Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pete Townshend's Quadrophenia Recording Notes

Quadrophenia is arguably the Who's best album, despite the soft spot I hold for Tommy. Pete, chastened by his inability to bring the far-reaching science fiction rock opera Lifehouse to fruition, decided to conceptually aim lower with his next project. His eventual second rock opera, Quadrophenia, was meant essentially as a way for the world to never forget that Mod culture existed. The story, as told within the songs, cohered even less so than Tommy. This fact is ultimately one of the things which work positively for the album; the songs aren't shackled to the story as closely, and work just fine outside the confines of the album itself. But what a great album it is, taken in as a whole.

Upon the release of Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend wrote a long-ish set of recording notes which he asked his record company to send out to reviewers with their copy of the double LP, itself which was released with a beautiful libretto. I came upon these notes in a wonderful set of circumstances which aren't really relevant, but for me, having read these notes BEFORE I got intimate with the album, it made my enjoyment of it that much greater when I finally got it. Without further ado, here are Pete's unedited recording notes for Quadrophenia, which are too cool to NOT share:

"Quadrophenia" has taken us about a year to complete. We started thinking of an album of this type last year, about May, when we stopped work on an album we were doing with Glyn Johns. In fact, two songs that Glyn produced with us are included on "Quad." We started the new sessions last year at Stargroves using the Stones Mobile, these sessions also ran foul for various reasons and we decided that for a project this important we would build our own studio at our Warehouse in Battersea. This undertaking started late November last year, was headed by our road manager, John Wolff.

John enlisted the help of a small army of carpenters and builders all in their twenties and the studio was completed in about five months. We started recording using Ronnie Lane's Mobile before the studio was even finished. Our new engineer, Ron Nevison, who actually works for Ronnie Lane, proved to be a hard worker and committed to the album idea and worked right to the end at "The Kitchen" as our studio came to be called, because of the Lyons Corner House appearance of its decor. The control became the dining room, the studio floor, where the real work was done, the Kitchen.

I had already prepared a number of tapes and sound effects at my home studio, so we got ahead very quickly with backing tracks, John and Keith seeming to play better than ever in my opinion. Much brandy was consumed, sixteen crates so I hear and much food was eaten. Some of it superb from London's finest restaurants, some of it I'm afraid not so good. Cooked on occasions by road men and Chinese men in Brixton.

All the time we were recording we were surrounded by anxious builders watching to see their labours appreciated. Whenever we stopped working they would start again, putting air conditioning in and even doing acoustic treatments. A lot of love, or "vibes" they would say, went into the place and you can feel it, it definitely helps the atmosphere to know the people who built the place personall
y, and for them to have been involved in the recording. We were worried at first but things turned out well.

We did the mixing at my studio in the country. I'm a man of many studios now and I didn't want to leave any of them out. The mixing was a whole lot tougher than we thought, the effects tapes taking days to get right for only a few minutes of use. On one occasion we had nine tape machines running, I think it was during the mixing of "I Am The Sea."

Whether you like it, or hate it, this album is notable as a Who album because of the freedom we have had. Every facility was provided and with synthesizer and John Entwistle's brass collection we managed to embrace musical areas we've never hit before. I even played the violin! Keith Moon even sang! Roger even designed the cover! John Entwistle even... even... you'll hear John's contribution when you play the album.

Learning, very much the hard way, about making albums that "flow" I have decided, after listening and listening, that your first listen might be aided by a bit of preamble. It would probably be aided by a stiff drink and a comfy chair as the album is long and we want you to hear it all.

The concept of the album is pretty simple. It's really a series of reflections and memories that a young mod kid is having while sitting on a rock he has ended up on after a miserable and disturbing week. The boy whose name, hold your breath, is Jimmy, has four distinct sides to his personality. Each one
bothers him in a different way. One side of him is violent and determined, aggressive and unshakeable. Another side is quiet and romantic, tender and doubting. Another side is insane and devil-may-care, unreasoning and bravado. The last side of him is insecure and spiritually desperate, searching and questioning.

Each facet of the boy's personality was adopted by a member of the band, originally with a little type casting, we thought we might all play "parts." This didn't happen in the final version, although the type casting still fits. Roger is the first, John the second, Keith the third and myself the last. Each facet has a theme, and on track 1, "I Am The Sea" you hear these themes in the distance over the sound of the sea just before track 2, "Can You See The Real Me." The themes don't always come in the same order, on this occasion you hear Roger's th
eme first played on horn, "Helpless Dancer." The theme is take from the track of the same name. Next is John's theme "Is It Me?." Next is "Bell Boy," Keith's theme, (Keith actually plays the part of the Bell Boy in the song itself on side 3). Last is my theme from "Love Reign O'er Me."

