"People treated it with respect, but didn't particularly enjoy it."
July 29, 2013 8:38 PM   Subscribe

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.

The Mods (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 for men (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 motorcycles, 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. 
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (68 comments total) 119 users marked this as a favorite
I need to properly get into Quadophenia; in keeping with my selfishness I've stuck to Tommy, since I play pinball, and I tend to identify more as a 'rocker', though I like The Jam. I look forward to going through this FPP.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:43 PM on July 29, 2013

*slow clap, with awe* Well done post, sir!
posted by ashbury at 8:45 PM on July 29, 2013 [11 favorites]

The mod revival culture lasted for a surprisingly long time: I was invited into a mod band in 1988 and played with them for a couple of years. I was astonished at the number of scooters and skinny ties that every gig seemed to produce from thin air. To this day, I find us on obscure websites.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:48 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

great post. Thanks heaps I love Quadrophenia. 5.15 is one of my favourite Who songs.
posted by mattoxic at 8:50 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Great post. Quadrophenia has long been one of my favorite albums. I much prefer it over Tommy, and I think it has aged much better.

It's well worth listening to the deluxe CD. Townsend had essentially recorded the entire work single handedly, playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. When the band agreed to make Quadrophenia their next album, they redid the whole thing. The Townsend-only recording on the deluxe CD is a surprisingly complete work. (Available on Spotify as well.)
posted by The Deej at 8:53 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Obligatory knee-jerk Ringo

Superb post, you punk with a stutter, you! I was just a-listening to Quadrophenia on ye olde phonograph yesterday, as a matter of fact.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:55 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, Tommy was awesome.

But Quadrophenia has this song in it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:55 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

My favourite Who song is "I've Had Enough."

Man, I love this movie, and I love the Who.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:58 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fix-a-Flat is legal, but huffing it is not "clean living"

It's really interesting to see some of this cultural background explained. My friends and I pieced it together, sort of, in high school, after seeing the movie.

I notice that there seem to be a lot of people who are unhappy with the recent CD remaster. Anyone here heard it?
posted by thelonius at 8:58 PM on July 29, 2013

Note: Features Sting but no Robert Downey Jr.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:07 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have the recent remaster on cd. Sounds great to me.

Thank you for this post! Looking forward to digging into it. In my opinion, Quadrophenia is Townshend's master work, and in fact is one of the greatest long-form collections of music (call it an opera if you like) of all time. The four themes are each fantastic and the way he weaves them in and out without seeming repetitive is just brilliant.

I was lucky enough to see one of the recent Quad live shows. It was really well done and completely showcased the music. Yes, Pete's voice is shot, but he was still up there performing this absolutely amazing thing that he conceived and wrote.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 9:09 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Came for the scooters with too many mirrors, was not disappointed. Great band, great album, great post.
posted by chavenet at 9:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had no idea that it was originally recorded in 1973...I always thought it was much better than Tommy.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:15 PM on July 29, 2013

I love The Who and Townshend but I never have enjoyed Quadrophenia. Townshend makes it seem like he was embarassed to be a "mere" rock musician and was always grasping at these literary airs to pump up his sense of artistic legitimacy. His work to this point had toyed with using larger structures or narrative to inject grandeur into his music, but Quadrophenia was the point at which he decided the narrative and structure was the whole point. None of the really great concept albums really insist too much on their own story, not even Tommy. Look at something like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which uses the story and structure as a hook for bracing music and engages without ever really demanding you identify with its (pretty thin) story and characters; but Quadrophenia just puts all the weight on the story and insists you sit through every second of it with very little reward.
posted by anazgnos at 9:19 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh good golly, thank you.

I'm one.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:20 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Features one of Keith Moon's only vocal performances on Bellboy.

