As the first popular "rock opera," Tommy has plenty to answer for. But measured against pale 21st-century Broadway offspring, the Who's magnum opus still rules. Besides an impressive book, the news on this box is a virtually complete set of Pete Townshend demos, with the composer's warm tenor taking lead on every song. It makes for remarkable alternate versions. "The Hawker (Eyesight to the Blind)" hews closer to its Sonny Boy Williamson roots; "Sally Simpson" as a sort of music-hall piano romp. Semi-acoustic versions of "Acid Queen" and "Pinball Wizard" are delicious; a minor rocker ("Trying to Get Through") and a backward-tape jam ("Dream One") appear as well. The fierce '69 live recording comes from tapes that were thankfully stashed away by the band's sound man after Townshend ordered them destroyed. They prove the music's power even without actors – just the four dudes who cooked it up in the first place.
From The Archives Issue 1196: November 21, 2013