Quadrophenia - thoughts on the BBC4 Documentary

Iconic is an over-used word. It should be reserved for only the most culturally significant. Bobby Moore holding the World Cup, Andy Warhol's picture of Marilyn Monroe, The Sex Pistols at the 100 club. You can add to that list The Who's 1973 Quadrophenia double album.

I got my copy more Christmases ago than I dare remember and I still have it, battered, after years of use. It would not be overstating the case to say that it is one of the key albums of my life - and that it still sounds as good today as it did back then, in fact, if anything it has grown in stature and resonance over the years. Its existential portrayal of a sixties mod, fuelled by adrenalin and purple hearts, confused by the world around him, has a universal potency that each new generation can lock into. A little like On The Road, or The Catcher In The Rye, or Absolute Beginners.

So I had high expectations of Friday night's programme on BBC4. I wasn't disappointed. The new documentary took you through the album - its conception, creation, execution - through the eyes of its auteur, Pete Townshend. There were contributions from, amongst others, the man whose vocals never sounded better than on this record, Roger Daltrey, Who aficionado, Mark Kermode, Ace Face and legendary Who fan, Irish Jack Lyons, Townshend's former flatmate and author of the book "Mods", Richard Barnes, and manager Bill Curbishley. The input from recording engineer Ron Nevison, writer Howie Edelson and photographer Ethan Russell (who took those timeless pictures that accompanied the album) was particularly illuminating. And the inclusion of Maxine Isenman and Julie Emson - the mod girls who appeared in those photographs - was genius itself.

Sadly, Terry Kennett - the "mod kid played by Chad" - could not be represented in person, as he passed away in 2011. His presence in those photographs was central. But there was a significant degree of commentary on his behalf, in particular from Isenman, Emson and Russell. The documentary told us how he was discovered by Townshend, a little bit of his background and how he was almost forced to be elsewhere during the shooting. He "stole a bus", as Russell explained, along with a description of how his commitments with The Who led to him being let off at his subsequent court appearance.

Among the points of interest were the fact that the first piece created for the Quadrophenia project was the short story that appeared on the cover of the album, which Townshend wrote one afternoon at his home by the river. I always thought that short story augmented the double album perfectly and set the scene neatly for the music that was to follow. It was interesting to hear about the personal interaction within the band, as well as the isolated vocals and instrumental parts, a good example of which is the riff of 5.15 in its naked form, with the horns (that were such an important part of the overall feel of the album) stripped away. And the conversation about the mod scene involving Lyons, Barnes and Townshend was invaluable, as was Lyons' visit to the legendary Goldhawk, where the band played many of their early shows.

Then there was the tomfoolery of a certain Mr Moon, along with a priceless anecdote about the invoicing arrangements for his Rolls Royce. "What was Keith Moon like in 1973?", asked Daltrey.  "A little bit more drunk than in 1972".   He added that Moon was "at the top of his game" in 1973/4. Few Who fans would argue with that.

Overall, the documentary is well worth watching for both Who devotees like me and anyone who has an interest in the album. It is available for a period on the BBC iplayer, here:


 I've watched it twice. Now it's time to watch it again.

 "Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents....".


  1. I must thank my younger brother and his mates who were listening to Quadrophenia endlessly in our parents basement while I was obsessing the blues upstairs in my room.
    I would wander down and hear/feel Moon's drums and Trouser's chord thrashing through the floorboards. I wandered down to be immersed in it fully and it captivated me. For one thing it re-awoke my Mod tendencies and gave me a new appreciation for the Who a band I had previously written off as a great singles 60's band. Sorry, Tommy never did it for me the way Quadrophenia did, maybe I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.

    And yes Moon was tops then, still not as good a all-round drummer as Ginger Baker but perfect for Townsend/Who music, there would be no replacing him, sorry Kenny. Hey I loved the Small Faces and yes The Faces too until Rod lost his mind.

  2. Just watched the documentary, brought back great memories. I lived next door to Chad and knew his family, saw our flat. It was a great time in London you felt safe and every pub had a band. The Who was the Glenland Pub Forest Hill band. I was not a Mod but my sister was. Our house was open house, I remember one Saturday night my mother gave the boy's her Beaver Lamb coat to cut up for Vestpa seat covers. I saw The Who at the Streatham Locano they were doing there stuff shame to a half empty venue. This all happened in a small window of time 4-5 years, great music was generated and has lived the test of time.

  3. Does anyone know what song is being played (appx 29th minute) in the clip in the blues club the Che Don ?

    with the line "As i was laying a hospital bed"


    1. I really loved watching this film; they just aired it last weekend on one of our satellite TV channels. That was one of the most enjoyable and meaningful and artistically, aesthetically impressive productions I have seen. Am a huge fan of Quadrophenia and The Who, anyway.
      The singer is singing " Pills " which is a Bo Diddley song.
      Who knows what band is playing it in that segment ...

    2. That song is " Pills " by Bo Diddley. I don't know what band is performing in that clip.

    3. It is a cover of PILLS by BO DIDDLEY

      Pills Trk 13 Disc 2 2:50
      (Ellas McDaniel)
      Bo Diddley
      Bo Diddley - vocal & guitar, Clifton James - drums
      Jerome Green - maraacas.
      Recorded May 2, 1961, originally Checker single 985
      Bo Diddley Chess Box Set MCA Records Inc. CHD2-19502.

      While I was laying in a hospital bed
      A rock n' roll nurse went through my head
      She says, 'Hold out your arm, stick out yo' tongue
      I got some pills, boy, I'm 'on give you one'

      She went through my head, through my head
      Through my head, through my head
      She went to my head, through my head
      While I was layin' in a hospital bed

      She gave me thrills from my toes
      For leggin' ache
      She gave me pills from her love
      But a little too late

      She gave me pills for my heart
      To put me at ease
      The rock n' roll nurse
      Shook me dead to my knees

      She went through my head, through my head
      Through my head, through my head
      She went through my head, through my head
      While I was layin' in the hospital bed

      Nurses, nurses, can't you see
      I don't dig this jive you givin' me?
      Give me yo' pill or give me your shot
      You got me wonderin' what, what have I got?

      She went through my head, through my head
      Through my head, through my head
      Through my head, she went through my head
      While I was layin' in that hospital bed

      Doctor, doctor, run here 'n see
      I don't dig this jive this nurse givin' me
      She gimme a shot, she give me yo' pills
      I'm takin' this junk a'gin my will

      She went through my head, through my head
      Through my head, to my head
      He went through my head, through my head

      Jak Ripley
      While I was layin' in that hospital bed

      Ow! Look out man, Ow!

  4. Whilst I love the Who , Quadrohenia is easily my favourite and has been since I finally acquired it in 1976. .

    The documentary does the album proud and it was a pity that some of the main protagonists , that helped to make the album famous , Terry , Moon and the Ox , have all gone. .

    Townsend wrote the album as a tribute to the Mods he knew and the ones that went to see him play , back in the 6ts . I think the album went on to inspire many of the revival Mods of the late 7ts-early 8ts which has led to Mod enduring for many. .

    The show does convey quite well how Townsend was planning to leave the band at and around the time of Quadrophenia , something that l never knew before . Thank God he never sent that letter. .

  5. Watched this today for the second time and was still blown away. There is something about Quadrophenia that draws me in completely, and this doc told the story of its creation so well. Made me remember how much I love The Who!