Someone once told me Townshend wrote some of the songs to represent members of the band and wrote bellboy for Moon who he then convinced to sing it. I don't know who the other songs represent but it is a cool theory.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:26 PM on July 29, 2013

Oh, awesome post too!
posted by Ad hominem at 9:30 PM on July 29, 2013

Incredible post. One of my favorite albums. Thank you.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:40 PM on July 29, 2013

Quadrophenia trivia: the quadrophonic mixer used on the tour was built by none other than Bob Heil, who is famous for designing and building the first high powered talkbox with Joe Walsh - like the one used by Rufus, Stevie, et al.. Later Bob founded Heil Music and was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame. And oh yeah, he's my neighbor. :)
posted by readyfreddy at 9:45 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Someone once told me Townsend wrote some of the songs to represent members of the band and wrote bellboy for Moon who he then convinced to sing it. I don't know who the other songs represent but it is a cool theory.

Per Wikipedia:

Townshend noted in 2009 that, rather than Jimmy’s personalities representing a Who member, he chose the personalities of each member to illustrate each of Jimmy’s four personalities, or "personality extremes" or mood swings.[4]

The liner notes illustrate this concept as follows (names added):

A tough guy, a helpless dancer. ("Helpless Dancer" – Roger Daltrey)
A romantic, is it me for a moment? ("Is It Me?" – John Entwistle)
A bloody lunatic, I'll even carry your bags. ("Bell Boy" – Keith Moon)
A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign o'er me. ("Love Reign O'er Me" – Pete Townshend)

In addition to describing a personality/band member, the four descriptions refer to four musical themes that portray Jimmy's personalities in the opera: "Helpless Dancer", "Is It Me?", "Bell Boy", and "Love Reign O'er Me". The four themes (or "leitmotifs" as described by Townshend) are mixed together in both the title track (bridging "The Real Me" and "Cut My Hair"), and the penultimate track, "The Rock" (bridging "Doctor Jimmy" and "Love, Reign O'er Me"). The two pieces were the most musically complex pieces that Townshend ever wrote for The Who, combining all four themes into two six-minute instrumental medleys. The two pieces have neither a definite beginning nor end, as they begin with a fade-in from the previous track, starting with the theme of "Bell Boy" (Moon's theme). This is followed by the themes of "Is It Me?" (Entwistle's theme), "Helpless Dancer" (Daltrey's theme), and "Love, Reign O'er Me" (Townshend's theme). "Quadrophenia" fades into rain sound effects after the "Love Reign O'er Me" theme. "The Rock" however ends with a combination of the four different themes, using the "Bell Boy" theme as the chord sequence, the "Helpless Dancer" theme as the melody, the "Is It Me?" theme as a lead (played on guitar and synthesiser), and the keyboard part to "Love Reign O'er Me" as a countermelody. The whole song abruptly ends on a downbeat layered with the sound of thunder and descends into "Love Reign O'er Me" proper.

The four themes also surface on many other songs throughout the album; the most subtle example being when the "Helpless Dancer" theme appears on "Bell Boy" (the main song) played on synthesiser as a brief interlude. Some themes from other songs also make "surprise" reappearances here and there. These leitmotifs help give the work an impression of a cohesive unity.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:46 PM on July 29, 2013 [10 favorites]

Oh cool. Thanks.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:48 PM on July 29, 2013

Great post. Even the quaint Irish seaside town of my birth had this sort of thing going on as late as 1982
posted by kersplunk at 9:48 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Fantastic post! I'll have to set aside hours to dig into this one. Thanks!

I was going to mod and northern soul do's in London and Norwich as late as '89/90 during my junior year in England. Everyone always said that they heyday was over, but nevertheless those clubs were always pretty packed.

*bursts into chorus of "We Are the Mods"*
posted by scody at 9:50 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

A fine, comprehensive post, PZBM. Well done!

As a teenager who loved Who's Next, I found Quadrophenia to be a puzzling and mostly unsatisfying follow-up. Perhaps I shall revisit it after checking out some of the links in this post.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:54 PM on July 29, 2013

Oh, and speaking of the Small Faces -- here's a delightful clip of the brilliant Ian McLagan from just a few weeks ago, chatting about the day he got a fateful call from Don Arden in Carnaby Street.
posted by scody at 9:55 PM on July 29, 2013

I've been listening to Tommy this past month, and it's great to sing along to. I've had Quadrophenia in my queue to listen to, but now I'll give it a spin tomorrow.

