Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Listening To Who - Episode 5 : Odds & Sods

hello there

well, the new year has thus far not presented any significant reason for me to stop listening to albums by The Who at random, and nor is it likely to!

this week on the stereo in the car, for that is the only place where i can play The Who at the correct volume, it has been the turn of the compilation album Odds & Sods.

The significance of Odds & Sods as a release is arguably more at what it was an attempt at rather than anything particularly on the record itself. The popular music recording boom in the 60s and 70s led, perhaps inevitably, to the rise of the bootleg industry.

Bootlegging and the arts was nothing new as late as the 1960s, of course. For a fair few hundred years before then there had been a healthy market and thus production set up for bootleg books, and for even longer than that celebrated paintings had been copied since, well, since people started painting I suppose. Considering how the mantra “if it can be produced it can be copied” had existed in respect of the arts, it should be a surprise that the record industry, for the most part, didn’t anticipate or quite know how to deal with the rise of bootleggers. Should would be the key word there; if one looks at how the industry has dealt with any “crisis” one can understand that they have never been the most proactive.

Odds & Sods was one of, if not the, first attempt to try and fight the rising amount of bootlegs of The Who which were being sold, somewhat openly by all accounts, at each and every gig they played. Interestingly, the efforts to fight bootlegs seemed at this stage not to be particularly about the money involved – Townshend’s concern, going on interviews about it, was that fans were being sold poor quality acetate discs that tended to be unplayable after a mere 4 or 5 times on the turntable.

His wish was that if fans were so keen to hear unreleased and relatively rare things then they should be of a decent quality. This was a pretty commonplace approach taken by bands at the time – Led Zeppelin were famous for nipping down to London to buy bootlegs of their own gigs so they could review their performance, and artists like Bruce Springsteen (in those early career days of the 70s at least) were more than happy to have a “special recording section” at gigs for fans who wanted to tape the show. The Who had, of course, given a nod of the head towards such recordings with their distinctly bootleg-like packaging of Live At Leeds.

The difference with Odds & Sods was, as hinted at above, this was not a collection of fan made live recordings. The Who by 1975 had an impressive number of songs that were long forgotten b-sides no longer available or things that they simply did not release. These were the ones that the fans craved and subsequently were buying poor bootlegs of.

As for where the bootlegs originated in the first place, “lost of difference places” is the best answer. The released tracks were crudely copied from record players to reel to reel tape machines; unreleased takes had been retained by studio engineers and either sold or simply passed on to those who could press and release them.

The compilation was put together by John Entwistle in 1974. The rest of the band had somewhat substantial involvement in the imminent film version of Tommy, so he really had “nothing better to do” than work on it. In great fairness, he strove to make it a “proper” album, selecting tracks that the band had actively considered as being either singles or album tracks instead of simply just giving over polished versions of what were the most bootlegged songs. Indeed, he took to the task with such passion that two volumes were prepared for release, although only one ever surfaced. The majority of what would have been in the second volume features on the current CD version, indeed the one I picked up.

As for the actual tracks on the album, they are more curious than classic if we are honest. The two which strike one straight away are rather rare studio recordings of Summertime Blues and Young Man Blues. These two were regular songs covered live, to superb sound and effect of course on the Live At Leeds album. In comparison to the live versions, however, these studio takes seem and feel muted and lacking power. Whereas it’s certainly interesting to hear them doing it off-stage, one soon understands why the band have never been all that keen for the studio versions to be given any sort of prominent release.

Speaking of prominent releases, one may well sigh at the sight of Water and Naked Eye being included yet again as “rare” on a Who release. We cannot be all that far off these two songs being released as frequently as Substitute or My Generation, really. At least here they are included in some sort of context along with a track called Postcard – these three, along with I Don’t Even Know Myself, were intended as an ep to be released in advance of the Lifehouse project. That fell through; so did the single, but at least Postcard got a release as the promotional single for Odds and Sods.

Well worth a listen is Cousin Kevin Model Child. Now then, Who enthusiasts who hear the name Cousin Kevin would think of one thing and one thing only, and you’d be right to do so. This is the first attempt at a song about such a child for the Tommy album, and dear me what a complete mess it is. If you’ve already got or heard the 2 CD deluxe set of Tommy and heard the first demo version of it you shall be all too aware of what a catastrophic mess the whole of Tommy could have been if released as intended in its first draft state. I would really caution against listening to the whole of Tommy as a demo, but the two or so minutes of this song gives you an ample clue as to how bad it was. As for the other great rock opera from the band, Quadrophenia gets a look in with a track called We Close Tonight. It’s a pretty good, lighthearted number, the latter point being perhaps why it did not make its way onto that rather dark concept album.

In recent times Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have become rightly celebrated for their regular concerts geared towards raising funds for Teenage Cancer Charities. What may surprise some is for just how long they have been involved with this cause. On this album you will find a song called Little Billy, written and recorded in the late 60s and presented free of charge to the American Cancer Society to use however they saw fit to raise awareness and, more importantly, funds. Alas, they chose not to, and the tape sat unused in their offices between the time of recording right up until when John Entwistle was assembling the tracks for Odds and Sods. They played it once or twice live in anticipation of it getting a release, but alas it only did here. A shame, really, as it’s a great song.

Beyond that, the set features a lot of songs that you will either already have or have variants of if you’ve picked up the 30 Years Of Maximum R & B box set or the expanded versions of the albums. The current low price of the set, however, still makes it very much a worthwhile set to pick up. The artwork on the CD, featuring a ridiculous cartoon image of the band as super heroes in action, is worth a quid or two of anyone’s money.

Whilst it is worth picking this up, it is a reminder of how the fun has been taken out of finding rare and obscure recordings. Of course it has gone forever now, with absolutely every recording ever made apparently available, usually free, on the internet. Hunting down rare, hard to find tracks that you were never intended to hear was immense fun. I remember the days when a dear friend sought out (and eventually found) a copy of the notorious The Black Album, withdrawn at the last minute by Prince, and indeed another friend who compiled a collection of tapes that must have covered everything The Smiths had ever done. Now that one does not have to earn the right or work to hear them, it makes the songs rather more disposable and insignificant than they perhaps should be. Oh well, such is the way of the world I suppose.

as stated earlier, this album was the first effort to not only strike back at the bootleg industry, but also to try and give what the fans wanted. quite a few artists have released b-side and unreleased material compilations over the years. notable examples are Marillion, Suede, Oasis and the Manic Street Preachers, but perhaps the winner is The Rolling Stones. their album Tattoo You was little more than rejected songs from the 6 or 7 years before it; the set went on to sell and be viewed as one of their greatest albums ever.

Odds & Sods does not feature any great lost classic as such, but the average sound of The Who is better than, well, no Who. the music on here, by a whisker perhaps, should appeal to more than just completists. well worth considering picking up if you're currently happy with a greatest hits set or two by the band, are thinking about getting some of the albums but are unsure what the sound of them would be like. again, in the interests of providing links that will ship worldwide, you can pick this up off amazon for £2.99 at the time of this being published, or if you like the idea of paying a bit more HMV will sell it to you for £3.99.

many thanks again for reading. i already have the next album in the stereo, so expect another episode of this in the not too distant future.

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