Quadrophenia: The Stories Behind the Album's Sound Effects, Cover Design, and Booklet

The Who finally began their Quadrophenia sessions at Ramport on May 21, about nine months after Townshend had first discussed the opera in the press. Work was certainly serious by June 3, when they transferred material from eight-track to 16-track. Though Daltrey had said in the April 26 Rolling Stone that they would have a new LP out by June, that was now an impossibility. The recording console still wasn't ready; the producer would pretty much fade out of the project; and they were using an engineer with whom they'd never before worked. Yet within only a couple of months or so, they had the basis of a classic double album.

    As good as The Who's performances for Quadrophenia were, there was more to be done than simply blending their tracks when it came time to mix the album at Pete's new home studio in Goring-on-Thames. More than any other rock album, perhaps (though Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, also released in 1973, gave it a run for its money), Quadrophenia made innovative and purposeful use of a multitude of sound effects to set its mood and accent various aspects of the lyrics (and hence, in this case, story). Most of these were not sound effects lifted off other recordings, as The Beatles had done for many of the tracks on which they used such snippets (often from the library of EMI's studios on Abbey Road). Most of them were taped, in the field as it were, specifically for the LP.

    These are not mere novelties or gimmicks. They are essential to the overall impact of the opera, almost as if they're part of the non-musical soundtrack to a movie on record. Beach noises and wave crashes are a big part of this, but so are the grim newscast report of a mod vs. rocker riot as a kettle comes to a boil; the roar of a stadium crowd near the end of 'The Punk Meets the Godfather'; the rush of a passing train at the end of 'I've Had Enough'; the chanting striking workers in 'The Dirty Jobs'; the bleat of a train whistle near the start of '5:15' (recorded at Waterloo Station after the engineer had been bribed five pounds to blow it as his train pulled out, in violation of regulations); and, most wittily of all, the distant sound of the first few lines of The Who's own classic record 'The Kids Are Alright' after 'Helpless Dancer,' simulating the sound of hearing a band in the dancehall. It reminds us that the group were a part of Jimmy's life too, if somewhere off in the background.

    "It's not a story, more a series of impressions of memories," explained Townshend in NME when the album was released. "The real action in this is that you see a kid on a rock in the middle of the sea and this whole thing explains how he got there. That's why I used sound effects: to establish atmosphere. Some of the sound effects, I've tried to manipulate impressionistically. It's something that's new to me and I'm not particularly good at it, but I'm glad I did it."

    "I recorded most of 'em myself," says Ron Nevison. "The biggest project was the sea. I took Ronnie [Lane]'s truck down by myself on a weekend down to Cornwall, only because I had vacationed there previously. I knew where I wanted to go, I had a perfect spot, and it was a great day. I put four microphones out, and recorded quadraphonic sea sound (of course, I only got to use stereo). So I set up four [Neumann] U 87s, two on the rocks and two in the back, waited for the tide to come in, spent about three, four, five, six hours, I don't remember. When the tide went out, I recorded a bunch of sea noise. That's the sea that you hear throughout the album, especially at the beginning.

    "I recorded the rain a couple of different places. I went out to Wales on a rainy weekend, in a tent, and I took a really high-quality stereo recorder. I was hoping to get thunder, but you can't wait for thunder. It's not something you can program. So I ended up getting a lot of rain. Then I also recorded rain at Ramport on a rainy night. I always had the recorder ready in case we got thunder, but we never did. So I ended up having to use thunder from archival footage."

    You can't exactly program sea waves either, and Rod Houison, credited (with Nevison and Townshend) for sound effects on the LP, says some special engineering was called for to get what they needed. "I was down with Ron doing the sea stuff," he recalls. "Here we are down on Cornwall on probably the quietest sea day that you've ever imagined, and we're trying to get surf that's gonna be breaking not only around us, but behind us, against some kind of imaginary cliff. That was Pete's idea – just find a rocky outcrop, put four mikes out there, and get the water to rush by and then crash up the cliff behind.

