Predicting the Winner Based on Some Album Thing – Island of the Idols Edition

For the third season running, I take a moderately amusing premise with absolutely diminishing returns and wring all the fun out of it by bringing you That Thing Where I Listen To An Album While Watching The Premiere Episode Of This Season Of Survivor In Order To Predict A Winner (or TTWILTAAWWTPEOTSOSIOTPAW, for short). I am taking submissions for an actual name for this endeavor, feel free to freely suggest ideas for free. This season, the question on everyone’s mind of “Who will win out of the Final Five of Dean, Janet, Lauren, Noura and Tommy?” will be thoroughly examined and explored as I (or we, if you’d like to play along at home) listen to The Who’s seminal 1969 rock opera Tommy.

First and foremost, a caveat: despite Tommy breaking The Who in the US and being a landmark of the classic rock era, it is not their best album. In fact, both albums on either side of it (1967’s The Who Sell Out and 1970’s Live at Leeds) are all-around better efforts, and Tommy as a studio album never quite takes off, despite some stellar moments (in particular, “Amazing Journey/Sparks,” “I’m Free,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me,” and of course, “Pinball Wizard”), and a lot of that is down to the production. There’s a thinness to the overall sound, and nothing hits with any real sense of power for most of the album. When Keith Moon’s drum barrage kicks in after the first verse of “Amazing Journey,” it should sound like crashing thunder. Instead, it barely sounds like a light drizzle. For a better example of that thunder, check out the version of “Amazing Journey” from any of the expanded Live at Leeds albums, or the later archival releases of Live at Hull or Live at the Isle of Wight. Compared to the studio version, the live recordings absolutely destroy. Everything’s just louder, from John Entwistle’s rumbling bass, to Pete Townshend’s slashing power chords, to Moon’s lightning-fast attack on the drums, all in a way that suits the songs. The stage is where Tommy really came to life, and as they toured it over the next several years, it turned into an absolute monster of a performance.

The material on Tommy wasn’t alone in benefitting from a live environment. Their first foray into rock opera, 1966’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” went from a interesting curiosity on album to something transformative onstage, so much so that when The Who performed it as their only song for 1968’s Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, the Stones shelved the whole project, believing they had been badly upstaged by The Who.

Tommy is in no way a bad album, although at times it does feel a little like a primer for the subsequent live performances than the finished project. Aside from the anemic production, several songs are let down by some brutal harmonies (I can’t figure out how the harmonies on the verses from “Christmas” ever got a pass, same for the chorus on “Cousin Kevin”), and several tracks were almost immediately dropped from the stage show to tighten things up and move the story along. That story, however, still resonates today: a child is gaslit by his parents into believing the murder he witnessed them commit didn’t happen, becomes “deaf, dumb and blind” as a result of the shock and trauma, gets physically abused by his cousin and sexually abused by his uncle, takes the admittedly goofy step of becoming a pinball savant and gaining mass fame and popularity, is miraculously cured and becomes a messianic figure, develops a cult, things go too far, and his followers soundly reject him and his Church of Holy Pinball teachings (or you could say he tilts out, but please don’t). Gaslighting, abuse, false messiahs, pinball…all still very relevant in the here and now.

As for The Who, while there were definitely signposts along the way (most notably, “My Generation,” “I Can See For Miles,” and for my money, “Dogs”), Tommy is where they fully cemented their status as rock legends, a status that would be firmly reinforced by their next albums Live at Leeds, Who’s Next, and Quadrophenia. The quality of their output dipped a bit after 1973, but never into flat-out terrible, even after the deaths in 1978 of Moon, and in 2002 of Entwistle. Earlier this month, surviving members Townshend and Roger Daltrey released the band’s 12th studio album, WHO, which is actually not that bad. It sounds similar to the 1981 album Face Dances, if Pete was writing better songs for the group at that time, and if Roger had been stung in the tongue by several bees shortly before recording his vocals.

Alright, if I must, let’s loop on back to Survivor, season 39, Island of the Idols. In case you couldn’t already tell, my heart isn’t fully in it this year, so a brief summation:

The album begins with the 4-minute instrumental “Overture,” so we can skip over the whole intro of Survivor as well. This segues into the song “It’s A Boy,” which clearly indicates that a woman is winning. I mean, it’s blatantly obvious.

A few songs in, somewhere in “Amazing Journey/Sparks,” Jack starts talking about his game and how he needs to align himself with the right players, which somehow turns into a confessional about how great Tommy is, which then immediately forgets about Jack and shifts over to Tommy so we can see how well he gets along with all the future jury members of his tribe. Tommy is clearly getting an Amazing Journey edit, like your Aubrys and Davids of Survivor Past.

It was about this time that I went downstairs to toast a bagel, so I missed some of the episodes and I have to say: the bagels from Shaws Supermarket are amazing! I got a sriracha-cheddar bagel that tasted like Crazy Bread from Little Caesar’s. I didn’t realize that a bagel could taste like Crazy Bread. Did anyone else know this was a thing? Like, why don’t more bagels taste like this?

Anyway, Dean’s shoes make a prominent appearance slung over his shoulder at the first immunity challenge, which is about the most we get from Dean or his shoes this episode. Janet, Lauren, Noura and Tommy disappear from the episode after the immunity challenge, which took place during the third instrumental on the album in 10 songs, so there really wasn’t a whole lot to go on for song lyric matches this time around. But based on what I have seen so far, the winner of Survivor: Island of the Idols is….

Tommy. I mean, this should have been fairly obvious.