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Pictures of Lily - the Who

Another exercise in not so subtle innuendo is the Who's 1967 smash "Pictures of Lily" a tail of adolescent male masturbation that somehow evaded the BBC radio censors. Pete Townsend's lyrics explored the lives and problems of urban mod teenagers, not least of which must have been their dealings with the opposite sex at a time when expectations in the burgeoning, "swinging sixties" were going through the roof, and probably exceeding the realities of most young men.

So this is a hard rocking pean to the benefits of self relief. Except that Townsend artfully suggests that the pictures may be of Lillie Langtry, highly successful actress, arch Bohemian, avant garde socialite, model of artists and so on. When he asks his Dad where he can meet her, ...

"....he said, "son, now don't be silly she's been dead since 1929" oh, how I cried that night if only I'd been born in Lily's time it would have been alright...."

which suggests that no good will come to a young lad who ignores reality. Also the idea that a 60's London mod teenager might have erotic fantasies over pictures of Ms Langtry seems a tad unlikely, beautiful and sensuous though she is by the standards of the 1890's.

Maybe if he'd found out a bit more about her........close friend of Oscar Wilde, adored by ageing Pre Raphaelites Millais and Holman Hunt, prime minister Gladstone and the Prince of Wales, she was nobody's fool, far more than just a society pin-up......then he'd have written the first rock opera two years earlier!

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