While it's been fashionable for some decades now to debunk the Who's first fully fledged Rock Opera (remember, Townshend wrote "Quadrophenia" after that...), and I amongst the first was to shout about how Pete sneaked in the studio sessions of "S.F. Sorrow" and stole part of the gloomy concept, and some riff or two (most notably the rhythm guitar shuffle he used on the hit "Pinball Wizard" and on part of the resulting "I'm Free", he lifted straight from the start of Sorrow's "Old Man Going"...), BUT.
Let's give back credit to Tommy : it's not true to say the Pretty Things invented the "Rock Opera" (even though they did write "S.F. Sorrow" first, and it got released a good year before, at the tail end of the Sergeant Pepper aftermath, back in '68...); Pete had been toying with the idea as far back as '66, no doubt beeing partly influenced by the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" (and under the influence of their cultivated mentor and co-manager, Kit Lambert...). After all, "A Quick One While He's Away", with all it's Surfin' Vocal style acapella intro, was released and gave name to their second album (entitled "Happy Jack" to cash-in on the recent Who hit in the States...) PRIOR! ... And, if you listen to the extended remastering of their following "Sell Out" (which I consider the Who's personal take on "Smile"...) that was re-released in 1995, it is full of that pre-Tommy demo-ing and Opera try-outs, recorded when Townshend first thought of making it a double album in '67.
Besides, when you come to think of all the cult "Rock Operas" that it launched : Jesus Christ Superstar, Canada's own "La Révolution Française" (featuring Québec #1 60's Punk band, Les Sinners...), Phantom of the Paradise, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Starmania, later Bee Gees' own "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", Grease, etc. ...Didn't one of the most famous ones : "Hair" come before, as far back as a Broadway Musical in 1967? So, although the Kinks' "Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)" came right after Tommy (later in '69 too! ), it wasn't even "S.F. Sorrow" the first... (Less we talk about Mark Wirtz's "A Teenage Opera" featuring a little help from Tomorrow's Keith West on lead vocals and guitar from Steve Howe; which excerpt "Grocer Jack" was a minor hit even, in '67 too, for West! )
Now, while relistening to Tommy, it stands right at the threshold between the end of the Pop sixties as we know and love, and the start of the pompous, overblown to the point of caricature and ridicule, seventies excess we have come to hate since the advent of Punk; and while being a lesser piece to it's underrated predecessor ("S.F. Sorrow"), it's far from being that retread album a lot of Rock revisionists would want us to think... While I go on forever prefering "Sell Out", It's still a good one; maybe the last listenable one for us 60's fans. Even the 1975 film sequel featuring memorable scenes with Ann Margret, Oliver Reed, Elton John, Tina Turner, Clapton and Jack Nicholson (! ) ain't half-bad and is a good Pop-art movie in it's own right. So, Jesus Saves Tommy... !
Here's one of the better tracks from the Opera : (And one of my faves... the best being the original '69 album version here, as opposed to the re-recorded movie and later Live versions! )