Personally I prefer to get drunk to the sound of old T. Rex...
posted by Catblack at 10:00 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

And on the dance floor broken glass
and bloody faces slowly pass
the numbered seats in empty rows
it all belongs to me you know

I loved the hell out of Quadrophenia back in the day (I was 14 when it was released) and it always seemed a masterwork to me; and the movie is far better than I had dared hope. Tommy always seemed kind of silly and trivial in comparison.
posted by jokeefe at 10:01 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Such a great album, far better than the silly Tommy. I have not listened to it since I moved and left my vinyl behind years ago. Time to buy some MP3s...
posted by LarryC at 10:05 PM on July 29, 2013

I heard an interview with Pete Townshend recently where he gave a slightly different version of the origin of the mods. Apparently at the time US jazz legends would more often play Rome and Paris than London. Young British jazz fans would go on cross-channel road trips to see jazz shows and ended up being impressed by Continental youth, their clothes, haircuts, scooters etc, which inspired the whole UK early mod scene.
posted by w0mbat at 10:13 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just rewatching the movie right now, and it's like being transported back in time to being 18 years old. I guess I haven't watched it since high school.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 PM on July 29, 2013

That album was a hugely influential part of my youth. I can't begin to describe the shit my best friends and I got up to while blasting it over and over and over. I think it actually got into our blood, somehow. Always wanted to go out listening to Love Reign O'er Me. Maybe I will, some day. Love.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:22 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Real Me is my favourite off this album. It's funny, because for the 30 years or so I have known about this track it's never really done anything for me.

But a few months ago I came home from work, a particularly grueling and stressed filled day, with this song stuck in my head. Ah youtube, you instantly gratifying ear worm smasher you, you rarely disappoint, unlike so much of your brethren on teh intertubes. And on listening to it, something clicked. For the first time this chunk of Who back catalogue, which I had classified as typical stentorian bluster about self identity from the lads, clicked with me. I can't seem to stop playing it. And I think it's because of where I was at this moment.

You see, we were staggeringly busy at work, so busy that the department I work in, shipping/receiving, with double the staff from last year, couldn't quite keep up. We are there now, but it's still slow, and will take time. Meanwhile the roiling pressures keep coming, much like waves hitting the beach, and this mirrored perfectly by the anxiety of the song, which Keith Moon's staccato drumming and the rolling thunder bass lines of John Entwistle magnify with stately, plump grace. The texture of the song, along with the surface tension, resonate almost perfectly with the texture of my current work experience, thrumming enough that my initial set of receptions to The Real Me have have changed dramatically. A near perfect fusion of experiences.

So there.

Great post by the way.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 10:57 PM on July 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

There were mods in my high schools in the late 80's early 90's... I sort of viewed them as proto-goths later in life (but they weren't quite, they were just a bit odd). I had no idea their roots (nor how they survived so long in America - did they even know the history of their movement).

Great post!
posted by el io at 11:13 PM on July 29, 2013

now that's best of web. terrific post, i'd love to see more like it (from anyone, really).
posted by j_curiouser at 11:16 PM on July 29, 2013

It's always interested me that I loved The Who more than just about any band, played their first six albums over and over, saw them do much of Tommy/Live at Leeds in an amazing concert (November 1969), then paid absolutely no attention to Quadrophenia — either the record or the film. Maybe because I had little interest in 'social hierarchies,' and/or never was the least bit fashionable. Anyway, this is a really good post; perhaps it will inspire me finally to give a listen or watch the movie.

p.s. Ringo, of course, as FelliniBlank notes above, had the last word.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:18 AM on July 30, 2013

I enjoy this album.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:34 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wonder if Sting uses AceFaceBook ...
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:45 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

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".

Pretty well all of the heroin addicts I met back in the early seventies were ex-mods who'd been robbing pharmacies for speed, and decided to sample the rest of the goodies in the DDA box.

(DDA stands for Dangerous Drugs Act -- the law which insisted that certain drugs be kept in a locked cabinet, inside a locked cabinet. So once you got in, you could ignore everything else -- you just went for the DDA and took the lot. The heroin and cocaine were next to the amphetamines. Back in the day, both boxes were often made of wood so didn't present much of a challenge.)

