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The Who – Sparks

Tommy Effect: noun  (with reference to psychoacoustics) the phenomenon whereby a single and/or multiple sounds within a complex moment or system can have immense effects which remain ubiquitous for the remainder of a lifetime.

The conversation you have with someone about the moment they fell in love with music is passionate. It feels like one of the easiest ways to get personal with someone. There are seldom stories of, “Yeah, I don’t really know. I guess I just always liked them.” Often a conversation had in a foggy room or crowded bar or end of a second date.

Mine, mine was perfect. I remember listening to Elvis Presley on a tape sitting in back of my family’s steel grey minivan on a trip across the country when we moved to America. I listened to it until it broke in my yellow Sony Walkman. I listened to it front and back, a few hundred times or until the black tape started to unravel. It was the only music I cared to know at first. I am sure it was not my mum’s intention when she threw her tape back to me that she would never again see it again, or that it would have such repercussions on me. I loved his voice. I was 8 and that is when I remember first experiencing the Tommy Effect.

Recently, I had a conversation with my boss in London who was talking about how he wanted to start collecting vinyl. For one reason or another, he craved it in his life. He was telling me about his first records he had as a kid and he lit up. Recalling the moment he fell in love with music. “The best relationship you have in your life.” It was like you could see the dusky old room he was clearly back to in his mind littered with classic records strewn about and a fervent boy rushing to put on one after the other eagerly awaiting the next track to fall in love with.

The Tommy Effect, may be a term I created just then, but recognise that everyone reading this or interested in this site has felt it. The literal reference is to Almost Famous. The moment when William gets his sister’s record collection and puts on The Who‘s album, Tommy, and finds a note in it. That’s when you hear that strumming guitar coming in, approximately 20 seconds before you get goose bumps from your reaction to the music. That scene is so personal and accurate, it makes that character instantly become you or your best friend. It’s like watching the perfect first kiss, the perfect beginning to the best relationship we can ever have.

To experience this effect once more, I will quote one of the best music movies of our time and leave you with this.

“Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future.” –Penny Lane

The Who – Sparks