Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Secret, or at Least Underplayed, History of the Who

You remember the Who, right? When you were a kid, they did that cute single “Happy Jack”, and then they went away for a while. Then out of the blue, they did “Tommy” and the rest is history.

Well, not so fast. That’s the American Classic Rock radio version. Let’s dig a little deeper. Well, there was “Magic Bus” and “I Can See for Miles”, too, but that’s about it, right?

Well, no. And as much as I love “Tommy” and “Who’s Next”, I’d like to steal them from every radio station on earth for a few weeks, so they might be more tempted to play the records below. But they’re not going to do that, so it’s up to you.

Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy:

This album is a major reminder that before they became “serious” and “heavy”, the Who were a singles band, and a funny one at that. This one is probably worth having, even if you get the individual albums, too, because some of the songs didn’t make it to an album.

The Who Sing My Generation

Here they are, young and rude. Punk rock doesn’t seem all that surprising when you take a look at these guys ten years prior to that. While they originated, like many another British pop band, doing covers of American R&B hits, we catch them here towards the end of that phase, with not one but two(!) James Brown covers. It also contains “The Kids Are All Right”, which I consider an even greater youth culture song than the title track, which is no pushover. There are several other excellent Pete Townsend songs that I only got to know in 1984 when I finally bought this. Highly recommended.

A Quick One:

Not quite as strong as the debut, but with the wonderful “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” – Pete Townsend’s first stab at a rock opera - and “Happy Jack”. Even most of the non Townsend numbers are good. Definitely worthwhile.

The Who Sell Out:

My favorite Who album (yes, even better than “Tommy” or “Who’s Next”). It may be my all time favorite by anyone. If you can relax and settle down to enjoy the concept, which is a simulation of an AM radio station as they existed in the mid-sixties – commercials included - you will then begin to notice how great the songs are. “Tattoo”, “Odorono”, “Sunrise”, “Relax”, and “Rael” are amongst their very best songs ever. You will even notice bits of “Tommy” starting to form. On the reissued CD, there are ten good to excellent bonus tracks added, but the original “core” album is where the true brilliance – not to be confused with seriousness - lies. Absolutely essential.

Magic Bus On Tour:

NOT a live album, just a stop-gap between “Sell Out” and “Tommy”. All of the really good songs appear elsewhere, and if the CD reissues of the other albums continue to offer bonus tracks, this one becomes virtually unnecessary. Don’t bother.

So there you are - several vital early chapters of Who history that I hope will give you a more complete picture of their overall career, and convince you that they were even greater than you thought they were.

These days, whenever I hear Pete Townsend cashing in yet again on the same old material, and with an even bigger line of bs than before, I relax and think back to these records and remember the hero of “A Quick One”, who at the end, says You are forgiven!

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