We’re Not Gonna Take It

Reruns, foreseeable future, yada yada yada.

Why our tastes change and why they don’t is a subject that could get somebody a Ph.D, and it probably already has. I am still digging a lot of the geeky Top 40 records I bought when I was a kid, but the Emerson Lake and Palmer records I bought in high school (for example), not so much. Another album I adored for quite a while as a kid was the soundtrack to the film version of Tommy, which came out in 1975. I’ve mentioned it on the blog before—how I was excited to see the film from the moment I heard Elton John would be in it, playing the Pinball Wizard, but also how I was disappointed when I actually saw it. The story didn’t hang together all that well, but I dug the tunes, so I got the soundtrack, and I listened to it pretty regularly for the next several years. Then, like lots of things in life, it got left behind as I moved on.

So I hadn’t heard it start to finish in nearly 30 years, I’d wager, until I put it on a couple of weeks ago. I was prepared to have a different opinion of it after so much time, but I wasn’t prepared for how different that opinion would be.

It wasn’t just “hmm, I don’t feel the same way about this anymore.”

It wasn’t just dislike.

It was, for most of it, “turn this shit off right now” hate.

The movie starred Ann-Margret as Tommy’s mother, but what she is doing in this performance escapes me entirely. I’ve heard her sing in other roles and sound fine, but in this role, she either sings with a quaver in her voice like a tarted-up Katharine Hepburn, or she doesn’t sing so much as she screechily harangues. Her co-star, Oliver Reed, gives an equally godawful performance whenever he opens his mouth to sing. The producers rounded up Eric Clapton and Tina Turner for cameos in the film, but their performances are fairly rank—Turner’s performance of “Acid Queen” is, well, acidic; on Clapton’s “Eyesight to the Blind,” he sounds a wee bit stoned. And “Cousin Kevin,” in which Tommy is physically abused by Paul Nicholas, and “Fiddle About,” in which he is sexually abused by Keith Moon, are just unspeakable—the songs are vile and the performances are ghastly.

Roger Daltrey’s very good, though, and almost all of the worthwhile tracks on the album stick closest to the Who’s original vision and are performed by the Who, together or in various combinations: “Amazing Journey,” “I’m Free,” “Sally Simpson,” and the finale, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”/”See Me Feel Me.” The soundtrack’s most well-known performance, “Pinball Wizard,” is not done by the Who (although they’re seen playing it in the film); it gets the full mid-70s Elton John treatment, with the usual mid-70s Elton John result—a slick and substantial hit, although it was never officially released as a single in the States. There’s even a song featuring Jack Nicholson as a specialist called on to treat Tommy’s deafness. He’s no singer, but what’s oddest about “Go to the Mirror” is that it’s one of the few tracks on which Ann-Margret neither quavers nor screechily harangues.

Tommy has been showing up on Turner Classic Movies lately; I’ll catch it next time just to see if it looks any better than it sounds to me now. With a finger on the “mute” button, of course.

(Originally posted on October 2, 2007.)

2 responses

  1. When I was kid I found a wet wadded up towel on the beach of Elton John as the Pinball Wizard. We kept that towel for another 10 years before it bit the dust…what a score!

  2. I guess “Classic” is a relative term when it comes to cable! :)

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