Each facet of his character also represents what I feel to be a particularly marked trait of the "Rock" generation.

"Can You See The Real Me" gets everything going with a quick look in at the psychiatrist's, at home and even a quick visit to the local vicar. Mental security is unfortunately not obtained.

"Quadrophenia" is the title track you guessed. The four themes are now tarted up to form a kind of overture. We used a lot of synthesised strings and brass on this, but John also played a
lot of real brass as well. The themes are "Bell Boy;" "Is It Me;" "Helpless Dancer;" and "Love Reign," in that order.

"Cut My Hair" is a domestic interlude. The boy recalls a row with folks that culminated in his leaving home. We also hear a news broadcast mentioning riots in Brighton between Mods and Rockers, events at which he was present the previous week.

After spending some time doing precisely nothing other than swallowing purple hearts, he attends a Who concert. An imaginary conversation between him and your average mindless Rock Star is portrayed in "Punk And The Godfather."

Jimmy kicks his heels for a bit and the loneliness he feels, despite his four-way mental hangups, are put across in "I'm One." Happily, later on the record he does actually get his four themes into

Suitably disenchanted with his former religion, Rock and Roll, he gets a job as a dustman. Unfortunately, his extremely leftwing views are not appreciated by his work mates and he passes on the greater things. This action takes place in "The Dirty Jobs." No sound effects were available to get the stink across. (See photo) So we used a brass band. Incongruous enough?

In the next track, "Helpless Dancer," we get a real look at where the aggression comes from. Jimmy has a conscience that bites fairly deeply. His frustrations with the world only make him more angry, even bitter.

"Is It In My Head" is the track that shows that Jimmy, although an ordinary kid, has not only a conscience, but also self-doubt. He worries about his own part, and feels maybe his outlook is clouded by pessimism.

"I've Had Enough," A lot happens aroud this bit, much of it in the album cover story, briefly Jimmy "snaps" when he sees a girl he particularly likes with a friend of his. In a desperately self-pitiful state, he smashes up his prized scooter and decides to go to Brighton where he had such a good time with his friends chasing Rockers and eating Fish and Chips.

His train journey down to Brighton, sandwiched between two city gents, is notable for the rather absurd number of purple hearts he consumes in order to wile away the time. In "5:15," he goes through a not-entirely pleasant series of ups and downs as he thinks about the gaudier side of life as a teenager that we see in the newspapers like the News of the World.

Arriving in Brighton sees Jimmy brighten up a bit, get the pun? He talks about rows at home, and is a little sarcastic as he recalls the evening on the beach with his former girlfriend. This happens in "Sea and Sand."

"Drowned" is a song about Jimmy's genuine need to end it all, not in the literal sense we feel from the earlier track, "I've Had Enough," but in a more spiritually defeated sense. He feels old, despite his youth, and feels the sea represents a kind of metaphor of infinity, he longs to drown, to become water, even to become infinite.

"Bell Boy" is fairly up again. The sea and the beach even in the rain do cheer Jimmy up. As he is walking on the beach he sees his old hero, Jimmy remembers this bloke in complete awe, recalling his effortless dancing, his toughness,and his fearlessness with Rockers. He was leader of the gang then. The hero turns out to be a little different then in his ambitions drive than the image Jimmy has laid out for him. Seeing how degraded his former hero had become, he starts to feel the emptiness of his waving the flag for the mod movement. It's critical here because it's all he had left.

He steals a boat and heads out to sea in it, he gets wildly drunk and in "Doctor Jimmy" we see the real bravado at work. Something else happens to him though, something inside clicks, and his original drive to suicide becomes sidetracked as he starts to feel, on the boat at sea his first genuine high. Despite the booze and naturally the pills, his mind and heart transcend his misery and the feeling of the sea and the rain and also the anticlimax of having no axe to grind any more, free him inside.

He reaches the rock, and you hear the four themes again for the last time as he finally shrugs off his mental hangups. Finally, they all merge into one and for the first time he feels complete. This section is called "The Rock."

Sitting in the pouring rain he pours out his heart in a mixture of relief and awe at the new life he has to live ahead of him. "Love Reign O'er Me" closes the album with a traditional Who ending. We smashed the whole bloody lot.

N.B. The above information written by Pete Townshend is specifically intended to be used for reviewer purposes as a guide to your appreciation of "QUADROPHENIA" and not for reproduction in whole or part as a press release. The Who look forward to reading your opinion. Thank you.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am rediscovering some of my old vinyl and, sharing it with my pre-teens. Pete Townsend's notes give
explanation to this complex Album.

December 06, 2008 6:42 AM  

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