Steve Fairclough reveals the inside story of the photographs shot by Graham Hughes for The Who’s legendary 1973 double LP, Quadrophenia

Fact File: The Who’s Quadrophenia

Musicians: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Chris Stainton (piano), Jon Curle (newsreader voice)

Released: 26 October 1973 (Track/MCA)

Best chart performance: No. 2 in the US Billboard Pop Albums and UK Albums Charts

Sales: Over 1,200,000 certified sales

Fascinating fact: In 1979, Quadrophenia was made into a movie directed by Franc Roddam and starring Phil Daniels as the lead character Jimmy. The soundtrack features ten of the 17 album tracks, plus three tracks written by Townshend that weren’t on the 1973 LP – those tracks feature the drumming of Kenney Jones, who replaced the late Keith Moon in the band. The film’s release coincided with the ‘mod revival’ of the late 1970s.

Photographer: Graham Hughes is a British photographer who has been responsible for art direction, album cover concepts and photography since 1969 when he shot the cover of Thunderclap Newman’s Hollywood Dream LP.

His clients have included The Who (both as a group and on solo album projects), Uriah Heep, Robert Palmer, Roxy Music, Japan, Eric Clapton, Leo Sayer and Neil Sedaka. The last album he is credited with shooting is Paul McCartney’s 2016 compilation, Pure McCartney.

The Who’s double album, Quadrophenia, remains iconic due to its fantastic music, the gripping and emotional story of the lead character, the mod Jimmy, and an album package that featured the cover image shot by Graham Hughes and all other photography and art direction by US photographer Ethan Russell. But the road to creating this classic cover was far from smooth.

Russell is the only photographer to have shot album covers for the British rock trinity of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who. He had shot the cover of The Who’s 1971 album, Who’s Next, and recalls, ‘The singer/songwriter aspect was the reason I got involved, because of the writing, because of what Pete Townshend did. The music was the most important thing but it was, for me, the writers behind the music.’

A shot of Jimmy and his parents from the Quadrophenia lyric and photo book

Of his initial involvement in Quadrophenia, Russell explains, ‘Pete called me up, I was in America, and said, “Why don’t you come on by?” I sat down with Pete and said, “Let’s do a book”. I think I said six pages but then I showed up with it [at 40 pages]. I mean it was that crazy. They were behind schedule.

I did the whole book with basically one assistant and I lost 25lbs in weight doing that book.’ Russell’s vision was to take Townshend’s storyline about the young mod Jimmy and ‘make it visible’, taking his inspiration from gritty, black & white British films such as A Taste of Honey and The Knack, and a love of the work of British photographer Bill Brandt.

Cover of the lyric and photo book. The houses symbolise four personalities; in this case coming from four different homes

Different cover ideas

Quadrophenia was to be accompanied by the aforementioned book that featured the lyrics to the album and a series of images shot by Russell in London and Brighton, but when it came to shooting the cover the project became divided into two creative camps – Pete Townshend and Ethan Russell versus The Who’s singer, Roger Daltrey, and photographer Graham Hughes, who also happened to be Daltrey’s cousin.

Russell reveals, ‘My idea was to take the four faces of The Who (Townshend, Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon) and make one face. It’s an obvious idea but what I didn’t want it to be – this is the difference – is that I wanted you not to know.

I shot the heads on 4×5 and gave it to them [retouchers] to put together. All the time this is going on it was constantly, “What’s the cover?”. I cared about this book like crazy, but they wanted an album cover and they were right. That didn’t happen till we had this big meeting with Pete and Roger where I had stuff from the book and all the rest of that, but it was really about the cover. I got the picture that was made of the four faces of The Who and you couldn’t tell [who was who]; it really was a new face.’

Jimmy the mod pictured in a fish and chip shop in Brighton

He adds, ‘My visceral reaction to it was I think I made a mistake. Since that was all about being a mod I really did create a mod face like Jimmy but I just didn’t like it; I freaked out. I brought it to that presentation and Pete looked at it and was interested in it. But I think he took the lead from me that I was scared about it and I wasn’t trying to sell it. At that point there were other things that were way too arty and Roger basically took all the props etcetera that were part of my doing the book and gave them to photographer Graham Hughes.’

