The story covers about five days of the life of a certain Jimmy, a participant in the circa 1964 Mod lifestyle in England. "The story is set on a rock!" announced the composer, Pete Townshend, at one live performance, indicating that the opera represents Jimmy's looking back at the events of the previous day or two that led him into the gloomy situation where he finds himself at the end of the story. The narrative is difficult to derive from the lyrics alone, but becomes clearer with the benefit of a short story (also written by Townshend) related from Jimmy's first person perspective, that is included in the album's booklet.

The first half of the opera consists of songs that allude to the frustrations and insecurities that govern Jimmy's life, including brief glimpses of his home life, his job, his psychoanalyst, and his unsuccessful attempts to have a social life. Halfway through the opera he sings "I've Had Enough", finds himself kicked out of his home when his parents find his box of 'blues' (blue pills of some unnamed drug, possibly amphetamine) (this happens in the song Cut My Hair). Distraught and with nothing better to do, Jimmy takes a large dose of blues and takes a train ride to the coast (Embodied in the song 5:15, which is supposed to be the time when the train departs). During his stay near the beach in Brighton, he encounters the former "Ace Face", the leader of a group of Mods, whom he admires greatly. However, "Ace Face" now works as a bell boy at a nearby hotel. Ironically, this is the very same hotel Ace Face had smashed the windows of two days before. This display of masculine bravado had earned him the admiration of many of his fellow Mods two days before during Jimmy's first stay in Brighton. Jimmy is disgusted to learn that the person he had admired as a Mod had "sold out".

At this point, Jimmy is inconsolable. Everybody from his parents to his girlfriend had disappointed him before, but he had never expected the Mod lifestyle to let him down. Drunk and depressed, he steals the now former Ace Face's scooter from the front of the Brighton hotel where he is employeed, takes it out to a barren rock protruding from the sea, and crashes psychologically. With nothing left to live for he finds redemption in the pouring rain, which is expressed in the final song, "Love, Reign o'er Me".

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