This was The Who’s sophomore album. It was released in England in the year 1966. As their previous record, it was not released in the States immediately, and when it saw release later the same year it did so with a different name (“Happy Jack”) and (again) some differences in the track list. This time, though, Decca made a wise move: it replaced one of the weakest cuts (their cover of “Heatwave”) and added the little ditty about the hermit who “lived in the sand at the Isle of Man”. Happy Jack was their first top 40 hit in the States. Incidentally, it was also to become Jimi Hendrix’s favorite Who song.
The inception of this album was determined by a publishing deal manager Kit Lambert made with the Essex Music Company. The Who’s auto-destructive act meant they were always bankrupt, and finding new sources of income was an everyday concern. In order to receive an advance, each member had to pen two compositions. The end results are not that great or listenable for that matter, but they showcase each member’s personality: Roger wrote a boasting number named “See My Way” and Keith penned a marching-band instrumental and a song named “I Need You” (after a popular in-phrase then, “I need you like a need a hole in my head”). They are good fun, but also quite toss-offish. Conversely, Entwistle was discovered as a quality songwriter. He wrote a study on boozing named “Whiskey Man” (a cautionary tale, maybe?) and the stage favorite “Boris The Spider”. The latter was to become The Who’s most requested number on stage along with “Magic Bus”.
Still, they all more or less “left it to Pete” (John’s phrase). He wrote some filler like “Run, Run, Run” and “Don’t Look Away”, but he came up with the widely-covered “So Sad About Us” (featuring some of The Who’s best harmonies) and a “mini-opera” that filled the second side, and which gave the album its name. This mini-opera was nothing but a cut-and-paste affair of fragments, yet it opened the doors to the concept of longer pieces bound by thematic unity. That would prove to be Pete’s niche as a crafter of songs.
As you can see, there was a lot to say about this album. Sadly, I feel there is not necessarily a lot to listen to enthusiastically. The title track is interesting, but every live version I have come across is better. Both “So Sad About Us” and “Boris The Spider” can be found on the Who’s boxed set (along with a hybrid that mashes up the original mini-opera with The Rolling Stone’s Rock & Roll Circus version). If you already have the boxed set, I would say there is no need to track this down. The CD reissue comes with 10 bonus tracks, including some surf numbers where Keith takes the lead, an acoustic “Happy Jack” (interesting but disposable) and some Entwistle numbers that are the saving grace. Also, note that Kit Lambert was to become their producer from this point onwards. He was very creative, but totally ignorant of studio techniques. He made their recordings stand out for all the wrong reasons. Of course, he did something quite difficult at the time: keeping the four of them in the same room without going at each other every five minutes. But the sound quality is substandard, and my final score reflects that, and the preponderance of tunes that do not live up to the standards of the pop heroes that were shortly to become rock titans.