[Review] The Who: Quadrophenia (1973)

Sea, feel and hear the story of a misguided mod with multiple personalities in Townshend’s true masterpiece.

Kronomyth 8.0: A mod urn masterpiece of rock.

At the time, Tommy was probably the most ambitious rock album ever made. Several years and a second failed concept album (Lifehouse) later, Pete Townshend undertook an even more ambitious project, Quadrophenia. Like Tommy, the story of Quadrophenia centers on an isolated outcast whose personality is split into four identities—not coincidentally the number of members in The Who, although the four channels featured in the novel quadrophonic stereo recording process also factor into the story.

In many ways, Quadrophenia is even more ambitious than Tommy. The opening “overture,” which uses snippets of the songs to come that drift in from the surf, is remarkably inventive. A more proper overture of sorts appears with “Quadrophenia,” revealing painstaking orchestration, much of it played by Townshend himself. Along the way, The Who drop some of their best and heaviest songs to date: “The Real Me,” “5:15,” “Doctor Jimmy” and the climactic ending, “Love Reign O’er Me.” It’s hard to listen to this album and not lament what Lifehouse might have been.

Quadrophenia has gathered a legion of fans over the years, many of whom no doubt have fond memories of sitting cross-legged in their rooms with the forty-plus-page booklet spread wide in their lap and imagining how the music and the story aligned. In that sense, Quadrophenia is an easier story to follow than Tommy. It tells the tale of a troubled youth (“The Real Me”) who toys with the idea of settling down into a normal life (“Cut My Hair”), joins a new group of Mods in the hopes of finding himself (“I’m One,” “I’ve Had Enough”), has a moment of existential crisis on a train ride (“5:15”), loses his hero (“Bell Boy”), unleashes his dark side (“Doctor Jimmy”) and finds his final rest in the realization that love is the only thing worth living and dying for. I’m sure I left some stuff out in between, but you get the idea.

As someone who has listened to The Wall, like, a million times, it seems clear to me that Bob Ezrin and the band patterned their album on Tommy and Quadrophenia. I never hear “Helpess Dancer,” for example, without also hearing “In The Flesh.” Whether or not you believe Quadrophenia to be the best concept album ever recorded, and some do, it certainly belongs at or near the top of the list. Song for song, Who’s Next is stronger, I’ll give you that. A lot of Quadrophenia sounds like the oft-reviled Who By Numbers, particularly when Pete sings lead (“Cut My Hair,” “I’m One”). If this album sags from time to time, it’s necessary to move the story forward, and at no point is Quadrophenia ever a song or two away from some minor miracle of rock music.

So, in summation: Best story? Quadrophenia. Best arrangements? Quadrophenia again (“The Rock” deserves its own symphony, in my opinion). Best collection of songs? Who’s Next. Best showcase for the band? Honestly, I’d go with Tommy on this count. Quadrophenia is clearly the product of Pete Townshend’s personality, not a showcase for the band’s different personalities, which rose more to the fore on Tommy, from Daltrey’s brilliant performance as the ersatz Tommy to the vocal cameos from John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Entwistle does provide quite a few horn sections on Quadrophenia, and Moonie sings on “Bell Boy,” but the genius of Quadrophenia is the genius of Pete Townshend.

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Original 2LP Version

A1. I Am The Sea (2:08)
A2. The Real Me (3:22)
A3. Quadrophenia (6:15)
A4. Cut My Hair (3:46)
A5. The Punk And The Godfather (5:10)
B1. I’m One (2:39)
B2. The Dirty Jobs (4:30)
B3. Helpless Dancer (2:32)
B4. Is It In My Head (3:46)
B5. I’ve Had Enough (6:14)
C1. 5:15 (5:00)
C2. Sea And Sand (5:01)
C3. Drowned (5:28)
C4. Bell Boy (4:56)
D1. Doctor Jimmy (8:42)
D2. The Rock (6:37)
D3. Love Reign O’er Me (5:48)

All selections written by Peter Townshend.

The Players

Roger Daltrey (lead vocals), John Entwistle (bass, horns, vocals), Keith Moon (percussion, vocals), Pete Townshend (remainder) with John Curle (news reader), Chris Stainton (piano on B2/C1/C3). Produced by The Who; pre-production by Kit Lambert with Pete Townshend; engineered by Ron Nevison; engineer and associate producer on B4/D3: Glyn Johns; mixing continuity and engineering assistance: Ron Fawcus; studio earphone mix by Bobby Pridden; special effects recorded by Rod Houison, Ron Nevison and Pete Townshend; executive producers: Chris Stamp, Pete Kameron and Kit Lambert.

The Pictures

Front cover photography and design by Graham Hughes. Idea by Roger Daltrey. Inside and back cover photography, book photography and art direction by Ethan A. Russell. Conceived by Pete Townshend and Ethan A. Russell. Mod kid played by Chad.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP and 8-track on November 3, 1973 in the US (Track/MCA, MCA2/MCAT2-10004), on November 16, 1973 in the UK (Track, 2406-111), Germany and the Netherlands (Track, 2409 203) and Japan (CBS/Sony, ECPJ-9/10-TR) with gatefold cover and booklet; reached #2 on the UK charts and #2 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record).

  1. Re-issued on 2LP in Yugoslavia (RTB, 5835/6) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on 2LP in the US (MCA, MCA2-10004) {black rainbow label} with gatefold cover and booklet.
  3. Re-issued on 2LP in the US (MCA, MCA2-10004) {brown ring label} with booklet.
  4. Re-issued on 2LP in Japan (CBS/Sony, 40AP-1259/60) with gatefold cover and booklet.
  5. Re-issued on 2LP and cassette in the US (MCA, MCA2/C2-10004) {blue sky rainbow label} with gatefold cover.
  6. Re-issued on cassette in Australia (Track, 3526 001).
  7. Re-issued on 2LP, 2CD and cassette in 1985 in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAD/MCAC 2-6895).
  8. Re-issued on 2CD in 1996 in the UK (Polydor, 531 971-2).
  9. Re-packaged on remastered 24k gold 2CD in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 2-550).
  10. Re-packaged on remastered 6CD Director’s Cut boxed set in 2011 in Germany (Polydor).
  11. Re-issued on 140g, 150g and 180g vinyl 2LP in the US (Classic) with gatefold cover and booklet.
  12. Re-packaged on 200g Quiex SV-P vinyl 2LP on November 28, 2007 in the US (Classic, 2657 013) with gatefold cover and booklet.
  13. Re-packaged on super audio 2CD on May 30, 2012 in Japan (Polydor, UIGY-9093).
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