Quadrophenia completed the mega-creative trifecta for The Who, which peaked with Who’s Next in 1971 but was bookended by the two greatest rock operas ever – Tommy in 1969 and this album in 1973, both double albums. The term “Quadrophenia” was coined by the band’s sole composer Pete Townshend, as a play on the word “schizophrenia” with a specific meaning of someone with four distinct personalities. On a deeper level, the title was meant as a nod to the new quadrophonic sound (the earliest form of “surround sound” which never quite caught on in its day) and is also a representation of the four band members themselves. The linear story that runs through the album comes from the psychological perspective of an English teenager in the early 1960s, making the album also a loose tribute to the group’s earliest fans.
Townshend has stated that the idea for Quadrophenia evolved from an idea for an autobiographical concept album titled “Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock!” in 1972 with songs such as “Join Together”, “Relay” and “Long Live Rock” along with the first compositions that ended up on the album. Townshend instead decided to create a character named Jimmy with four personalities that reflected those of the band members, each associated with a “theme” which recurs throughout the album.
While not as cohesive or focused as Who’s Next and not as popular as Tommy, this may be the ultimate Who album due to its sheer breadth and ambition Townshend expanded fully from his traditional guitar-centric approach to include pianos and keyboards as prominent lead instruments. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Roger Daltrey is in top form, carrying many of the songs while delicately working through the multiple character parts reflected in several of the extended songs. Further, Townshend considers this the best produced Who album ever, due in part to the professional techniques of Kit Lambert along with the innovative ones done by himself.
Quadrophenia by The Who
|Released: October 19, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Kit Lambert, Glyn Johns & The Who
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1972-August 1973
|Side One||Side Two|
|I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk Meets the Godfather
The Dirty Jobs
Is It In My Head?
I’ve Had Enough
|Side Three||Side Four|
Sea and Sea
Love, Reign O’er Me
|Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Piano, Synths, Banjo, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Horns, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The instrumental “I Am the Sea” acts as overture with snippets of vocals of future songs over ocean and rain sounds, Townshend went out and recorded these sounds personally at various locations in England. “The Real Me” is the first “real” song, driven by a guitar riff and an impressive bass performance by John Entwistle, which was recorded in one take. Lyrically, this song acts as an introduction to Jimmy Cooper, his four personalities, his visits to a psychiatrist, and his domestic situation. Another long instrumental follows with the title track “Quadrophenia”, which kind of distracts the listener by having another instrumental so close to the intro, especially since this one is so theatrical.
The first side finishes with two very strong tunes. “Cut My Hair” is the first song to introduce a historical perspective, as the lyric details the Mod fashion and a radio broadcast near the end speaks of an actual riot in Brighton between Mods and Rockers. Sung by Townshend, this is a real good theatrical tune and contains great synth effects. “The Punk Meets the Godfather” is a pure climatic rock with great sound and lyrics and the first of several great performances on the album by drummer Keith Moon. In fact, this song may be “Exhibit A” that The Who can never really be The Who without Entwistle and Moon.
“I’m One” begins the original second side with a country-ish acoustic ballad with great ethereal guitar tone in the background, before it breaks into a much more upbeat tune. The introspective lyrics contemplate how the protagonist has not much going for him except for the Mod lifestyle. “The Dirty Jobs” is one of the great unheralded songs on Quadrophenia, led by a fantastic vocal performance by Daltrey and innovative, melodic synths throughout, which pretty much replace guitars as the lead instrument on this song.
“Helpless Dancer” is the oddest song on first two sides, a march-like approach with horns, piano, and a short acoustic part in the middle. All four members have a theme song relating to one of Jimmy’s personalities, and this one is Daltrey’s theme as the “Tough Guy”. The song ends with a short snippet of one of the band’s earliest hits, “The Kids Are Alright”. “Is It in My Head?” is a moderate and catchy acoustic song, which leads to “I’ve Had Enough”. Going through several phases, like some of the extended pieces on Tommy, “I’ve Had Enough” morphs from from a driving rock verse to the string infused “Love Reign O’er Me” part to the banjo-led hook part. Daltry carries the tune vocally, aptly setting the differing moods of the song.
One of the only “hits” on the album, “5:15” goes through a melodic journey telling a story that mainly observes the outside environment while traveling on a train. The song contains great horns, beautiful vocals, and especially great piano by guest Chris Stainton. The dramatic ending contains intense drums and thumping piano notes. The scene moves to Brighton with “Sea and Sand”, which alternates between folk-ish acoustic and pure, Who-style rock with lyrics that portray Jimmy’s affinity for the beach as an escape from the unpleasant realities of home and life in London.
The narrative continues with “Drowned”, a philosophical theme about losing one’s self in the ocean, in a suicidal attempt to become one with God. Set to upbeat music with great rotating piano, guitar licks, and more great drums. In fact, this may Moon’s best performance on the album, and that is saying something. “Drowned” is also the oldest song on Quadrophenia, initially written as an ode to Meher Baba in early 1970. Moon’s theme, “Bellboy” completes side three. It starts as a standard rocker with Daltrey at vocals before the song gets taken over by Moon’s comical yet effective vocals. Lyrically it tells of a former Mod hero of Jimmy’s who has “sold out” and become a pathetic bellboy at a Brighton resort.
Entwistle’s theme is the “Is It Me?” part of “Doctor Jimmy” (which also shows up at various points of the album). With synthesized fiddle effects, horns, and great bass, this ambiguous loose reference to “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” speaks again of the multiple personalities running through the story, but with alcohol being catalyst for the change. The longest song on the album, Daltrey effectively plays both roles vocally. “The Rock” acts as both a long intro to final song and recap of much of the previous material, much like “Underture” from Tommy. In truth, “The Rock” is a bit of over-indulgent filler. The final song “Love, Reign O’er Me” is Townshend’s theme on the album, which again delves into the philosophy of Meher Baba as Jimmy finds his “true self” while on a stolen boat, during a storm in the sea. The song begins with some classical piano and orchestral instrumentations, later giving way to great synth effects and lead guitars, all by Townshend. But it is Daltrey’s vocal performance which has gained the best critical response, with many considering this song the finest performance of his career.
Quadrophenia reached #2 on the U.S. album charts, the highest ever for The Who, kept from the top spot by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. In 1979, the film Quadrophenia was released but focused more on the story than the music, which was relegated to mere background during certain scenes. Although the band viewed the original tour in support of the album as disastrous due to ineffective techniques of including synthesizers live in 1973, they revisited Quadrophenia in the future with a dedicated tour in 1996, and most recently this past November (2012), where the album was played in its entirety along with a few selected hits during the encore.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.