Pinball Wizard

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"Pinball Wizard"
Single by The Who
from the album Tommy
B-side "Dogs (Part Two)"
Released 7 March 1969
Recorded 7 February 1969 at Morgan Studios, London, UK
Genre Hard rock, art rock
Length 3:01
Label Polydor
Decca (US)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) Kit Lambert
The Who singles chronology
"Magic Bus"
(1968)
"Pinball Wizard"
(1969)
"I'm Free"
(1969)
Tommy track listing
"Fiddle About"
(12)
"Pinball Wizard"
(13)
"There's a Doctor"
(14)
The Who's "Pinball Wizard" from Tommy (rock opera)

Elton John's "Pinball Wizard" from Tommy (1975 film)

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"Pinball Wizard" is a song written by Pete Townshend and performed by the English rock band The Who, and featured on their 1969 rock opera album Tommy. The original recording was released as a single in 1969 and reached No. 4 in the UK charts and No. 19 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

The B-side of the Pinball Wizard single is an instrumental credited to Keith Moon, titled "Dogs (Part Two)". Despite similar titles it has no musical connection to The Who's 1968 UK single "Dogs".

Story[edit]

The lyrics are written from the perspective of a pinball champion, called "Local Lad" in the Tommy libretto book, astounded by the skills of the opera's eponymous main character, Tommy Walker: "What makes him so good?; He ain't got no distractions; Can't hear those buzzers and bells; Don't see lights a flashin'; Plays by sense of smell.; Always has a replay; Never tilts at all; That deaf dumb and blind kid; Sure plays a mean pin ball.", and "I thought I was the Bally table king, but I just handed my pinball crown to him".

Townshend once called it "the most clumsy piece of writing [he'd] ever done"[1] nevertheless, the song was a commercial success and one of the most recognised tunes from the opera. It was a perpetual concert favourite for Who fans due to its pop sound and familiarity.

Position on the album[edit]

The song was introduced into Tommy as an afterthought[citation needed]. In late 1968 or early 1969, when The Who played a rough assembly of their new album to critic Nik Cohn, Cohn gave a lukewarm reaction. Following this, Townshend, as Tommy's principal composer, discussed the album with Cohn and concluded that, to lighten the load of the rock opera's heavy spiritual overtones (Townshend had recently become deeply interested in the teachings of Meher Baba), the title character, a "deaf, dumb, and blind" boy, should also be particularly good at a certain game. Knowing Cohn was an avid pinball fan, Townshend suggested that Tommy would play pinball, and Cohn immediately declared Tommy to be a masterpiece[citation needed]. The song "Pinball Wizard" was written and recorded almost immediately.

Live performances[edit]

This song is one of the band's most famous live songs, being played at almost every Who concert since its debut live performance on 2 May 1969. The live performances rarely deviated from the album arrangement, save for an occasional jam at the end sometimes leading to another song. Bootleg recordings show that this song has been known to last as long as 8 minutes (at a concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London on 3 February 1981), although live versions lasting as long as that are extremely rare.

Elton John version[edit]

"Pinball Wizard"
Single by Elton John
from the album Tommy
B-side "Harmony"
Released 1976
Genre Hard rock, glam rock
Length 5:14
Label DJM Records
MCA (US & Canada)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) Gus Dudgeon
Elton John singles chronology
"Grow Some Funk of Your Own"
(1976)
"Pinball Wizard"
(1976)
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart"
(1976)

The song was performed by Elton John in Ken Russell's 1975 film adaptation of Tommy. This version was released as a single in 1975 in the US, and in 1976 in the UK, where it reached number 7. John's version uses a piano as the song's centerpiece in place of the acoustic guitar in the original (in the film, John's character is shown playing his pinball machine via a small piano keyboard), and features additional lyrics specially written by Townshend for the movie version, as well as a subtle inclusion of musical phrases from The Who's 1960s hit "I Can't Explain" during the outro (similarly, The Who's later cover of John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" included parts of "Take Me to the Pilot"). Unlike most of the soundtrack's music, which featured various combinations of The Who and some of the era's best session players, John used his own band (Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson, Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper) and producer Gus Dudgeon for the track. John has performed the song as part of his Las Vegas Red Piano Show, as well as on various tours. To date, it is the only cover of a Who song to reach the top 10.

Personnel[edit]

Other cover versions[edit]

  • Roger Ruskin-Spear (who was Townshend's roommate at college,) performed the song on his album "Unusual"
  • Rod Stewart performed the song for the 1972 orchestral version of Tommy, and it is included on several of Stewart's greatest hits compilations. According to the book The Duh Awards by Bob Fenster, Rod Stewart asked Elton John if he should accept an offer to sing in a film version of "Tommy." John replied no way, "Don't touch it with a barge pole." A year later, The Who asked John to sing the same song, and he agreed. "I don't think Rod's quite forgiven me for that," he commented years later.
  • The song was featured in a medley with another song from Tommy ("See Me, Feel Me") in a recording by the British pop group The New Seekers in 1973. This version reached No. 16 on the UK charts. In the same year, this medley was covered by the Shadows, in instrumental version, on "Rocking with Curly Leads"
  • In 1977, Barry Williams performed the song during a "Songs from Movies" medley on an episode of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.[2]
  • The London Symphony Orchestra recorded a version of the song on its 1978 album Classic Rock: The Second Movement to which Pete Townshend contributed vocals.
  • The song was also performed by Tenacious D as the closing song at shows on their 2006–2007 tour, usually as part of a medley of Tommy songs. They also played the first verse and chorus of the song at their 2nd Headliner slot at 2008's Reading Festival.
  • On the TV show Rock Star: Supernova, Storm Large sang Pinball Wizard as her opening song on the first Live week as well as being the First to Sing.
  • McFly covered the song in 2005. It was given a video and used as a b-Side.
  • On the BBC Radio 4 series I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, Tim Brooke-Taylor once sang Pinball Wizard to the tune of Jerusalem.
  • Genesis would insert part of Pinball Wizard into their Turn It On Again medley live in the 80s.
  • The Flaming Lips covered the song at the VH1 tribute to The Who.
  • Thunder did a cover of "Pinball Wizard" to be featured on "Hollywood Rocks" CD produced with Classic Rock magazine
  • 2010: Les Fradkin (On his solo Ztar album Hyper MIDI Guitar)
  • The University of Oklahoma Marching Band did a cover of Pinball Wizard during the halftime show of the 2009 BCS Championship.
  • The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain does a cover during almost every concert.
  • Guns N' Roses occasionally played an excerpt of the song during their 1993 world tour, as an introduction to their song "Patience".
  • At The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, a brief intro of the song was played after "Heaven and Hell" intro before "I Want It All", performed by Roger Daltrey, Tony Iommi and Queen.
  • The Cornell University Big Red Marching Band performs an arrangement of this during most post-game concerts.
  • Noted theatre organist Jonas Nordwall has recorded covers on his albums Can't Stop the Music and Bits, Bytes, & Pipes Vol. 2
  • The Dartmouth Aires performed the song on the third season of The Sing-Off during the 60's classics round.
  • The Vocal Adrenaline glee club performs the song during the "Nationals" episode of the popular Fox show, Glee.
  • The song was performed by the Kaiser Chiefs as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in London. The group then covered the song again at the Leeds & Reading Festivals in 2012.

In popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Remaster Liner Notes to Tommy "Deaf, Dumb and Blind kid" by Richard Barnes
  2. ^ Nichelson, Ted (2009). Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of the Brady Bunch Variety Hour. ECW Press. p. 291. ISBN 9781550228885. 
  3. ^ According to the game's flyer.