Monday, May 4, 2015

ICON-The Who 50 Years Of Chaos

Out of every band that has been around the past 50 years, only a handful still remain.  The Rolling Stones get together when they need some more extra spending cash for their retirement fund, which they really don't need due to their songs on the radio, Herman's Hermits are still around and playing at the local casino or county fair.  Out of all the idols Peter Noone still remains the most youthful looking senior citizen.  The Moody Blues although Denny Laine fled the coop but Justin Hayward and John Lodge keeps the band going with their classic 7 albums of the late 60s and early 70s.  The Kinks may never hit the stage again, the brothers Davies love/hate each other and still argue who wrote You Really Got Me.  Which leaves us with The Who. The band with Pete Townsend writing them and Roger Daltry trying to sing them.  Only Keith Moon died before he got old and John Entwistle too in 2002.  Take away that rhythm section and basically The Who loses it's sound.  But the guy Keith replaced on drums is still living.  Go figure on that one.

Before The Who got cheapen by continual greatest hits packages and farewell tours, they were the best rock and roll band, a living trainwreck on stage, with Keith bashing away on just about everything and Pete smashing guitars left and right and Roger screaming, it seems that Entwistle was the sole provider of the melody but even his bass playing had elements of improvisation.  They were a mod band at the beginning, known as the Detours and later High Numbers with a UK single Zoot Suit/I'm The Face that is worth quite a bit on the open market. A name change and they became The Who.

Every band of the British Invasion had their own beginning albums and most of them basically were the hit singles and choice covers of Motown, Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers.  The Who chose James Brown on their explosive debut The Who Sing My Generation  which was presented in an awful mix before Universal reissued it with the source tapes from Shel Talmy.  In fact the opening of Out In The Street is kinda like the opening of I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles on that oft dubbed Vee Jay counterfeit reissues, or the intro of Good Times Bad Times from Led Zeppelin's first.  Although Out In The Street wasn't the bonafied hit, the opening served a purpose that this band meant business and was going to be around as long as everybody kept going, which lasted till 1978.  In some ways My Generation was better than The Kinks' You Really Got Me, even though Townsend's songwriting yet to take hold, the title track with the Hope I die before I get old lyric proved to be the punk expression of the Mods.  The James Brown covers are the weakest of the bunch, Daltrey's is nowhere near Mr. Excitement's passion and tone but Roger was better suited for songs like The Good's Gone, or Much Too Much or It's Not True.  The feedback Moon excursion of The Ox, foretold of their live presence which would be destroy everything and record it. The MCA 2002 remaster and reissue is the best sound and the original tapes proved that The Who did invent punk rock and Green Day for that matter.  It's a lot better than the crappy 80's first generation CD which you're better off playing an old scratched up record of that. One of the best debuts from a important band that was The Who.

What to do with a follow up, they tried their best although A Quick One  pales in comparison with the debut. Decca in the US added Happy Jack as a bonus track  A bit more on the pop rock, and perhaps the only full band writing album, it's all over the place.  John gives us Boris The Spider and Whiskey Man, Roger offers up See My Way and even Keith provides us with the Kinks on speed arrangement of I Need You complete with Harpsichord and of course Cobwebs And Strange.  Perhaps songwriting democracy wasn't the answer, but it still had good Pete songs in Run Run Run  or Don't Look Away, but the title track of A Quick One (while he's away) would reveal more of what Pete had in store with the band.  A seven minute medley of mini songs combined into a mini-suite.  I tend to enjoy the live version from the Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus movie (Later could be found on The Kids Are Alright movie soundtrack).  Consider the album a sophomore slump but it's really not that big of a slump.

