Classic Album: The Who - Quadrophenia

"Quadrophenia pushed the definition of a concept album to its limits"
The Who - Quadrophenia
With internal bust-ups and tranquilizer overdoses punctuating a continuous creative power-struggle, The Who’s ‘rock opera’ Quadrophenia pushed the definition of a concept album to its limits while demonstrating the transparency of youth subculture.

The album told the story of Jimmy, an archetypal Sixties mod. With sharp gear, tailored suits and slim-line Italian scooters key to mod life it was difficult for kids like Jimmy to keep up with the head ‘faces’. It was the inadequacy felt by those unable to meet these high expectations that provided the album’s narrative, particularly on ‘I’m One’ and ‘Cut My Hair’. For inspiration, Townshend revisited the band’s early days when, in 1964, they fell under the watchful eye of a new manager. Pete Meaden, a publicist and major mod ‘face’, had a vision to make The Who the focal point of his scene. He dressed them in Ivy League and Levi’s, cut their hair, and taught them how to dance, walk and talk, projecting his image onto the group.

Unable to keep up with the ‘faces’ Jimmy spirals out of control, descending into quadrophenia - a form of schizophrenia dividing the patient’s personality into four. This also represents the clashing personalities of The Who’s four members. After trashing his scooter and absconding to mod hacienda Brighton on ‘5:15’, Jimmy is saved by the realisation that Brighton’s iconic Ace, who he idolised, is just a hotel bell boy, a discovery that forces Jimmy to accept the transparency of a scene that for him has been a religion. After realising London’s existing recording studios would not be able to accommodate the scale of Townshend’s vision, the band chose to build their own state-of-the-art facility in Battersea which, although still unfinished when the sessions began, was capable of meeting the sophisticated production demands of ‘Sea And Sand’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’.

The studio was awaiting a new sixteen-track desk that would enable Townshend to create the most complex work of their career. However as work commenced the place looked like a war zone and it was necessary to bring in [The Faces’] Ronnie Lane’s mobile studio in order to record around the unfolding chaos.

As the album was recorded among the debris it became clear to the band that Townshend saw ‘Quadrophenia’ as ‘his’ record. After six months of megalomania and no finished product, other members spoke to Townshend about his autocratic control. The most vitriolic complaint came from singer Roger Daltrey regarding his vocals being recorded low in the mix. At the time, Townshend merely dismissed these complaints as “ungrateful” but during the rehearsals for the ‘Quadrophenia’ live shows the bad feeling boiled over into violence. Pete swung for the singer several times before Daltrey, a tough Shepherds Bush bruiser, hospitalised him with a well-timed uppercut.

This animosity leaked into the sold-out live shows, cultivating a tense and bitter atmosphere where the smallest of mistakes could blow the band apart. With the album’s material relying heavily on complex technology to be reproduced live, disaster soon struck. During a show in Newcastle the spot tapes failed, spiralling Townshend into a state of anger and despair.

As the band took the live show to America the problems festered like an open wound. The behaviour of drummer Keith Moon was causing grave concern. While playing in San Francisco, Moon suddenly collapsed on stage after having been ‘spiked’ with an alarmingly high dose of monkey tranquilizer, which hospitalised him for three days.
Following the jailing of the whole band in Montreal, Townshend banished ‘Quadrophenia’ from their live shows for twenty years, adding a ghostly mythology to the story of a young mod’s mind coming apart at the seams.

The story, all self-destruction and mental breakdowns, bore an eerie resemblance to the life of Pete Meaden who, after losing control of the band in 1964, descended into a downward spiral of drug abuse and depression. which saw him detained under the Mental Health Act during the early Seventies.

However, fast-forward to 1978 and Meaden was again working with the band on the film version of ‘Quadrophenia’. Working on the film reinvigorated his passion but he never really recovered from losing the band and unfortunately, the character who many believe Jimmy to have been truly based upon, soon succumbed to the album’s curse.
He was found in the bedroom of his parents’ house in Edmonton after taking a barbiturates overdose. In 1979 NME’s Steve Turner described Meaden’s death – in the teenage bedroom of his parent’s cramped terraced house – as a very mod way to die. What is clear is his untimely death drew parallels with Jimmy’s demise in ‘Quadrophenia’ in that it explained the emptiness of his chosen religion’s utopia and proved, to both Meaden and Jimmy, that mod was nothing more than deception and pretence.

Meaden, who said of ‘Quadrophenia’: “It’s me, Townshend’s writing about my life”, was laid to rest at Southgate Cemetery, where his scattergun mind finally found peace.

Words by Shane Gladstone

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The Who - Quadrophenia

Released: 19th October 1973
Producer: The Who, Kit Lambert, Glyn Johns

TRACKLIST
01. I Am The Sea
02. The Real Me
03. Quadrophenia
04. Cut My Hair
05. The Punk And The Godfather
06. I’m One
07. The Dirty Jobs
08. Helpless Dancer
09. Is It In My Head?
10. I’ve Had Enough
11. 5:15
12. Sea And Sand
13. Drowned
14. Bell Boy
15. Doctor Jimmy
16. The Rock
17. Love, Reign O’er Me

MUSICIANS
Roger Daltrey: lead vocals
Pete Townshend: guitars, synthesizers,
piano, vocals
Keith Moon: drums, percussion, vocals
John Entwistle: bass, horns, vocals

1973: IN THE NEWS
• UK and Ireland join the EEC
• Elvis Presley’s concert from Hawaii is
watched by over a billion people worldwide.
• Gram Parsons died of an overdose at the
Joshua Tree.
• The World Trade Center is opened in
New York.
• QOTSA’s Josh Homme is born.

1973: THE ALBUMS
‘Berlin’ Lou Reed
‘Black Caesar’ James Brown
‘For Your Pleasure’ Roxy Music
‘Joy’ Isaac Hayes
‘Mind Games’ John Lennon

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Read a feature on the film, 'Quadrophenia', celebrating it's legacy after 30 years with interviews with Pete Townshend and director Franc Roddam HERE.

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