Thursday, March 7, 2019

50 years ago: The Who charted with “Pinball Wizard”

Pinball Wizard

The Who

Writer(s): Pete Townshend (see lyrics here)

First Charted: March 7, 1969

Peak: 19 US, 15 CB, 15 HR, 1 CL, 4 Uk, 6 CN, 45 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.25 UK

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 27.0 video, 121.85 streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

The gist of the Who’s 1969 Tommy album isn’t just summed up in this song, but one line: “That deaf dumb and blind kid / Sure plays a mean pinball.” The rock opera tells the story of a kid so stricken by childhood abuse that he has shut down all of his senses. He becomes a sort of messiah figure when he starts amassing fans amazed by his inexplicable pinball skills.

The rock opera was inspired by the Meher Baba. Pete Townshend, the band’s guitarist and songwriter, followed the teachings of the Indian spiritual master, who lived in silence the final 44 years of his life. He explained that “Tommy’s real self represents the aim – God – and the…way, the path and all of this.” FO

The song explains how Tommy played so well because there were no distractions via his senses, such as the lights and sounds of the machine. He plays based on vibration and, as the song says, “sense of smell.” Townshend called it “the most clumsy piece of writing I’ve ever done.” WK He considered it a “mindless, badly written song.” SF

This was the last song written for Tommy. The Who previewed the album for rock critic Nik Cohn, who wasn’t overly impressed. Townshend recognized that the project was heavy and the spiritual side and needed something to lighten the tone. He decided Tommy needed to possess a special skill. Knowing that Cohn was a pinball fanatic, Townshend made his protagonist excel at the game. Cohn then gave the project a glowing review. FO

Elton John performed the song in the movie version of Tommy in 1975. His version went on to be a top-10 hit in the UK.

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First posted 8/13/2021.

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