I’ll always find it ironic that my first extended exposure to the music of The Who was via the Tommy film and soundtrack, which, as I’ve written previously, was primarily because of my love for Elton John.
And because the film was so-over-the-top and there’d already been an alternate version of Tommy — with the London Symphony Orchestra — I think that not a lot has been written about how Pete Townshend tricked up many of songs on the movie soundtrack with the musical sophistication he’d gained doing who’s next and Quadrophenia.
And while that often meant adding synthesizers and electric guitars to songs that had been mostly acoustic on the original album, it also sometimes meant rethinking the arrangements entirely, as on the cautionary groupie tale “Sally Simpson.”
Outside the house Mr. Simpson announced
That Sally couldn’t go to the meeting
He went on cleaning his blue Rolls Royce
And she ran inside weeping
She got to her room, and tears splashed the picture
Of the new Messiah
She picked up the book of her father’s life
And threw it on the fire
On the original album, “Sally Simpson” is slower, prettier and sung by Roger Daltrey, as the Daltrey-as-Tommy paradigm hadn’t yet been established. But on the soundtrack, it kicks off with an electric guitar, rides a Bo-Diddley beat and is sung by the Narrator: Pete Townshend.
She knew from the start
Deep down in her heart
That she and Tommy were worlds apart
But her mother said, “Never mind,
Your part is to be what you’ll be”
It’s also punched-up by a pair of ringers: Nicky Hopkins and Eric Clapton. Hopkins, of course, had been playing with The Who for a decade, but Clapton was a relatively new thing: Townshend had organized the Rainbow Concerts that served as EC’s post-heroin comeback, and even let him go full blues as the Preacher on the film’s version of “Eyesight to the Blind.”
The theme of the sermon was “Come unto me,
And love will find a way”
So Sally decided to ignore her dad
And sneak out anyway
She spent all afternoon getting ready
And decided she’d try to touch him
Maybe he’d see that she was free
And talk to her this Sunday
And while Clapton’s contributions to “Sally Simpson” were kinda buried in the mix, it’s also fun to hear how he interacts with Hopkins, both of them getting a little crazier and and littler wilder as Sally realizes that she might be in over her head.
She arrived at six, and the place was swinging
To gospel music by nine
Group after group appeared on the stage
And Sally just sat there crying
She bit her nails, looking pretty as a picture
Right in the very front row
And one of the faithful came on stagethen a DJ wearing a blazer with a badge
And shouted: “Here we go!”
The crowd went crazy
As Tommy hit the stage
Little Sally got lost as the police bossed
The crowd back in a rage
And it’s here that the “ft. Roger Daltrey” comes in. Unlike the original version of the song, which is all about Sally, Townshend adds a couple of Tommy’s actual sermons for Daltrey to sing. So while Tommy is telling the crowd
how Pinball is a way of life and everybody should walk the path he’s walking and that they should be joyful, the crowd frenzies up, Sally gets knocked over and bloodied.
But luckily, it was more of a life lesson than anything else. And in fact, weirdly enough, she might have even learned something about herself that Sunday.
Sixteen stitches put her right, and her dad said
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you”
Sally got married to a rock musician
She met in California
Tommy always talks about the day
The disciples all went wild
Sally still carries a scar on her cheek
To remind her of his smile
Sure, like most of Tommy, “Sally Simpson” doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense if you try to think about it as a coherent story, but as a song about the unpredictability of crowds at rock and roll shows, as well as fans who will endure anything to see their idols, it does pack a punch.
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