Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Listening To Who - Episode 3 : BBC Sessions

hey there

well, here we go again with some more words on The Who! i suspect they are in danger of being the thing most written about on this blog. well, where is the danger in that? they are excellent, after all. well, mostly.

late last week saw me select another disc by them at random, and this time it was the turn of a compilation in the form of the official release of the BBC Sessions.

where to begin with this one? a history of BBC Radio sessions, i suppose? let's see if i can do this without delving too much into the politics and what have you.

in the 1960s the (ahem) "threat" of so-called Pirate radio stations was elimnated in the interests of state security (eh?), and happily the state broadcaster, the BBC, was able to form Radio 1, ostensibly to be dedicated to this new "popular music" for as long as the trend lasted. rather handily, the BBC were also able to hire most of the DJs who found themselves sans jobs with the closure of the Pirate stations, the recently sadly deceased Jimmy Saville being one of them.

Radio 1 was quite happy playing records by these passing interest groups such as The Beatles and The Kinks, but of course when you think England you think "unions". The musicians union (whatever it's actually called) were horrified that only recorded materials were being played, and thus insisted that x amount of broadcast time be used to present live performances.

i think the reverse of that was true and it possibly involved another union that saw a more or less blanket ban on live TV performances, however, which saw much of who appeared on Top Of The Pops miming away. but that's another story.

bands, no matter how many of these "pop" singles they sold, still had to audition to get on to do a session at the BBC, and happily The Who qualified to have their first session after a mere three applications.

the sessions that The Who recorded for the BBC have never really been celebrated or fawned over to the extent of those by, say, The Beatles or The Kinks, nor to a lesser extent those by Led Zeppelin. and they certainly have never been revered or placed in the same position of importance, jumping ahead in time, as the legendary Peel Sessions by The Smiths. The Who's output at the BBC had been pretty widely available on bootlegs, but in 2000 a decision was taken to give most of their stuff an official release.

i am not going to get into all the technicalities and dates of what they recorded when here, really. i'm trying to give you info to see if it's worth your time investing in the CD. i do appreciate that such information is of interest to many people, and thus the least i can do is give you this excellent link to a site that will tell you all that you could wish to know of the actual recordings.

the disc covers an eight year period, starting with early / first single "proper" track Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere from 1965 and going through to things like Relay and Long Live Rock from 1973. between those dates, of course, there were some classic songs the band produced. although you wouldn't know it in particular on the basis of this - one one track from Tommy (in the form of I'm Free), for instance, appears on the "standard" version. more on that later.

what does feature is a very great deal of the album A Quick One. and there's nothing wrong with that, except i have not got to that album in my random listening as of yet. Pete Townshend's first go at a mini-opera from that album, A Quick One While He's Away, features here with a highly suspicious runningly length that is one second out on being exactly seven minutes long. and that leads us to part of the "problem" with the performances here.

one thing that Pete Townshend frequently said in interviews in the 60s, and indeed hints at here on this particular disc, was that the difference between The Who and their contemporaries was that whilst they sought to replicate the sound of the studio on stage, he was more interested in capturing the sound and dynamics of the band on stage when in the studio. in the BBC Sessions, then, you really get the sound of a band trying to replicate a record that attempts to recreate a live experience as a concert sound, but done so in the constraints of specific time allocated for each song (hence the previous comment on running time) and not be too "jazz odyssey" for the radio audience. add to that the fact that, at the time, these sessions were broadcast on an AM/MW frequency and most likely heard by and large on single-speaker transistor radios, perhaps a bit too much fiddling and constraint existed to prevent these sessions ever really giving a true representation to the sound of The Who live.

and yet there's still enough on the disc to make it a worthy one to have in your collection, if not an essential one.

a song which i believe is unique to this collection - in official releases at the least - is the band having a go at a cover of Dancing In The Street. it's an unusual but by that i do not mean particularly bad take on the song, really. for the most part it's a very psychedelic take on the track, in particular with regards to Roger Daltrey's vocal. there is, however, some "messing about" on it - Keith Moon seems to be trying to turn it into the style of his beloved Beach Boys at time, John Entwistle clearly gets bored and just runs up and down the chords and by the halfway mark Pete seems a little bored too and just makes his guitar go "twang" every now and then.

other than that, there are two different sessions for Substitue, a song that always sounds great when they do it. My Generation crops up as itself and as a re-worded "jingle" for Radio 1, the same being true for the good fun that is Boris The Spider. all the other tracks (26 on the "standard" version) are worth a listen, mindful of the constraints mentioned earlier. Shakin' All Over is worth a special mention - it's not the sledgehammer to your head version of it from the Live At Leeds album, but it is a pretty good version all the same.

now, i keep mentioning that this is the "standard" version, but it is - sadly - the only version you can now apparently get. it seems that when this was released, some sort of chain store in the USA called "Best Buy" had an exclusive version with a second disc, featuring tracks like Pinball Wizard, I Can See For Miles and the excellent Heaven And Hell. that's three pretty big tracks right there that they have pretty much blocked / stopped from fans legally buying. a bit of a shame, to say the least, but if they don't want to make them legally available then i guess it is off to the world of the bootlegs if you want them!

whereas the set available is probably the best of what you can get of The Who at the BBC, it is of course not the best thing Who related to the BBC. absent entire from this set are the legendary shows and "comic interludes" Keith Moon did for them in the early 70s when he (briefly) stood in for John Peel.

one can find some less-than-official recordings of Moon's radio show on the internet, and indeed one or two snippets made it on to the bands' epic 30 Years Of Maximum R & B box set. they are well worth tracking down, and i shall say no more on the subject!

as amazon are presently charging all of £2.99 for this at the moment, it is well worth getting. the variants and versions of the well known songs that feature are easily worth that money, as indeed is the take on Dancing In The Street. if you feel an overwhelming need to purchase it for a higher cost, HMV, who apparently are yet again on the verge of going bust or are at the least in some serious financial woes, will sell it to you for £3.99 at the moment. if you spot this Best Buy 2 CD version of it anywhere, but it on sight!

BBC Sessions is nice to have in the collection to the extent that it will get played 5 or 6 times and then look really, really good on the shelf. as this can be said of nearly all live albums (well, the good ones) bar the absolutely essential, can never get tired of hearing Live At Leeds by The Who, this certainly isn't intended as a complaint or criticism of the disc. worth your consideration at the least!

right, to be honest, i am glad to take this one out of the car after 5 or 6 days. what will get played next? who knows, but there's something of a cryptic clue in the way that has just been worded......

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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