' Who Reviews
The Who

I love rock'n'roll. I hate opera.

Strongest album: Who's Next
Must to avoid: It's Hard

When it comes to the Who, there are two main schools of thought. The first sees their '60s output as a training camp for their later, more accomplished music, in which they broke the stylistic barriers of rock with AOR operas concerning deaf kids, mods, and a man's love for a synthesizer. The second school of thought thinks that '70s Who is pretentious, pompous bollocks and that they were at their brilliant best as a bash-it-out three-chords-&-distortion unit that laid the groundwork for punk, metal, and power-pop. As you might have guessed from the above, I fall into the second camp. The formulation is overly simplistic, however. Of all the giants of rock - and yes, I do include the Who amongst the major deities - they are the most inconsistent and least capable of living up to their reputation. Though they are one of the four or five most influential bands of all time - any pissed-off, idealistic young man with a guitar follows in their footsteps - to my ears they never really made a beginning-to-end flawless masterpiece, though a few of their albums come mighty close. Which means that the Who, unlike most acts, never really had a "classic" period in which every album they did was their best work (for example, the '66-'72 Stones); on the positive side, they also did good work throughout most of their career (unlike, for example, everything the Stones did post-'72). If you're a newcomer, start with either Who's Next and/or a compilation of their early singles.

The Who are one of those bands that critics like to talk about, because Pete Townshend is a smart guy with a lot of smart ideas, but unfortunately his intellectual reach often exceeds his musical grasp. In the '60s and early '70s, the Who were always a band with a gaggle of musically innovative ideas that pushed rock in new and exciting directions, but after the Who had staked out the turf, other bands came along and performed those musical innovations better. For example, the Stooges and punk bands did chaotic feedback better, Roxy Music put those synthesizers to better use, media-terrorists like Negativeland fully exploited tape-looping and the creative use of radio soundbites, and (this is very unfashionable to say) Pink Floyd did the rock opera bit more coherently and musically, though both Tommy and The Wall blew as both movies and (for the most part) music. I happen to believe that "rock opera" was the worst idea Townshend ever had, and like Black Sabbath's merging of heavy metal and satanism, is one of those influences rock would be much, much better off with if it had never happened. Because of some critics' foolish overpraise of Townshend's folly, the Who are underrated in other areas - namely, the innovations I listed previously, and which will really count as the Who's legacy long after we've gotten over the bad taste of the countless bad '70s art-rock "concept" albums that came in the Who's wake.

The Hypertext Who is a huge site devoted to the Who by their fans - and Who fans do tend to be a bit fanatical (not a compliment or disparagement, simply a statement of fact).

Reader Comments


look pal ! If the concept of a rock opera is too deep for you to comprehend than you probably ought to go and check it out. I'll bet fifty dollars you've never even witnessed the glory of the whos tommy on stage. if you have, write back.

The Who Sing My Generation (1965) ***1/2

One of the most influential albums ever made, it not only expands what could be done within the traditional guitar-bass-drums-vocals format, but also demonstrates that great music can be made rawly, crudely, and without the least bit of professionalism or polish. Actually, the crudeness gets in the way; the sound is muddy, and Roger Daltrey's vocals are occasionally painfully hoarse, particularly on the opener, "Out In The Street" (which is based on the "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" jangle-riff slowed down - even at this early stage, Townshend is creatively recycling himself, a gambit he would use throughout his career). "My Generation" and "The Kids Are Alright" you know, or ought to if you care about rock in the least; "The Good's Gone" and the cynical "A Legal Matter" are only a hair shy of that standard. However, the two James Brown covers are a waste of vinyl - let's just say that unlike Mick Jagger, Daltrey is one white boy who shouldn't touch R&B. Actually, Daltrey is the weak link in the Who - his singing is too close to (ulp) Sammy Hagar's for comfort. But the rest of these kids are quite alright. Keith Moon is, bar none, the greatest drummer in rock - he doesn't just keep time, he uses his kit as a lead instrument. John Entwistle isn't quite the greatest bass player in rock (James Jamerson is - listen to those Motown records again), but he's up there, and he can write a decent (if rarely great) tune every now and then. And of course there's that chap with the big honker who fancies a bit of autodestruction at the close of gigs. Now he can certainly write a tune, and every so often a great one. Consult the early singles for further proof; why so many bands in the '60s left their best songs off their albums confuses me, but My Generation is a solid effort. The only bummer is that original producer Shel Talmy has refused to give up the rights to the material, which means that the cheapy CD (sound quality's crap, so you're better off with tape or vinyl, anyway) contains no liner notes, bonus tracks, or remastering. Caveat emptor.