Ah, my misspent youth.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:59 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Eh, back in the day, because of Quadrophenia, I sold a few extra Dynaco Stereo 70 amps, some "quadrophonic ready" Kenwood recievers, some JBL speakers, and some expensive Shure "quadrophonic" phono cartridges, along with some shop time for rewiring turntables, all as "rear channel equipment," to enhance existing high end stereo systems for my better audiophile customers of the time, but on the whole, the quadrophonic aspect of the thing was basically bullshit. I was happy for the extra few bucks profit on the gear and the service time, but I got awfully tired of demonstrating the damn thing for people just window shopping the "quadrophonic experience." It was, and is, crap music, and even short passages of it, listened to 6 or 8 times a day, were so tiring, that I grew to hate it with a passion I've otherwise reserved only for Eddie Murphy movies.
posted by paulsc at 1:12 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Townshend makes it seem like he was embarassed to be a "mere" rock musician and was always grasping at these literary airs to pump up his sense of artistic legitimacy

I am sorry I don't have a cite to the interview where I heard this (I don't even recall if it was in print, or a recorded conversation), but the man himself says that what set him on the path of ambition as a writer was Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix came to London and just destroyed him. He was doing everything that Townsend had, until then, wanted to do or be, and doing it far better. He knew it too - paraphrasing Townsend - he was saying, as it were, you stole American black music to make your self and music with, and I am here to take it back. He said Hendrix wouldn't talk to or even acknowledge him unless he was with Clapton, and that his wife quite visibly wanted to go home with Hendrix.

So for Townsend, this was a profound crisis. It wasn't that he was only a rock musician, it was that he had been shown, to himself, to be a weak and derivative one, whose dreams had been outdone, and were now futile. His resolution of this crisis was, basically, writing Tommy.
posted by thelonius at 1:39 AM on July 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

I have pretty mixed feelings about Quadrophenia and the subculture it portrays. I think the music represents a point when The Who truly transitioned from a viable rock and roll pop band to a AOR era rock and roll dinosaur. While the guys were in peak form technically, I think their strength came from the sensibility they exhibited in the earlier era when they wrote songs that could stand alone rather than opuses increasingly in need of context. Post Quadrophenia, the band seemed determined to play out Tommy not only on the screen, but in real life until Keith Mood self destructed.

The mod revival in the 80s, as it existed where I was, also really turned me off, with the uniform and the fascist tendencies it seemed to bring out. The movie did little to romanticize any purity in the original movement, and I was always baffled by how anachronistic The Who's accompanying music turned out to be with the visuals and the era depicted. Music which, ironically, those 80s mods hated, equating it with some 70s hippie crap.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:46 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great post! Thanks.

To add to the Mod mix, make mention of Guy Stevens. (Stevens later on, much later on, produced the album London Calling by The Clash.):

"Guy Stevens first came to the fore when he got a gig as a DJ at The Scene, a small basement club in Ham Yard, a cobble-stoned cul-de-sac off Great Windmill Street directly opposite the famed Windmill Theatre. His Monday evening hops soon began to attract interest and by early 1964, The Scene was a prime Mod hangout. The Animals and Georgie Fame were superstars there long before the rest of the country got to hear of them, as were the High Numbers, a Shepherd's Bush band with Mod pretensions. By late 1963, R&B was fast becoming a code for a subterranean network of wonderful sounds there to be discovered if one knew where to look. Before long, clubs in the image of The Scene were springing up throughout the South East and there were pockets further north too."

Stevens went on to head Sue Records (UK), which issued some great 45s for for club dancers, many pumped up on amphetamines, including:

Mockingbird - Inez & Charlie Foxx
Land Of 1,000 Dances - Chris Kenner
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike & Tina Turner
A Little Piece Of Leather - Donnie Elbert
Do Anything You Wanna (Part 1 & 2) - Harold Betters
Oh! Mom (Teach Me How To Uncle Willie) - The Daylighters
Let's Stick Together - Wilbert Harrison
Watch Your Step - Bobby Parker
Dust My Blues - Elmore James & his Broom Dusters
Too Many Drivers - Lowell Fulson
Yum, Yum, Yum - Joe Tex
Harlem Shuffle - Bob & Earl
Do-Re-Mi - Lee Dorsey
Don't Mess With My Man - Irma Thomas
Night Train - James Brown & The Famous Flames
I Can't Stand It - The Soul Sisters
Hitch-Hike Part 1 - Russell Byrd
Odds And Ends - Jimmy Reed
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:57 AM on July 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

Mod is the subculture that keeps getting revived; in fact, there's apparently a new Mod revival underway, looking back to the 90s and Britpop. You know, the neothatcherite cocaine party that some lazy journalists called a Mod revival because it had guitars and what looked like, and later became, a fetishisation of 1960s styles.

