The Pinball Wizard's Iconic Boots

Inconic photo of the Pinball Wizard
Inconic photo of the Pinball Wizard
The Pinball Wizard from the film "Tommy"
The Pinball Wizard from the film "Tommy"
Bally's Pinball Tribute
Bally's Pinball Tribute
McFly's Pseudo Pinball Wizard
McFly's Pseudo Pinball Wizard
"He Can Beat My Favorite Table,  He Can Beat The Best."
"He Can Beat My Favorite Table, He Can Beat The Best."
Tommy! Can You See Me?
Tommy! Can You See Me?

"...Sure Plays A Mean Pinball"

The soundtrack to Tommy is listed as Number 29 on the list of Top 50 all time "Greatest Rock Soundtracks," with Elton John's version of "Pinball Wizard" considered Tommy's signature track! The movie itself conjures up memories of many performances, and abstact images. Outside of the psycho-sexual, dream-like fantasy of Ann-Margaret frollicking around smashed T.V.'s, beans, chocolate sauce, and soap bubbles. There is one other image that comes to mind instantly ...BOOTS... But I'm not just talking about any old pair of 12 eye "cherry red" 1460 Doc Marten's... I'm talking about an iconic pair of boots and an unforgettable moment in the rock opera, "Tommy."

"See Me..."

Elton John did and still does a blazing cover of The Who's "Pinball Wizard." a scence stealing moment that was the featured in "Tommy", The Who's classic 1975 film adaptation of their classic rock opera. Elton played the campy pinball champ (screenname Local Lad) that must compete against the pinball wizard (Tommy played by The Who's Roger Daltrey) to keep his pinball crown. The first thing that grabs your attention is John's seemingly 20-foot high boots. Elton in these sky-high boots, towers above his kingdom as the ruler of all he surveys; essentially making this scene the classic battle; as Tommy is David to Local Lad's Goliath.

I remember when 'Tommy' was released. With everything that was going on in the movie it seemed everyone was talking about Elton John and these boots; that were modeled after 'cherry red' Dr. Martens. The boots themselves were molded fiberglass created by an English company, and put together by the props department of Columbia Pictures. The boots stand 4 foot 6.5 inches high. Elton had to wear these giant Doc Marten boots attached by callipers, which allowed him to move as if he were on stilts (photo of the boots furnished below). Elton enjoyed the film experience and asked to keep the outrageous boots from his costume. Which he did keep the huge boots until 1988.

"Touch Me.."

In the "Pinball Wizard" scene, Elton John wasn't originally supposed to be playing the piano keyboard. Actually the crew had to install a keybaord to Elton's pinball machine to help take Elton's mind off of being up on the boots. Elton told the crew that he would feel more comfortable with a keyboard in front of him.

All of the music used for the filmed was pre-recorded, except for "Pinball Wizard." In which The Who really did play in front of that giant theatre audience (Even though Elton John's band, is featured on the soundtrack). There is an unscripted moment when at the end of the song, the fans rush the stage. The Who's live performance generated a little too much excitement,, especially when Pete Townshend started to smash his guitar.

Fool Me...

Rod Stewart was originally tapped to play the pinball wizard, because Rod had played the part in a London stage production. So Stewart asked Elton if he should accept the offer to sing in the movie adaptation of Tommy. Elton told him no way, "Don't touch it with a barge pole."

A year later, Pete Townshend was still having trouble finding the perfect pinball wizard for the project, since Rod turned it down. So Pete approached Elton John and Elton agreed to play the part... "I ended up doing pinball wizard and Rod couldn't believe it: "you barstard..."". Rod was angry to learn that Elton had taken the part: "he was really furious and quite rightly so. But Pete has always been a very good supporter and I should do things back for him".

"I don't think Rod's quite forgiven me for that," Elton would comment years later about talking Stewart out of the part.

A version of Rod Stewart singing "Pinball Wizard" can be found on Rod's "Greatest Hits" collection.

Sell Me...

In September 1988, Elton decided to do a little fall cleaning, and auctioned off 2000 items of his personal memorabilia at Sotheby's, including, the "Pinball Wizard" boots. The winning bid for the boots was made by the director of R Griggs, the makers of Dr. Martens. The famous pair of boots are on loan to Northampton Museum.

"Talkin' 'Bout My G-G-G... Generation..."

"Pinball Wizard" reminds me of that certain music era... a lot of flash, style and showmanship... Nobody was better or more on top of his game than Elton John was in the early Seventies. I miss his early Bernie Taupin collaberations, his voice (pre- throat surgery) his killer piano and outrageous costumes.