Happy Jack/A Quick One While He's Away (1966) ***

Already they're getting arty. The fantastic basher "Run, Run, Run" and the misguided cover of "Heatwave" could have fit easily onto the debut, but nothing else would. Ah, innocent '66, when every band from Haight-Asbury to Carnaby went nuts with flaky experimentation, some of it listenable today, and most of it not. Take, for example, Moon's "Cobwebs and Strange," in which the band marches up and down past the studio microphone, playing carnival woodwinds, in an effort to create stereo sound with mono technology. Or perhaps you'll take Townshend's five-part mini-opera, "A Quick One", with the famous coda "You are forgiven". Please take those songs, because no one else wants them. Yes, Pete, I do forgive you, but I wouldn't if this didn't contain your Merseybeat la-la-la-la-la classic "So Sad About Us", the only great song you've written for this album. The other great one is by Entwistle, "Whiskey Man," which leads me to believe that Guided By Voices have spent their entire career trying to rewrite that one song. Moon takes you on a guided tour of London's club scene, and even Daltrey chips in with a passable number. This is the most atypical Who LP because Townshend only writes half of the material, with the rest of the band taking up the slack; unfortunately, Townshend was the creative genius of the band, and no one else really comes close to matching him tune for tune. Even the bonus tracks on the reissue are expendable - incompetent surf-music covers instead of incompetent James Brown this time round.

The Who Sell Out (1967) ****

One of the earliest, silliest, and best concept albums: fake adverts on the cover (Daltrey caught pneumonia from bathing in beans), fake adverts between the tunes. The idea apparently was to simulate the feel of tuning in to "Radio London", which means not only interrupting the flow with goofy commercial jingles, but the Who's most diverse set of music. It kicks off with the hard psychedelia travelogue "Armenia City In The Sky" (credited to some John Keene, no relation to '80s popster Tommy Keene I don't think, who has covered "Tattoo" in concert and whose records are worth picking up), then veers off into ditties about baked beans and deodorant and girls with shaky hands and tattoos, sliding into a pretty pop number "Our Love Was" whose coherence doesn't match its monster hooks and chorus. Right smack in the middle comes crashing "I Can See For Miles," all seething, built-up-inside revenge rage and one of the Who's greatest singles. "I Can't Reach You" might be my fave from this record this week, and the acoustic ballad "Sunrise" lets Pete show off his unusual finger-picking guitar technique. The lone Entwistle number, "Silas Stingy," borrows its tune from "Gilligan's Island" or some other widely-known nursery rhyme that I can't think of right now, and a few other weak songs mar an otherwise quite strong album. The other major problem is that the band is a bit too diverse; they cover so much ground that it's hard for this album to pick up any steam. I'm not going to spend any time discussing the "concept"; let me impart to you these words from Spinal Tap, "There's a thin line between clever and stupid." The reissue is absolutely fantastic; if you think you need to upgrade, don't hesitate - the bonus tracks are, cut for cut, almost as good as the original LP! Seriously, I haven't the faintest clue why "Melancholia," Moon's sweet "Girl's Eyes," (Seattle garage-pop mainstays the Fastbacks did a wonderful cover), Entwistle's "Someone's Coming," and the like were relegated to obscurity status. Even Daltrey's "Early Morning Cold Taxi" is decent. According to the liner notes, "The Hall of the Mountain King" was a bar band standard back in the day - !? No wonder bar bands were better and more interesting in '60s London - beats rehashed beer blues, for sure.

