Recorded In 1970 At The Isle Of Wight, The Who's Legendary Performance Was Finally Issued In 1996
It may sound incredible – nay, it is incredible – but a live rendering of Tommy by the original lineup was not released until this double album was issued in 1996. The one landmark live disc by the band bypassed Tommy almost entirely. And the one “official” release that had a full performance was as diluted as it could ever possible be – it was part of the “Join Together” box set, with a trillion guest chirping in and a backing band as huge as to render the three surviving members irrelevant.
That was the reason everybody flocked to this when it was issued in 1996. We all had our appetites whetted the previous year, as a video of the performance was released by Murray Lerner. Although it was not the full performance, it sufficed to send everybody counting the days until a live CD was issued. And we didn’t have to wait that long, fortunately. Continue reading →
"The Kids Are Alright" Was Directed By Super-fan Jeff Stein. Its Theatrical Release Was In 1979.
The music of The Who came from them being one of the truly unique ensembles in the history of music. If there was ever a band with a million tales to tell, it was them. The way those guys were together and constantly at odds was something that their music did not necessarily convey, until one (correctly) interpreted the outrageous volume as a telltale of bottled emotions and anger. But there was also enormous love and belief lying at the heart of it all. And that was something which just had to be told.
“The Kids Are Alright” (1979) was assembled with that objective in mind. The idea was to show what made the band so distinctive, and why it was that their fans were so loyal. The movie itself (directed by a then-young Jeff Stein, and released shortly after Keith Moon died) achieved that aim, but only in a certain sense: it captured their offstage irreverence in full flight by the inclusion of interviews and specials that were shot through the years. Continue reading →
The "Tommy" Movie Saw Release In 1975. Ken Russell Directed It, And He Modified Several Key Aspects Of The Plot.
An absolute abomination of a movie, “Tommy” (1975) was directed by the ever-controversial Ken Russell. That was the director Pete Townshend actually wanted owing to his artistic background. Pete also thought having Ken along for the ride would free him for having to explain the story ever and ever again, but he was wrong – Russell needed him no less than any other director that the band and (specially) their managers had approached for years on end to get this thing together.
In any case, Ken was to rewrite the whole story, and a major shift took place, as Tommy’s drama was situated outside his family (the lover kills the father here, rather than the other way around) and the film mainly revolves around the attempt to market and sell the deaf, dumb and blind boy’s vision to the world. In other words: Ken Russell’s Tommy is the original work without any innocence or magic. I could barely enjoy the original album, and the little appreciation I had for it stemmed from those two attributes. I don’t need to tell you how much I suffered through the entire running time of this travesty of a movie. Continue reading →
I haven’t talked a lot about the tracks that were contributed by fellow musicians yet. “Evolution” is Ronnie Lane’s all-acoustic take on a Small Faces track named “The Stone”, with him playing rhythm and Pete leading the way. For its part, “Forever’s Not Time At All” comprises mostly Billy Nicholls’ vocals and Caleb Quaye’s instrumentation – he handles bass, drums and guitars. “Forever’s Not Time At All”, incidentally, was a phrase inspired by Meher Baba. And the same applies to the coda of “Let’s See Action”, as “The Nothing & The Everything” was one of Baba’s teachings.
As far as Pete’s original compositions go, we have “Time Is Passing”, yet another song from the aborted Lifehouse project and one that did not surface as a Who recording until the remastered “Odds & Sods” saw release in 1999. A note on the Who’s version on that disc: what you listen to is only half the song. The other half (including a French horn and the full bass part) are missing, although the exactly opposite version of the song does exist, featuring the missing instruments and lacking the other ones. Some bootlegger even managed to combine the two mixes and come up with the “definitive” version of “Time Is Passing” by the Shepherd Bush’s combo.
