Not many would guess it, but the first member of The Who to issue a solo album wasn’t Pete Townshend. It wasn’t even Roger Daltrey. It was no other than John Entwistle, the stolid Ox, the man who anchored the sound of the band onstage to a degree that surpassed anything ever did in the history or music before (or since, for that matter).
The fact that Entwistle was the first band member to put a solo record out is not that surprising if you begin digging into the story of the band. He was “discovered” as a songwriter at the time of the “A Quick One” sessions, when manager Kit Lambert signed everybody to Essex music to get a meaty advance. The terms of the contract necessitated every member of the band write two songs for the forthcoming album, and John came up with the enduring “Boris The Spider” and the hysterical “Whisky Man”. From that point onwards, he would continue honing his skills and providing one or two tracks for each subsequent Who album.
Yet, his songs could never dominate a Who record. His approach differed drastically from Townshend’s. Pete was more of a traditionalist, while John was an absurdist. Had he ever taken the major writing credit for a Who album, the shift in style would have been too abrupt. Only die-hards would have gotten it.
That is why his songs were mostly relegated to B-sides. And album filler. Only one Entwistle song was ever released as a Who A-side, and that was because the album was masterminded by John. The song “Postcard” was the lead single off “Odds & Sods”, The Who’s “official bootleg”. John was asked to compile it while the other members of the band were occupied by film and stage projects.
So, it could be said that his frustration at having his own material relegated time after time gave birth to his solo career. But Keith Moon once remarked something that had more than an inkling of truth: John did not want The Who to record many of his songs. He was afraid they would “ruin” them to some extent.
John’s solo career started in 1971 with the album “Smash Your Head Against The Wall”, and ended in 2000 with the soundtrack “Music For Van-pires”. This compilation doesn’t get that far – it was issued in 1996, and it covers up to “Too Late The Hero”, the album that was his last solo offering for more 15 years (an unreleased ‘80s album named “The Rock” would surface the same year this compilation was issued).
The first thing you must realize is that the solo Entwistle doesn’t rock as hard as you might expect or hope. Any person who is looking for the headbanging fun of his Who classics like “My Wife”, “Boris The Spider” and “Success Story” would be disappointed. He only rocks that hard on the opening song, “My Size” (which is nothing but the revenge of “Boris The Spider”). Elsewhere, there are a lot of songs that nod to vintage rock & roll like “Roller Skate Kate” (complete with an Elvis impersonation) and Mad Dog (where he has a female trio taking the lead). There are even all-out acoustic songs like “What Are We Doing Here?”, whereas the album has a grim ending in the shape of two songs from “Too Late The Hero” (“Fallen Angel” and the title track). Joe Walsh guested on that album, and it was a mostly a doom-laden effort dealing with personal and professional failure – John’s marriage was on the rocks, while his abilities as a composer were waning – and he knew it.
What this compilation provides in spades, now, is his unflinching dark humor. Songs like “Made In Japan”, “I Found Out” and “Pick Me Up” will have you in stitches from start to finish. And “I Believe In Everything” and “Drowning” have an approach that bends more towards irony than outright humor. And they flesh out the album pretty well.
Finally, I must mention that the packaging is quite good, with liner notes provided by Who specialist Chris Charlesworth and track by track commentary by the Ox himself. Does it get any better than this? Yes, it does. There is a picture of John sporting a moustache a la Cantinflas. Geez. And as if that wasn’t eerie enough, there is another of him in leather pants. Double geez.
Do I recommend purchase of this compilation: Yes
Do I feel like digging deeper in his catalog after listening to it: Yes