Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pick Up My Guitar And Play: The Who's Who's Next is 40

 The Who - Who's Next
The Who
Who's Next
Rating: *****

1971 was a great year for rock music. One of the greatest albums released that year was an album from the British rock band, the Who. Their fifth studio album, Who’s Next, was released on August 14, 1971. 40 years later, the album is still popular as are the Who. Some music critics think that Who’s Next is the band’s best album. I would agree with this, as it is one of my all time favorite albums. It charts at #4 in my list. With that being said, Who’s Next deserves a song-by-song review to commemorate its fortieth anniversary.
            By the end of the 1960’s, the Who were one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Their fourth album, Tommy, has become their most successful album at that point. Tommy gained it’s fame as a conceptual album as it told the story of a pinball wizard named Tommy who becomes deaf, dumb, and blind. In that year of 1969, the Who played at many major festivals including Woodstock. In 1970, the band released their first live album Live at Leeds. The six track live album was taken from a raw and rocking performance at Leeds University on February 14, 1970. During this time, the band was at work on their next project. Guitarist Pete Townshend had written another concept album/rock opera entitled Lifehouse. Much like Tommy, Lifehouse would’ve been a double album. The music and the album’s plot were beyond ambitious, maybe too much. Lifehouse was to tell a story taking place in the future. The pollution of the world is so bad that people are forced to wear life suits. However, teenagers flock over to a rock concert called Lifehouse. Mary, the daughter of a farmer, runs off to travel with Lifehouse, which becomes its own society. A man (named Bobby, at least in the drafts) controlling the Lifehouse takes the personal data from the participants and converts them into music (if this is going over your head, I don’t blame you!).Townshend envisioned for there to be a movie of Lifehouse as well as he already had a script written (that and Tommy had been sent to Universal Pictures). The songs, however, needed to be rehearsed. The plan was for the movie to have a real Who concert woven in. The Who performed a series of shows at the Young Vic Theatre.
The band’s manager, Kit Lambert, asked the band to come over to New York to record songs at the Record Plant. The band recorded some material there at the Record Plant, which had sophisticated technology that was needed for the album to work. However, there were problems. Townshend and the band later discovered that Lambert had been doing smack during this time. This led to a falling out between Townshend and Lambert. Also, Universal didn’t understand the script for Lifehouse. However, it was suggested that the band scrap the project but do something with the songs from it. The failure of Lifehouse put Townshend on the verge of a suicidal breakdown. In March 1971, the band got in touch with producer Glyn Johns. The band liked Johns and Johns offered to produce a new album for them using some of the material from the abandoned Lifehouse project. In March 1971, the Who entered Olympic Studios in London. They finished in May 1971.

Song by Song review

1.      “Baba O’Riley”- Who’s Next opens up with this classic Who track. Over the years, “Baba O’Riley” has become a live favorite amongst fans. Pete plays the opening keyboard line. Originally, the song was going to be a 30 minute epic! Obviously, that was scraped. The song itself is about the younger generation in the world. In Lifehouse, this song would’ve been used to describe the teenagers who went to see the Lifehouse show. The end lyrics of “They’re all wasted” do not refer to drugs. According to Pete in the Classic Albums episode on this album, he says the song was about waste in life and opportunity. Roger Daltrey sings the song but Pete sings the middle eighth: “Don’t cry/Don’t raise your eyes/It’s only teenage wasteland”. For this lyric alone, many casual music fans will refer to this song as “Teenage Wasteland”. Believe it or not, Pete did write a separate song called “Teenage Wasteland” for Lifehouse but it’s not on the album here. The title of “Baba O’Riley” might be somewhat of a tribute to Meher Baba, Pete’s mentor. Much like the Maharishi Yogi, Baba was a spiritual man. He had passed away in 1969 and if you look at Pete’s solo work, he was very inspired by him. Pete mentioned before that he wanted to put the “life information” of Meher Baba into music form. At the end of the song, the violin part is played by David Arbus. The violin bit is thought to be a small tribute to Meher Baba. Truly, “Baba O’Riley” is not just a great Who song but it’s also a great song that could define classic rock or arena rock.