    "We stuck out these enormously expensive mikes, and there was this trickle of water. Ron said, 'We're gonna be here days!' So he cranked up the mike gain to get the water to sound as if it was actually more than a trickle. But every now and again you'd hear this 'ruff ruff.' There was not a thing in sight; just sea, and that was it. Then we found that three quarters of a mile away was a dog. That's how much we had to crank up the gain in order to get the sea sound. Later, I think it was the next day, all came clear and we got some decent surf. Then it was a toss-up: 'Well, who swims? Because somebody's gonna have to go out and get four very expensive microphones quickly.' I was elected, so I did it."

    Closer to home, Nevison went to Hyde Park's famed Speakers' Corner and was shown off the property, unaware that taping was not allowed. He wasn't supposed to tape the brass band (used to link 'The Dirty Jobs' with 'Helpless Dancer') in London's Regent's Park either, "but this time I was smart. I hid the microphones in like a bag, and just stuck the heads of the microphones out to pick up the noise."

    Townshend himself joined the fun by spending evenings on the Thames at his Goring-on-Thames home recording birds taking off from the water, at one point dropping his tape recorder and mike into the river. "We went out on a dinghy with an outboard motor and recorded lots of little outboard motor sounds and walking, footsteps, just bits and pieces that we used," recalls Jon Astley, later to be involved in producing and remastering/remixing many Who releases, and who was at that time Townshend's brother-in-law. "I was just a student at the time, so it was very exciting. They helped the story along, which is great. When the guy's walking on the beach, you hear the pebbles; you get immediately the picture in your mind of where is and what he's doing." Pete also walked around London recording street noises for possible use, in stereo no less.

    Houison went beyond the line of duty to get the blaring train horn that follows Daltrey's scream on 'I've Had Enough,' actually stepping onto the tracks himself. "I had a couple of Neumann microphones, and my first attempt was standing by a very fast railway line which wasn't too far from Goring," he remembers. "I was standing about 15-20 feet from the train. The trains would hurtle by, and all they sounded like was a bit like a jet passing. So I thought, okay, we're gonna have to get the guy to sound his horn as it passes. Now, trying to actually bribe somebody to do that is completely impossible. So there I was with my headphones, and these things would appear just about 90-100 miles per hour around this bend, and we'd step onto the line. You would then get [mimics an engineer sounding his horn]. So obviously, that became a train rather than a jet passing."

    The greatest stroke of ingenuity was reserved for the newscast of the Brighton riot, read by an actual BBC radio announcer, John Curle. "He was a very revered and well-loved announcer," recalls Houison. "We bought various what we called medium-wave simulators, which didn't work. It never sounded quite right. So in the end, Pete bribed this guy to actually read the actual paragraph on the 6:00 news, or whichever news it was. And he in his very official voice said, 'down in Brighton,' or whatever. We recorded it off a genuine radio down at Goring-At-Thames and that worked extremely well. As I remember it was recorded live from the AM radio in my XKE Type Jag parked outside the studio. All the AM simulators of the day didn't sound real enough." (Richard Barnes thinks that John Walters, the BBC radio producer who'd commissioned Keith Moon to do the four-episode 1973 summer comedy show A Touch of the Moon, probably helped with obtaining clearing the usage of the BBC announcer and other sound effects, accounting for why Walters is thanked in the LP credits.)

    Didn't that broadcast sound a bit curious to millions of other listeners, announcing mod riots on live radio that certainly weren't happening in 1973? "Yes, absolutely," Rod responds. "Immediately afterwards, he gave an explanation. A bit like [when] Orson Welles's War of the Worlds [was broadcast in 1938]. This guy was so well respected that he could do something like that. As far as Pete was concerned, it had to be this guy, because of his very recognizable and respected voice." The whistle that rises and descends in the background "was in fact a kettle with the old fashioned removable whistling spout."