The next album The Who Sell Out is a concept album of sorts, who else could think of up an album with pirate radio ID, commercial breaks made up on the spot and AM radio spoofs in between real songs.  And side 1 is a masterpiece beginning with Armenia City In The Sky (Written by Speedy Keen one of the few outside songwriters on a Who album that wasn't Motown or James Brown) and perhaps the best version of Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands.  Townsend studied radio well enough to add pop elements (Our Love Is..was, I Can't Reach You), moody folk music (Sunrise) and full out rock and roll (I Can See For Miles), Roger was absent on songwriting but John Entwistle gave us Silas Stingy and Keith had a hand in the commercial spots.  Side 2 they abandoned the Radio format for a slighter less interesting song selection on side 2 ending with another mini rock opera of Rael before the record end on the inner groove of Track Records (if you had a record player this would play till the needle would lift up or in the case of manual record player go on infinity.  The CD adds extra commercial spots (the famous Coke spots) selected B sides (Someone's Coming) and other choice songs (Jaguar, Early Morning Cold Taxi) and of course more Keith Moon fuckery (Girl's Eyes).  Some minor nitpicking but overall, the expanded The Who Sell Out does work quite well.  Even with bonus songs and outtakes, they were on to something.  Decca also took the time to issued a money grab called Magic Bus, a so so collection of hits and misses from preceding albums while Pete started work on his next grand statement.  A rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind child called Tommy.  Magic Bus does have Call Me Lightning, the Entwistle song Dr Jekell And Mr Hyde, Pictures Of Lily and Disguises one of the more bizarre songs and best  use of compession ever done.  Overall, it's a period piece the album and most of the best cuts found themselves elsewhere.  But for all this concludes The Who as innocent British Rockers.  The next stage would find them up the ante even more.

It's debatable if Tommy is the ultimate Who album or the most pretentious and bombastic albums ever made. I can't say if it's the latter but it's not one of my go to albums of their career.  It's a rock opera and it was right for the time of 1969 and there's a certain charm to Pinball Wizard and We're Not Gonna Take It, which got edited down to See Me Feel Me/Listening To You as a single. Perhaps as a rock opera it's the best album but for myself I think I enjoy The Who Sell Out or even Quick One a bit more.  Matter of taste.

By now The Who became a live force to be seen and heard and even if their Woodstock performance wasn't as electrifying it did hint of what they could do live.  It's a argument that The Who Live At Leeds is one of the best if not the best live albums of all time but it does capture The Who working on all four cylinders. The original album was done up as a bootleg type of recording with some fake pops and cracks along the record and a muddy sound but I always loved that album from the git go.  The remastered cleans up the sound and adds more music to make it even better, beginning with John's Heaven And Hell. and flying through I Can't Explain and Bernie Spellman's Fortune Teller.  But still the version of Young Man's Blues is definitive and the medley of Summertime Blues and Shakin All Over is controlled chaos.  I haven't heard the Live At Hull reissue, but I suspects it's good although reports that John's bass had to be recorded or taken off Live At Leeds.  Live at The Isle Of Wright isn't not as good although for vintage Who it holds it own.

The classic album in them was Who's Next, recorded in 1971 and gave us the overplayed classic rock songs of Baba O'Riley and the 8 and half minutes of Won't Get Fooled Again.  Townsend had ideas of making this a double album  but opted not to, which may have been a good idea.  Still Who's Next had classics like Bargain, or Getting In Tune or Behind Blue Eyes.  Even the lesser songs like Love Ain't For Keeping or Going Mobile are great.  The expanded CD version adds Pure And Easy, a bit more uptempo than the version on 1974's Odds And Sods and B side I Don't Even Know Myself.  Who's Next is a must have if you looking for the ultimate classic rock albums of the 70s despite the overplayed Baba O'Riley. 

Quadrophenia  came out in 1973 and it was yet another rock opera of sorts, but I think the record is better than the hype that was Tommy, although there are songs on Quadrophenia that tend to go on.  Choice picks would be The Real Me, The Punk Meets The Godfather, 5:15, Sea And Sand, Bell Boy and fitting finale Love Reign Over Me to which the single version edits out the best moments of the song of Keith Moon crashing cymbals at the end.  With that, The Who pretty much couldn't top that album.

