Another week, another excellent BBC documentary revealing the story of a classic 70s rock album: a few week’s back it was Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here; last week it was Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane; this week it’s The Who’s double album Quadrophenia.
When Quadrophenia was first released, back in 1973, I liked the album but didn’t rank it amongst my favourites. Over the years, though, I’ve found myself returning to it on a regular basis, with a growing appreciation. Despite a good friend of mine extolling it’s virtues for a long long time, I’m not quite sure why it took so long for me to fully grasp just how well crafted Townsend’s lyrics are – their vivid portrayal of charater and strong sense of place. The compelling, evocative melodies have always moved me, particularly the two instrumental medleys which feature the four main themes of the album, but now they seems so much more powerful.
A particular element of the album which I find increasingly rewarding is the outstanding bass playing of John Entwistle (who also arranged and played the horns). Unlike many rock bassists, he utilises the whole range of the instrument, regularly contributing beautifully expressive melodic lines, at other times providing a punchy rhythmic energy to the band. Just listen to his virtuosic playing on the album’s first musical track, The Real Me (turn volume and bass up to max!):
Scott Faller comments on this track in his tribute a Entwistle:-
During his life, occasionally, John would get the chance to step into the forefront of the band taking the lead on songs. By lead, I mean driving the song rather than just singing. Perfect example, The opening track (second actually) to Quadrophenia, The Real Me. John absolutely drives this song. Pure conviction and with a bass track that just cooks. It’s an unparalleled performance in Rock, even to this date. This, to me, isn’t just a “flash of brilliance”, this was just his opportunity to show what he is really made of.
Although I still don’t really appreciate much of The Who’s other output, Quadrophenia now sits comfortably in my list of top rock albums. Here’s Townsend:-
“We didn’t make that many albums, in fact I would say that we only made three landmark records; Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia,” he said. “I’ve always felt that Quadrophenia was the last definitive Who album. I’ve always regarded it as a very ambitious album, but what got away was the story.