    Mixing all of this stuff together was not easy with 1973 technology. "The biggest thing I remember about the mixing [is], we had a lot of sound effects," remarks Nevison. "We were on 16 tracks. Can you imagine, with all the synthesizer, all the vocals, all the effects, and everything? We didn't have room to put everything onto the 16-track. So Pete got hold of a couple of these cartridge players that they used in radio stations for commercials. We had two machines – he had one and I had one – and we would load the sound effects. In other words, you'd click a button, and it goes off, and then the next one comes up, and then you hit the button again and the next one goes off, like commercials [which, as a footnote, The Who had actually inserted as links throughout their great 1967 LP The Who Sell Out]. So we'd load them in in the order that we had in the mix. He'd have like three or four on one side, and I'd have three or four on the other side. And when we wanted thunder, or we wanted a train whistle, we'd just like hit the button, and sound effects would come out. And that was how we achieved all the sound effects, 'cause we didn't have room for them on the recording."

    As an unfortunate side (not sound) effect, Nevison points out, subsequent mixes for CD don't "have some of the qualities that we put in there, because we had scattered all that stuff on cartridge machines. The train whistle is gone from '5:15,' even though I think I was very careful to archive all of the sound effects on quarter-inch tape. They probably should have been stored with the mixes and everything else. But because stuff wasn't on the 16-track, they would have lost some."

    Continues Ron, "Then once the whole thing was mixed, the next thing was cross-fading from one song to another, which was a tricky thing. Each side of [the] four sides of this record had like 100 edits in it. One time I was spooling through one side of the record and the edit came apart, and the whole thing went on the floor. Luckily, nothing was injured. We were freaked out, but a splice had come apart, so we just carefully picked it back up, and certainly it was cool. But the whole Goring thing was just Pete and I, the two of us, mixing. I don't even think there was an assistant there, just the two of us did it. For maybe three weeks we were there." Adds Houison, who built the studio, "We had upwards of maybe 12, 13, sometimes 15 machines running in the room at the time on the mix. There were endless amounts of effects running. Setting up the room used to take forever."

    There would later be complaints that the mix wasn't all it could have been, and particularly criticisms that Daltrey's vocals weren't prominent enough. "The thing that disappointed me about that album was the production," Roger told Crawdaddy, "because there's so much on the album, but you can only hear it with the cans on, and that's not what albums are about. An album has to have a sound that makes people leave it on when they're having conversation. We narrowed the market with Quadrophenia by making an album you have to sit down and listen to. Most people don't have that kind of time."

    In the January 2003 Uncut, Daltrey was more explicitly critical. "My main regret on that album is the recording process," he groused. "Ron Nevison, who was the producer [sic] at the time with Pete, recorded it with echo on the vocal which can never be removed now. It just makes the vocal sound thin. It was the biggest recording mistake we ever made. The echo diminishes the character as far as I'm concerned. It always pissed me off. From day one I just fucking hated the sound of it. He did that voice and I've never forgiven Ron for it."
    "I have to say that the mix still holds up for me," Nevison counters. "I did talk to Pete a few years ago, and he still likes the mix that we did. Pete and I did what we thought sounded right. This happens in almost every project I've ever done [and Nevison has done many, including engineering for albums by Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, and production for numerous others]. Not everybody's happy with all the mixing you do. In this case, as an engineer, I followed Pete. Pete was the producer. If I thought he was making a mistake, I would speak up. But it wasn't about Roger. It was about The Who."

    As strong as it was, Quadrophenia's music could not convey the full depth of its driving concept on its own. That would particularly be true outside of the UK, where the mod movement wasn't nearly as well known, and especially to the all-important North American audience, to most of whom mod was a rumor at best. And just as there was no other album where sound effects were as important in fleshing out the music, there was no other album where the physical packaging was as important to making its message more easily and widely understood. Pete Townshend would indicate to Disc that this was done primarily for the American audience, probably in accurate hopes of making the very British story more easily comprehensible to Stateside listeners.