Tommy (1969) ***1/2

A complete and total mistake, a record whose existence as a bad influence I utterly despise, a pretentious load of complete nonsense, and last but not least, a tough album to listen to all at once. So why do I give this record a good grade? Well, there just so happen to be some very fine, even great songs found herein: "Pinball Wizard," "We're Not Going To Take It," "1921," "Acid Queen," Entwistle's sick "Cousin Kevin," "Smash the Mirror," maybe even a couple or three more. So what I'm saying is that this album works as all albums work at a basic level: a collection of good songs. The Who continue to make musical advances and broaden their scope, though I do wish they would have included at least one numbling loud feedback-laden rocker in the old Who style to shake things up. Some of the songs I've mentioned above are of Townshend's first rank. The problem is that it is frankly impossible to listen to this album in one sitting. Setting aside the filler written to move the plot along for a moment, the main problem is that every song seems to be written in the same damn key (E, I think, but don't quote me on that). This makes this one of the most numblingly monotonous albums I've ever made myself wade through. The Who endlessly repeat several musical motifs ("Sparks" - groan!) - did concepts like "variation" ever occur to them? I mean, c'mon Pete, if you're going to compose a double album, it well behooves you to come up with more than five or six chord progressions. And like I said, the songs aren't all that consistent; the songs I haven't mentioned so far generally aren't very good. But I tell ya, the great stuff almost makes up for it. I said almost.

Reader Comments

"ServiceMark", servicemark@rcn.com

I can't add much, except that if you listen to Tommy a couple of times, it grows on you. Otherwise, FIGHT THE POWER!!!

Live At Leeds (1970)

Expanded from its original 6-song length to nearly double that, this is one reissue I haven't got my hands on yet, though I'm sure to eventually. From what my ears tell me, the Who were one of those rare bands whose concert recordings are actually worth hearing. Too bad I'm too young to ever see them live in their prime.

The Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy (1971) *****

Okay, let's get this straight. Pete Townshend's primary importance wasn't opera, it wasn't feedback, it wasn't breaking the structural limits of rock, it was this: he was the first songwriter to ever write about adolescence AS IT WAS, WITH NO "I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND/TEENAGER IN LOVE" BULLSHIT. Your teenage years weren't spent dreaming of sixteen candles but locked in cramped rooms gazing at "Pictures Of Lily," trying to articulate and failing ("I Can't Explain," "M-m-m-my G-g-g-generation"), caught up in sexual confusion ("I'm A Boy"), realizing that society's not going to always treat you fair 'cause you're not rich ("Substitute"), trying to find some group to fit into ("The Kids Are Alright"), walking down the street like you could take on the world ("Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"), wasting your youth playing electronic games ("Pinball Wizard"), confused and trying to find answers ("The Seeker"), and riding the bus ("Magic Bus"). If not, then screw you. The early Who singles compiled here are what the band's reputation lies upon, and never again would they come close to capturing what they have here. Even if you think you don't like the Who, give this record a spin, because you need this record - it might be the greatest singles compilation recorded by any '60s act. No home is complete without a copy; at this point in my life, these singles mean more to me than the Beatles ever possibly could, because they speak to the listener on an honest, personal level. It was all downhill from here, but here the Who live up to their promise - and then some.

Reader Comments

Scott Kohler, skohler@netcom.ca

I love your comments on the Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. I've only got a few Who albums, but lately I've been listening to this collection a lot. Your comment about these songs meaning more to you than the Beatles ever could was great - and I'd have to agree that this may be the greatest collection of singles of all time - the music is powerful and the lyrics are really true to adolescence - "The Kids are Alright" and "Pictures of Lily" are standouts.

