Music: Quadrophenia


"Why should I care if I have to cut my hair?
I've got to move with the fashion or be outcast
I know I should fight, but my old man is really alright
And I'm still living at home, even though it won't last
Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents five inches long
I'm out on the street again, and I'm leapin' along
Dressed right for a beach fight, but I just can't explain
Why that uncertain feeling is still here in my brain"
— "Cut My Hair"

"I am not the actor/this can't be the scene
But I am in the water/as far as I can see"
— "Drowned"

Quadrophenia is the sixth studio album by The Who, released in 1973. It concerns itself with the story of Jimmy, a young Mod living in 1960s England who undergoes something of a spiritual revelation, thanks to the power of rock. Or more specifically, loud, progressive-influenced Who songs. The story, such as it is, is really an analysis of the trials and tribulations the British youth of the early 1960s had to endure: girlfriends, fighting to be popular and to fit in, being out of work, drugs, etc.

The plot follows Jimmy's quest for identity as he struggles with life. The opera opens as he sits marooned on a rock in the middle of the English Channel, contemplating what led him there. A large part of the plot is Jimmy looking at the past few days of his life, in particular the Rocker-Mod conflicts that he was a part of, and attempting to reconcile his four different identities- the quadrophenia of the title.

The album was adapted into a 1979 cult film starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, and Sting, featuring the music from the album (touched up with horns and synthesizers), along with a number of Motown tunes.

The album has gone on to become one of the Who's most celebrated works after Tommy, and was the album they chose to perform when they relaunched back in 1996-97. Considered by many to be Pete Townshend's Magnum Opus, though Tommy and Who's Next are also candidates for that title. "Quadrophenia" was listed at #267 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.


Side One

  1. "I Am The Sea" (2:09)
  2. "The Real Me" (3:21)
  3. "Quadrophenia" (6:14)
  4. "Cut My Hair" (3:45)
  5. "The Punk And The Godfather" (5:11)

Side Two

  1. "I'm One" (2:38)
  2. "The Dirty Jobs" (4:30)
  3. "Helpless Dancer" (2:34)
  4. "Is It In My Head?" (3:44)
  5. "I've Had Enough" (6:15)

Side Three

  1. "5:15" (5:01)
  2. "Sea And Sand" (5:02)
  3. "Drowned" (5:28)
  4. "Bell Boy" (4:56)

Side Four

  1. "Doctor Jimmy" (8:37)
  2. "The Rock" (6:38)
  3. "Love, Reign O'er Me" (5:49)

Principal Members:

  • Roger Daltrey - lead vocals, percussion
  • John Entwistle - bass, backing and co-lead vocals, horns
  • Keith Moon - drums, percussion, co-lead vocals
  • Pete Townshend - guitar, backing and lead vocals, synthesizer, piano, violin, banjo, percussion, sound effects

