Now that I have finished reviewing all the albums that The Who released during its original run, the time is ripe for individualizing the five studio records of the guys I can’t do without. As I always say, this is just a matter of personal tastes. I have to say it again because having included “Face Dances” at the expense of “Who Are You” or “Tommy” could end up in me being lynched. I am just highlighting the albums I can connect with the most. You can let us all know what you think by posting a comment below with your own favorites.
The Who’s most consistent album from start to finish, and that is specially remarkable considering the tensions it caused within the band, the friction with their longtime managers and the risks that they took by embracing new technology so openly. If you listen to classic rock stations, you already know more than half of the songs on offer here – “Baba O’ Rile” (aka “Teenage Wasteland”), “Behind Blue Eyes”, Won’t Get Fooled Again”…
And the ones that you don’t know are no B leaguers in any sense (“Getting In Tune”, “The Song Is Over”, “Going Mobile”…)
A very problematic album turned to be a timeless work about identity – Pete Townshend’s key theme, and one that few have investigated as thoroughly as him. The 1996 remaster put everything in a mix as balanced as that of “Who’s Next”, making listening to this double album as pleasant to the ear as it is to your intellection.
How good would a poppy Who sound? The answer lies in this album, the first with Kenny Jones onboard. It produced their last chart hit, the dynamite “You Better You Bet”. But it also had some great songs in the shape of “Don’t Let Go The Coat” and “Another Tricky Day”. In each and every case, Roger’s delivery is more nuanced than usual. It is a pleasure to listen to him on this record. And the remastered CD is a true gem. Continue reading →
The songs on The Who’s final record with Kenny Jones have a distinctive characteristic: many were written “to order” by Pete. That is, Roger and John requested that certain issues were touched upon and that is why we have a song about the health system (“Cook’s County”) and one about war (“I’ve Known No War”). These work in tandem with John’s “Dangerous”, about urban violence and security.
“Cook’s County” has the sad merit of being hailed by fans as one of the worst songs ever recorded by the band. The other is “Armenia, City In The Sky”, though to be fair that one was penned by Pete’s chauffeur at the time, Speedy Keene. ”I’ve Known No War” is better as it has a longer running time in which motifs are established and both the instruments and the vocals peak, culminating in an orchestrated fade.
The title track was actually reworked from an opera of Pete about each person being a soul under siege, and it has some mixed wordplay. But it is mostly compelling when taken as a whole. Continue reading →
Three years after Keith Moon had passed away, Pete must have been regretting they ever carried on. His attitude had changed for sure, as he began pumping out solo releases which in hindsight were to be the place to turn to if you were looking for The Who’s zest. Because The “New” Who on record and The “New” Who on stage were completely different entities.
Live, Kenny had to replicate Keith’s arrangements, and he was quite capable of doing that (they never, ever did “Happy Jack” with Kenny, though). As a studio drummer, it was a different story. He could drum excitingly enough for any band (“You Better You Bet” and “Daily Records” are clear examples), but nobody could ever hold a torch to Keith’s inventive performances in the studio. That wasn’t Kenny’s fault, certainly. And to be fair, Keith could never have played military drums like the former Small Faces drummer did on “Cry If You Want”. But he was under so much pressure and attention that it must have been unbearable. And Roger was hostile to him from day one. Continue reading →
Face Dances is a record which can be described very easily: it is an album of rock songs that have been produced and treated as if they were pop tunes. That certainly posed a problem for many fans that were expecting another Who’s Next, yet they were more or less appeased by the lead single, “You Better You Bet”. That song alone revived a lot of interest in the band, and it was to be their last stronghold in terms of chart performance. The other single was “Another Tricky Day”, and both the two singles and the poppy “Don’t Let Go The Coat” had some weird accompanying promos where the tempos were all sped up (!). I am not kidding:
Ah, “Don’t Let Go The Coat”. That was one of the very first Who tracks I listened to, actually, and I must say that it has an incredible catchy quality. The song deals with Pete’s faith on Meher Baba – the Avatar had once instructed his followers to “grab to the hem of my robe”. It is traditionally regarded as one of Pete’s most charming songs on the subject (and he wrote quite a few tunes about that), and while some have misgivings about Roger’s interpretation I couldn’t disagree more. He does the song splendidly, reaching the climax during the middle eight and ad libbing excellently during the fade. If you want to listen to Pete’s own take you have to go for the first album devoted to rarities he released, “Scoop”. Different interpretations, same great song and same great way to communicate faith on life in general, not just faith when it comes to a single person or leader. Continue reading →
The Cover Of The Who's Face Dances Was Devised By Peter Blake (He Who Designed The Cover Of Sgt. Pepper's). He Approached 15 DIfferent Artists To Paint The Canvasses You Can See.
After the loss of Keith Moon, The Who decided to take the one gamble that was left and carry on the best way they could, in loving memory of Keith and in loving memory of all the ideals they had stood for. Was “the best way” recruiting former Faces compadre Kenny Jones? That is debatable ad infinitum, of course. On the one hand, Jones was a strict time keeper. He was the polar opposite of Keith, and that was one of the reasons he was chosen as his successor, actually. Pete declined Ginger Baker’s offer to be their new drummer if only because he was as troublesome a character as Moon. Also, John relished having the chance to have a less frantic drummer setting the beat for a change. They first had worked with Kenny during the Tommy soundtrack, and they had gotten along with him well professionally. And they had known him on a personal level for much longer, obviously.
The one person that definitely opposed to Kenny’s addition as a full-time member of the band was Roger. He was keener on rotating drummers until arriving at the suitable one. Pete claimed that such a thing would turn everything into “a pilgrimage to find Keith”, and that is why Kenny was eventually instated as their new (and definitive) drummer. Continue reading →
Dave Marsh defines The Who as “a band with four leaders”. That is very accurate. And it is even more accurate to define them as “a band with four explosive leaders”. Their lineup was unique. They were constantly at odds. They were constantly together. And they made music which strikes so deep a chord with whomever is listening that he feels as if he has known the guys all his life. Continue reading →