By then The Who was beginning to burn out, namely Keith Moon, whose partying and drunken ways finally caught up with him and his drumming diminished big time.  The Who By Numbers finds Townsend trying to grow up in a world that was eluding him.  In his 30s he was beginning to doubt himself and it shows in Slip Kid or However Much I Booze, a song that Roger Daltry didn't want to sing.  Although I mention Moon's drumming was beginning to deteriorate, he could still deliver some cool drum rolls on songs like In A Hand Or Face or Dreaming From the Waist.  Perhaps the best song came from John in Success Story, which may or may not be The Who.    Who Are You came out three years later and while reviews were lukewarm, perhaps the lead track New Song describes the band in the opening We Need A New Song.  Not overly bad, but Moon couldn't either do the beat to Music Must Change and could barely keep up on the title track or the original version of Trick Of The Light, one of three John Entwistles songs on this album.  The CD reissue actually replaces Trick Of The Light with an inferior version and the remaster slows down Guitar And Pen, which I thought sounded speeded up on the original album.  It's a mess all over the place but for a finale for Keith Moon probably the fitting finale.  He died in September of 1978.

By then The Who should have called it a day, instead they pressed on with Kenny Jones, the Small Faces drummer and with Small Faces/Faces he could do a decent Keith Moon sound but with The Who even he couldn't compete with the original drummer.  The three albums he did play drums The Who were looking for a new sound and without Moon's chaos or inspiration.   Face Dances and It's Hard, both were workman's like, not a lot of inspiration but Bill Stymscyck did give The Who a nice shot in the arm with the vocals.  Alas the best songs were written by John (The Quiet One, You) and were the most Who Like.  It's Hard despite Athena and Emergence Front was perhaps the most boring Who album made, even more than Face Dances.  And then Who's Last, it was supposed to be the last Who album, with the Who revisiting their classics and done okay but it was a cash grab and Keith Moon was missed.  But The Who never broke up, continued to do farewell shows, some with Simon Phillips on drums, some with Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) playing drums and basically I have no interest in their later live albums, be it Quadophenia or Tommy.  Losing John Entwistle in 2002 due to a cocaine overdose basically silenced the last of the rhythm section once and for all.  In 2006, Pete and Roger came up with a new Who album called Endless Wire. If it's the last Who album (they continue to threatened with yet a new Who album 9 years after the fact) it is a jumbled mess.  While Bill Kopp seems like this album more than me, I tend to find the fragmented songs such as We Got A Hit or Endless Wire unfinished demos. The mini opera Wire And Glass tacked on for shits and giggles. Whoever is singing In The Either and doing it Tom Waits style, leaves me unamused.  Even the rock numbers like Mike Post Theme or It's Not Enough is sorely missing Keith Moon or John Entwistle.  The bonus Live CD of Live At Lyons shows Zak Starkey to be perhaps the best suited to play drums for The Who but most of these selections seems to be tossed off.  After that a few more live albums came out but by then as the song says It's Not Enough for me to be interested anymore.

Which leaves the countless anthologies and best ofs and Odds And Sods of what songs that didn't make it on the Who's albums. Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy remains the best of the early Who hits.  The latest comp the 2 CD The Who Hits 50 probably the best overview but then you have Hooligans a 2 CD best and The Who's Greatest Hits which both has The Relay on it or Let's See Action or Join Together.  The 1974 Odds And Sods was expanded with more songs and gave us some failed experiments such as Young Man's Blues and Summertime Blues done in the studio and yes they both fall short next to the live versions.  But it does have a raging Love Ain't For Keeping with Leslie West playing lead guitar as well.  Odds And Sods is a nice sampler of the Lifehouse project with Naked Eye and Pure And Easy as key numbers, and Long Live Rock.  MCA in the 1980s issued Who's Missing and Two's Missing, more forgotten b sides and UK A sides and outtakes and all have moments to check out, especially the live 1971-72 live cuts of My Wife and Bargain and the chaos of Going Down.  But Two's Missing contains two Rolling Stones covers of Under My Thumb and The Last Time  and Keith Moon's power drumming of Dogs Part 2.  I had those on LP but traded them in when I got the CD and as usual MCA budget cutting left both Pete Townsend's notes on Who's Missing and the funnier John Entwistle notes on Two's Missing about the songs at hand.  Heaven And Hell is on Who's Missing as well as Here For More, one of the few Roger Daltry songs ever written.  As for Greatest Hits packages, they all are just about the same songwise with one or two oddities thrown in. Anything that has Join Together and The Relay or Let's See Action would be the ones to get.  Unless you want the single edit of Won't Get Fooled Again, that's on Who's 50. And Greatest Hits.

