The Who: Quadrophenia (1973)

I don't spend too much time here with the obvious biggies, but after a week spent dredging up some obscurities in the collection, figured it was time to circle back to one of my all-time favorites. And Quadrophenia is not just my favorite Who album, but undoubtedly one of my top 15 albums of all time, every bit as wondrously powerful today as it was when it first blew me away as a young teenager some 40 years ago.

I spent a chapter of my book -- hey, if you haven't checked out the book, I wish you would -- explaining how my pre-teen discovery of Who's Next totally changed my rock & roll trajectory, turning me from a Top 40-loving child into a classic rock-obsessed teen.
It wasn't until a year or two later, after wrapping my arms around Who's Next and Tommy and The Who Sell Out and Odds & Sods, that I finally ventured into Quadrophenia. I'd been warned that it was a more complex, challenging piece of work, thematically and musically, than their more pop-oriented songs, something too adult for my then-13-year-old ears. But I borrowed a copy, and was immediately pissed that I'd waited so long.

It was a monster.

The band had never sounded this good on record before, Entwistle and Moon making a strong case as the most exciting rhythm section I'd ever heard, Townshend pushing power chord-based classic rock songs as far as they'd go, the synths even more colorful and intrinsic than on Who's Next, and of course Daltrey at the height of his vocal powers.

The narrative, such as it was, was as convoluted as most concept albums of the age, intertwining the basic tale of youthful rebellion and battles between England's mods and rockers with a more symbolic exploration of the protagonist's struggle with multiple personalities, but the music was so strong you could either dig in for the cinematic listening experience or just take it in as a stunning set of stand-alone but thematically-linked songs.

And unlike most double albums, Quadrophenia earned its running time; sure, maybe you don't need both instrumental suites, or a few tunes serving more as storytelling segues than as crucial rock tracks (i.e. "Helpless Dancer"), but, really, I still listen to most of its 90 minutes from start to finish.Hell, side 3 of the original LP alone -- the part when so many extended concept albums seem to slide off into some duller passages (see, e.g., The Wall or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) -- is one of the greatest 20 minutes in vinyl history.

Anyway, yeah, it's Quadrophenia. Probably best enjoyed in the deluxe edition from a few years ago, packed with Pete's original demos.

Here's "5:15," with clips from the 1979 Quadrophenia film:
Here's a live "Drowned" from 1974:
Here's a live "The Punk Meets The Godfather" from 1979:
And, finally, "Cut My Hair" performed in 1996: