Personalities | The Who | Rock Gods (1969) | Key Events
After all the talk about Tommy, the first recording, ‘Pinball Wizard’, was released on 7 March 1969 in the UK. Reaching No. 4 in the charts, it failed to topple Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?’. In the US, the single was released in a picture-cover sleeve that stated ‘from the soon to be released Rock Opera TOMMY’. The single was branded ‘distasteful’ by Radio 1’s Tony Blackburn – a statement he would later rue. In April, when Blackburn introduced the band on Top Of The Pops, Moon handed out his own retribution by flicking drumsticks at the hapless DJ.
Live Preview Of Tommy
Ahead of the album’s release, the band played a live preview of Tommy to the press at Ronnie Scott’s in London, although they had already broken in the new songs the previous week with some live shows, having rehearsed the new stage production in April at Hanwell Community Centre. The hour-long preview saw Townshend give an in-depth explanation of the story, before the band played at a deafening volume in a venue more used to the relaxing sounds of jazz. The show was met with unanimous critical acclaim, and set up The Who well for their upcoming American tour.
The Tommy Tour
In May The Who set off for a two-month tour of America. Performing Tommy marked a shift in the group’s live persona, with the spotlight thrust firmly on Daltrey as frontman. The performances also grew longer, reaching over two hours as the band played a tripartite act with Tommy, delivered almost in its entirety, sandwiched between two sections of hits. The shows mesmerized audiences, with state-of-the-art light and sound equipment adding to the atmosphere. In New York, Townshend was booked and fined $75 for unceremoniously kicking off stage a policeman who had come to warn the audience of a nearby fire.
The album was released in America two weeks into the US tour. The UK release followed a week later. A lavish affair, it was housed in a triptych sleeve, designed by fellow Baba devotee Mike McInnerney, together with a libretto, which gave the album a different feel to most records of the time. Although Townshend’s baby, the album had been a real group effort in the studio. Some of the less savoury aspects of the story were handed over to Entwistle, and even Moon threw in some ideas and lyrics. The subsequent exposure from Tommy would mark a shift in the band’s fortune.
After the success of the American tour, The Who returned home and appeared on the last night of the Royal Albert Hall’s Pop Proms on 5 July. Billed as the ‘First London Pop Gala’, the week-long event also boasted performances by Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac. The Who shared the bill with Chuck Berry, alternating as headliners, for two performances. Trouble during both sets was aimed at The Who by Berry’s Teddy...
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