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‘Q’ Is For: Quadrophenia

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Quadrophenia's album cover, courtesy MCA records.

Quadrophenia’s album cover, courtesy MCA records.

Photo by Doug Cooper Scott Vanderpool
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Quadrophenia is the title track and “overture” to The Who’s sixth studio album and third “rock opera” written by guitarist Pete Townsend (the first two being the legendary Tommy, and his first attempt to stitch together a series of short songs into what he later called “Tommy’s Parents”: A Quick One While He’s Away.)

In a play on the psychiatric disorder schizophrenia, where a person has two distinct and seemingly unrelated personalities, Pete split Quadrophenia’s protagonist Jimmy the Mod into four personalities, each representing the different personalities that made up The Who:

  • A Tough Guy and “Helpless Dancer”…Roger Daltrey
  • A Hopeless Romantic…”Is it me…for a moment?”…John Entwhistle
  • A Bloody Lunatic…the “Bell Boy”….Keith Moon
  • A Beggar…and Hypocrite…”Love Reign O’er Me”…Pete Townsend

Released in October of 1973, Townsend considers it his finest work. “The music is the best music that I’ve ever written, I think, and it’s the best album that I will ever write”, he said. “We never really ever made a truly great album again.”

Quadrophenia immediately went to #2 on the U.S. album charts, bested only by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that year. The 1979 movie version, starring Phil Daniels as Jimmy the Mod, the shagadelic Leslie Ash as his love interest Steph, and The Police’s bass player and frontman Sting as the über-mod Ace Face, didn’t do well in America at all, with the thick London accents difficult for us Yanks to understand.

On the first night of The Who’s Quadrophenia U.S. tour at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, a severly inebriated Keith Moon famously passed out, leading Townsend to ask the audience, “Can anyone here play the drums? I mean someone good?”, which led to 19 year old Scot Halpin’s 15 minutes of fame.

Roger felt that Quadrophenia was some of his finest vocal work as well, and urged Pete to take the rock opera out on the road one more time last year, feeling he was losing his voice at his advanced age (He turned 69 at the beginning of March) and wanted to do it one more time while he still could. They played 37 dates in North America, sadly skipping the Pacific Northwest.

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102.5 KZOK’s Classic Rock A to Z is presented by:
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