Rock Opera Resonates Through Generations


Published: February 26, 2009

As The Who rocked toward the climax of their Woodstock set in 1969, Roger Daltrey, vocalist for The Who, cried out the opening lines to “See Me, Feel Me,” which would later become one of the most infamous moments of the iconic music festival. In this extraordinary moment of pure coincidence and possibly mysticism (which can also be seen in the film, “Woodstock”), the sun rose as The Who rocked through their set, enhancing this surreal performance as the band performed their legendary album, Tommy, in its entirety.

The Who released an innovative, concept-double-album, Tommy, in the spring of 1969. The album chronicles the life of a “deaf, dumb and blind boy” who goes from playing “a mean pinball” (“Pinball Wizard”) to the status of a messiah-like leader of a cult (“Sensation”).

The album is said to be the first of its kind, often referred to as the first “rock opera.” Written almost entirely by The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townshend, the album has been dedicated to Meher Baba, whose teachings influenced the writing of Tommy. In a 1968 interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine, Townshend explained that the album was an attempt to “create this feeling that when you listen to the music, you can actually become aware of the boy and aware of what he is all about, because [The Who were] creating him as [they played].”

The album was fairly well-received, reaching number four on the Billboard charts, according to, and the album would later be hailed as one of the band’s best works. The album was later adapted into a 1975 movie of the same name and a 1993 Broadway musical entitled “The Who’s Tommy.” Tommy would later be picked as number 96 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Most important, however, is the legacy that this album installed in popular rock music. Many bands, from Pink Floyd to Green Day, have followed in The Who’s footsteps, creating their own rock operas and concept albums.

“What we started to do [was] write about what ordinary people were experiencing,” Townshend said in an interview with Stephen Gallagher, editor of British Youth and Popular Culture. Besides the album’s pure genius, the timelessness of Tommy has caused continued influence over generations and generations.

For a band like U2, The Who have become a model of presentation. The total collectiveness of an album such as Achtung Baby can relate back to the concept albums like Tommy. It may even be easy to compare the singer/guitarist duo of Bono and The Edge to Daltrey and Townshend. The Who, who have been nicknamed “The Godfathers of Punk,” presented themselves with a stage presence easily characterized by arrogance. Although very different in style, U2 and The Who share one commonality: music that is socially aware of the generation that listens to it.