The funny thing about all these Mod revivals is that, each time around, Mod becomes more reactionary and hidebound, and more in spirit like what the original Mods stood against. A Modernist of the early 1960s may have been looking out of the provincial blinkeredness of austerity Britain towards continental literature and Black American music, but today's Mod-Geezer is a flag-waving oaf in a Fred Perry shirt who's so pissed off with the way Britain has gone in the last 40 or so years that he may as well be running for UKIP.
posted by acb at 3:26 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Amazing post, but the link to a track by the jam seems to have exploded >_< just redirects to the youtube front page with a weird "NOMOBILE=1" tacked on to the url.
posted by emptythought at 3:40 AM on July 30, 2013

My favorite Who album (I realize I am probably in the minority on this issue, but what else is new)
posted by caddis at 4:43 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zoot suit
White jacket with side vents
Five inches long.
posted by tommasz at 4:56 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, great post.

Sting's performance in Quadrophenia is one of my favorites of his film roles. His job is to look good, dress well and sneer, and he has that act down cold.
posted by Gelatin at 5:11 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Quadrophenia was the first album I deeply related to, at about age 14, when I was still confined to records from shopping mall LP departments. The lyrics captured teen angst in a way that seemed unique in my AOR radio world. I painted a mural of a mod sinking in water on a patch of plaster in the large old attic of our house. (I'm sure it was awful looking, used only blue and white paints. Wonder what the subsequent owners thought.) I felt the same way musically about the early Who records, but they didn't have the narrative. After finding punk, and stuff like Zen Arcade, which got both the lyrics and musical chaos into one package, the arrangements on Quadrophenia started feeling overblown to me, too slick and filigreed for the story it was telling. It still doesn't work for me as a whole.

However, I did manage to see a showing of the movie at a cult theatre (oddly located!) while I was at the hight of my Q-worship and Who worship. It was my first dose of kitchen sink drama, and in a lot of ways it's ended up affecting me more than the album ever did. "Finally!" I remember feeling, "a movie that has the sometimes static pace and mumblingly dialog of real life." And man, did the suits look good. For my early 80s self, the album and film package was a bomb of urban grit that was mainstream enough to reach me out in the boonies.
posted by bendybendy at 5:28 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is fabulous! Nicely done. I haven't read it yet (next on my reading list), but this new book looks promising MOD: A Very British Style by Richard Weight.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:29 AM on July 30, 2013

Eddie Vedder was quoted as saying that Quadrophenia saved his life1.

I don't know if I'd go that far - but it has certainly made my life a lot better knowing that I am not alone.

PS: Pete Townshend is a GOD!

And Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey is at least a minor deity for this post.

1. Screw your constant need for citations - a buddy told me this and I believe him.
posted by arkham_inmate_0801 at 6:50 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

caddis: "My favorite Who album (I realize I am probably in the minority on this issue, but what else is new)"

- not in my personal demographic.

It is easily one of my all-time favorites of any band, or any genre. Three notes from any song on this album sends shivers up and down my spine.

Must Have.
posted by arkham_inmate_0801 at 6:57 AM on July 30, 2013

This post and the discussion are bringing up a lot of memories of my adolescence. For a lot of people Quadrophenia is the introduction to Mod subculture and then they stop there. This post uses Quadrophenia as a platform to jump to 60s mod fashion and music, but I don't think a lot of people really care about that. Then you get to the revivals, which are interesting though also sort of problematic for me, but that's again because people want to say "That's Mod." or "I'm Mod", but they aren't really. (Though I concede Paul Weller can call himself (and his frizzled Chelsea cut) the Modfater.)

