Why Pete Townshend Made Tommy Into a ‘Pinball Wizard’
Pete Townshend recounted the truth behind the story of how “Pinball Wizard” came to be part of the Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy, forcing him to make the deaf, dumb and blind lead character into an arcade game champion.
The best-known version of the story is that Townshend wrote the song in a bid to secure a good review from respected music critic Nik Cohn. But that’s not how the situation actually unfolded, as the guitarist told Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show.
“I tell a kind of a tall story, which is that I wrote ‘Pinball Wizard’ in order to get a good review from a friend of mine called Nic Cohn,” Townshend said. “But I’d already written ‘Pinball Wizard’ for Nik Cohn; I just hadn’t played it to him. He came to hear the Tommy recordings and he was quite impressed. I said to him later in private, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘I don’t hear a hit. … Pete, you say this is a collection of singles – it’s a collection of singles okay, but I don’t hear a hit single.’”
By that time, Cohn had heard an early version of that other song. “I said, ‘What about if I swing in ‘Pinball Wizard?’" Townshend recalled. "That meant then that my deaf, dumb and blind boy had to become a pinball player – which meant going back into the piece and changing a lot of the lyrics!”
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