3. Quadrophenia (1973)
Released in 1973, Quadrophenia has tremendous legs. It's long been the favorite of many hardcore fans and has resulted in a 1979 film and revival tours in 1996/1997 as well as in 2012 into this year: its 40th anniversary. (Phish even covered the album, in full, at one of its famed Halloween shows in 1995 and the band continues to regularly incorporate the bubbly "Drowned" into its sets.) The enduring rock opera was composed entirely by Pete Townshend, who made a demo himself before having the band listen to it.
Townshend became obsessed with the quadraphonic sound experiments going on around the time and famously cited Pink Floyd as an influence. Quadrophenia's "Helpless Dancer" could easily be on The Wall, and the album's narrative arc is very similar to Floyd's concepts in the same era. And—wouldn't ya know it? -- Quadrophenia was recorded in the Battersea area of London, where the iconic power station that graces the cover of Floyd's Animals is located.
The band converted an old church on Thessaly Road into what would become Ramport Studios and began tinkering with the sonics. They designed powerful equipment with an output of 140 decibels; some in the studio's ears and noses bled. Townsend praised the space's "bright" sound, which translates to the crispness of Quadrophenia resonant stereo snap.
Ostensibly the story of a lad named Jimmy who is trying to find his way in the world, Townshend's epic story incorporates mods, rockers, scooters, fallen heroes, love and the sea. (The latter's crashing waves appear as one of the various found sounds Townshend recorded on a reel-to-reel in and around London.)
The focus on the number four fit nicely with the members of the band, who each brought disparate, larger-than-life personalities to the story and the recording, itself. (Their brandy-fueled butting of heads hit its apex when Townshend and Daltrey physically fought.) Keith Moon appears as something of a Monty Python-informed court jester on "Bell Boy" even though Townshend -- ever committed -- wanted him to be taken seriously. Moon doubled down on the persona, collapsing from elephant tranquilizers at the first show of the U.S. Quadrophenia tour. A fan, plucked from the audience, finished the show on drums.
The record, in true opera fashion, has themes and hooks that repeat throughout. Many of the Who's finest -- and often overlooked -- songs can be found on it. "The Punk And The Godfather" has one of the most firmly righteous guitar-and-bass openings in rock history, the chorus of "The Dirty Jobs" smacks a smile on despair, and "Doctor Jimmy" contains lyrics that are still shocking today. And then, of course there's "The Real Me," "5:15," and on and on. "Love Reign O'er Me," long fodder for classic rock radio, is Daltrey at his vocal heights -- screaming as if Jimmy's life depended on it.