    The Who were not strangers to elaborate gatefold sleeves, Tommy having been a six-panel production with a cover design by Meher Baba acolyte Mike McInnerney. While Quadrophenia would have the four-panel design more common to gatefold double LPs, in other respects The Who, and particularly Pete Townshend, realized that more was needed. The left panel of the inner gatefold featured a Townshend short story/narrative of sorts in Jimmy's voice, running to more than a dozen paragraphs. Not only did it explain, more or less, what Jimmy was up to in the days leading up to his epiphany on the rock, but it was told in a half-articulate manner as reflective of his scrambled psyche as the songs were. Nor was it devoid of irreverent self-mocking humor, most memorably in the unsentimentally realistic description of The Who as Jimmy saw them onstage, with a guitar player who "was a skinny geezer with a big nose who twirled his arm like a windmill. He wrote some good songs about mods, but he didn't quite look like one."

    The gatefold's short story, Townshend fretted in Rock magazine, was "a little strained because it's put together around the album itself. It's a little bit of character building put in to let you know just how uneducated the character was, but also the fact that he was all right besides that. That was really all that was for, but I found it quite hard to write. You can see I went incredibly heavy on a sort of Catcher in the Rye thing to get it across."

    Better yet was the 44-page LP-sized booklet, which aside from a couple lyric sheets was devoted entirely to black-and-white pictures by Who's Next photographer Ethan Russell. No captions, no explanatory text – just shots of "Jimmy" (played by Terry "Chad" Kennett, who'd been spotted by Townshend in a pub on Cecily Street near the studio) riding his scooter, hanging out with the mod gang, working as a dustman, walking and sleeping on the beach, taking a boat to the rock, riding the 5:15 train, and even watching the real-life 1973 Who posing in front of London's Hammersmith Odeon. The very first shot of "Jimmy," on page three, shows him riding the scooter in what appears to be an especially dismal neighborhood, smokestacks spewing in the background; this is in fact the very street on which Ramport Studios was situated, as Daltrey asserted in Rolling Stone

    More effectively even than the short story, the booklet made the mod experience graspable to those too young or remote from Britain to have lived through it first-hand, almost as though the photos were stills from a film of the opera. Crucially, it also did so without glamorization. Quite the contrary ¬– if the stereotypical image of the Swinging Sixties is in glowing Technicolor, this is the gray, grim, but more realistic flipside, down to the close-up of a disgusting half-finished meal of chips, peas, eggs, toast, and sausage (a particular favorite among US fans unfamiliar with the delights of proletarian British cuisine). "I don't know whose idea [the booklet] was, probably Pete's, but it was fucking brilliant," enthuses Richard Barnes. "It could be questionable that he got an American photographer. Americans don't understand mods. But on the other hand, it was quite good, 'cause Ethan didn't have any preconceived ideas."

    However, as John Atkins rightly speculates in The Who on Record: A Critical History, 1963-1998, it's difficult to believe Russell or (more likely) Townshend had not seen the obscure 1970 British cult film Bronco Bullfrog. For that movie's tale of down-and-out East London teens has a black-and-white bleakness quite similar in tone to the photos in the Quadrophenia booklet. This could be dismissed as coincidence, but a couple of scenes from the movie so strongly foreshadow specific Russell shots that wonders. Particularly striking are similarities between Bronco Bullfrog's shot of its hero's smashed bike and the image of a smashed scooter on page 22 of the booklet. Another Bronco Bullfrog sequence shows its hero walking on his own through London's ghostly Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which runs underneath the length of the River Thames; on page six of the booklet, Kennett/Jimmy strolls alone through the exact same tunnel. Indeed, some elements of Bronco Bullfrog are echoed, though not as strongly, in the story of Quadrophenia itself. Both feature misunderstanding parents, a gang of directionless working-class youths, and a waterside anti-climax where the protagonist seems to have run out of options. But such is the dead-end mood of Bronco Bullfrog (set at the end of the 60s rather than the mid 60s) – no pills, beachside riots, or rock'n'roll are even on hand to alleviate the boredom – that it makes Jimmy's predicament seem a bit glamorous in comparison, not least because Jimmy's scooter is way more flash than the anemic one put-puttering in the film.

