“The Who, The Mods and the Quadrophenia Connection”: One of the pinnacles of classic rock

By on November 14, 2017

The Who, The Mods and the Quadrophenia Connection — now streaming over on Night Flight Plus — is an in-depth look at the Who’s epic double-album Quadrophenia, one of the pinnacles of classic rock, which was released in October of 1973.

“For those who were there,” narrator Thomas Arnold says during the film’s intro, “it was a love letter to a time of rebellion and passion, music and belonging. For those who were discovering it for the first time, it was a glimpse of a way of life that had long since disappeared.”

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This 2009 UK documentary — clocking in at just over two hours — uses archival film footage from the early mod/rocker movements as shown on ’60s British TV news reports, and rarely-seen concert performance and interview footage of the Who (as well as clips of the Kinks, Gerry and the Pacemakers and others), plus excerpts from Franc Roddam’s 1979 film Quadrophenia and much, much more.

It’s all set to a backbeat of tunes by the Who — including “My Generation”, “Anyway, Anywhere, Anyhow,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “The Real Me,” “Sea and Sand,” “Cut My Hair,” “I’m One,” “Bell Boy,” “5:15″ and “Love Reign O’er Me” — plus vintage tracks by Georgie Fame, Booker T and the MGs, the Jam , the Chords and a whole lot more.

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There’s no participation here from the band themselves, but context and consideration is provided by: Richard Barnes (Pete Townsend’s friend and the band’s “Mr. Fixit” throughout their career); engineer Ron Nevison; mod experts Paolo Hewitt and Terry Rawlins; the owner of Acid Jazz records, DJ and broadcaster, Eddie Piller; members of Mod revivalists the Chords and the Purple Hearts; Who biographer and 1960s expert Alan Clayson; and a host of others.

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Read more about The Who, The Mods and the Quadrophenia Connection below.

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The Who’s double-album Quadrophenia was released in the UK on October 26, 1973 (and November 3rd in the U.S.).

The album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, on November 12th, topped only by David Bowie’s Pinups.

It also peaked at #2 in the U.K., bested by Elton John’s own epic double-album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

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Lyrically, Quadrophenia was Pete Townshend’s ambitious attempt to pay homage to — and make sense of his own youthful flirtation with — Britain’s mod youth culture (the project had originally begun as a mini-opera called “Rock is Dead: Long Live Rock,” about the Who’s four members).

The rather modest story follows a disgruntled mod teenager named Jimmy throughout his daily life in London, England, circa 1965.

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He’s disillusioned with all the requisite fighting between mods and rockers, and a constant need to keep his mod fashions up-to-date.

When Jimmy learns that his former hero the Ace Face — the mod leader all of the others aspired to be like, played by Sting in the film — is actually working as a lowly hotel bellboy, it seems that he can no longer accept being a mod either.

In the end, he tries to drown himself in the English Channel by riding his scooter off a cliff.

He ends up stranded at sea (literally and symbolically), hanging on a rock, where his life seems to be flashing before his eyes (“only it isn’t flashing, it’s crawling, slowly”).

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In Townshend’s essay, penned in Jimmy’s voice, included in the booklet of the original double-LP (featuring great photos by Ethan Russell), we see that all of the stress of simply trying to maintain some sanity in his life has caused Jimmy to suffer a severe identity crisis.

Jimmy’s dissatisfaction with life, work, love, home, and family has splintered into four distinct personalities, each represented by its own musical theme.

A tough guy, a helpless dancer,
A romantic, is it me for a moment?
A bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags,
A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign over me.
Schizophrenic? I’m bleeding Quadrophenic.

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What makes it all very much a rock opera was how Townshend’s songs — from Jimmy’s point-of-view — had recurring musical themes, and there were even a couple of operatic rock arias, belted out by the band’s own ace, lead singer Roger Daltrey.

The songs articulate Jimmy’s trips to the therapist for a good sorting-out (“Is It In My Head?,” “The Real Me,” “Dr. Jimmy”), his frustration with his mod peer group (“Cut My Hair”), his spiritual status (“Helpless Dancer,” “Drowned”), or how his work is unfulfilling “(“The Dirty Jobs,” “I’ve Had Enough”), all of it culminating in his desperate need for love (“Love, Reign O’er Me”).

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Jimmy’s story also touches upon some of Townshend’s fascination with the nature of music fanatics, and their need to worship their rock ‘n’ roll heroes.

Townshend — perhaps nostalgic for his band’s nascent days in the club scene — was making his own transition from worshipper of heroic rock gods to becoming one himself.

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Townshend had intended one edition of Quadrophenia to be mixed for quad stereo systems (each speaker representing one of the four themes), but MCA Records nixed that idea.

The Who did, however, use a quadraphonic PA system and an array of backing tapes to accommodate the various sound effects and additional instrumentation found on the album for their 10-date tour of England, and a 12-date American tour.

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Fans of Quadrophenia had to wait six long years before Franc Roddam’s film arrived in 1979, five years after the Who’s triumphant first rock opera, Tommy, released just a year after the double-LP Quadrophenia.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Who’s first four years as a band, check out this previous Night Flight blog post about The Who – Under Review: 1964-1968 and if you enjoy music documentaries in general, be sure to check out the Under Review titles and our Music Documentaries category, over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.