Remember the crazy platform boots, the feathers, the Dame Edna shades? When is the last time someone had launched his piano bench into the crowd (actually it would land in the orchestra pit, but theatrics count) There was no better a performer than Elton John in his "Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy" era. Pop-rock stars of that time frame were the very definition of what it was to be a star upon a stage...extravagant, larger-than-life, and entertaining. Live music today almost seems dull in comparision. This well groomed, fake hair plugged, raspy-voice Elton John who plays Las Vegas and bitches a lot... Is not the Elton John who was the 20ft. tall campy "Local Lad" singing pinball wizard.

"Tommy...Can You Hear Me?"

Elton John's version of "Pinball Wizard" was a hit single, and still is the only cover of a Who song to break the top 10.

"Tommy...Can You See Me?"

I haven't seen Tommy in YEARS. Maybe its time to see it again!

The Who - Pinball Wizard (1971)

The Movie

The Who's 4th album, a concept, rock opera called Tommy was adapted as a film, in 1975. Produced by Robert Stigwood and directed by the off-beat British director Ken Russell. The movie starred The Who's Roger Daltrey as Tommy, and featured the other members of the band. The film also featured an eclectic cast including Hollywood stars Ann-Margaret, and Oliver Reed. Throw in some cameo appearances from famous musicians Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Arthur Brown and Jack Nicholson. The film received mixed reviews but was a huge commercial success on release and is a cult classic film.

Pete Townshend had to rework the storyline quite a bit for the film. By cutting out some of the obscure references made on the original ablum, and moving the time-frame forward to the period after World War II. The film also reversed the lead storyline: in the film, Tommy's father is murdered by his mother's lover, but on the original album its the lover that is killed by the returning home Capt. Walker. The changed plot line adds more to the hint of incest between the mother/son. Since Tommy's mother sees her former husband within her own son.

Which is the beginning of... "That deaf, dumb and blind kid," being a pawn for just about everyone's grubby abusive games. Tommy gains instant fame and adoration from the world when he is found to be a pinball wizard, who's super-sensitive touch makes him unbeatable is a match against the pinball king. Tommy eventually liberates his senses, and feelings when he smashes a mirror and, in comes the flood of sensations, that achieve enlightenment.

The song "Pinball Wizard" was a major hit when released as a single. Curiously, although the music for this song is credited to Elton John and his band... it was actually the film only song not pre-recorded on soundtrack, and was performed by Elton John being backed by The Who (dressed in pound-note suits).

Most of the extras were students at Portsmouth Polytechnic and were paid with tickets to a Who concert after filming had finished. Ken Russell included the shots he took of the pier at Southsea, which burned down while the crew were in town.

McFly - Pinball Wizard (Live) Pinball Wizard Cameo

Tommy Takes On The Champ
Tommy Takes On The Champ
Local Lad vs. Tommy
Local Lad vs. Tommy

Tommy Meets The Pinball Wizard

When Tommy, the actual "Pinball Wizard," meets the false Pinball Champion, Local Lad, in a pinball match for supremacy; that plays out as the classic underdog story. Its director Russell that mounts it on a gilded stage before thousands of fans. Elton John's character looks like the great golden false idol that many worship and follow. Kind of represented in his sparkly style...his shirt is full of glitter, perched high in front of his pinball machine on seven-story platform shoes, and singing his tauntingly boastful song, "Pinball Wizard" ("That deaf, dumb and blind kid/ Sure plays a mean pinball"). Of course, the silent Tommy defeats Local Lad, and our last sight of the false champion is only of his huge shoes, being carried off by the crowd of now believers in Tommy.

Elton John - Pinball Wizard from "Tommy"

The Bally Table King?
The Bally Table King?
"I thought I was the Bally Table King...But I Just Handed My Pinball Crown To Him!"
"I thought I was the Bally Table King...But I Just Handed My Pinball Crown To Him!"
"From SoHo Down To Brighton..."
"From SoHo Down To Brighton..."

"Pinball Wizard" The Movie Soundtrack Version

The lyrics are written from the perspective of a pinball champion, called "Local Lad" who is astounded by the skills of Tommy Walker: "That deaf, dumb and blind kid", and "Local Lad" in the end exclaims "I thought I was the Bally table king, but I just handed my pinball crown to him".

Townshend once called Pinball Wizard, "the most clumsy piece of writing he'd ever done"; but, the song was a gigantic commercial success and is one of the most recognizable tunes ever written. Pinball Wizard is still a concert favorite.

 

The Extended Lyrics For The Movie Version Of "Tommy" (Sung by Elton John as the Local Lad, the pinball champion... and The Who As The Band)

Ever since I was a young boy,
I've played the silver ball.
From SoHo down to Brighton,
I must have played them all.
But I ain't seen nothin' like him
In any amusement hall.
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball.
He stands like a statue,
Becomes part of the machine.
Feelin' all the bumpers,
Always playin' clean.
He plays by intuition.
The digit counters fall.
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball.
He's a pinball wizard,
There has to be a twist.
A pinball wizard,
Got such a supple wrist!

