Review #190: Tommy, The Who

Karla Clifton
4 min readOct 25, 2021

Review #190: Tommy, The Who

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Green Day’s American Idiot (#248). I had never heard a concept album before, and was floored at all the storytelling you can do with just music and lyrics. Plus the sweet little booklet it came with. Oh man, I was so in love with the “Jesus of Suburbia” music video. But I’m getting off track.

Well, Tommy is the blueprint for American Idiot. This is the quintessential rock opera, and was eventually made into the jukebox musical The Who’s Tommy. I’ll always love an ambitious, messy, rock concept album.

Some people have called this album “distasteful” — after all, the titular Tommy goes “deaf, dumb and blind” after witnessing a murder, and then is routinely abused by family members. But it’s okay to be critical of something and love it at the same time.

On my second listen, I read along with the lyrics on Genius, so I would have a bit more clarity on the plot. I’ll share my interpretations as we go, for people who want to give Tommy another, closer listen!


“Overture” — Oh hell yes. I love hearing the brief excerpts of all the songs that are coming.

“It’s A Boy” — Captain Walker has left the building, but he left a boy in his wake! Think I’ll name him Tommy.

“1921” — Okay, bear with me, because this cheery song is actually telling quite a dark tale. Mrs. Walker thought her husband was dead, so she took up with a hot new beau. But alas! Captain Walker lives, and he is PISSED. So he KILLS the beau, and Tommy sees everything. But his parents basically shake him really hard while yelling, “You didn’t see anything!”

“Amazing Journey” — Surprise! Tommy is deaf and blind. Way to go, Mom and Dad. Don’t worry, though, Tommy is able to vividly hallucinate his own entertainment.

“Sparks” — Cue the hallucination. I cannot believe they were really “smashed” when they recorded this, according to the RS blurb.

“Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker)” — This one is actually a cover of a Sonny Boy Williamson twelve-bar blues. Also, Tommy’s parents are taking him to a prostitute to try and heal him. Ah, yes — if a doctor can’t cure it, try a prostitute.

“Christmas” — It’s Christmas, but Tommy doesn’t know or care. Bummer.

“The Acid Queen” I’m a gypsy! The Acid Queen! Tommy’s parents now take him to an acid dealer to try and heal him. Is this how medical care is in England?

“Underture” — Tommy’s hallucinating again, but this time it takes longer, because of the drugs, I assume.

“Pinball Wizard” — What a payoff, to finally get to this song, where Tommy gets to be a hero! The guitar is so exciting — I imagine that Pete Townshend has the “supple wrist” that Tommy does. I want this song to last at least ten more minutes.

“There’s A Doctor” — Oh, NOW we’re gonna take him to the doctor.

“Go To The Mirror!” — No way, the doctor didn’t work? Maybe we should just see Tommy, feel Tommy, touch Tommy, heal Tommy for who he really is.

“Tommy Can You Hear Me?” — At this point the frustration of his parents becomes really palpable.

“Smash The Mirror” — Oh, his mom is upset that he seems to be able to see himself, but not anything else. So she literally smashes the mirror. This cures him. Exciting!

“Sensation” — Hey, Tommy can see/hear again! Naturally, he starts a pinball cult.

“Miracle Cure” — Do other deaf/dumb/blind people know about the mirror smashing thing? That seemed to work.

“Sally Simpson” — One of the most interesting songs on the album. Sally is a Tommy fan, she goes to his show against her parents wishes, she tries to touch Tommy, he brushes her off and she ends up going to the hospital. Tommy’s come full circle: he’s blinded by his own success, and so are his followers.

“I’m Free” — LOVE this guitar part, and the Pinball Wizard outro.

“Welcome” — Charles Manson, is that you?

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” — Don’t laugh, but I definitely wanted this to be the Twisted Sister song.


“Cousin Kevin” — The songs I didn’t like were mostly the ones where Tommy is abused. “Hey, I have a cousin Kevin!” I said to myself when the song started. Very grateful he never put a cigarette out on my arm.

“Do You Think It’s Alright?” Do you think it’s alright/To leave the boy with Uncle Ernie? Oh no.

“Fiddle About” You won’t shout as I fiddle about. OH NO.

“Tommy’s Holiday Camp” — May have been the hardest for me to listen to, and the most indicting evidence of how success has made Tommy blind. He hires Uncle Ernie! Tommy, how could you?


This album is a journey and I’m obsessed with it. We’re going to see a few more albums from The Who that I don’t really know if they have business being here, but this one is a masterpiece.

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