Pete wrote 20 songs for this musical, 11 of which are included on this album. Some were released as B-sides, too. The singles from the CD were going to be “A Friend Is A Friend” (a song that does not sound like a Townshend composition at all – maybe that was the reason why it was a single) and the excellent set opener, “I Won’t Run Anymore”. Sung by Pete (as Hogarth) and Deborah Conway, the song details the protagonist’s initial encounter with the lumbering giant, and his determination to be as courageous as an adult would be and face the situation instead of fleeing.
The song is immediately followed by “Over The Top”, my personal favorite of the two songs in which John Lee Hooker takes the lead. The other is “I Eat Heavy Metal”, and I am certain most of you will actually like it best than “Over The Top” as it treads bluesier territory, hence Hooker is more at home. In any case, John Lee Hooker as the Iron Man was the best casting decision of the whole disc.
For its part, Simon Townshend tackles “Man Machines”, a brief passage that deals with the same theory that movies like “Terminator” have popularized – we come up with machines to fight our wars for us, and in the end they will nab us.
The song leads into the first Who tune, “Dig”. Roger fills in as Hogarth’s father (no doubt he got an added thrill for lecturing Pete on the song), and the song gave everybody renewed faith on the Who. But the band was not going to record any new tracks after a lackluster cover of Elton John’s “Saturday’s Night Alright For Fighting”. The next recordings would already take place after Entwistle had passed away. Continue reading →
"The Iron Man" (1989) Was A Musical That Ended Reuniting Pete Townshend With The Who
When Tommy was being recorded, there was a big issue: whether or not to use outside musicians to fill in all the different roles. The Who finally decided not to, and it was the right choice – the whole opera would have escalated otherwise, and replicating it onstage would have been impossible without dazzling logistics. The legendary performances that we can listen to today in albums like Live At The Isle of Wight and the Woodstock soundtrack would never have been. And the sanitized performances that we have as part of boxed sets like Join Together just put a fine point on it all.
However, knowing that Tommy was once considered as a multitudinous project is vital, as it shows that big conceptual schemes in terms of participants had been lodged on Pete’s brain for a long time. He finally had a chance to let that come to fruition in 1989 with the musical “The Iron Man”.
The CD marked the first time Pete had adapted somebody else’s work, as the opera was based on the child’s tale by poet laureate Ted Hughes. Townshend invited musicians from all over the specter to lend their talents, and these ranged from blues legend John Lee Hooker and jazz stalwart Nina Simone to vocalists like Chyna and Australian rocker Deborah Conway. Likewise, he drafted his younger brother Simon and old-time associate Billy Nicholls to sing backup. But most importantly (and tellingly in the long run) was that the Who guested on two tracks, the excellent “Dig” and the ineffective cover of “Fire” by the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (a song Pete had produced in the 60s and taken all the way to number one).
The reunion with the Who was most tellingly because Pete (who had resisted touring with his former compadres for so long) was to finally abdicate and agree to a massive tour of arenas backed by a large ensemble band including percussionists, vocalists and someone else playing electric guitar – Pete was to play mostly acoustic on the “quiet” side of the stage, shielded from the wall of sound. These performances were to result on the live “Join Together” boxed set, a much-reviled collection of live songs. In a certain sense, Pete and the guys had the right to try something different. They had never toured with such a band before, so they had a good excuse. Money also factored heavily at that time, but I already discussed that here. Continue reading →