[REPORTER]

How do you think he does it?

[PINBALL WIZARD]

I don't know!

[REPORTER]

What makes him so good?

[PINBALL WIZARD]

Well, he ain't got no distractions,
Can't hear no buzzers and bells.
Don't see lights a-flashing,
He plays by sense of smell.
Always has a replay,
Never tilts at all,
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball.
He can't beat me now,
I've always been the champ!
I know it's a trick!
No freak's gonna beat my hand!
He can beat my favorite table,
He can beat the best.
His disciples lead him in,
And he just does the rest.
He's got crazy flipper fingers,
I've never seen them fall.
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball.
He's a pinball wizard
There has to be a twist.
A pinball wizard,
Got such a supple wrist!
He's a pinball wizard
His score shoots even more!
A pinball wizard,
The world's new pinball lord!
He's scoring more!
He's scoring more!
I thought I was the Bally table king,
But I just handed my pinball crown to him.
To him! To him!

The Flaming Lips Rehearsing For The Who Tribute (Raw Footage)

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Comments 16 comments

Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Love those photos. Great videos too. Wonderful information packed into this hub of yours. Didn't know about most of it. My favorite part was the keyboard they had to put in fron of Elton John so he could keep himself distracted way up there. Love a good game of pinball, still. Love it. Wish I had one of my very own.


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

I still have a soft-spot for the old pinball machines, but I'll play on any one I can get my paws on. I miss air-hockey...what happened there? Frieda Babbley, thank you for taking the time to hangout and find something interesting in all of this mess.


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

My pleasure St. James. I always enjoy your your wonderful reads.


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

The pleasure is mine.


Iphigenia 7 years ago

brilliant ! ahhhhhh the memories ........ back there, back then .... it was a huge part of my youth. Thanks.


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

I'm with you Iphigenia, the thoughts and memories just kind of flood in.


Dink96 profile image

Dink96 7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

Ah, the memories come rushing back to me now. My favorite was Ann-Margret and (no surprise) TINA!!! She performed the Acid Queen when I saw her in concert a few months ago. Tommy is rife with Oedipal themes and only the Who could put all of this together and present it with such force to the rock & roll audiences of the early 70s. But I wonder if we ever "got" any of that back then? Yes, I wholeheartedly agree about the music of then vs. a lot of what we have today. I have a Deep Purple album recorded w/ the Royal Philharmonic that was so far ahead of its time, but that was just indicative of what was coming out of England's bands at that time. Not to mention their collaborations with some of the at that time "unknown" blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and the like. It was a magical time for music. Wowza, James, you really got me going!


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

Ahhhh... Dinky. I hit you with many of your interests. Fashionable footwear, music, pop psychology and time travel back into the formative years. Thanks for checking out my tribute to someone's big boots to fill.


blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 7 years ago from australia

Wow this is amazing St.James. Just love the pictures they are so dazzling I almost have to put my shades on to view them. I love playing pinball machines. I wish there was more around. Wow just look at Elton ooo la la. Love it love it. Dame Edna, platform shoes, the flares oh they are the bees knees. This is right up my tree, the colour, glamour, bright lights, the flashing pin-ball machines, what more could a gal want?


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

"She's got electric boooots! a MOHAIR suit...you know she seen it in a MAG..ah ZEEEEN....oh-oh...BBBBB-blondePoet"

Sparkle, Flash and Fun... all the things that keep ya smiling.

Thanks for the drive-by


k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California

I remember seeing this in the theatre. It was an eye opener, totally outside of my previous experience. I have never seen it since, but your hub makes me feel like watching it again!


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

Kari, even now when I hear the overture to "Tommy" I can feel my heart race. The images fill my head. Thank you!


keiranthapa profile image

keiranthapa 6 years ago from Darjeeling

nice hub you got here. I've never had the good luck to see live shows. looking forward


jonathan  5 years ago

any one who is intrested in buying a used pinball machine for them selfs should check out http://www.amusementtrader.com/category/185/Pinbal...

for collectable pinball machines


Brian Robert Campbell 5 years ago

I have in my possession a brass belt-buckle made from the Bally Corp 1975 Round with a lightning bolt in the middle and Pinball Wizard etch in the front.I just wonder ball-park what something like that is worth?brian.campbell@live.com


NobbyPompey profile image

NobbyPompey 5 years ago

I had the rare privledge of being there when Elton played teh Pinball Wizard. I was only 15 at the time and is an experience that i willl never forget.

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