    Originally intended, according to Russell's memoir Dear Mr. Fantasy, to be 18 pages, the booklet took on a life of its own. "Pete rang me up and said, 'I'm having ever so much trouble with this fucking cover because everybody's got their own idea of what mods were,'" Barnes remembers. "We're getting nowhere, and we've been on it for weeks. We've not shot anything, no one can agree on anything. Why don't you come in and art-direct it?'" So it was that Richard was tasked with helping to cast the kids and find the appropriate scooter and wardrobe, verifying "clothing details, attitudes etc" with his unpaid assistant Linden Kirby, a 60s mod thanked simply as "Linden" in the LP credits.

    "I thought, 'Why should I know?,'" he admits. "But I went and got hold of some mods and asked them. I suppose because Pete said, 'Barney's going to [do it],' they all did what I said. If I said 'they wore this' – not in my view, what I was told by my advisors – that's what they wore. So in a way it was good, 'cause Ethan then wouldn't be involved with dressing up the kids and getting them looking right. 'Cause he wouldn't have a clue." Yet as Barnes stresses, "Ethan did a wonderful job, and I thought we got those kids looking just like fucking mods. Not particularly top mods, but just everyday straight kid mods. The main guy we got to do it, this guy Chad, he was brilliant. And we got Paul, Pete's [much younger] brother, 'cause he looked like a young Pete." Most of the kids were recruited from the run-down working-class neighborhood around the street on which Ramport was situated, Thessaly Road.

    "We were just left alone to get on it with it, it was brilliant, Barnes resumes, though they did have to get permission from the local authorities to pull off the shots of the gang wrecking and overturning a car. "It was quite a long shoot. We went to lots of different places, and sort of did one or two scenes a day. Nobody queried the budget. We ended up buying the clothes. I had a fucking chauffeur-driven car driving around location to location. We spent a lot time in Brighton, and we broke into the West Pier, which is boarded up – the dangerous one, which is the more beautiful Victorian pier – and took pictures. I think we climbed over the padlocked fence and barbed wire. I spent a whole afternoon in a bookshop looking at porn pictures for that boy's bedroom."

    The shooting almost came to a premature end, according to Russell's memoir, when Kennett had to appear in court on charges of stealing a bus. The photographer had to testify that the 20-year-old was essential to the project before they were free to shoot the final sections of the booklet in Cornwall, Russell only learning that Kennett couldn't swim after taking the picture of "Jimmy" jumping off a boat. The Who's management told Russell that a half-dozen trainloads of paper were ordered for the booklet, in what was turning out to be a very expensive release, even aside from the considerable studio and production costs for the music alone. "I think there was a shortage of silver that was used in film in those days in the world at the time he was taking the pictures, 'cause he took so many fucking pictures," laughs Barnes. "He took fucking millions of shots. They had a whole vault of pictures." And sadly, according to Richard,  "They're all lost, they're all disappeared."

    If the hope was for the booklet to illustrate the mod experience to American audiences in particular, The Who probably succeeded to an extent that has yet to be fully acknowledged. Despite subsequent speculation that the LP underperformed in the US, in part because of Stateside listeners' inability to understand its cultural context, many fans eagerly absorbed the basics from both the music and the packaging. "I was 12 years old when Quadrophenia came out and, as a fairly sheltered pre-teen living in Los Angeles, I had no knowledge of the mod scene beyond my already-established love of The Who and The Kinks," remembers Barry Smolin, now the host of the Sunday night The Music Never Stops program on LA radio station KPFK. "Despite this ignorance, I was immediately captivated by the music on Quadrophenia, both its power and ambition. The lyrics contained many references I didn't understand at first hearing ('zoot suit, white jacket with side vents,' 'my mother found a box of blues,' 'maybe a touch of seersucker with an open neck,' 'G S scooter,' 'wartime coat,' etc), but through context and inference I was able to make some sense of it on my own."

