In 1973, The Who released their sixth album, Quadrophenia
. The epic double album tells the story
of a boy named Jimmy Cooper who deals with mental illness on top of the run-of-the-mill stresses of teen life. But Jimmy Cooper isn't just any London teen. Jimmy Cooper is a Mod
Written by Pete Townshend, the album was an attempt to look back at, as well as put a cap on, the band's Mod past
in the early 1960s playing joints like the Goldhawk Social Club
. Townshend was first introduced to the Mod scene by early band publicist Pete Meaden
, who was instrumental in crafting The Who's image as a Mod band, even going so far at one point as to (temporarily) change the band's name to the High Numbers
, an explicit reference to the Mod social hierarchy. As rock writer Paolo Hewitt
put it, "The Small Faces were Mods who became a band. The Who were a band who became Mods." Meaden was a "Face" himself in the early 1960s Mod scene, and described the Mod lifestyle as "Clean living under difficult circumstances
At the time, Townshend's rock opera Tommy
had become the band's main performance piece, and as primary songwriter Townshend set for himself the goal of writing a replacement for it as The Who's live vehicle. The Quadrophenia double LP came with photos by rock photographer Ethan Russell
as well as narrative liner notes
to explain further the events described in the music and photos
(a.k.a. "Moderns, Modernists") as a British youth culture
arose out of the Modern Jazz scene
of mid-20th century London. Mods eschewed the dressed-down, unkempt beatnik look
of "trad" jazz, instead favoring tailored suits
(preferably Italian cut
), smooth cheeks, and close-cropped hair. By the early 60s, Mods had shifted to R&B
, Soul, Motown, and British "Beat" bands
as favored dancing music.
Clothing and fashion
(and an almost obsessive attention to details) were essential to being a Mod. Scooters with large fairings
and vintage WWII parkas
kept one's expensive duds clean on the way to the club. Customized rides
, fuel, clothes, drugs — the Mod lifestyle required money, which meant those at the top of the pecking order (the "Faces") were all employed. Indeed, after the War, this was the first UK generation to be young and have both a job and spare money in their pockets.
Too young to get into pubs, which closed at 11pm, Mods favored coffee-houses where amphetamine-fueled all-night dance parties
were common. Mods disdained drugs like heroin and cannabis (as well as excessive drinking), which they saw as deadening the senses. Uppers "focussed the mind" (and kept you dancing all night), and weren't at the time illegal, so they fell under the banner of "clean living".
Gender roles amongst mods
were somewhat more egalitarian than other contemporary youth subcultures. Mod girls
favored similar short, androgynous haircuts as the boys. They were also obsessively detail-oriented in their clothing, favoring boxy, knee-length skirts or unisex fashions, and almost no make-up except around the eyes. Mod girls had their own jobs, their own money, and no particular pressure to be "with a guy" while being part of the scene. Because both Mod girls and boys read as "clean-cut" to the outside world, they found it quite easy to integrate their lifestyle into a day job, unlike the more outlandish Teddy-Boys
of the previous decade.
Brawls with rival gangs
of Rockers (who favored leather jackets
, and who took inspiration from Marlon Brando
rather than Fellini
) made the headlines, particularly in seaside vacation towns like Brighton
. Mods tended to look at Rockers as dullards and unemployed thugs, caricaturing the lowest expressions of masculinity. Rockers, in return, saw male Mods as over-dressed poofs and dandies.
From 1963-1966 the music and dance TV show Ready, Steady, Go!
brought Mod music and style to UK homes featuring acts like Otis Redding
, The Supremes
, The Beatles
, and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames
By the time of its 1973 release, Quadrophenia
was looking back at a subculture whose time had come and gone. But the double album, along with the 1979 release of the movie version
, is credited with helping inspire the Mod Revival
of the late '70s/early '80s, with bands like The Jam
and The Chords
leading the way.