The Who’s Pete Townshend is never one to be shy about critiquing the work of others or, indeed, when praising or critiquing the work of his own. As the band’s songwriting general, and a fearsome one at that, there are countless albums of which could easily top his list but there are two records from the band’s esteemed back catalogue that occupies a special place within Townshend’s heart.
Townshend couldn’t split apart two records, material which, for the guitarist, each held the same position in his heart for a considerable period of time. However, the guitarist has done well to even narrow it down to just two considering The Who’s magnificent repertoire of work. That said, the guitarist has never been afraid to wield his axe when needed.
The first album that Townshend mentions that he is most proud of, considering the extensive work he’s been involved in, is 1969 effort Tommy which he explained why to JamBase in 2007: “Tommy because it is so successful and so far-reaching and is probably deeper in meaning than most critics allow.”
The rock opera record that tells the story of Tommy Walker who is a “deaf, dumb and blind” child. The album follows Walker’s experiences in life as well as his relationship with his family and shows Townshend’s innate ability for storytelling in whatever form he chooses. It’s a talent which has seen Townshend’s songwriting skill excel with each passing year.
Roger Daltrey is also exceedingly proud of this record and has cited ‘Pinball Wizard’ as the stand-out track from the album: “The whole montage of sounds he got in emulating the pinball machine is extraordinary. I don’t think he got enough recognition for his work on that,” he once said. “Not necessarily the sound he got – because most of the time making Tommy we were out of our boxes, God knows what we were doing – but the actual arrangements and the ideas, the harmonies and the structures.”
The other album which Townshend struggles split from the masterpiece that is Tommy is The Who’s other stunning rock opera record Quadrophenia, a record which arrived in 1973. The songwriter states: “Quadrophenia because it is pure music, nothing more, and yet so many people have told me it reflects something they felt changed the way they felt about their early years.” It’s perhaps a little strange that the, rough and ready R’n’B enthusiast that Townshend was, should pick two arguably prog-rock efforts from The Who. But there may be a reason for it.
Quadrophenia also happens to be the only record by The Who which is composed entirely by Townshend which may provide him with a level of ownership over the sanctity record that he doesn’t necessarily hold with their other albums. The LP tells the story of a young mod named Jimmy who sets off to discover his place in the world as he sets out on a voyage of soul searching.
The album would become much more than just a record, it inspired a mod revival in the late ’70s with bands like The Jam staking their claim and there was also a film adaptation of the record starring Phil Daniels that was released in 1979.
It’s hard to disagree with Townshend’s imperial two choices, both of the records have transcended the world of music and have evolved into their own entities as the decades have passed since their initial release.