Remember to check out Part 1 in order to learn about the context in which Who’s Next was born.
Doing a quick recap, Pete’s “Lifehouse” project had failed to materialize and it had exhausted the band while driving him to a nervous breakdown. The Who decided to salvage what they could and had Glyn Johns assemble a single disc with the best of the new material.
Glyn Johns did something more than assembling the disc that we know as “Who’s Next”. He actually produced it, and his expertise was specially noticeable when we compare this record with any of the albums that Lambert had mastered. It comes as no surprise that Lambert never produced a Who album again. His lack of technical skill, his lax bookkeeping, his growing disconnection with the band… he (and partner Chris Stamp) would be out of the picture within a year. And a lengthy litigation would ensue.
But coming back to 1971, The Who released Who’s Next, an album that made them feel like they had “lost a bollock” (Roger Daltrey). But to the general public, who was mostly unaware of what went into creating it, the impression was different. Preceded by no less than “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, the album hit like a cyclone. Every musician had heightened by then, and Keith Moon in particular benefited from Glyn Johns’ approach, justifying each run across the kit. Roger unleashed his new vocal abilities, the ones he had acquired when touring Tommy all over the States. John was John. The consummate musician in the band from day one, he never faltered for a second. And Pete brought a new melodic texture in the shape of the synthesizers he added into the equation. Instead of having the synthesizers as a sort of backdrop to the music, he placed them squarely at the forefront. “Baba O’ Riley” (the song that opens the album) starts with the ARP playing alone, and it hypnotizes anybody that listens to it.
For his part, the roaring “Won’t Get Fooled Again” shows how musicians could interact with the new technology, and that one did not cancel each other out. Rather, they were comfortable allies. All it took was imagination to get the point across. And Keith had plenty. Although the song concludes that everything is still the same, we know that everything had changed after Roger’s final scream, and that music was to be modified for better or for worse.
The album also included the profound “Behind Blue Eyes”, Pete’s most personalized study on appearance and the importance of presenting a front. The bottom line seems to be that the one putting the front ends up believing what the rest believe, and only deep introspection can bring out the truth once again. And when the truth surfaces, it is accompanied by blazing rage. That theme had obsessed Pete since he began writing. The song stands as his definitive statement on the subject, and taken in the historical context of the band (he had his first nervous breakdown shortly after) the composition becomes even starker and more poignant.
These three songs are the most popular ones, but in actuality every track is exhilarating. “Bargain” is one of these “love” songs that are actually expressions of Pete’s faith on Meher Baba, and the song is one of the most dynamic within their repertoire. “Love Is For Keeping” is an acoustic interlude that was used to open their stage show at the time, only that on stage it was played electrically. Then, we have “The Song Is Over”, the composition that closed “Lifehouse” and a very complex piece (they never played it live). The song featured Nicky Hopkins on piano, as did the lovely “Getting In Tune”. That song was featured in the movie Jerry Maguire in the ’90s along with “Magic Bus” from “Live At Leeds“, and it bears one of the best Who jams captured on record. The other is probably “The Ox” from their debut album. Hopkins played on both. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Finally, the buoyant “Going Mobile” preceded “Behind Blue Eyes”. It was one of the slighter songs from “Lifehouse”, but it works so well in the context of “Who’s Next” that one has to admire Glyn Johns’ ear for structure and disposition.
On the other hand, Entwistle contributed “My Wife”, a hysterical tale of marital strife that was to become one of his most enduring pieces. John’s songs always worked best live, and “My Wife” was no exception to the rule.
These are the 9 songs that make up the album. And you know, if you are a listener of classic rock radio you are already acquainted with more than a few. The album captured them at their most virtuous and innovative, and backed by one of the best producers in history.
I recall reading once that the whole of something is even present in its scattered pieces. While Pete’s tale of music changing the world was left unfinished then, there was a link among the songs on the album – they were thematically related in expressing why and how music matters, and the way every experience can be manifested musically. As I have said before, Pete (and the band) were true believers in music. “Who’s Next” conveys that faith ineluctably and admirably.
“There’s a melody that I hear in your heart/sets my head reeling”. Who listens to who? In the case of this band and its public, it always worked both ways. And when all is said and done, the song is never over. The album The Who released could not change the world radically as Pete had envisioned. But it does change every single person who listens to it. Its place in the Pantheon of rock classics is completely justified. And its place in the heart of every listener even more so.
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