Thursday, December 29, 2011

Listening To Who - Episode 4 : Who's Next

Hi there

well, time for more pondering and celebration of The Who, methinks. this time it's the turn of the album Who's Next.

So, what can one possibly write about Who’s Next? Originally released in 1971, it features 9 tracks. Of those 9, three are routinely considered to be amongst the best ten songs the band recorded, and two of those three are interchangeable at the top in regards of trying to say which is the best and which is the second best song the band ever did. The other 6 songs are not exactly bad either (far from it), and the 7 extra songs you get on the “one disc deluxe” version I recently got are familiar but excellent.

That would be the rather short version. I shall be writing a good deal more here, of course, but if you want it in brief, well, if you do not have this album then off you go to obtain a copy of it.

The fact that an album emerged from the band in 1971 must have been something of a surprise at the time, really. After the release of the legendary Tommy in mid-1969, the band went on a relentless touring scheduled, playing a massive set of their ‘rock opera’ and a standard set of classics night after night. Some of this was captured in the often released Live At Leeds album in 1970. for more on that great, must own album, click here!

A recurring theme for Pete Townshend, as highlighted in earlier posts on The Who, was the wish to capture the live sound of the band on record instead of simply trying to recreate the sound of records onstage. An interview in early ’71 has Pete saying that they were “setting out to make the best music they possibly could”, which saw the ambitious project to compose and record an album “live”, predominantly with a series of, if you will, interactive gigs at the Young Vic in London. This was all done as part of, and here’s a phrase that Who fans are all too familiar with, Townshend’s “Lifehouse Project”.

There are already quite enough articles on the whole Lifehouse project to suggest that I do not need to spend so much time on it here. In short, it was a “concept” or possibly another “rock opera” that Townshend felt inspired to create from his experiences touring Tommy. This was in specific regard of how audiences reacting, the if you will “vibrant buzz” of them. In short, the project proved unrealistic and was postponed in favour of using some of the tracks for a more straightforward, conventional album in the form of Who’s Next. For further reading in regards of Lifehouse, there is the internet certainly, but also any halfway decent book on the band will have a good deal of it, and indeed the booklet that comes with any 1995 and beyond issue of Who’s Next has a great amount on it.

So, on to the conventional album that was released. I suppose the best place to start is the three songs mentioned above. Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again and Behind Blue Eyes are the stand out tracks here, which certainly give weight to Townshend’s statement that they intended to make “the best music they possibly could”.

For some reason in the 70s a number of bands, in particular Queen, had “no synthesizers” written on their album, as if the sound of a synthesizer is always a bad thing. The bookends of the original album, Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again, both have immediately recognizable and indeed iconic synthesizer melodies and these two songs are the two I would argue the band ever did. Which is saying a very great deal indeed, considering the hefty number of great songs you can list for them. I cannot for the life of me work out what it was that happened between Who’s Next in 1971 and a band like Queen by the mid 70s that led to an anti-synthesizer campaign. Presumably some sort of prototype Jedward used them around 73 or 74?

The two songs under discussion here are of course rather familiar to a new, “younger” audience as they are two of the three songs currently used for the theme of the series of CSI shows. That shouldn’t distract from their overall awesome level of greatness, though. Nothing I can really say here can capture or describe them in detail, but I will try. Baba O’Riley speaks of a world you wish existed, and Won’t Get Fooled Again shows off just how good all four members of the band were. If for some inexplicable reason you’ve not heard either, off you go – and I do mean right now – to find copies of them.

As for the third legendary song from the album, Behind Blue Eyes, it is one that should be performed by The Who and them alone. Sadly of late the song has been tainted by a ghastly “rewritten” version by a band of limited talent called Limp Bizkit. It was with sheer delight that I read they have been dropped by their record label and thus effectively split; if they had done to a Beatles or Springsteen song what they did to this Who one they would have been hounded out of the industry a good deal sooner. Try to ignore the offensive, horrid cover and listen to Daltrey give one of his greatest ever performances on the original.

As for the other six songs, well, there are five great ones and one that I tend to skip over. That one would be the only non-Townshend song (by co-incidence I assure you) track, My Wife, written by John Entwistle. It just has an, as best I can describe it, odd mix to it, in particular on the distorted / “buried” vocals, and it takes some work to get into. With so many other treasures available, I just cannot be bothered to give it the work it requires, really.

The extra tracks on the one disc “deluxe” version are very nice to have indeed. The previously unreleased version of Pure And Easy on here is ace, evoking a psychedelic summer of love sound some four years late. Daltrey’s vocal on it certainly sounds mid-to-late 60s, which serves to illustrate just how strong and loud his voice had developed when compared to the rest of Who’s Next. It’s somewhat out of tone with the remainder of the album, but I might have considered ditching My Wife and including this one instead, really.

As for songs that very nearly did get included in the original albums, we get Naked Eye and Water. Again. Or if you will, yet again. These “rare” tracks have a habit of turning up on numerous Who releases, in particular live albums and of course the superb, must-have 30 Years Of Maximum R & B box set. Both are tracks that sound like they could be great, but tend to lean towards the average side of being very average songs, as it were. Perhaps they would or indeed will make more sense if heard as part of Lifehouse, as and when Pete finishes it off.

Mention must be made, of course, of the celebrated / infamous cover picture for Who’s Next. I remember reading one article on the album which suggested that the cover “just looks more and more childish with each passing year”, whereas other articles celebrate it as iconic brilliance. The what and why of them doing it remains something of a mystery. The band, ahem, relieving themselves upon a giant monolith has been interpreted as them announcing they’ve gone one better than their monolithic work Tommy, with some seeing it as a dig (for no given or apparent reason) at Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. In all likelihood, it’s probably just something that amused one or more of the band. A somewhat different cover was planned, and indeed is included in the CD. It features Keith Moon in a state of revealing cross-dressing. All I can say of it is that in brings to mind the words of Ian Faith when quizzed on the cover for Spinal Tap’s Smell The Glove – “you should have seen the cover they wanted to do, it wasn’t a glove, believe me.”.

When people speak of the greatest albums of the 70s, it tends to be records like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf and The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd. Others get a mention too, certainly, but rare is it that I have seen or heard of Who’s Next being spoken of in such stature. And that’s a great shame, really. Whereas I would stop well short of calling it the greatest album of the decade (that would go to Rumours, or perhaps a Bowie one), it certainly should be in the top ten of any list of that decade, top twenty in a worst case. Devout Who fans will already have this, but admirers of Rock who normally do not care for The Who (if such a type exists) should certainly consider this one.

I still find it astonishing that in such a period of prolific touring and recording that the band was able to turn out a masterpiece such as this, frankly. Recent examples of bands trying to keep the momentum going in a similar style have not worked out, really. A case in point would be the Manic Street Preachers, who followed up the excellent Journal For Plague Lovers with the distinctly average Postcards From A Young Man, and then threw out a “singles collection” which has been well documented here already. i would like to be wrong, but i doubt we shall see the high levels of quality that The Who produced year after year from any new band.

if you don't have the album, or have "just" the first issue CD featuring the standard 9 tracks of the album, you can order it at amazon or, if you prefer paying more, HMV.

there is a 2 disc version of it out there too, but it costs a great deal more.

and what shall be the next CD by The Who to be given a spin? not sure at the moment, but you'll be able to read about it here, no doubt!

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