Russell explains, ‘Graham Hughes had this idea where Jimmy was reflected in the four mirrors and it was a good idea. It did solve that problem in the sense of it didn’t have anything else to do with the package. There are a lot of reasons one can feel iffy about it, but it was pretty well done and so I didn’t fight it. I went, “Okay. I had my shot and I didn’t deliver”. I’ve since thought about finishing that face.’

Townshend’s choice

In a 2019 interview with Entertainment Week’s website Pete Townshend explains, ‘[The artwork] arose out [of an] argument with Roger [Daltrey]. The original cover was going to be the image on the inside sleeve, which was Battersea Power Station with Jimmy riding his scooter.

The shot of the character Jimmy the mod pictured in front of Battersea Power Station, London. This was Pete Townshend’s favourite image for the cover

The whole point of the record was to try to refocus the members of the band, including myself, on its roots. To reconnect us with where we’d come from, the humility and the modesty of turning to our original mod audience and saying, “You had a great adventure, you were our inspiration, and it’s not that you want to be like us, it’s that we want to be like you.”’

Townshend adds, ‘…and I think Roger saw it the other way around: that Jimmy was somebody who would really want to be like all of us. I think that’s perfectly okay, but it’s not the way that I saw it. He [Roger] wanted the members of the band on the cover and suggested having a photo of a scooter with the faces in the mirror, which was very much the same trip that [artist] Mike McInnerney had done on the cover of Tommy.

Graham Hughes, who did the cover, took a really great picture, but I think the weird thing about Quadrophenia is the greyness of it. It’s kind of sad. The photos inside are high contrast, they’re really beautifully printed. They’re evocative so, again, I’m kind of sad about this album cover. I don’t think it’s great. I think the idea is great.’

Despite Hughes gaining the cover credit the bulk of the photographic work on Quadrophenia was Russell’s. His role in the shoot also included going to court to speak on behalf of Chad, the model playing Jimmy the mod, who, in real life, was charged with stealing a bus! The judge let him go free. Russell reveals, ‘It took about 30 days of constant work. I was working like a dog.

A car wreck image from the Quadrophenia lyric and photo book

Richard Barnes was the person from The Who camp who worked very closely with me because it was one of Roger’s big complaints that they were hiring an American to do mod shots because that’s a British thing. He had a point in that I thought that what mod was, was frilly shirts and Brian Jones… I had to be educated about it.

Richard Barnes pulled that together and we got the clothes and the scooter made. All the kids – one of them is Pete Townshend’s younger brother – are locals from around where the Ramport Studios was [in Battersea]. It was really hard to do because I would get up at 4 or 5am to get ready to shoot. I’d shoot all day and then I’d work till 11 at night, so it was brutal, without a break.’

Russell concludes, ‘Except for the composite stuff for the kid’s head idea, it was all 35mm. All that was shooting Tri-X at ISO 1000, which was what I always shot, and it all just made sense. I had two or three cameras, one with a motordrive. It was all Nikon in those days. I used some of those cameras for 20 years. I’m very proud of that body of work. For me, it talked to a love I had for England.’

The panel on Quadrophenia

Andy Cowles

The Who truly reflected their tribe – they and their followers were mods, they saw themselves in each other. This nostalgic picture reflects that, but while Jimmy is still in the gang, the band has moved on. The mood is melancholic, the future uncertain, but the trainers are bang on brand.

This cover is one of my faves but mainly because it’s one of my favourite albums. The booklet inside too was an amazing photographic portrayal of what the music was about. I’m not sure how much Townshend had to do with the cover but the inside images are right from the mind that created the lyrics and music.

Mat Snow
My 15th birthday present to myself in 1973, Quadrophenia was immediately – and lastingly – iconic. Sombre, grey-going-on-noir, enigmatic and somehow existential, its personification of a recent yet vanished youth subculture endowed the ephemeral with a monumental, granite gravity.

Some of the finest names in music and photography chose the series’ covers

Janette Beckman
Jason Bell
Ed Caraeff
Andy Cowles
Kevin Cummins
Andy Earl
Jill Furmanovsky
Christie Goodwin
Peter Hook
Simon Larbalestier
Gered Mankowitz
Dennis Morris
Peter Neill
Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell
Jamel Shabazz
Mat Snow
Howard Wakefield
Kirk Weddle
Rachael Wright