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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
Length 3:01
Label Polydor
Decca (US)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer 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)

"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 #4 in the UK charts and #19 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Contents

Story

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: "That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball", 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 recognized tunes from the opera. It was a perpetual concert favourite for Who fans due to its pop sound and familiarity.

Position on the album

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.

Covers

  • 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 #16 on the UK charts.
  • The song was performed by Elton John in Ken Russell's 1975 theatrical adaptation of Tommy. This version was released as a single in 1975 in the US, and in 1976 in the UK, where it reached #7 in the latter year. John's version uses a piano as the song's centerpiece in place of the acoustic guitar in the original, and features additional lyrics specially written by Townsend 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.
  • 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 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 sung 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
  • 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 before "I Want It All", performed by Roger Daltrey and Queen.

In popular culture

  • The track is featured on the videogames Rock Band 2, Rock Band Unplugged and Karaoke Revolution: American Idol Encore 2, as well as on The Who's Tommy Pinball Wizard.[2]
  • "Pinball Wizard" is the name of a video game controller from NanoTech Entertainment. It is designed for playing pinball games on a PC.
  • The videogame Peggle Nights also features this song as a parody.
  • A pinball machine of the same name and based on the Broadway musical of Townsend's rock opera was produced by Data East in the 1990s. It plays every song from the album during gameplay, performed by the original musical cast.
  • Spinball Whizzer(Name based on Pinball Wizard.) is located at Alton Towers Resort and plays 60s pop music in the queue.
  • The TV show Kids Next Door has a character named Dodgeball Wizard which is possibly a parody of the song title Pinball Wizard.

Notes

  1. ^ Remaster Liner Notes to Tommy "Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy" by Richard Barnes
  2. ^ According to the game's flyer.
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