The Who's 'Tommy': Premiere of 'Overture' Live With an Intro From Pete Townshend

The Who

Jack Robinson/Universal

Roger Daltrey talks about the new deluxe edition of "Tommy," which includes a "bootleg" disc of the album performed live

The Who's Roger Daltrey notes that the group's 1969 rock opera "Tommy" seems to rear its head every four or five years for some reason." But he's not complaining.

"It's always good," Daltrey tells Billboard about the ambitious saga of the world's favorite pinball-playing, messianic deaf, dumb and blind boy. "I continually hear things new in it, and I suppose as the years go by it means different things. It always felt at the time that 'This'll be different,' and as long as it was different, The Who would go for it."

"Tommy's" latest incarnation is as a four-disc Super Deluxe set coming Nov. 11. It features versions of the album digitally mastered in HD and in 5.1 Hi Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray, a disc of 20 previously unreleased demos and outtakes, and a "bootleg" disc of "Tommy" performed live in its entirety from several 1969 shows -- Billboard premieres the "Overture" below, with a witty intro via Pete Townshend. Along with the music, the edition includes a hardback, 80-page book and a facsimile "Tommy" poster. 

 

Daltrey -- who has played "Tommy" with his own band in recent years -- says all the new components provide insight into the "Tommy" process. 

"Every bit of music on there was written by a group of people," the singer explains. "Pete might have written the top lines of most of the songs, but all of the little bits and intricacies that were all a part of the group's character belonged to the individuals in the group. The demos that Pete (Townshend) made are very rudimentary, but that's all we needed, and it allowed us to put our personalities in, especially in the harmonies and the vocal areas which we'd been experimenting with for many years, from the first mini-opera we did two or three years before (1966's 'A Quick One, While He's Away')." 

As a live piece, meanwhile, Daltrey says "Tommy" "gained a different power altogether. There was something about the band, the way we played in those days, there was so much free-form stuff we could add in live performance. I think we did about five days' rehearsal -- I don't think we did very much more -- and when we went out and played it for the first time the reaction was extraordinary because we wouldn't let people clap for every individual song. That was like keeping the cork in the champagne bottle when you shook it up. So people sat down on the floor and listened, and by the end, when it came to 'See Me, Feel Me' and 'Listening To You,' they all just went nuts, completely crazy. It was a really weird thing. Along with the amount of drugs people smoked those days, it was quite a good night."

In addition to the Super Deluxe edition, a new documentary, "Sensation -- The Story of Tommy," was recently broadcast by the BBC and is due out on DVD and Blu-ray in March. Daltrey and Townshend have both said The Who plans a final full-scale tour to commemorate its 50th anniversary in 2015 but will continue to perform subsequently.