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Rock Hall Anniversary: The Who’s Tommy

One of the first musicals to be billed as a rock opera makes its first incarnation in May 1969.

It was when the Who released the double album Tommy. It told the story of a kid who becomes “deaf, dumb and blind” out of trauma over an incident where a person gets murdered. Yet he would find himself in various situations, including gaining fame as a skilled player to the game of pinball, and even have a camp named after him. The tracks on the album (most of which were composed by Pete Townshend) included “The Acid Queen”, “Pinball Wizard”, “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

Tommy was not the first time the Who ventured into the genre of rock opera. In fact, the Who’s 1966 song “A Quick One While He’s Away” was billed as a “mini-opera”. However, Tommy would be one if not the most significant rock operas not only in the Who’s career, but of all time. In later years, the album would see other incarnations including a movie in 1975, which starred the Who, and other music artists including Elton John, Eric Clapton and Tina Turner.

Tommy became the Who’s first top ten album in the US (peaking at number four), and third in the UK (at number two). It went on to sell over twenty million copies worldwide, and was hailed by critics as the Who’s breakthrough album. The album has received numerous honors including a rank as one of the top 100 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone, and an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame for its “historical, artistic, and significant value”.