The death of Keith Moon did bring out posthumous live albums.  The Kids Are Alright remains the definitive movie to watch about the rise of The Who and the LP does collect the highlights, the Smothers Brothers broadcast of My Generation to which Keith Moon overdid the explosives and gave Pete Townsend and half the audience loss of hearing and the Rolling Stones Circus version of A Quick One and a couple Tommy songs from Woodstock but not the recording where Townsend damn near knocked Abbie Hoffman out with a flying guitar.  The Who BBC Sessions collects their time at the BBC, a companion disc Live At The BBC are basically 45 single edits and not worth much. And Greatest Hits Live a 2010 2 CD best of, combines one disc the Keith Moon years and the second disc Simon Phillips and Zak Starkey era.  It tries to be the best of both worlds, but I still believe that the early 70s would have been much better represented.  There was supposed to be a followup to Live At Leeds, the rumor was it was supposed to be recorded out in San Francisco but either Pete had second thoughts or the tapes were not deemed worthy of use.  I'm still waiting for Geffen Universal to give us the whole 6:14 of Baby Don't You Do It the B side to Join Together to which has not seen CD daylight in the US although a 5 minute edit was on the Polydor Rarities CD in the UK.  Polydor did issue the 1975 Tommy Soundtrack which featured the likes of Elton John doing a version of Pinball Wizard and other guest stars redoing the songs off Tommy with The Who playing musical director and backing music.  Quaduphenia became a movie in 1979 with Sting playing a role in that show and the soundtrack was one half of the original album, remixed with Roger's vocals up in front rather than odd mix of the 1973 album and it actually gave us the original single of Zoot Suit by the High Numbers, a couple of new Who songs and one side of oldies.  I have the album but never got the CD version.

In 1995 MCA did managed to revamp and remaster The Who's albums and managed to put more thought into them, with better sound and better liner notes.  The jury is still out if the bonus tracks due more justice to Who Sell Out or Who's Next or even Odds And Sods but since I'm a Who fan I do recommend them although if you're into the vinyl revival and rather stick to the original intent of the albums, then seek the records out then.  As for the out of print stuff like Magic Bus or the Who's Missing series, they're for fans only but since I'm a fan my grade might be too generous. 

For a band that has been on that Farewell tour mode since 1982 I seriously doubt The Who will call it a day unless Pete Townsend falls over dead.  And the only person to ever take that mantra of hope I die before I grow old was Keith Moon himself, he always lived on the brink till it finally caught up with him.  Even in concert they are a shell of their former selves, after all they are approaching 70 if Pete isn't 70 yet they are senior citizens.  For that, if I ever want to see The Who in their glory, there's The Kids Are Alright. or the 1993 Who's 30 movie that came out on DVD.  Those are reminders of the best rock and roll band ever.  And I suppose if Pete decides to do one more Who album I'll listen to it and lament that it could have used John and Keith.  So maybe Pete's better off just reliving the past with Won't Get Fooled Again and not cheapen himself anymore with something like Endless Wire or It's Hard.