The other original track is “Sheraton Gibson” a small ditty about hitting the road. Whether Pete alludes to touring or striking down the pathway of spiritual enlightenment is up to each listener… Continue reading →
Pete Townshend As Depicted On The Cover Of His First Solo Record, "Who Came First" (1972)
Pete Townshend’s love for Indian Avatar Meher Baba produced the critically-acclaimed Tommy album in 1969, but there was more to it. As a “Baba Lover”, Townshend was involved with other devotees in the production and internal release of albums that included not only music but also poetry readings. Those were to fall into the hands of bootleggers and be repackaged before too long, and that was the reason Pete’s record company offered him the chance to assemble an official disc. That disc was to be named “Who Came First”, it was issued in 1972, and it was to be Pete’s first release outside of The Who.
As I explained in the general introduction to Pete’s music, “Who Came First” was not really a “solo” album as a literal host contributed to the record. Caleb Quaye, Ronnie Lane and Billy Nicholls lent their interpretative skills to three of the nine tracks that were featured on “Who Came First”, and the album also included a painting by Mike McInnerney (he who had illustrated “Tommy”). Lyrics were likewise composed by other Baba lovers, with both McInnerney’s wife and Maud Kelly having writing credits of their own.
Pete provided some Who demos, a few original numbers and an adaptation of Baba’s Universal Prayer (“Parvardigar”). He also tackled Jim Reeves’ “There’s An Heartache Following Me”, as it was one of Baba’s favorite Western songs. The other was “Begin The Beguine”, and Pete did also cover it on another of those tribute albums. It didn’t make it into “Who Came First”, though.
The Who demos included “Pure & Easy” and “Let’s See Action”. The inclusion of “Pure & Easy” was phenomenal if only because a Who version was not issued until the “Odds & Sods” album almost 5 years later. The song was the genesis of the whole “Lifehouse” project, and its omission on the “Who’s Next” disc has always been mourned. As Dave Marsh said, it wouldn’t have “saved” the album itself. Rather, it would have “perfected” it. Continue reading →
As successful as Tommy would prove to be for The Who, it would also prove to bring about a series of difficulties that were to undermine the band, the way it saw itself, and the way the audience saw it. The problem with the famed rock opera was that the sound of the record was not even remotely reminiscent of the way The Who sounded on stage, and since many people discovered them through Tommy they had no idea of the volume and electricity the band generated when playing live. How could they address that situation and make newcomers realize how they really sounded, and show their old fans that they were as demolishing as ever? The answer was to be named “Live At Leeds”, and nowadays any fan of rock & roll knows the words. They are inscribed into the collective soul of rockers, and into the cognition of those who have experienced music in its purest form.
“Leeds” found the different band members at the point in which they realized The Who was to be what they were to do for the rest of their lives. Not because they were making a substantial income, but because they had found something they truly excelled at, and something that truly inspired others to do their best. Continue reading →
(If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 of this review where “Tommy” is introduced, and the context in which it was created is detailed)
The album had 20 tracks. It was the first double album the band had released. The operatic connection was made evident through a formal overture and an “underture” which was mostly the extension of a theme called “Sparks”, also featured on the album and derived from a chord pattern found on “Rael” from the previous record.
Highlights included “Pinball Wizard” (the first single from the album) and “See Me, Feel Me”, a prayer sent to the most private space within the soul of every listener, a pronunciation of faith and endearment like no other within their repertoire. Other songs which merit mentioning are “The Acid Queen” and “I’m Free”, both very fine rockers. (“I’m Free” was to be released as a single too, and some time later an orchestrated version would be a minor hit.) Continue reading →
The Album's Artwork Was Created By A Fellow Baba Lover, Mike McInnerny.
Pete Townshend needed an album like Tommy from an intellectual point of view, and The Who needed an album like Tommy from the vantage point of its career. Tommy is regarded as the first “Rock Opera” ever. Endless discussions arise regarding whether or not it deserves that denomination, and whether or not it was the first album that could be termed like that. Leaving the denomination aside, what we have is a collection of songs that came from disparate sources and which the band assembled together as a sort of story with the aid and constant presence of manager Kit Lambert, whose driving force was felt particularly strong on this project.
The main influence might as well have been the teachings of Indian guru Meher Baba. Pete became a Baba lover about a year before the album was first released, and he tried to make the whole work showcase the Compassionate Father’s teachings. Continue reading →