As far as I am concerned, my life changed the minute I first went rummaging through my parents record collection and put on the Who's Tommy. I was always a fan of rock and roll as a kid. I had two parents whose combined record collection shed tons of light onto many great bands. It was in grade school, near the end of my tenure in the most important formative year of my life (1998) that I first really understood what it meant to listen to an album. Before then I had CD's (some of which will turn up on this here list) and I would skip around to all my favorite songs and make mix tapes from the then great alt rock radio. But when I first pulled out the musty vinyl record to try and find that Who song I really liked at the time ("Pinball Wizard")... it was then I realized what it was to listen to music, especially a real album.
Tommy is one of those albums that just exerts such a raw life force via music. It's a mystical event listening to Tommy every time. Each time you hear that album from start to finish, you really truly get something out of it. At least I do. The Who is easily the most important rock group for me and it was this moment back in '98 that really opened my eyes to what a band could do in the studio and even live. If you have never listened to Tommy recorded live, be it the Live at Leeds or Live at the Isle of Wight Festival recordings, you haven't gotten the full force of how Tommy is beyond an album and really a full fledged rock music experience. From the opening riffs of the "Overture" to the fade out of "We're Not Gonna Take It", you are taken on a truly amazing journey that is beyond expectation.
The amount of songs on the double LP shows the range and ability that the Who had as a band. Before this point, the Who were on the verge of doom. Their last few albums, although great in their own right, showed a band at odds with themselves and having trouble. Tommy was Townshend's genius idea for a band to write an opera of sorts and show that Rock and Roll music was much more than just Top 40 singles. If there was any album to show how important the Album was as a medium of music, Tommy is such an album. People say Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds redifined the album as more than just a vehicle to have a bands collection of singles culminated in one place, but it was Tommy that showed a band could do more than just have a small concept for a record. They bridged the gap of music and storytelling and did it without flaws.
One of the greatest moments in music for me was first hearing "Overture" in my family room. It may just be a culmination of all the musical themes found on Tommy but it is beyond powerful. When the organ comes in at about 2:19, you are filled with a spirit energy that shows you how glorious just music can be. Keith Moon's drumming is a highlight of the opening and was the inspiration for me wanting to be a drummer. Songs like "1921" and "Amazing Journey" made me want to be a songwriter. Jams lke "Sparks" and "Underture" made me want to be in a band. Vocal deliveries on "Go to the Mirror" and "I'm Free" made me want to be a front man. All of these things would become dreams of mine and it is because Tommy is such a powerful piece of rock and roll music. The musicianship, the lyrical explorations and the overall grandiosity of Tommy is something that should be shared with everyone and taught in music appreciation classes.
Without hearing Tommy, I can safely say that my life as it is today would have been vastly different. I would have never been in a band, would have never wanted to perform in front of an audience and may not have taken many of the other paths in my life. My radio show, my closest compatriots and my lust and zeal for all things artistic would never have come to pass. This is a lot to assume, but it definitely has affected me on such a level that I can say that music has definitely paved the way of my life and Tommy is responsible even if just a little bit.
1. The Who - Tommy
Next up: Beck's Odelay