Tommy, Woodstock and Live at Leeds

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Angie Spray's picture
Posted on Wed, 02/11/2015 - 11:25am
by Angie Spray

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By 1968 the Who had started to attract attention in the underground press. Townshend had stopped using drugs and became interested in the teachings of Meher Baba. In August, he gave an interview to Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner describing in detail the plot of a new album project and its relationship to Baba's teachings. The album went through several names during recording, including Deaf Dumb and Blind Boy and Amazing Journey; Townshend settled on Tommy for the album about the life of a deaf, dumb and blind boy, and his attempt to communicate with others. Some songs, such as "Welcome" and "Amazing Journey" were inspired by Baba's teaching, and others came from observations within the band. "Sally Simpson" is about a fan who tried to climb on stage at a gig by the Doors that they attended and "Pinball Wizard" was written so that New York Times journalist Nik Cohn, a pinball enthusiast, would give the album a good review. Townshend later said, "I wanted the story of Tommy to have several levels ... a rock singles level and a bigger concept level", containing the spiritual message he wanted as well as being entertaining. The album was projected for a Christmas 1968 release but recording stalled after Townshend decided to make a double album to cover the story in sufficient depth.

By the end of the year, 18 months of touring had led to a well-rehearsed and tight live band, which was evident when they performed "A Quick One While He's Away" at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus television special. The Stones considered their own performance lacklustre, and the project was never broadcast. The Who had not released an album in over a year, and had not completed the recording of Tommy, which continued well into 1969, interspersed with gigs at weekends. Lambert was a key figure in keeping the group focused and getting the album completed, and typed up a script to help them understand the story and how the songs fitted together.

The album was released in May with the accompanying single, "Pinball Wizard", a début performance at Ronnie Scott's, and a tour, playing most of the new album live. Tommy sold 200,000 copies in the US in its first two weeks, and was a critical smash, Life saying, "... for sheer power, invention and brilliance of performance, Tommy outstrips anything which has ever come out of a recording studio". Melody Maker declared: "Surely the Who are now the band against which all others are to be judged." Daltrey had significantly improved as a singer, and set a template for rock singers in the 1970s by growing his hair long and wearing open shirts on stage. Townshend had taken to wearing a boiler suit and Doctor Martens shoes.

In August, the Who performed at the Woodstock Festival, despite being reluctant and demanding $13,000 up front. The group were scheduled to appear on Saturday night, 16 August, but the festival ran late and they did not take to the stage until 5am on Sunday; they played most of Tommy. During their performance, Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman interrupted the set to give a political speech about the arrest of John Sinclair; Townshend kicked him off stage, shouting: "Fuck off my fucking stage!" During "See Me, Feel Me", the sun rose almost as if on cue; Entwistle later said, "God was our lighting man". At the end, Townshend threw his guitar into the audience. The set was professionally recorded and filmed, and portions appear on the Woodstock film, The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Kids Are Alright.

Woodstock has been regarded as culturally significant, but the Who were critical of the event. Roadie John "Wiggie" Wolff, who arranged the band's payment, described it as "a shambles". Daltrey declared it as "the worst gig [they] ever played" and Townshend said, "I thought the whole of America had gone mad." A more enjoyable appearance came a few weeks later at the second Isle of Wight Festival, which Townshend described as "a great concert for" the band.

By 1970, the Who were widely considered one of the best and most popular live rock bands; Chris Charlesworth described their concerts as "leading to a kind of rock nirvana that most bands can only dream about". They decided a live album would help demonstrate how different the sound at their gigs was to Tommy, and set about listening to the hours of recordings they had accumulated. Townshend baulked at the prospect of doing so, and demanded that all the tapes be burned. Instead, they booked two shows, one in Leeds on 14 February, and one in Hull the following day, with the intention of recording a live album. Technical problems from the Hull gig resulted in the Leeds gig being used, which became Live at Leeds. The album is viewed by several critics including The IndependentThe Telegraph and the BBC, as one of the best live rock albums of all time.

The Tommy tour included shows in European opera houses and saw the Who become the first rock act to play at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. In March the Who released the UK top 20 hit "The Seeker", continuing a theme of issuing singles separate to albums. Townshend wrote the song to commemorate the common man, as a contrast to the themes on Tommy.

 

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The Who - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia : taken from - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Who http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/