It is a double vinyl album and the bands second self-described ‘rock opera’. ‘Quadrophenia’ was written Pete Townshend from 1971 onwards after dealing with the failure of what was intended to be his second ‘rock opera’,’ Lifehouse’.
‘Lifehouse’ was a non-starter after Pete had a major fall out with his friend and manager, Kit Lambert. He was under a lot of pressure at this time – there was a largely self-imposed intensive work schedule as well as near constant in-fighting with the other members of the band, largely fuelled by drink. This left Townshend facing a breakdown and unable to bring a lot of his ideas together cohesively. It’s amazing, therefore, that he was able to not only salvage his work from ‘Lifehouse’, but also muster enough energy and passion to transform it into what is possibly his best work – ‘Quadrophenia’ (Fleetwood Mac also went through similar pains when producing their fantastic ‘Rumours’ album).
‘Quadrophenia’ draws heavily on Pete’s own experiences as a young Mod as well as his spiritual journey that had led him to the tutelage of the Guru Meher Baba. The opera tells the story of Jimmy, a Mod dispossessed with youth and fraught with psychological as well as emotional problems – related to home life, relationships and peer pressure. We follow Jimmy on a metaphorical journey from his urban London roots to the beaches of Brighton; fighting with Rocker rivals as well as seemingly bonding with Mod idols in a desperate search for meaning to his life.
The title refers to the four different personality types which Jimmy displays throughout the story, which were also references to the characteristics of the four members of The Who. On the album cover the band members reflections appear in the mirrors of the scooter, reflecting the four-way split personality of Jimmy. Some would argue that this is a slightly unwieldy concept, but as a musical statement it is fabulous. The opening and closing of the album, in particular, are simply genius.
The Who were well into their stride musically during the recording of the album. Entwistle’s bass restlessly pushes the songs forward backed up by Moon’s almost chaotic, thundering percussion. Complimenting this was Daltrey, who’s voice roared as he never had before. Townshend’s real genius with ‘Quadrophenia’, was writing songs that played to the best of his band members talents. Pete was also at his most expressive on this album, with superb guitar playing and fantastic use of the then new ARP 2500 synthesizer, which most other musicians were failing to ‘get to grips’ with at the time.
The recording of the album was both fraught and turbulent; fights were reported between Townshend and Daltrey. Furthermore the success of the album and subsequent film fuelled the bands ego’s further leading to more disputes and arguments. The accompanying tour was gruelling and marred with problems – backing tapes replacing the additional instruments on the album. Moon collapsed on stage at one point; no doubt pushing him further toward his ultimately fatal chemical addictions. As such the stage piece was retired in early 1974. It was revived in 1996 with a larger ensemble, and a further tour occurred in 2012. Yet, with all of this happening, this is what The Who were.. ..no other album from the band seemed to capture them as completely and with as much style as ‘Quadrophenia’.
‘Quadrophenia’ was a critical and commercial success both here in the UK and in the US. The album virtually created the Mod revival in the late 1970s. The resulting film adaptation, released in 1979, was also very good and highly successful. The album has been reissued on compact disc several times, and seen a number of remixes that corrected some perceived flaws in the original.
As far as The Who is concerned, it doesn’t get much better than this.. ..and that’s saying something!