little late in discovering Quadrophenia. What can I say, I was a traditionalist. I believed in the Tommy/Who’s Next paradigm. What could be better? Then a rude awakening came in the way of the songs 5:15 and Love Reign o’er Me. Over the last four years my liking of Quadrophenia has blossomed into love. And not just fleeting infatuation as happens with modern Top 40 songs. Real, full on love.

Tom's favorite song.

This album is perfect. It features the flawless writing of Townshend and one of the greatest hard rock vocalists of all time in the form of Daltrey. John Entwistle is the little appreciated hero, who competes year in and year out for the greatest bassist of all time [only competition being Flea and JPJ (DW: and Les Claypool)]. And, of course, the greatest drummer of all time in Keith Moon.

Bassist never get much love.

DW: I admit The Who aren't as great as they once were. Bad Super Bowl shows and reliance on CSI royalties have showed that they aren't the hard rocking band they once were. But that's fine because the albums from their prime still live up to this day. It means a lot for an album to still have relevance this far down the road. Quadrophenia, however, is not just an album. For me, Quadrophenia was a lifeboat during turbulent times. And I know I'm not the only one that feels that way. My general taste in music might lean more towards the garage-rock revival of the double-0's and Radiohead, but my favorite album will always be Quadrophenia.

Donny's favorite Quadrophenia song.

TH: While I am unabashedly in love with this album I am not the only one nor am I its biggest fan. That proud honor belongs to Eddie Vedder. Yes, the Golden Baritone himself (DW: I'm not the biggest Vedder fan). Vedder covered Love, Reign O’ver Me for the 2007 film Reign Over Me; however he needed Daltry to coax him into recording it. Vedder initially turned down Adam Sandler’s request because Vedder, like me, believes that you can’t outdo perfection. On multiple occasions Vedder has spoken about the role that the Who played in his life and, specifically, how Quadrophenia influenced his work. Like Donny and I, Quadriophenia played an important role in his life. Pearl Jam really did a nice job of paying tribute to those that came before them and it was really special to see them pay tribute to the Who at VH1’s 2008 Rock Honors performing songs off of Quadrophenia.

Pearl Jams are the only other people that can ever do Love Reign O'er Me justice.

All in all, Quadrophenia is a tour de force. It's not so much music as much as it's pure raw emotion. You can feel it. Even after the music stops it resonates with you. It really is a masterpiece of writing that you just do not expect from a rock band. With Quadrophenia, The Who transcend the hard rock genre. They give us something real. Quadrophenia is a culmination of everything The Who stands for. If the band was judged solely on this album, than they should be so lucky.

The Who?


  1. Enjoyed your post. Quadrophenia (and The Who) changed my life also. The album still gets me going. It also stands as an example of a mega band going "dark." Finding the whole crazy business too much. Some never forgave that. It made me value them more (see also MOTT by Mott The Hoople for similar insights during the same year). 1973 - the year of Houses Of The Holy,Wish You Were Here (by Floyd AND Badfinger!)Raw Power,New York Dolls and yes,damn it,Larks Tongues In Aspic!!!
    Be well.

  2. Yes, Quad is perfection and Townshend's true masterpiece. Just don't get me started on that movie...the "movie" in your mind from playing the album (vinyl, loud) and flipping through the picture book is 100x better.