The Dirty Tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Most of the movie focuses on the events leading up to the Brighton beach riots, which in the album occur near the beginning.
  • Adults Are Useless: Though as this is about youth, it may be more that Jimmy can't accept help.
    • The liner notes take a jab at this with a disclaimer from the band saying that their parents are all lovely people who "live in big houses that we bought for them."
  • Alliterative Title: "Bell Boy".
  • All There in the Manual: While Quadrophenia may be more straightforward than Tommy, it has much less dialogue and narration. Most people will have read the synopsis included in the liner notes, or seen the movie, before they even begin to figure out the plot.
  • Anti-Hero: Jimmy who is a young hoodlum.
  • Arc Words: Being a rock opera, it carries a few recurring themes and motifs, each one supposedly referring to a member of the band.
    • Roger's theme: "Helpless Dancer"
    • Pete's theme: "Love Reign o'er Me"
    • John's theme: "Is It Me, for a Moment?"
    • Keith's theme: "Bell Boy"
    • "Why should I care?" also appears often.
    • A small bit repeats in both "5:15" and "Drowned".
    • This stanza, sung whenever Jimmy tries to reaffirm his Mod identity:
    My jacket's gonna be cut slim and checked
    Maybe a touch of seersucker with an open neck
    I ride a GS scooter with my hair cut neat
    I wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet.
    • Gets expanded in "Sea and Sand", during one of the most conflicting moments of the album.
  • Be Yourself: This is what Jimmy's epiphany at the end amounts to. One of the more mature uses of the trope (interesting, considering it's about the trials of youth, and the trope is mostly "for kids")
  • Broken Pedestal: Jimmy finds a mod he used to look up to ("Ace Face") working as a bell boy in a hotel that he'd previously smashed the windows at.
  • Concept Album: See the introduction above.
  • Continuity Nod: Several earlier Who/High Numbers songs are referenced lyrically:
    • "Zoot Suit" ("Cut My Hair")
    • "My Generation" ("The Punk and the Godfather", "5:15")
    • "I'm the Face ("Sea and Sand")
  • Crapsack World: Helpless Dancer paints the setting into this, at least to Jimmy.
  • Creator Cameo: Jimmy visits a Who show partway into the plot, as portrayed in "The Punk and the Godfather", which consists of him telling Pete Townshend off, and Townshend replying in kind. Very self deprecating.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Jimmy's stash gets him kicked out by his parents, and he spends most of the plot drunk, tripping, or spun. They are also one cause of his severe mood swings. Not explicit, but it's not hard to make a case for either.
    ...leaping along" (slang for amphetamine/speed is "leapers")
    But my mother found a box of blues
    And there doesn't seem much hope they'll let me stay
    Out of my brain on the 5:15/ Out of my brain on the train
    (...) Uppers and downers/ Either way blood flows
    (...) What is it? I'll take it.../Maybe something stronger could really hold me down
    (...) When i'm pilled I don't notice him, he only comes out when I drink my gin
  • Epic Rocking: "Quadrophenia" is 6:14 long, "I've Had Enough" 6:15, not to mention "Doctor Jimmy" (8:37), "The Rock" (6:38) and "Love, Reign o'er Me" (5:49).
  • Former Teen Rebel: "Bell Boy", where Jimmy finally realizes how stupid his former rebellious fase actually was.
  • How We Got Here: The bulk of the story takes place on a rocky outcropping in the middle of the English Channel, with Jimmy flashbacking to how he ended up there, taking stock of his life in the process.
  • It Runs in the Family: When Jimmy asks his mom about his problems in "The Real Me" this is the only thing she tells him.
  • "I Am" Song: "The Real Me" and "I'm One"
  • In Vino Veritas: "Dr. Jimmy" is all over this trope, and combines it with...
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Via the above, Dr. Jimmy is this all over. The song makes reference to reckless gambling and raping women, but it isn't clear if he actually does this or is just rambling or hallucinating.
    • "Doctor Jimmy and Mister Jim/When I'm pulled you don't notice him/He only comes out when I drink my gin"
  • Journey to Find Oneself: Interesting is that Jimmy does this mostly in his head; he sits in the middle of nowhere and takes stock of the past parts of his life
  • Last Note Nightmare: "I've Had Enough", the last song on the first disc. Out of nowhere comes a loud, distraught "LOOOOOOOOOOVE", which fades into cacophonous dockside noise.
    • "Love Reign O'Er Me" has two: the first is Roger Daltrey's explosive "LOOOOOOOOVE!!!" followed by Keith Moon's drum solo finally climaxing in a booming horn sting.
  • Lighter and Softer: Okay, so the identity crisis, emotional turmoil, and social trials aren't exactly "light" per se, but compared to Tommy this album has no torture or rape and an overall happy ending.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: The album cover has each of the mirrors on Jimmy's scooter showing a different face (one of each member of The Who, each representing one of his personalities).
  • Mushroom Samba:
    • "5:15" depicts Jimmy taking the train to Brighton while on an acid trip. Intoxication Ensues is also implied in the movie version.
    • His mood swing personalities are also fueled by drugs (well, sometimes).
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: "Helpless Dancer" has a little of this.
  • One Man Song: "Bell Boy", "Doctor Jimmy".
  • Precision F-Strike: The only f-word on the album is used highly effectively In "Doctor Jimmy":
    You say she's a virgin, but I'm gonna be the first in.
    Her fella's gonna kill me? Oh, fucking will he?
  • Questioning Title: "Is It In My Head?"
  • Recurring Riff: The four "themes" of Jimmy's personalities echo throughout the album.
  • Redemption in the Rain: Jimmy gets this while standing in the rain.
  • Rock Opera: Naturally. It does, however, have less dialogue than Tommy did.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: Every other track. Subverted at the end.
  • Split Personality: The titular quadrophenia is a play on the older (incorrect) use of the term schizophrenia and "quad" for four. This isn't a strict case though, as the separate "personalities" of Jimmy are implied to be closer to mood swings than anything.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Keith Moon sings co-lead vocals on "Bell Boy", one of very few Who songs where he sings lead.
    • Pete Townshend sings lead on "I'm One" and co-lead on several other songs.
    • Averted with John Entwistle; this was the first Who album since My Generation on which he had no lead vocal (as well as the first on which he contributed to none of the song-writing).
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted- Jimmy visits one in "The Real Me." This isn't the first time, either. It doesn't help, and so he visits a vicar and his mom too. But then...