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Pete and Songwriter's Hall of Fame
The following is an e-mail I sent to the songwriter's hall of fame:
"In the pantheon of rock and roll songwriters, not a single person can top Pete Townshend. Several are arguably as good (Lennon, Jagger and Richards, Bowie) but none of them are better. Consider the accomplishments:
The Who's first singles included songs like My Generation and Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere which dealt with youth rebellion and anger while bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were still churning out "love rock." Songs like Substitute featured lyrics unheard of at the time, such as, "I look pretty white, but my Dad was black." "I'm a Boy" was the very first rock foray into sci-fi, about a futuristic family who requested a girl from a genetic birth lab, but a mistake was made and they got a boy (whose sisters and mother proceeded to make wear flowers and make-up). Needless to say, these were all released prior to the Beatles revolutionary Sargeant Pepper's, thought to be far ahead of its time.
Around the same time as Sargeant Pepper's, The Who put out their third album, A Quick One, which featured Townshend's ground-breaking "mini-opera," titled "A Quick One While He's Away." It was a 10-minute song featuring six different themes of music, from hard rock to a capella harmony to country, which told the story of a "girl guide" whose boyfriend is late getting home from a long trip, and is pushed by her friends into the hands of the dirty, sooty Ivar the engine driver. The boyfriend of course returns and catches them in the act, but decides to forgive them. No song like it had ever been released.
Townshend next enbarked on one of the most famous and influential music projects ever contemplated: the rock opera, TOMMY (1969). Townshend literally wrote a full story (with 2 songs written by John Entwistle and one by Keith Moon) set to music about the life of Tommy Walker, the "deaf, dumb, and blind kid." It was a tremendous risk taken by Townshend and The Who, but it became one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
Townshend then switched gears and went even further out on a limb, working on a multimedia concept which was to be part album, part theatre, part live concert. It never was fully realized, as it was too far ahead of technology, but many of its songs ended up on the album "Who's Next"(1971). Several songs featured unique synthesizer rhythm tracks, such as Baba O'Riley, Won't Get Fooled Again, and Bargain. The sound of Who's Next was unprecedented and couldn't have been more different than Tommy.
Perhaps Townshend's greatest work came in 1973 with his second rock opera, Quadrophenia. The music featured four interwoven themes of music for the four personalities suffered by its 60s teenage "Mod" protagonist, Jimmy. Again, the sound of Quad was completely unique to Tommy and Who's Next, featuring many layers of guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and sound effects, along with complex synthesizer patterns and a horn section (an entirely new idea for The Who). The finale of Love Reign O'er Me remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful and powerful songs in the history of rock.