    Adds Smolin for emphasis, "The booklet that came with the LP, though, was what brought mod culture alive in my mind and helped me visualize Townshend's imagery more concretely. The booklet created a more evocative experience for a kid so far removed from mod culture and the zeitgeist of that era in Britain – the way it looked and felt and even smelled. I would listen to the album and stare at the booklet for hours on my bed. The black and white photography, the foggy gray atmosphere, the wetness of the roads, the dark sea, the fashions worn, the haircuts, the posters on the walls – all of it came alive visually, which, in turn, added to the impact of the music."

    While Russell photos of a beach and a half-drowned scooter were backdrops on the back cover and inner gatefold, the front cover (shot on August 24, the same day as The Who posed in front of the Hammersmith Odeon) used a striking rear-view picture of Kennett on a scooter, cloaked in a jacket with The Who's insignia. Taken by Roger Daltrey's cousin, Graham Hughes (also responsible for photograph on Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, as well as the front cover of Townshend standing on a floor of eggs on Who Came First), it also featured four rear view mirrors on the scooter, each showing a reflection of different men from The Who. Along with the use of the title lettering for Quadrophenia on all four sides of the cover, it was the LP's most visual representation of Jimmy and The Who's "quadrophenic" personality, and perhaps more memorable than any such reference in the songs themselves.

    "We had to carry ... almost drive this scooter up the stairs to my first floor studio," Hughes remembered in Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who. "The front cover picture was taken against a special sky blue canvas. Roger thought of the idea of painting The Who logo on the back of the kid's parka. I still hadn't figured out where the group were going to appear, when the idea of the wing mirrors suddenly dawned on me. I asked Pete, John, and Roger to crouch down and stare into the glass while I shot each image. Keith had disappeared, so I had to go down to Tara and photograph him separately in his greenhouse to get the same effect."

    As to why Hughes and not Russell got to do the cover photo, Richard Barnes feels, "That's politics. That's because Roger complained that it was all Pete's album, Pete's idea. The thing about Quadrophenia was that Pete didn't involve the rest of the band in it like he did with Tommy. Really, Quadrophenia is Townshend's solo album using The Who. He had involved John a bit in it; John had done some recording of brass, because that's John's bag. But I don't think he involved the others. There was also this thing that, roughly, they took turns in doing the covers. It was kind of Roger's turn. I was outraged, 'cause I thought Ethan had worked so hard and had got such fantastic photographs, [though] I like Graham, I think he's a great photographer. I thought it was a bit much, but Pete just accepted it, 'cause I think he realized that he was doing absolutely everything."
    In a sense, Quadrophenia ended up being, in a more low-key way, the kind of multimedia work Townshend had hoped to create with Lifehouse. There wasn't a film (though eventually it would be adapted into a superb one), but the booklet was close to being one; there wasn't a book (as Pete had been reported to consider doing for Lifehouse), but there was a short story. The booklet, story, and cover art were much enhanced by the 12-by-12-inch format of the vinyl era, gaining an impact impossible to replicate when the artwork is shrunk down to CD size. There was one much hoped-for multimedia component of a sort, however, that didn't come off.

    Part of the reason that the album had been titled Quadrophenia was that The Who hoped to issue it in quadraphonic sound. Only recently introduced for vinyl releases, the format never would take off as stereo had, in part because few listeners had (or were interested in getting) equipment that could enable them to listen to quadraphonic recordings. The Who's US label, MCA, "had adopted a certain system for this quadraphonic bullshit, which is all it was," in Ron Nevison's estimation. "It was supposed to be the next thing after stereo. But it was a bunch of crap. They took the stereo and they folded in out-of-phase tracks. It wasn't any kind of what we call discrete quad, where you have dedicated left, left-right front, left-right rear [channels]."

