A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #40 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
Welcome to my life, tattoo
I’m a man now, thanks to you
I expect I’ll regret you
But the skin graft man won’t get you
You’ll be there when I die, tattoo
“Tattoo” is a song about two adolescent brothers who get tattoos to prove their manhood to one another. It’s a simple story, and a little dated maybe—I don’t think anyone imagines that tattoos are all about toughness and masculinity any longer—but it’s underlying themes of coming of age, self-assertion and sibling rivalry will always be relevant. Compelling and funny, the lyrics are among The Who’s best:
My dad beat me ’cause mine said “Mother”
But my mother naturally liked it and beat my brother
‘Cause his tattoo was of a lady in the nude
And my mother thought that was extremely rude
I have to suspect, however, that set to different music—a more traditional rock back-beat for example—the lyrics would feel more like schmaltzy humor. Instead, The Who back the lyrics with jangly guitar arpeggios and subtle, almost whispy percussion from Keith Moon, who sticks to the cymbals and high hats for most of the song, using his kick drum sparingly for effect. The melody is deceptively high and a little complicated, though you might not know it, with the easy, vulnerable way Roger Daltrey sings it. Add some melancholy harmonies that occasionally swoop in, and what you’ve got is some classic rock perfection—beautiful, original, and timeless.
Oh yeah, the rest of the album The Who Sell Out is pretty awesome too. Stop by to check it out, and take a look at John Dougan’s book about the album while you’re here—it’s as much about the influence of pirate radio stations on British rock as it is the album, but it’s a decent read all the same.
Review by Matthew