The Acid Queen

Album: Tommy (1969)
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Songfacts®:

  • "The Acid Queen" is an important song in the Who's rock opera Tommy. In that album, the title character is "deaf, dumb, and blind," with "dumb" being an archaic (and, in modern times, offensive) way of saying "mute." Tommy eventually becomes a master at the game of pinball, as summarized in the album's signature song "Pinball Wizard."

    In their quest to cure their son, Tommy's parents take him to see a character called the Acid Queen. She's an outsider figure who offers to liberate Tommy's mind with drugs and sex.
  • The word "acid" is almost universal slang for the psychedelic drug LSD, which was the biggest shaping force of the '60s counterculture. In the '60s, rightfully or wrongfully (probably wrongfully), acid wasn't looked at as a recreational drug so much as a way to elevate consciousness and "free" one's mind.
  • The Acid Queen, as with the Tommy story as a whole, seem almost ridiculous until you understand what Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend was doing with them.

    The character Tommy is meant to represent the average human being who is spiritually and psychologically deaf, blind, and mute in the sense that we are clouded by petty ambitions and lusts and are unable to see the full depth and breadth of reality.

    The Acid Queen, meanwhile, represents one method for escaping those limitations - the way of drugs and excess, or "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" as a popular slogan of the era went.

    The Acid Queen fails to heal Tommy, just as (in Townshend's symbolism) the way of excess and indulgence never brings lasting spiritual transformation. It's a dead end.

    So, how did Townshend come to a conclusion so radically different from much of the counterculture that considered him an icon? The answer largely lies in the spiritual tutelage of Meher Baba, an Indian guru that Townshend had been studying under since 1968.

    Not only did Baba believe that acid and the like were unproductive for spirituality, he felt they were immensely detrimental and destructive.

    This isn't the only Who song Baba influenced. His name is even right there in the title of "Baba O'Riley."
  • Townshend sings lead vocals on this one. That arrangement wasn't entirely unheard of for The Who, but Roger Daltrey was the official lead singer of the band and is the voice of most of their songs.
  • Tina Turner plays the Acid Queen in the film version of Tommy. She also released a cover of this song as the third single from her The Acid Queen album.

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