well, welcome to the latest edition of listening to The Who at random. this shall be, alas or happily for you, the last one for a bit. will go into that a bit later, but for now let's worry about what this one is.
and those of you who are astute enough to have read the title will know that what i have been listening to of late is their second album, A Quick One.
A Quick One, or Happy Jack as it was renamed in the States so as to avoid causing offence by innuendo, was the second album from the band. The debut album, My Generation, sold well enough to get Gold status and the non-album singles released in between, in particular Substitute and I’m A Boy, sold well enough to make it into the Top 10. It’s fair to say, then, that there was a degree of expectation for sales to be even bigger for this record.
The album, oddly despite getting a higher chart position, did not do this, selling less than the debut. This is a bit of a pity as, in my opinion and that the accepted risk of offending or outraging fans of the debut, this one is a much better album. The sales were perhaps hampered by someone (perhaps the label, maybe producer Kit Lambert) insisting on stating on the front of the record that one should use specific equipment and settings to hear the record “properly”; something that could well be off-putting to someone who has no idea what they are talking about.
With only one cover version on the record (Heat Wave), the album boasts compositions from all members of the band, and all songs being of a fairly high quality. Sure, the bulk is still Pete Townshend, but if I tell you that this is the album which features John Entwistle’s Boris The Spider and Cobwebs And Strange, the music hall via the psychedelic Sixties contribution from Keith Moon that served as the soundtrack to his segment on the The Kids Are Alright film, you presumably get the idea of what I am speaking about. It’s not like Roger’s contribution, See My Way, is bad either.
In general, the sound seems to move away from the traditional (i.e. not modern rubbish that has ruthlessly stolen the name) R & B and pop sound towards a skiffle via swing style with a good lashing of the psychedelic sound so strongly linked to the time, in particular with Roger’s vocals. There is also, thanks to Keith Moon’s obsession with the sound, a distinct West Coast (USA) Beach vibe going on. This certainly makes for a great record, and applies to all tracks on the album bar one – the opus which gives the album its name, A Quick One, While He’s Away.
The common consensus is that the track A Quick One, While He’s Away is Pete Townshend’s first go at a Rock or Pop Opera. This isn’t strictly speaking true – I’m A Boy, released before this, was intended to form part of a bigger concept, or if you will “concept album”. I’m not going to get into the whole debate of what constitutes a concept album nor the argument about which was the first one ever to surface. The main thing is, I suppose, that a track of this nature had seldom, if ever, been tried by a “pop” group before, although of course it would be something that would come to characterize The Who in the future.
As for the song itself, well, “fun” is the first word that springs to mind. It’s a saucy, cheeky tale of infidelity and forgiveness, taking in a whole range of musical styles to tell different parts of the story. One of the most famous musical styles The Who ever used features here, of course. As the song moves towards its end, or if you will climax, one gets to hear the band chanting “Cello” over and over again? Why? Well, the band wanted an actual cello quartet on the record, but were told that there was not enough money for it. As a consequence, either as a cynical dig or just an innocent idea, they simply took to just chanting the name of the instrument over the parts where they wanted it to be.
Whereas this song came to be great, it has to be said that the initial version of it here is in many ways the least satisfactory version of it. The best, without doubt, is the composite version made from studio and live recordings that featured on the 30 Years Of Maximum R & B album. Other than that one, any live version tends to work better – the one on Live At Leeds in particular, but the band doing it on the infamous Rolling Stones Rock N Roll Circus is a must have. Legend has it that it’s The Who’s performance of it on the show which left the Stones feeling they had been overshadowed and outperformed, hence them never officially releasing the film for many years.
Whereas the album itself is pretty good, it’s the rich amount of extras that come with the CD that make this an essential purchase. Topping that list would be 80% of the tracks which made up the legendary Ready Steady Who EP.
Disappointingly, the 20% missing is Circles, aka Instant Party. This track sits up there with Success Story off The Who By Numbers as a great tune that the band seem not to exploit the greatness of as much as they could. No matter, one can find this great song on the My Generation album, or if you can find it the Singles Box. To hear an exceptional cover version of it, though, you should consider finding a copy of Substitute : The Songs Of The Who to hear Paul Weller’s great take on it.
Leaving aside what’s not there, the other four tracks are seldom released and thus well worth having. Of particular high quality is the bands’ take on the 60s Batman theme. How good is it? Michele and I have had to play it about 100 times in the last week for the boys, with James coming to the conclusion that The Who must be the best band in the world on the basis of their version. That good. Also included is their cover of Barbra Ann, which was done at more or less the same time as the more famous cover by The Beach Boys, something which suggests a Mr Keith Moon was behind the band doing it.
Since we have brought Mr Moon up, a track he wrote on the “album proper”, I Need You, is widely perceived as an attack on The Beatles. For some reason Keith got it into his head that they were “talking about him” behind is back and thus, the story goes, simply did not like them. Odd when you consider what good friends he and Ringo were, but anyway. A song which is unmistakably a go at The Beatles is a b-side included here, Doctor, Doctor. It’s credited to John Entwistle, but have a listen – the song is basically The Beatles’ Help!, presented with different, possibly interpreted as “having a pop” lyrics.
There are even more extras, but to dwell on two more of them for your money you get a previously unreleased “acoustic” version of Happy Jack that sounds rather more like a calypso version of it (it’s excellent either way) and a quite frankly incendiary, ingenious take of My Generation that phases in to Land Of Hope And Glory. Moon’s drumming on this take of My Generation ranks as some of the best the lad ever did, which is saying something.
It would appear that A Quick One was not all that popular when initially released. This should not discourage anyone from seeking it out, as there’s really rarely a bad moment on the album. True, there are not all that many moments of astonishing greatness, but what it is certainly stands as above average.
currently both amazon and HMV have this album going for £3.97 at the moment, so take your pick in regards of where you'd rather buy it from. it is certainly worth getting!
and with that, i think i have done my bit for labour of love, unpaid celebration of Who albums for a little while. the only other two i wish to write about are those two rather large, monolithic in size and scale rock operas that i hardly need name here. in order to do them the justice they deserve i think it best to take a break from the sound of the band for a while, but i assure you i will write of them later on this year.
in the mean time, thank you very much indeed for reading!
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!