2.      “Bargain”- “Bargain” is another Who classic. About ten years ago, the song was used in a car commercial. It’s kind of funny that the song has been used for things such as this because the fact is it has nothing to do with buying something on that’s on sale. According to Pete Townshend, the song is about his devotion to Meher Baba and basically religion. “I’d gladly lose me to find you” sing Roger in the song. Basically, the lyrics are saying this one person is willing to lose everything to be with God. The lyric that Pete sings in the middle “One and one don’t make two/One and one make one” might sum it up right there. Pete best described the song in this quote here: “This song is simply about 'losing' one's ego as a devotee of Meher Baba. I constantly try to lose myself, and find him. I'm not very successful I'm afraid, but this song expresses how much of a bargain it would be to lose everything in order to be one with God.” According to notes from the 1995 CD reissue booklet, Pete is playing a vintage Gretsch that was given to him as a gift from Joe Walsh. “Bargain” would’ve also been in Lifehouse.

3.      “Love Ain’t For Keeping”- The band goes unplugged for this track as the acoustic guitars are out. “Love Ain’t For Keeping” was originally written as a rocker (a country rocker perhaps. Listen to an alternate version on the remastered Odds and Sods album). Also, it was going to be sung by Pete. Instead, this simply beautiful song with Roger on vocals. Roger’s vocals are really great on this song. The guitar work here is pretty good as well. When performed live, the band stuck with it being an electric number.

4.      “My Wife”- Of the nine songs on the album, “My Wife” is the only song that wasn’t written by Pete Townshend. Instead this song is written and sung by bassist John Entwistle. Also of the nine songs on the album, “My Wife” wasn’t supposed to be in Lifehouse at all. According to Entwistle in the Classic Albums episode, he said that “My Wife” had been left over from a solo album he made (possibly his first solo album Smash Your Head Against The Wall). Entwistle had written songs before for the Who at that time. Songs such as “Boris the Spider” and “Cousin Kevin” were written by Entwistle. In those songs, you can tell Entwistle had a wacky sense of humor. For “My Wife”, he was at it again. The song is about a man in a drunk tank, who simply went out to a bar in the first place. The man’s wife, however, thinks he’s off seeing another woman. The man is now thinking how he’ll save himself from his wife and the things he’ll need. Those things include a tank, a black belt Judo expert with a machine gun, and other sorts of things. The listener must be thinking that his woman must be a bitch! Is she really that bad? One Who site claims that John wrote the song after having a fight with his own wife. He took their dogs for a walk and wrote the song in his head during the walk. John’s wife was fine about the song. In fact, she offered to come on stage for the song wielding a rolling pin (it didn’t happen). Entwistle is also playing horns on this song! Roger Daltrey does get to sing for a bit at the end with the lyric, “She’s coming!” Obviously, “My Wife” is one the Who’s best songs and one of the best song off the album. It became a live favorite as well.

5.      “The Song Is Over”- This ballad of sorts was originally going to be the last song in Lifehouse, as the police invade the Lifehouse and everyone is forced out. Roger and Pete share lead vocals on this song. Pete sings all the parts except the chorus, which Roger sings. The song is supposed to be sad but hopeful as well. It’s sad that the show is over but the person in the song will sing their song no matter what. Nicky Hopkins plays piano on this one and he’s just great. Hopkins was best known for being a session musician, playing for artists such as the Who, the Rolling Stones, and the ex-Beatles.  The end of the song includes lines from “Pure and Easy”, a song that would’ve been on Lifehouse as well. According to Townshend, “Pure and Easy” was to be the key song in Lifehouse and he regretted it for being omitted from Who’s Next. At least it made it into this song (though “Pure and Easy” was later released on Odd and Sods and as a bonus track on the 1995 reissue of Who’s Next).

6.      “Getting In Tune”- Nicky Hopkins is once again on keyboards for this power ballad of sorts. The song here is basically about music itself. The lyrics that Pete wrote here are just beautiful and Roger sings them with such passion. Particularly, it’s at the chorus of “Right in on you” that gives the song it’s harmonious feel. The song would’ve been in Lifehouse as well. When the band rehearsed at the Young Vic, the working title for this song was “I’m In Tune”. The Who hasn’t played this song very much in concert. It was in their setlist for a while before the band decided to drop it.