    Continues Nevison, "We started recording the drums before we found out that we weren't gonna do quad. I didn't know what the fuck to do, really. I had no clue. We started on four tracks, so I just put the drums on four tracks, and mixed 'em out with the drummer seated in the middle, with the snare and the kick in the middle. I figured that at least that way, it would be centered, with the drums out to the right and to the left, and the cymbals in the back maybe. But it worked in stereo, and that's what I made sure of -- that the four tracks, when mixed together, worked in stereo. So even though it was in quad, it was really a big stereo.

    "When we tried a test mix halfway through with the album – when we finally got the equipment to encode these bullshit quad tracks – we realized that the front-to-back separation was like 5dB [decibels]. It was like a big giant mono." In other words, listeners playing the album would hear far less difference between the channels than could be heard in the four-channel mixes created in the studio. They wouldn't be hearing anything like the mix as The Who intended it to be experienced. Instead, there would be little to distinguish the sound coming out of the two rear speakers from the sound emanating from the two normal stereo front ones. As a point of reference, the left-right separation between speakers on a typical home stereo at the time would have been in the 70-80 dB range; by comparison, the front-to-back quadraphonic separation of 5 dB was puny.

    Resumes Ron, "Pete said, 'You know, I am not going to do a quad mix that's worse than the stereo mix. Period.' And that was it. He sent that memo to MCA. They were furious, I think, because they wanted to launch their whole quad thing with Quadrophenia, [on] a Who album, the follow-up to Tommy. The whole kind of nine yards. And I was right with him, man. I thought this was a bunch of shit."

    At the home studio he built for Townshend at Pete's property in Goring-on-Thames, adds Rod Houison, "Certainly everything we built was based on quadraphonic sound. We bought four of everything. Putting it on four-channel tape is one thing; that's very easy to do, and you get beautiful effects and everything is nicely separated. But how do you get that onto vinyl? That was where everyone was going, 'Oh my god, this isn't going to work, is it?' But CBS said, 'Oh yes, we've got this thing called an encoder-decoder.' So Pete said, 'Okay, well, we'll buy one then,' and plugged it up. Pete and I were doing some tests, and it was about a 3dB difference. 3dB's sort of nothing. It was just laughable. Yes, it was very difficult to achieve quadraphonic sound on vinyl. So that never really worked out."

    Back to Nevison: "I think that in the end, the quadraphonic thing that MCA and record companies were trying to do in those days was gimmicky. It would have sold [a] decoder and two more speakers and amplifiers. So you have your normal stereo, and then you put it through a decoder and add another amplifier with two more speakers, and you have quad. But what you have is mono, and we weren't buying it. It would have been nice to have done a quad thing in 1973. Wouldn't that have been fabulous. But it wasn't to be."

    At the time of the album's release, Townshend also found the technology not up to the task. "We're fairly happy with the quadraphonic mixes we've done, but you know the problem with the transcription down to disc," he told NME. "It's all very well on tape, but when you try and get it down onto a record, everything goes completely berserk. We were talking about a January 1st release date for the quadraphonic version, but at the moment it's a bit of a myth. Apart from anything else, I heard The Doobie Brothers' quad album of The Captain And Me and it just doesn't come anywhere near the stereo version."

    As late as the May 1974 Hit Parader, Townshend indicated there would be a quadraphonic version of Quadrophenia: "We're going to do a completely new album, practically. Because so much of the album is actually in the mixing, the blending and everything ... For a while we'll see our records as two editions, one in stereo, the other in quad ... one in a stereo mix, one in a quad mix. That has to be the way it has to be because stereo at the moment is so much more mature and advanced than quad is." The paragraph wasn't over, however, before he was overcome by skepticism: "Every day they make an improvement in the quad set-up; you know every day I get a piece of mail through from CBS telling me that they've got another dB of separation from front to back and that, you know, if we buy the new modified encoder-decoder we'll get better results. And then the next week there's another modification you can buy for another $40,000 which gives you another dB separation front to back and a positioning encoder which puts all your 16 tracks at various points — guaranteed positional separation and that's an extra $40,000! It's a load of...," he trailed off.

