“A Quick One”, performed on “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”, was the initial influence for the later creation of the rock opera “Tommy”. The song had been born of necessity as the group had 10 minutes left to fill an album, prompting Pete Townshend to write the 10 minute “mini-opera”. It is largely autobiographical, as were parts of “Tommy.” This was a very fascinating section of the book for me, as I have always been a fan of “A Quick One”, and having its meaning explained in terms of the author’s own experiences growing up makes it even more enjoyable to listen to. The story involves Mr. Townshend’s growing up in a very dysfunctional home, with his mother having an intense affair, which split the family apart and had Pete living with his grandmother, who was also equally dysfunctional. It was during this period of his youth that he was molested. These early years would come to define much of his life and the choices he made regarding his expressions of anger and violence in his work.
Exploring the early work of bands such as The Small Faces; later The Faces with Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane; Mr. Townshend is able to paint a vivid picture of the arts scene in England at the time, and which would then reverberate around the world. His work on his solo albums, as well as the story behind his all too brief collaboration with Ronnie Lane on “Rough Mix” was of special interest to me. That album, which is one of my favorites, encompasses folk, country, rock and even a wonderful number called “Street in the City”, in which Mr. Townshend accompanies an orchestra with his acoustic guitar to create a musical portrait of a city street on a “working day.” I was surprised at the many characters in that song who come from the author’s own childhood.
In so many ways The Who enabled the arrival of bands such as Led Zeppelin, and even Jimi Hendrix, who first came to Pete Townshend for help in creating his sound using the Marshall Stack system. But the music scene was a two-way street, and Mr. Townshend freely admits his admiration for groups such as The Kinks, and their early attempts at rock operas such as “The Village Green Preservation Society” and their later album “Arthur-The Fall of the British Empire”, as influences on his own work.