"'Tommy' changed everything and saved us," Pete Townshend remembers in the introductory essay to the 2011 re-release of "Quadrophenia". Basically, The Who had been a singles band in the sixties; the sudden intellectualization of pop music had posed a new, unexpected challenge to its thought leader. "People suddenly wanted to hear 'serious' music from pop groups. By recording a rock opera - in our opinion just a sequence of good singles, but implying a cohesive and therefore more significant and challenging musical experience - we as a band have survived one of the most turbulent periods in rock history"
The only problem was: the fans expected more in this direction. So in the early seventies, Townshend began with the conception of the multimedia "Lifehouse" project, which is still legendary today and which was about a future in which people can pull music directly out of their bodies via cable entrances. But "Lifehouse" failed - at least in its planned form - because the band mates didn't want to follow Townshend's ideas. The core of the already finished compositions, among them "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again", then formed the album "Who's Next", which was initially unloved by the band and presented a loose sequence of songs. Some "Lifehouse" tracks also appeared on Townshend's 1972 factual solo debut "Who Came First". And some others just lay around and should be reworked to something new.
Is It In My Head?
Still with a sense of commitment to the fans to compose a monumental rock opera, Townshend worked with journalist Nik Cohn to develop a new concept: "Rock Is Dead - Long Live Rock" was to pick up on the four personalities of the band members, mythically transfigure them and, as the latest state of the art was, unite them in a single character, Jimmy, at the narrative level. However, Cohn came to Townshend with a film treatment and told him - the free spirit of the sixties still blew quite strongly - that the finished film would take at least eight hours to live up to the story. The rather pragmatic Townshend distanced himself from Cohn's ideas, but he gladly took up his basic idea, especially since he had already written a few songs for the project. The four characters of The Who should be the focus of a new concept. His idea: "Four Faces", a double album on which every band member should compose one side or at least "curate" - Townshend hadn't thought that much about it yet - in order to reflect his personality musically.
A drug-induced daydream led to the decisive further development of the idea. Townshend: "I haven't taken drugs since 1967, but Ric Grech, who played bass for Eric Clapton, persuaded me to try amyl nitrite. When I came down from that stuff, alone in my cabin in Cleeve, I suddenly remembered my youth: It was 1964, I was nineteen and slept with my girlfriend Liz Fraser under the Brighton Pier after a night marked by the legendary street fights between mods and rockers. I was just coming down under the pier from a few Uppers I had swallowed, and suddenly the sensations of that time came back; the feeling of falling, of depression, tragedy, forlornness and hopelessness."