Pinball Wizard


If you’ve only ever heard this on the radio, you may be missing out on the bizarre freakout that is Tommy. The Who’s hit single still pops up a lot on those radio stations that claim they play anything, but it’s barely a trace of the weirdness from whence it came. The mother album was weird enough – a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball prodigy loosely inspired by the teachings of Meher Baba. It was a mountain of terrible ideas pulled off through sheer conviction, birthing the concept of concept albums on the way. But was that enough for The Who and their vision? No, they had to have their vision visualized, so they made a movie, with schlock auteur Ken Russell. That’s when things got really weird. You can enjoy it a lot more if you think of it less as a feature film and more as a very long music video. Also if you’re drugged to the gills. It’s certainly a feast of surreal images, and unexpected guest performances of various quality (Tina Turner, thumbs up; Jack Nicholson, not so much.) Ann-Margaret earned herself an Oscar nomination, presumably for the scene where she’s doused in baked beans. Roger Daltrey was not nominated for any awards, despite being very limber and blue of eye. Elton John’s guest appearance is another highlight. Sir Elton is no actor, but that’s not what the role requires. It’s the perfect Elton John cameo; it suits him both musically and aesthetically. It’s exactly the perfect collision of talent that could only happen in the musical wild west of the mid seventies, when movies of concept albums could get made and earn awards.

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2 thoughts on “Pinball Wizard

  1. My parents had the grand idea to show me this film (VHS! It was 1985!) when I was 10 – I guess because we were all big Elton & Tina fans in our house – and it gave me nightmares for weeks. It was, however, my introduction to The Who, who would become one of my favorite bands once I became a teenager, and they still are. The Tommy movie gets criticized a lot, but I think a lot of the re-recorded songs on there beat the originals, especially Elton, Tina, and Eric Clapton’s “Willie and the Hand Jive” backing riff on “Sally Simpson.” that give the tunes some extra fire and punch. And I actually don’t mind Jack Nicholson’s singing.

    • ladygarfunkel says:

      I also watching this with my parents when I was a kid. I loved it, though there was a lot I didn’t understand. I totally agree that the movie songs are actually way better. I just listened to the original album again, and it’s kind of boring.

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