What does the word Quadrophenia mean?

19 October 2019, 19:00 | Updated: 19 October 2019, 19:01

Phil Daniels in the film Quadrophenia, 1979
Phil Daniels in the film Quadrophenia, 1979. Picture: Curbishley-Baird/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s the meaning behind The Who’s classic Mod rock opera and movie?

Quadrophenia - it’s an album and a film. But what does that title mean?

The Who’s classic double LP from 1973 looked back at the previous decade and the Mod culture that spawned the band in the Shepherd’s Bush area of West London. It follows the tale of the troubled teen Jimmy, whose immersion into the Mod world of late nights, parties, cheap stimulants and tribal violence against their bitter rivals the Rockers quickly leads him into trouble.

Mods in Peckham, South London, May 1964.
Mods in Peckham, South London, May 1964. Picture: Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

The album got to Number 2 in the UK album charts - being kept off the top by David Bowie’s set of cover versions, Pin-Ups - and the story was turned into a film with the same title in 1979.

Starring a young cast of then-unknowns, Phil Daniels took the role of Jimmy, while Sting (about to become a megastar with The Police) was the “Ace Face” and Leslie Ash (later of Men Behaving Badly fame) played Jimmy’s girlfriend.

Geniune Mods versus Rockers at Margate, North East Kent in May 1964
Geniune Mods versus Rockers at Margate, North East Kent in May 1964. Picture: Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Also in the cast was a young Ray Winstone, who played an old school friend of Jimmy’s who - shock! horror! - turns out to be a greasy rocker, with leathers and everything.

Fake Mods versus fake rockers filming Quadrophenia in October 1978
Fake Mods versus fake rockers filming Quadrophenia in October 1978. Picture: Geoffrey Day/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

The film caused a brief revival of Mod music and styles at the end of the 70s, but one element of the story that’s not so clear to anyone who’s only watched the film is: what does that title mean? The film doesn’t elaborated, but the explanation is buried in the sleevenotes to the original album.

Post Quadrophenia Mods on Brighton Beach, 27 August 1979
Post Quadrophenia Mods on Brighton Beach, 27 August 1979. Picture: Geoffrey Day/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Remember Quadrophonic sound? No? It was an early attempt to create “SurroundSound” using four speakers rather than the usual two for stereo. The equipment was costly and didn’t catch on, but for a time in the early 1970s, it was a luxury item for audiophiles.

Some albums - Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn and John Lennon’s Imagine, for example - were mixed and released in quadrophonic editions.

Elton John listening to music on Sony hi-fi equipment, 1974
Elton John listening to music on Sony hi-fi equipment, 1974. Picture: SSPL/Getty Images

So, in 1973, when Pete Townshend was writing his rock opera about a confused young man coming to terms with his identity, he picked on both the hi-fi lingo and some outdated ideas about mental illness.

Back in the 60s and 70s, schizophrenia was characterised with the cliched “split personality”, rather than as “a mental disorder characterised by abnormal social behaviour and failure to understand reality”.

The Who - Quadrophenia
The Who - Quadrophenia. Picture: Press

As the confused, weary and stimulant-driven Jimmy explains in the sleevenotes: “It must be alright to be plain ordinary mad… Schizophrenic? I'm bleeding Quadrophenic.”

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