On January 1, 2021, how could I not start thinking about The Who?
OK, I know not everyone who reads this blog is an old fogey, so I guess I better start at the beginning.
I suppose I should mention that The Who are a rock band formed in 1964, whose most prominent members were Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, and Keith Moon. They rose to worldwide prominence as part of the mid-1960s “British Invasion” led by groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. They were known for their antics as much as their innovative music. Characteristically, Pete Townshend would destroy instruments on stage, and the group practically created the stereotype of the rock band that trashes their hotel room.
Their musical repertoire was vast, and they are known as much as anything for their concept album, Tommy, which was adapted into a “rock opera,” a film musical, and eventually a Broadway musical.
Tommy, released in 1969, is among the purest expressions of the “concept album” which was in vogue at the time. 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released by the Beatles, inspired other groups to create entire albums based on a single story. In this case, it was an original story about a young boy who was driven to blindness, deafness, and muteness after witnessing the murder of his father. The boy grows to adulthood and becomes a pop sensation. Obviously I’m giving this really quick recap. If you know the album you know there’s a lot more to it, and if you don’t, there are a lot of sites you can visit to learn more.
Track 3 on the album is called “1921.” Young Tommy has just had the trauma of his life and his stepfather calms his mother by singing,
I’ve got a feeling twenty-one
Is going to be a good year
Especially if you and me
See it in together
The song is cynical, deeply cynical. It ends at the crucial moment where young Tommy is told he didn’t see what he thinks he saw, driving him inward toward mental illness.
In this case though, as I hum this song, I’m not being cynical. ’21 is going to be a good year I suspect. I don’t think that we’re quite done with things getting bad, but they’re going to get good again. With 2020 behind us, we all have an opportunity to be a little happier.
But what about the boy?
You can listen to the entire album using this Spotify link. And, here’s a video of The Who performing “1921” live in 1970.
Tommy went on to become part of rock history, but in the 1975 movie adaptation, the timeframe was advanced. Instead of Tommy’s dad being a World War I soldier, he became a World War II soldier so Tommy could be a baby boomer. So, the song was retitled “1951” which doesn’t have anything to do with today’s article, I suppose.