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NOD TO THE GODS: The Who, ‘Tommy’
March 9, 2014
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Each and every Sunday night when the clock hits eight, The Strombo Show takes over CBC Radio 2. It's music for music lovers by music lovers. To kick off the program, we always tip our hats to the legends, the noisemakers and the ground-breakers in a segment that we like to call: Nod to the Gods.

It was 45 years ago this weekend that John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend wrapped up the recording of a double album that told the story of a "deaf, dumb and blind kid": Tommy.

Townshend's inspiration for the album came from the teachings of the Meher Baba and other writings. A year prior to the album's release, he had explained many of his ideas during a famous Rolling Stone interview:

The package I hope is going to be called "Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy." It's a story about a kid that's born deaf, dumb and blind and what happens to him throughout his life. The deaf, dumb and blind boy is played by the Who, the musical entity. He's represented musically, represented by a theme which we play, which starts off the opera itself, and then there's a song describing the deaf, dumb and blind boy. But what it's really all about is the fact that because the boy is "D, D & B," he's seeing things basically as vibrations which we translate as music. That's really what we want to do: create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play.

Several years later, a 16-year-old journalist hit the road with the Allman Brothers Band and wrote his first cover story at Rolling Stone. He covered the bands that hated the magazine like Yes, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eagles, King Crimson, Linda Ronstadt and, yes, The Who. In his 2000 film Almost Famous, that journalist, Cameron Crowe, paid tribute to Tommy through his quasi-autobiographical retelling of his musical adolescence.

In 1971, the Seattle Opera produced the first staged version of the album, with Bette Midler performing the role of the Acid Queen, and in 1975, Ken Russell directed the film version. Starring Daltrey as Tommy, it featured other members of The Who, along with appearances by Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Arthur Brown and Jack Nicholson. The film was notable for being one of the first released with a multichannel hi-fi soundtrack, requiring high-powered speakers in four corners of the theatre and behind the centre of the screen.

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 relisten, all of the episodes are archived here.

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