Emotionally, as a soon to turn 16 year-old, my internal thoughts, insecurities and voyage of discovery were just about to go into overdrive. The usual teenage dramas were prominent, fuelled and fanned by the music and lyrics that I was consuming daily with fevered gusto. Over thirty years on and I would say with some certainty that the one album that has done more to develop and change, to challenge and question, to confuse and ultimately to inspire me is Quadrophenia, The Who’s glorious homage to the Mod scene of the 1960s and Pete Townshend’s story of Jimmy’s own tortuous voyage of discovery.
I wasn’t and never have been a Mod, but emotionally, musically and stylistically I felt a connection, a solid bond, initially through The Jam and ensuing influences, but primarily through Quadrophenia, the film and this incredible album. By the time I saw the film I’d developed a love of soul, motown and much of the mod influenced sixties. Watching, and then listening to Quadrophenia was musically majestic, from the sound of the first waves crashing and Entwhistle’s thunderous bass, but emotionally it acted as a catalyst for an introspective discovery that I was already struggling to keep pace with. I devoured it. It challenged me, changed me and for all the questions it asked, it gave me an identity and in Jimmy a character to empathise with and to be inspired by.
Lyrically the album is full of confusion, of inner turmoil and insecurities. It’s about fitting in and the journey into adulthood, from the mind of a troubled soul, disillusioned by society, by people and friends he was desperate to identify with and gain respect from. At times it’s heartbreaking, at others brilliantly provocative, and as a shy 16 year-old wannabe cool-kid exactly what I wanted from an album.
Why do I have to be different to them? Just to earn the respect of a dance hall friend. We have the same old row, again and again. Why do I have to move with a crowd of kids that hardly notice I’m around? I have to work myself to death just to fit in. – ‘Cut My Hair’
Girls of fifteen sexually knowing, the ushers are sniffing eau-de-cologning. The seats are seductive, celibate sitting. Pretty girls digging, prettier women. – ‘5:15’
And amongst the angst, at times it was simply beautiful…
The beach is a place where a man can feel he’s the only soul in the world that’s real. – ‘Bell Boy’
Only love can make it rain the way the beach is kissed by the sea. Only love can make it rain like the sweat of lovers laying in the fields. – ‘Love Reign O’er Me’
The music is as affecting and constantly stimulating as the lyrics. From gentle strings and atmospheric coastal sound waves, into synthesised head-fucks and thunderous, climactic melodic orgasms. And Roger’s screaming… pleading, searching. The combination of Moon and Entwhistle’s monstrous rhythms and Townshend’s screeching guitars has never been more dynamic and impactful, whilst the perfect use of synths and sound effects adds depth and theatre.
If there is essential listening for a 16 year-old, this is it. Fuck X-Factor and The Voice, fuck Miley fucking Cyrus, fuck Justin Bieber and Wrong Direction. Fuck piss-weak manufactured bullshit… stick Quadrophenia on your ipod and go on a beautiful, intense and all-consuming departure from mindless banality into your real, emotional inner-self. Be inspired.