Important work in color
1965: The Who Sing My Generation. 1966: A Quick One. 1967: Happy Jack (US version of A Quick One) * The Who Sell Out. 1968: Magic Bus The Who on Tour. 1969: Tommy. 1970: The Who Live at Leeds. 1971: Whos Next * Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy. 1973: Ouadrophenia. 1974: Odds and Sods. 1975: The Who By Numbers. 1978: Who Are You. 179: The Kids are All Right * Quadrophenia (soundtrack). 1981: Face Dances * Hooligans. 1982: Its Hard. 1985: Whos Missing. 1987: Twos Missing. 1988: Whos Better Whos Best. 1990: Join Together. 1994: Thirty Years of Maximum R&B. 1996: My Generation: The very Best of the Who * Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.
Pete Townshend: 1972: Who Came First. 12977: Rough Mix. 1980: Empty Glass. 1982: All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. 1983: Scoop. 1985: White City. 1986: Pete Townshends Deep End Live! 1987: Another Scoop. 1989: The Iron Man. 1993: Psychoderelict. 1996: Best of Pete Townshend.
Whos Next, the studio album that followed the bands successful Tommy, was made up of outtakes from Townshends failed Lifehouse project and signaled a big departure for the Who. Gone were the wistful, innocent, falsetto-laden harmonies the Who had employed to cartoonish effect on earlier albums. In their place was the muscular throat-ripping theatrics Daltry had nurtured, perhaps in order to be heard over the ever-increasing crunch and buzz of his fellow musicians. Townshend no longer leaning towards satire and parody, became a bit more serious as philosophical and autobiographical elements crept forward. Kit Lambert was no longer their producer, much of his stereophonic playfulness is gone. The Who and Glyn Johns bring out a more epical sprawl in the bands sound. As a fragment of a larger narrative, Who's Next is sketchy. On "Baba ORiley," the farmers working "out here n the fields" and the "teenage wasteland" theme make little sense, but the Whos flamboyance is an end in itself. Not so on the mediocre road song "Goin Mobile" and its odd allusion to hippie gypsies, and the underwritten "Love Aint for Keeping" a one-thought song too easily summed up by the chorus. "My Wife" is a John Entwistel side trip, funny, but murkily produced and marked by the smirky, self-satisfaction of the novelty tune. Depending on your politics, the whole album may pivot questionably on "Wont Get Fooled Again," an imaginary song about an imaginary revolution that may be one of the best songs ever written defending the status quo. Even a radical may find himself/herself borne along by the mighty Whos style o this paean to not rocking the boat. A line on "Baba ORiley" resonates oddly here "I dont have to fight, to prove Im right" when you recall the underlying note of belligerence in many ostensibly auto-biographical Townshend songs: this is the guy who pushed Abbie Hoffman offstage at Woodstock; who remembered "throwing punches around" on "Who are You," who wants to get tough with the "Rough Boys." Narrative confusion seems a constant in Townshends songs. Undaunted, he still attempts narrative opuses (Psycoderelict being the most recent). If anything forces this flawed album into the stratosphere besides the Whos general boisterousness, its the presence of the truly magical Nicky Hopkins on "Getting In Tune" and "Song is Over" two songs which kicked off, on record, Townshends personal/spiritual interests. Whos Next would be the only studio classic the Who pulled off after Tommy.
Townshends growing pains spelled disaster on Quadrophenia. Its a high-pitched whine-fest. On every tune somebody is crying or about to cry; the protagonist is crying, the bus drivers are crying, the pig-feeders are crying, the bus boys are crying its a lugubrious work with little variation in angst-ridden tone form beginning to end. The bombast of the protagonist is banally macho, like a belligerent drunk who keeps telling you what a nice misunderstood guy he is. Its hard to tell how the concluding song "Love Reign Over Me" was intended. After so much pain, the song cant possibly work alone as a sign of regeneration; and if its not meant as a sign of regeneration, the claustrophobia of the album is complete. Quadrophenia crashes much like the Tommy narrative did earlier in the Whos career. Tommy was also a one idea narrative: a poor, deaf, dumb and blind boy tortured and trampled by the world. But on Tommy, the cast of characters, at least, made for a festive parade (recalling the cartoon-like quality of the Whos earlier work) which allowed for a variety of musical approaches. The musical approach to the neo-realistic text on Quadrophenia was relentlessly unappealing: never had Keith Moons drum rolls seemed so meaningless, never had Townsends guitar seem so thin.
Quadrophenias angst reflected Townshends own embittered psyche and as he moved towards more overtly auto-biographical subject mater the tone didnt change: examples are "Slip Kid," "However Much I Booze," "Dreaming From the Waist," "How Many Friends" (from Who By Numbers), "New Song," "Sister Disco," "Who Are You" (from Who Are You), "Did You Steal My Money," "How Can You Do It Alone," (from Face Dances), "People Are Suffering," "Fear is the Key," "Whyd We Fall For That" (from Its Hard). Pete Townshend had become a bit of a bore; the autobiographical elements in his work were artlessly undistanced; you almost had to be tinged with the same type of decadence to share his passion in relating it. Townshends songs are often messy and contradictory in the narrative department because both joy and humiliation are the axis. The result can be an uneasy mixture. Townshends work recalls Henry Millers dictum: "My book is the man I am, the confused man, the negligent man, the reckless man, the lusty, obscene, boisterous, thoughtful, scrupulous, lying, diabolically truthful man that I am."
Two solo albums he made early on, influenced by his spiritual mentor Baba Maher - Who Came First and, with Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix - are relaxed mementos of Towshends strengths. The traditional modes that the intellectual musician tried to meticulously rise above with The Who and in his later solo projects, actually served him surprisingly well. Townshends spirituality mines the earthy side of life and is never presumptuous. Even without the Who, Townshend carries along with him that vibrant band thrust built around his ingenious chord progressions and rhythmic passion. White City is a grand achievement: the personal and the social, the melodic and the anguished, clarity and depth are all well balanced. Empty Glass is uneven, but perhaps explains Townshend better than any of his other albums (Chinese Eyes is pretty opaque, for instance). Anything Townshend is involved with live (Deep End) is worth checking out. Despite lapses, Townshends fucked-up honesty remains an endearing, even refreshing, example of personal expression in a pop format.
The British Invasion era Who (The Who Sing My Generation through Magic Bus on Tour) were rowdy, inventive, and quite fun, even if, at times, Townshend satire seemed precociously aloof and patronizing. The Who Sell Out is about as perfect as an album can get. Tommy and Live at Leeds are a testament to a great bands chemistry in and out of the studio.
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