7.      “Going Mobile- This little upbeat rocker is an interesting one to put on the album. For one thing, Pete is singing the entire song. Also, it’s got a really great sound to it. It’s not too much different from the rest of the album but “Going Mobile” is a great song. In Lifehouse, the song would’ve been in there toward the beginning. It’s about the teenagers or people going to the Lifehouse concert According to Townshend, the song is about a “lust for life” and just getting out. In Lifehouse, the youngsters were being told to stay where they were. Obviously, that wasn’t happening.  “Going Mobile” is very much an overlooked song in the Who’s career.

8.      “Behind Blue Eyes”- “Behind Blue Eyes” is not only one of the best known songs off the album but it’s one of the Who’s best songs ever. It is an angry ballad, if there was ever such a thing. Pete Townshend supposedly wrote this out of anger and frustration. According to one source, Townshend had written it on June 9, 1970 after a Who concert. He had been tempted by a groupie apparently. “Behind Blue Eyes” starts off as a depressing acoustic ballad before kicking in as rocker towards the end. In Lifehouse, this would’ve been the song for the villain in the story, Jumbo. In the Classic Albums episode, both Roger and Pete said that they could relate to it. For Roger, it’s about anger. For Pete, it’s a repression of love.

9.      “Won’t Get Fooled Again”- Who’s Next might have one of the best album closers of all time. This eight minute epic is a classic rock radio staple and also one of the Who’s best songs. In Lifehouse, this song would’ve been sung by Bobby as he doesn’t want Jumbo to become a spiritual seeker like him. The song was written by Pete supposedly after hearing about a political commune near Eel Pie Island. For Pete, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a plea and not a defined statement.  The song is easy to recognize from that opening synth line, which then bursts into a rocker. There’s also some great playing on this song from Pete, John, and Keith. Pete is strumming away, John is plucking the bass strings, and Keith could’ve been destroying his drum set. Roger, however, gives us what might be the single greatest scream in rock n roll. “Meet the new boss” sings Daltrey. “Same as the old boss”. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” certainly ends this great album with a huge bang.

Before the album was released, the album needed a cover. There was an original idea of using naked obese women for the design but when the pictures were used by someone else, the idea was scraped. The front cover for the album was taken on May 8, 1971 somewhere in Easington Colliery, England. Near a mining area, there was a tall concrete structure. According to the booklet for the 1995 reissue, John and Keith had been talking about Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie, there’s a scene where there’s a black monolith. The band liked the location and with photographer Ethan Russell, the band shot the cover right there. There’s the old myth that the band took a leak on the structure. It has been said that Pete came up with the idea for them to urinate on it (possibly an attack at Kubrick for disagreeing to film Tommy?). According to Ethan Russell, none of the band were able to urinate on it. Instead, they used rainwater from an empty film canister for the effect. Some may wonder whether the Who’s Next monolith is still there. A video posted on YouTube in 2009 shows that it’s still there. However, the area may’ve been cleared not long afterwards.   
Who’s Next was released on August 14, 1971. The album was a huge success, charting at #4 in the US and at #1 in the UK. Years after its release, Who’s Next has been listed by rock magazines and critics as one of the greatest albums ever made by anybody. With the success of Who’s Next, the band were able to continue their career as the Who.
Although the band’s next album, Quadrophenia, was a conceptual album, Pete Townshend still tried to resurrect the Lifehouse project. As it would turn out, the songs that would’ve been used in Lifehouse have showed up on other Who albums and compilations. In 2000, Townshend finally resurrected to Lifehouse project with a box set called The Lifehouse Chronicles.
For me, Who’s Next is my fourth favorite album of all time (and I do have this list on Microsoft Word. I’ll say that the top 20-25 are pretty much in cement). I got this album not too long after John Entwistle passed away in 2002. I think by that time, I was still trying to learn how to let the album play and not flip through the songs. I was ten years old, give me a break! I really like this album because for me, it defines the Who. All the songs are pure classic rock. It’s just one of those albums you can play over and over again and it’s still as great as the first time you heard it.  Without a doubt, it’s the best album the Who ever made.

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