Pete Townshend needed The Who. As the chief songwriter, occasional lead vocalist, and leading creative force behind the mod rockers, Townshend may have appeared to have been ready to break out a solo career as soon as The Who hit it big.
Not the case. Townshend dedicated all of his creative energy to The Who and relied on his bandmates to bring his visions to life. No matter how in-depth he got with new technology, no matter how profound his lyrics were, and no matter how hard-hitting his power chords were, he still needed Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon to fully flesh out his vision. The best example just might be Townshend’s original demo for ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, the epic finale of Quadrophenia.
If the opening piano and percussion sounds familiar, that’s because it was used in the song proper. By this point, Townshend had upgraded his home studio to some of the most forward-thinking technology of the time, including synthesisers, microphones, and tape machines that were cutting edge. That’s how the demo can sound so crisp and professional.
The only downside to the demo, in all its completeness and beauty, is that Townshend can’t quite wrangle the emotional climaxes that Daltrey can. Townshend’s tepid and reverent voice can’t entirely move mountains or stir up the seas the way that Daltrey could. It’s a fascinating new way to conceptualise the song, but it would be hard to argue that Daltrey brought a necessary edge to it.
But overall, the song is in almost complete form just from Townshend’s demo, down to even some of the iconic fills that Moon performs. Townshend was a master musical arranger and (sometimes benevolent) dictator, so it makes sense that he at least tried to direct Moon to do some specific fills. The rest was all manic Moon energy. But Townshend’s demo somehow both highlights his unparalleled talents and the key contributions that his bandmates added to the mix as well.