On this day in music history: May 23, 1969 – “Tommy”, the fourth studio album by The Who is released. Produced by Kit Lambert, it is recorded at IBC Studios in London from September 19, 1968 – March 7, 1969. The twenty four track double album is a rock opera composed by Pete Townshend (with contributions from John Entwistle and Keith Moon) about a deaf, blind and mute boy who becomes the leader of a messianic movement, whose followers eventually turn on him in the end. Townshend takes inspiration from the teachings of Indian mystic Meher Baba, and the spiritual enlightenment he has found as he begins composing the songs. Musically, it is more sophisticated and complex than anything that The Who has previously attempted. Recording sessions begin in the Fall of 1968, though they are constantly interrupted as the bands then perilous financial state forces them to go on the road. The original LP release is packaged in a tri-fold jacket with cover artwork by pop artist Mike McInnerney, also being packaged with a booklet containing the song lyrics. In the US, “Tommy” performs decently during its initial release. The band mounts a tour in support of the album, performing the work in its entirety, including a now legendary performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera House. It is during and after that tour that the album really takes off stateside. Following the concert at The Met, the buzz created by the performance, renews interest in the album, and drives it back up the charts to a new peak in the Summer and Fall of 1970. As a result, “Tommy” sells more than triple its initial US sales. It is regarded as a watershed moment in the bands history, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time. It spins off three singles including “Pinball Wizard” (#4 UK, #19 US Pop), “I’m Free” (#37 US Pop) and “See Me, Feel Me” (#12 US Pop). First released on CD in 1989, it is remastered and reissued in 1996 and again in 2003 as a two disc Deluxe Edition Hybrid SACD. The first disc contains the full album with the original stereo mix and a new 5.1 surround mix. The second disc contains outtakes and demos. In 2013, it is reissued as a three CD + Blu-ray disc Super Deluxe Edition. The CD’s are newly remastered with more outtakes, an entire disc featuring the album performed live in its entirety. The Blu-ray features stereo and 5.1 surround mixes. The US release featuring two discs, containing the stereo album and the live bootleg album. Long out of print on vinyl, it is reissued in Europe in 2013 and in the US in 2014. It is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998. “Tommy” peaks at number two on the UK album chart, number four on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
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