For the first time in this column, we turn back to the 1970s and specifically to 1973 for The Who's second rock opera, Quadrophenia.
It tells the story of working-class mod Jimmy who likes drugs, fights on beaches and romance - this is typical of the time due to the sensationalised tabloid paper stories of the confrontations between Mods and Rockers. He is disillusioned by his parents' attitudes towards him, various dead-end jobs and his trip to see a psychiatrist in the hope he can discover his true self and not live with the current four sides to his personality. The title combines the two words quartet in reference to The Who being a four piece band, and schizophrenia, in relation to there being multiple sides to The Who with Daltrey, Entwistle, Townshend and Moon each being different people. The Real Me, its opening track, details Jimmy's failed attempts to see various shrinks in the hope that he can solve his split-personality issues - he even tries to confide in his parents, but nobody seems able to help him out. Cut My Hair explores his attempts to fit into the Mod circles and how he has to drastically change his appearance to become 'one of them'.
The Punk & The Godfather sees Jimmy venturing to see a mod band perform, only to become disappointed that they were part of the audience. It details an exchange between two people backstage at this venue, taking turns in verses to explain that the rock 'n' roll lifestyle is not all it's cracked up to be. Continuing down the road of self-awareness, in I'm One, Jimmy explains to a fellow mod where he got his clothes from. This is, in reality, an act from the other mod to disprove Jimmy's status as one; however, in the song, he proclaims his status forcefully. Torn away from the mod culture, Jimmy, in Dirty Jobs, goes to work as a bin-man and experiences the hard life of the common man - those who are abused by society and ultimately he works out that this is a key issue for those lower down the class structure. Helpless Dancer is one of four songs that each sums up one of the members of The Who and also one of Jimmy's personalities. It's known as 'Roger's Theme' and portrays Jimmy's toughness overall. The other three, Is It Me? (Entwistle - contained within Doctor Jimmy), Love Reign O'er Me (Townshend) and Bell Boy (Moon) each reference these other sides to Jimmy.
The album's final side sees the culmination of Jimmy's story, with Doctor Jimmy explicitly showing two utterly different sides to the main character, acting as Townshend's take on the Robert Louis Stephenson novel Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. One side leads Jimmy down the path of aggression with actions such as heavy drinking and abusive relationships with women. It's his lowest point and the song ends with the realisation that the only way to curb this more aggressive side is to take stronger narcotics. It's evident that Jimmy's drug abuse has spiralled out of control. Love Reign O'er Me, the final chapter in the story arc of Quadrophenia, sees Jimmy's awakening as he reflects on all the events over the course of the album. Prior to this, he's stolen a boat and sailed to a rock out on the sea, becoming a recluse, away from life's troubles. It's a time of consolidation for the mod as he wants to surround himself with love, as opposed to the drugs and hatred that he's become embroiled in over the course of the LP. In particular, this song is a reminder of the progressive rock genre that was blooming at this time with its multiple parts and somewhat poetic lyrics.
Overall, Quadrophenia is some of The Who's finest work and looks at all corners of the rock genre in a methodical and dark way. It's a great introduction to the intricacies of Pete Townshend's writing and as always, features some of the finest instrumental work in rock history with the basslines of John Entwistle and the drums of Keith Moon providing a sinister backdrop for the story of Jimmy.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/3338w9K
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
UNTITLED may earn an affiliate commission when you purchase through the links on our site. Find out more here.