    With twenty-first century technology, it would seem that 5.1 surround sound in particular would offer some intriguing possibilities for creating mixes that, if not exactly quadraphonic, could be presented with more multidimensional depth than was possible in 1973. Here as with Who's Next, however, less than ideal preservation of the source materials might make that hard to realize. "He always felt it fell down in the mix when he mixed it with Ron Nevison," says Jon Astley, who would later work on the remastering and remixing of the album for CD. "I think the pressure was on to get it done, it was a bit rushed, and they didn't really check stuff. When we decided to remix it – it was actually my idea – a lot of these quarter-inch masters we couldn't find. We had safety [copies], but Polydor wanted to reissue this and said to me, 'Can't you just use those?' I said, 'Well, they're inferior to the masters, and I can't find the masters anywhere.' I was at MCA in Los Angeles.

    "Eventually most of them all did turn up about five years later. Despite being told probably five times, 'no, we haven't got the Tommy masters,' five years later – 'oh, we  got the Tommy masters.' I was totally convinced they were there, and eventually they came clean. And I said, 'Have you got Quadrophenia as well,' and they said, 'Oh, we'll have a look. Oh, there it is. Surprise surprise!' So it was a real pain in the ass.

    "That was MCA going through a very, very difficult time with some of their library people. A guy in L.A. told me one of the guys that worked at the MCA library was taking home tapes and cutting together his own little playback reels. When MCA found out about this, they kind of went, 'Right. Anybody asks for a master, we haven't got it.' They recovered all the tapes and built a little editing room in the library where some bloke would piece them all back together again. So over a period of time, they just denied all knowledge about having masters while this was going on. I was told time and again that the stereo masters were missing, which was the real reason that we started to remix everything. And out of that came this mix of Quadrophenia that Pete said, 'Oh, that's the way it should have sounded.' So it was kind of driven because we didn't have the original masters more than anything."

    Continues Astley, "It would be nice to do a proper 5.1 of it, and actually the one I did with Andy McPherson of 'The Real Me' is just stupendous, it just sounds incredible. We ended up doing two tracks into 5.1, and then Pete decided he didn't want to go down that route anymore. We were gonna do a super audio release, and super audio versus DVD-A was going on, and I don't think anybody quite knew which format was gonna win. So he just said, 'No, let's leave it for now and see what happens.'

    "But if they do do a remix [and] reissue a 5.1, Pete would like to go back to his eight-track. 'Cause the whole thing about Quadrophenia, it was done in eight-track, and then 16-track, and then 24-track. So by the time you get to your stereo masters, some of the elements that were recorded were already four generations old. Pete would like to rethink some of the eight-track stuff that he did, which got bounced down onto one or two tracks when it went to 16. So all those single violin tracks and stuff can be exploded and put into different positions in the 5.1 or the stereo mix. Quality-wise, they'll be a lot better than they were when they got to 24-track. That would be a great project to get involved in, and I think he has tried, and made some inroads into doing that.

    "It would have been great if they'd done it to four-track, and then we could just lift out the four-track and hear it in glorious sort of 5.1. I think Quadrophenia in 5.1 would be an absolute masterpiece, because of all the sound effects and the stereo panning. Pete always said that the guy who was behind Dolby at the time kept hanging around the studio to see how they were getting on with his matrix quadraphonic four-track recording that they were experimenting with. Pete said he could see the wheels going on in his brain about 5.1 Dolby encoding back then, in 1973."
    Back in 1973, according to Ethan Russell's Dear Mr. Fantasy, there was one final unexpected hurdle to be overcome before the masters for Quadrophenia could be delivered. By chance, he took the same flight as Townshend when Pete traveled to Los Angeles to personally deliver the tapes to The Who's US label. "At customs the people from MCA Records meet Pete," reads Russell's play-by-play account. "The customs man reaches for the tapes held under Pete's arm. Townshend jerks them back and starts stamping his boots at the customs man's feet. 'Not leaving my hands, mate. Not for a second.'"

The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 unless otherwise specified.