Legendary mod-rockers The Who are to perform a special acoustic presentation of their iconic 1969 rock opera ‘Tommy’ for Teenage Cancer Trust next year. The gigs will take place at Royal Albert Hall on March 30 and April 1 2017, and mark the first time since 1989 that the band have played the album in full. Tickets go on sale at 9am on Friday (September 23). Available here http://trib.al/aJC4hWl. To celebrate the announcement, we’ve gone back through The Who’s many, many records to come up with this top ten list of their greatest albums. How will ‘Tommy’ fare?
10 It’s Hard
Roger Daltrey might not have been the record’s biggest fan – “I hated it. I still hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it!” he said in 1994 – but it’s not without its fans. As well as being their most coherent statement against impending nuclear war, ‘It’s Hard’ also glistens with magic one-liners like “I felt like a pickled priest who’d been flambéed”, from opener ‘Athena’.
9 Who Are You?
After the ‘60s-obliterating advent of punk, ‘Who Are You?’ saw the dinosaurs of rock regroup and make a last bid for survival (literally, in this case, as Keith Moon tragically died two weeks after the album’s release). The Who’s effort might not have matched reinventions by the likes of Iggy Pop’s, but ‘Who Are You?’ stands up as one of the last relics of their Golden Era, with its title track – written about making friends with Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook – cooing its way into the group’s canon.
8 A Quick One
A peculiar one, this – after the success of groundbreaking debut ‘My Generation’, The Who made the questionable decision to democratise the songwriting process and write an album featuring at least two contributions by each member (in the end, Daltrey slacked off and only proffered one). It’s worth it for hare-brained oddities like John Entwistle’s bass-driven ‘Boris the Spider’ alone.
7 The Who By Numbers
Four brilliantly madcap concept albums had taken their toll on Pete Townshend by 1975, but for all its frazzled nerves and melancholy reflections, ‘The Who By Numbers’ is one of The Who’s most poignant and personal LPs – not least for Townshend’s paean to the dwindling allure of his crotch on ‘Dreaming from the Waist’.
6 Live at Leeds
Word spread throughout the late-‘60s that The Who were routinely delivering the greatest rock shows ever seen. Confirmation arrived with ‘Live at Leeds’, a furious 1970 recording from the University of Leeds that remains among the best live albums ever. Opener ‘Heaven and Hell’ sees the band throw around soaring riffs, acrobatic basslines and clattering drums like fists in a bar brawl, capped by Townsend’s passionately tortured wails.
Opening with the baying tides of ‘I am the Sea’ and rampaging wildly through to unhinged finale ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, ‘Quadrophenia’ tells the story of a young mod caught adrift in a society whose countercultures have become as alienating as its mainstream. Ironically, the record helped create a subculture of its own, its immortalisation completed with the iconic 1979 film of the same name.
4 The Who Sell Out
As The Who jumped into the lucrative world of advertising, and as pirate radio threatened to collapse under legal opposition, The Who performed a stroke of brilliance. In third album ‘The Who Sell Out’, they delivered a perfectly on-point concept album structured like an illicit radio transmission, featuring fake commercial jingles between songs. For all the artsy japes, standouts like ‘I Can See for Miles’ emerged as instant classics.
3 My Generation
Over a decade before the Sex Pistols demonstrated that an anti-pop, anti-fashion, anti-everything aesthetic could be alarmingly marketable, The Who were teaching their own generation to flick off polite society’s expectations with their debut record. The title track is an obvious classic, but songs like ‘The Kids Are Alright’ proved equally inspiring to a generation they would soon call their own.
2 Who’s Next
The record that reserved their spot in arenas the world over for the oncoming decade, ‘Who’s Next’ bursts out the gates with ‘Baba O’Reilly’ and doesn’t stop until it’s interstellar. It could’ve been even bigger: Townshend originally intended to release it as a rock opera named ‘Lighthouse’, but eventually downscaled. What we got instead is a masterpiece that’s at once as concise and expansive as any rock record released in the era.
The story goes that ‘Tommy’’s titular protagonist wound up “deaf, dumb and mute” after witnessing his estranged father return home and murder his mother’s new partner. How closely you follow the story, which plays out across 75 genre-mapping minutes, will depend on whether you can tune out the forbidding, thrashing riffs of tracks like ‘Pinball Wizard’ – the sound of four rock Gods at the peak of their powers.