1973: The Who Debut ‘Quadrophenia’

“The reason that the album has come out emotionally as it has is that I felt that The Who ought to make, if you like, a last album.” Those were the dramatic words of Pete Townshend in an interview with the NME at the end of October, 1973. The record he was talking about went on to make its UK chart debut 41 years ago today: it was ‘Quadrophenia.’

This ambitious new work by Townshend, eventually to be turned into a feature film, had made its US chart debut the week before. The album had been launched in the American media on October 19 on 28 big FM radio stations, with a full playback and a taped interview with Townshend. “A masterful set,” avowed Billboard.

On November 10, as Elton John assumed the No. 1 position there with ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ The Who landed the highest new entry of the week, at No. 24, on the way to their highest-ever album chart position in the US of No. 2. They would reach that again with 1978’s ‘Who Are You,’ but have never quite reached the pinnacle.

By the time the record charted in their own country, on November 17, 1973, the band were playing their first American shows in two years, with a tour of 11 major arenas at which they played all of ‘Quadrophenia’ and other Who standards. But their fans back at home had plenty of enthusiasm for the album, too.

That week, there was no shifting David Bowie from the top of the UK bestsellers with his covers album ‘Pin Ups.’ But The Who did the next best thing, arriving at No. 2 and nudging the Elton album down into third place. ‘Quadrophenia’ was, in fact, one of only two new titles in the top 40 that week, with Rory Gallagher’s ‘Tattoo’ a lowly second, at No. 32.

In that NME interview, Townshend commented on whether the album was some sort of epitaph to the mod movement. “Songs like 'My Generation' were that kind of epitaph in a more realistic sense,” he said. “This album is more of a winding up of all our individual axes to grind, and of the group’s ten-year old image, and also of the complete absurdity of a group like The Who pretending that they have their finger on the pulse of any generation.”

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