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NOD TO THE GODS: The Who, ‘Pinball Wizard’
June 23, 2013
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Each and every Sunday night, we celebrate the noisemakers and groundbreakers that have come before us. Tonight, we're honouring the world of acoustic and kicking things into gear with the 'Pinball Wizard' from the first rock opera album - 'Tommy'.

There are electric guitars on the the verses and choruses, but 'Pinball Wizard' is all about Pete Townshend's 1968 Gibson J-200 SG Special acoustic. Townshend wrote this track for the Who after the album received a lukewarm reaction from influential UK rock critic Nik Cohn. It was suggested that they lighten the heavy spiritual undertones, which were a large part of the album thanks to Townshend's interest in the teachings of Meher Baba.

Cohn was a pinball fanatic and Townshend knew it, although he has since said that it was a mindless, badly written song: "the most clumsy piece of writing I've ever done." 'Pinball Wizard' is written from the perspective of a pinball champion "Local Lad," astounded by the skills of the album's main character, Tommy Walker.

The song quickly became one of their most popular, and has made it into almost every set list since its debut performance on May 2, 1969. The Who performed the tune at Woodstock as the sun rose, although it was fairly new and the crowd didn't recognize it.

'Pinball Wizard' has lived on through various artists, such as The Flaming Lips, Rod Stewart, Kaiser Chiefs and Guns N' Roses, who would play an excerpt in concert before 'Patience'. Bruce Springsteen also refers to it in his song '4th of July (Sandy)' during the first verse: "As the wizards play down on Pinball Way on the boardwalk way past dark".

And perhaps the most famous use of this song was in the 1975 film 'Tommy', starring Jack Nicholson, Ann Margaret, Tina Turner and Roger Daltrey as Tommy. Elton performed the song in character as The Pinball Wizard. It was the only cover of The Who to reach the top ten.

More recently, The Who performed 'Pinball Wizard' as part of their blistering set at 12.12.12: The Concert for Sandy Relief at Madison Square Garden. The concert featured arists like The Rolling Stones, Kanye West, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters and Paul McCartney (alongside the surviving members of Nirvana: Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear). A few songs into their set, The Who dropped into 'Pinball Wizard':

For further musical musings new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8PM. And if you'd like to catch up or re-listen, all of the episodes are archived on our Radio page.

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NOD TO THE GODS: The Guess Who, 'Undun'

NOD TO THE GODS: Neil Young, 'Prime Of Life'

NOD TO THE GODS: Ozzy Osbourne, 'Mama, I'm Coming Home'


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