I was 14 when I first really got into Quadropheania as an album and film. I would lock myself in my room and play bass along with the record every night. (I can't believe I used to be able to play it!) I decided I was Mod and tried to seek out other Mods. I was fortunate enough to find a group of 60s Mods in Sacramento who took me in and taught me about the fashion and the soul records and the scooters, such that by 15 I understood why they rolled their eyes so much when I would talk about the Who as a Mod band. Of course these Mods were really focused on soul music and traditional Jamaican ska and some English Freakbeat - the type of stuff record hunting is made for. Though they would often spin "Can't Explain" for me during the all nighters, most of it was soul and R&B, like the list Mister Bijou posted earlier. When I was 16 somebody gave me a book about the Wigan Casino, which included a playlist of Norther Soul records that were popular there. It was a major part of my soul education.

Mods were a trend for a hot, wonderful minute but they're still kicking. There's going to be the traditionalists (with affinities to Rude Boys and traditional Skinheads), there will be the 70s revivalists, and the 80s weird goth group sometimes called Mod, and the Britpop kids who are sort of Mod, and then the latecomers who attach themselves to a little bit of it all. And this might be why the term Mod is growing pretty meaningless outside a very specific context. Most people seem to use it interchangeably with "retro" which is annoying.

I think acb's point about some people in the UK waving the Mod flag to promote retrograde views is worth noting. Like all nostalgic subcultures, there's different things to cling to from the past. For some people it's the music, other's the fashion, or the vehicles, the design, and maybe the "simple past". I don't know. One of my best friends (who would probably call herself a Northern Soul DJ over a Mod) always said, "Music, clothes, scooters. You only get to pick one, maybe two." She was right because doing all three well is expensive and requires a lot of work.

She also often says a phrase that we use a lot when talking about Straight Edge, "If you're not Mod now, you never were." Ouch.

As for Quadrophenia the album! I think it's sorely under appreciated. Musically I think Townshend was a bit overreaching. The four themes were a good idea, though a bit clunky in parts. Lyrically it's some of his finest work. I still get sheepish when I admit how much I love that album because it's so cheesy, but whatever. It's solid. It's just not Mod.
posted by kendrak at 7:27 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Like the album. Watched the movie, but could not understand 75% of what was said, so Sting just sneering was a highlight.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:52 AM on July 30, 2013

LOVE this album. :)
I have a personal theory that the song Bellboy is about a future Tommy.
Is it me? Am I one in this theory?
posted by luckynerd at 8:28 AM on July 30, 2013

I had the soundtrack album when I was a teenager, which had a fourth side of vinyl with 60's soul music--all new to me. I heard The Chiffons and The Ronettes, and Louie Louie, and James Brown--music I did not hear on the top 40 Radio I listened to in the late 70s. I'll always think of Love, Reign O'er Me and Night Train as part of a whole.
posted by feste at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I saw the movie when I was a teenager and, like JohnnyGunn, couldn't understand most of the dialogue. (No biggie, as it seemed like a pretty standard-issue teen angst movie anyway.) A couple of addenda:

1) Probably the first mention of mods that I can remember was in A Hard Day's Night, when someone asks Ringo if he's a mod or a rocker, and he tells them that he's a mocker. That's actually kind of true, I think, in that the Beatles were definitely more rockers in their earlier years, both musically and personally (see this early Lennon picture, for example), but were in a sort of semi-mod style before they went psychedelic.

2) Probably the most interesting thing that Dave Gibbons did post-Watchmen was The Originals, basically another young mod story with a few science fiction glosses (such as hover-scooters). Not particularly heavy reading, but not bad.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:37 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a great movie and it's great music, although Pete Townshend's approach to the material is (typical of the prog-rock movement) pretty overwrought. But you can feel the love for the characters, that's for sure. I'm not sure if Quadrophenia is supposed to represent some sort of mental illness, or just the catharsis of growing up and leaving the nest. By the end of the movie he's left everything behind, and you kind of wonder if he's going to end up living in a ditch or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on July 30, 2013

Lifelong Who fan here, and I didn't know what to make of Quadrophenia when it came out. I really thought the Who were "going prog" or something, overreaching themselves. As often with great works of art, it took a few years before the gestalt came together (and I grew up a bit) so I could really appreciate it.

