You know how they’ll do something like cast Britney Spears in a film in order to get all of her teenybopper fans to go see that film? Well, that’s pretty much the same thing that happened with me and Elton John and Tommy.
When Tommy debuted in Fresno in early 1975 — downtown at the Crest theatre — I somehow convinced my parents to let me go.
I don’t remember who I went with or any of those types of details. I just remember being kinda blown away by the visuals and the music, even if the plot didn’t really make any sense.
And I remember being really upset about the “Pinball Wizard” sequence for one reason: it wasn’t Elton John’s band in the scene, but rather The Who.
I knew that Elton’s band played on the song because I’d already bought the soundtrack album, so it made no damn sense to 12-year-old Jim that his band wasn’t in the sequence.
So therefore, the first time I ever saw The Who perform under any circumstances, I was disappointed. Sure, Pete Townshend smashed his guitar and Keith Moon knocked over his drumkit, but it was the wrong band!
Also: here’s another thing that made no sense: how can both the song and Elton John’s character be called “Pinball Wizard” when he’s singing about Tommy? Was “Pinball Wizard” a title that the best pinball players like “Grand Master” in chess?
Can somebody contact Ken Russell and/or Pete Townshend to sort this out? (And no, I don’t care that Ken Russell is dead.)
Meanwhile, Elton’s version of “Pinball Wizard” is actually pretty great: not only does he show off his mad piano playing skillz with the opening riff and the instrumental break, there are additional lyrics and a nice “I Can’t Explain” rip at the end.
That said, it turned out to be only my second favorite track on the album, as I was utterly mesmerized by the drumming on the crazy-ass instrumental called “Sparks,” which … we will get to “Sparks” in due time.
Anyways, the movie poster for Tommy famously promised that “Your senses will never be the same.” And in my case, I think that may have actually been true.
“Pinball Wizard” sequence from Tommy