Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

One day I’ll sit down and churn out a definitive top five all-time favourite records list. And while there might still be some wiggle room at the bottom, there will be no disputing what’s at #1.

I got the original cast recording of The Who’s Tommy for Christmas in 2005. By then, I’d already seen the show; in fact, I already owned a recording of Tommy, but it was the soundtrack to Ken Russell’s ridiculous 1975 film adaptation (my dad, bless him, had gotten me the “wrong” version of Tommy for my birthday the year before. I think he assumed its dazzling array of performers, which included the Who themselves, would make it a better version to have. Not for the first time, he was wrong.) Make that two other versions of Tommy: having seen the musical adaptation at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre I immediately bought the original cast recording highlights. But it wasn’t enough, and for Christmas that year the only thing I explicitly requested was the full version of Tommy.

That night I listened to the album start-to-finish…and then I listened to the Tommy cast recording every single day between December 25, 2005, and July 27, 2006. Why do I remember the latter date? Because that’s when I saw Tommy in Calgary, a.k.a. the night that changed my life. The only reason I didn’t listen to the album that day, too, is I didn’t yet own a Discman (remember Discmen?) Anyway: by my calculations that’s…well, a lot of consecutive days. Then in March 2006, my dad–ostensibly hell-bent on keeping Tommy away from me–left the double disc set in our England rental car. I re-purchased it on iTunes, but hadn’t re-bought the CDs proper…until yesterday, when I stumbled across a used copy of at (wait for it!) the Queen’s CD sale. (HLP Paul’s head just exploded.) It was too perfect, not to mention the price was right; I bought it, then blasted it from Kingston to Ottawa. It hasn’t left the car’s CD player since. Is it cheating to put a double disc at the top of a favourite albums list? I don’t think so–and if it is I don’t care, because the second slot’s a double disc, too (Quadrophenia…and yup, that means Who music occupies both the top two positions). The rest of the list might include

  • Rent, original Broadway cast recording
  • Tom Waits, Mule Variations
  • Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
  • The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (double disc alert!)
  • Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York
  • Paul Simon, Graceland

in some order. But there’s no disputing what’s at number one. Sometimes, music comes along and changes your life. With Tommy, it’s on more than one occasion, and it’s still nice to see it come back into my life earlier this week sounding as fresh, as energetic, as vital as it did when I first fell in love with the music fifteen years ago.


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