Albums (The Keith Moon Years)

The Who Sing My Generation (Decca 1966)  A
A Quick One (Decca 1967) B+
The Who Sell Out (Decca 1967) A-
Magic Bus (Decca 1968) B
Tommy (Decca 1969) B+
Live At Leeds (Decca 1970) A
Live At The Isle Of Wright 1970 (Columbia 1970) B
Who's Next (Decca 1971) A+
Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy (Decca 1972) A-
Quadrophenia (Track Record 1973) A-
Odds And Sods (Track Record 1974) A-
The Who By Numbers (MCA 1975) B+
Who Are You (MCA 1978) B+
The Kids Are Alright (MCA 1979) B+

(Life after Keith Moon Years)

Face Dances (Warner Brothers 1980) B-
It's Hard (Warner Brothers 1982) C+
Who's Last (MCA 1984) C+
Who's Missing (MCA 1985) B+
Two's Missing (MCA 1987) B+
Join Together (MCA 1989) C
Live At The BBC (MCA 1999) B+
Endless Wire (Republic 2006) C+
Greatest Hits Live (Geffen 2010) B

Soundtracks And Greatest Hits (Incomplete)
Note: There are countless best ofs out there and I really didn't have the time to really dig through all of them but this a list of the better known hits.  There is a 4 CD box set that MCA put out years ago and still in print I think its called The Who 30 Years of Maximum Rock And Roll.  I always thought for a box set it was incomplete and missing a few key titles.  It's basically pointless to give every best of a grade, they are all interchangeable and if you're in the market for a used Who best of, you can always pick one up if you don't get your fill of Baba O'Riley or Who Are You  on the Corporate Radio since somewhere out there somebody is playing Baba O Riley or Won't Get Fooled Again.   I tend to frown upon the later best of reissues, usually there's a subpar new Who song along with likes of My Generation or Magic Bus and if The Who Hits Fifty wasn't recycled many times over that would be the overview to get since it has been repackaged under different titles over the years.   Even Greatest Hits Live they couldn't leave off the later day live shows thirty years after Moon departed this world.  In other words, for the later day comps, buyer beware.

Tommy Soundtrack (Polydor 1975) C
Quadrophenia S/T (Polydor 1979) B+
Hooligans (MCA 1984)
The Who's Greatest Hits (MCA 1986)
The Who Rarities 1 and 2 (Polydor Import 1987) 
Who's Better Who's Best (MCA 1989)
My Generation The Very Best Of The Who (MCA 1995)
20th Century Masters (MCA 2000)
The Absolute Best (Geffen 2005)
Amazing Journey The Story Of The Who (Geffen 2008)
The Who Hits 50 (Geffen 2014)



2000 Man said...

I like The Who, but I've always thought that outside of Who's Next and Quadrophenia, their albums are pretty erratic. I also think that when Pete's bad, he's fucking AWFUL, so when they're inconsistent it ranges from brilliant to shit. So I guess I've never been a huge fan, but I like them. Like I always ask though, has any band with a claim to "Greatest Rock Band Ever" done it with less new material? The Beatles and Stones had more music out by 1970 than The Who would have forty years later. But they were great. Pete needs to listen to the Roger/Wilko album if he wants to write new songs. That's the kind of music Roger can still really pull off.

R S Crabb said...

Howdy 2000 Man

Needless to say The Who probably had less material out of all of the British Invasion bands. Even The Who Sell Out had its share of ho hum numbers and I could never really warm up to Tommy all the way through. I think the endless farewell tours tarnished their reputation as a outstanding live act and even on the downward spirial, Keith Moon did give them a kick in the ass, whereas Kenny Jones didn't.

I think the only time Pete Townsend had anything close to the sound of The Who was 1980's Empty Glass, a bit overrated but still his best effort and I do like White City. All The Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes and Psychoderlict were bad albums. The only other solo album John Entwistle's Smash Your Head Against The Wall was his best, he never topped that one either. Perhaps Roger's best album was the Wilko Johnson Going Back Home. I find his solo stuff a bit blah. Keith's Two Sides Of The Moon is a fun listen but not recommended either.

But once Keith Moon checked out of this world, The Who lost something they could never get back. And the records and concerts showed that. When Kieth died, The Who died.