My friend Gerry, also a lifelong Who fan and second-wave Mod, took his own life earlier this year in circumstances not unlike those contemplated by Jimmy. (It's not clear, in the movie or on the record, whether Jimmy actually dies at the end.) I know for a fact that this record got him through some tough times. It's raw and tempestuous and cathartic and can change you if you let it. The film version wasn't bad, but I see it as more of a complement to the album than an adaptation of it, if that makes sense. It grounds the more high-flown themes of the record in some way. As though, in some parallel universe, Townshend had written a kitchen-sink drama instead of a rock concept album.
posted by El Brendano at 1:06 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

[possible spoilers if you haven't seen the movie]
It's been a while since I've seen the film, but there's a bit on the commentary track, I think from director Franc Roddam, explaining in no uncertain terms that Jimmy doesn't join his scooter in its plunge over the cliff. Even before I heard that I held the minority opinion among my friends that he didn't kill himself at the end. I always saw the ending as Jimmy's ultimate rejection of the "mod" label along with all of its requisite behaviour. He was never comfortable with it, especially the hating and fighting Rockers angle. Witnessing the Ace Face performing his menial bellboy day job was the final straw.
As for the album's (and movie's) concept, I like the theory that Jimmy Cooper is a personification of The Who as a band, and his self-diagnosed 'quadrophenia' represents the four conflicting personalities within The Who. There are lots of scenes in the film that bear this out. For example, when Jimmy sees the attention Ace gets for being a better Mod than he is, he resorts to theatrics and buffoonery to regain the spotlight. The Who accomplished the same by windmill strumming, spinning and throwing the microphone, and smashing instruments.
posted by rocket88 at 2:23 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh no, he doesn't kill himself, which is what at least one of my friends found actually inspiring. The most important shot in the film is the one at the very beginning, which shows him walking back from the cliff after dumping his scooter over it.

Hendrix came to London and just destroyed him. He was doing everything that Townsend had, until then, wanted to do or be, and doing it far better. He knew it too - paraphrasing Townsend - he was saying, as it were, you stole American black music to make your self and music with, and I am here to take it back. He said Hendrix wouldn't talk to or even acknowledge him unless he was with Clapton

From what I understand, Hendrix caused Clapton to experience a crisis too. Something to do with Hendrix inviting Clapton over to listen to Are You Experienced just before its release, and Clapton being close to devastated when he realized just how brilliant it was.

Hendrix was a genius, full stop, and his loss was a terrible one. I wish his legacy were better curated.
posted by jokeefe at 3:28 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Great post! Thanks, Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey.
posted by homunculus at 3:51 PM on July 30, 2013

Bob Heil, who is famous for designing and building the first high powered talkbox with Joe Walsh....he is my neighbor

I have always wondered about the thought process behind this device. The best I can think of is "Yeah, guitar is pretty cool, but the problem with it is, it doesn't sound enough tike a duck"
posted by thelonius at 4:36 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

[Oops, my original comment belonged in another thread. Will join Quadrophenia conversation in a bit.]
posted by nowhere man at 5:06 PM on July 30, 2013

"The Real Me" is in the bass canon for sure.....the whole record is amazing with the ox-manship, of course. I heard that, around this time, Entwistle was playing Gibson Thunderbird bodies with P-bass necks bolted on, and he bought so many of the Gibsons that they were very hard to find. What a great bass player. If you get pretty good on bass, it is not so hard to kind of fake his style, but it is nothing like the real thing.
posted by thelonius at 10:07 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Absolutely one of my favorite albums when I was a teenager, not too many years after it came out. I still love it; it clears a path from my comfortable middle age back through the fog of decades to when I was young enough for the adolescent agonies Pete wrote about to set their hooks in my heart.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:19 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

here's some fine footage of mods dancing to the very early Who, Moon at his maximally R'n'B.
posted by bendybendy at 3:24 AM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Usually I'm griping about someone coming up with a one-liner comment that would have made a much beter title than the one I chose. This time I'm wishing I'd found the documentary on the UK Mod Revival, Time For Action. Would have made an excellent capstone to the post.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:38 AM on August 1, 2013

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