Who's Next (1971) ****1/2

The closest they ever came to a great album; actually, this is a great album, if not a flawless one: the likes of "Getting In Tune" and "The Song Is Over" are bloated beyond listenability, and just what is generic crap like "Love Ain't For Keeping" doing on here? About a third of these songs I could comfortably live without, and so you might reasonably ask why am I rating this disc a half star short of perfection? Well, the reason is the good third, and even more the great third. The teenage-wasteland of "Baba O'Riley" can see for miles, and stands as the greatest of all Who performances; the '60s-are-over realpolitik of "Won't Get Fooled Again" is the second greatest; and the peering into the cold-hearted abyss of "Behind Blue Eyes" takes its place as the greatest Who ballad. "Goin' Mobile" is snappy ecology-rock, and "Bargain" rousing lust-rock, though my fave part has always been the tender Townshend vocal in the middle. I've always overlooked Entwistle's "My Wife," but for some reason when I picked up the CD reissue it leapt out as the great song it was, a comic Andy Capp tale about running from the old lady 'cause he spends too much time boozing in the pub. Oh yes, I suppose I have to point out that this album is historically important due to the intelligent and musical use of a synthesizer, for perhaps the first time in rock (I know synthesizers had been around for a few years, but no one before, except maybe Stevie Wonder, had done anything special with them). The bonus tracks on the reissue aren't that great, abandoned Lifehouse tunes presented in inferior live versions for the most part, and the best of the lot, "Pure and Easy," was done better on Townshend's first solo album. The liner notes are extremely extensive, though - it takes you longer to read them than listen to the album!

Reader Comments


The Who were not the first, the Beatles, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and Pink Floyd had been using Synthesizers very much prior to the release of Who's Next

Quadrophenia (1973) ***

When I first sat down with headphones and listened to this opera I thought, "Brilliant! This is the marriage of rock and art at its finest! Intelligent, intriguing, and in contrast to Tommy's numbing repetition, Townshend has figured out how to creatively repeat motifs with real skill and craft so that hearing the synthesizer crescendo of "Reign O'er Me" throughout the album aids the piece as a cohesive whole rather than growing increasingly tiresome! Five stars, easy! I believe I'll stroll down to the scooter dealership...." I was impressed with Quadrophonia - very, very impressed - but after listening to it a dozen times more the nagging suspicion that I wasn't actually enjoying this took hold, and you know what? Those voices in my head were right. Quadrophonia falls into the rare but real category of music that I'm impressed by and respect, but that I can't listen to much. You see, the first few times I listened to Quadrophonia I listened to it all the way through, which is only way to hear the piece. It's the opposite of Tommy in that respect; a great deal of the individual songs aren't that great, particular the entire album after the fabulous "5:15". Yes, it has "The Real Me" and the prophetically titled "The Punk Meets The Godfather" and "Dirty Jobs" and "I'm One" and a few others almost as good, but great stretches of this album are flat-out boring. I discovered this after getting over my initial wonderment and tried listening to only bits and pieces of this at a time (you just can't sit there and listen to a double album all the way through all the time). Yes, Townshend is very creative with those tape loops and repeating motifs, but like most tricks, after you've been duly impressed the only response hearing the same tricks over again is boredom. On the whole this stuff is overblown and the keyboards and horns dilute the Who's power-trio attack. I've hated "Reign O'er Me" my entire life as one of those Bick-flicking Led Zeppelin arena rock dumbed-down power ballads, and I still hate it. I like "Cut My Hair" because it's got a pretty melody, is tender, and has some UNDERSTATED SUBLETY. Which the rest of this album, despite its moments, doesn't.

Odds and Sods (1974)

As the title indicates, leftovers, B-sides, and outtakes. It's been beefed up on the CD reissue with a hefty dose of bonus tracks.

The Who By Numbers (1975) ***1/2

A depressing album, in ways that the band intended and ways that it didn't intend. At this point the Who have passed 30 (prime of youth for most of us, but for rock stars practically menopause) and it sounds it. An about face from the overblown albums they'd been making since Tommy, this is the Who at their most sedate, subtle, and melodic. All the songs are good, except for the horrible "Squeeze Box," which naturally enough became the big hit single. Don't write this album off because of that song, though; the rest sounds nothing like it. The only problem is that, while all the songs are of decent quality, none of the songs leaps out from the pack as a memorable Who classic. "Slip Kid" is slight but catchy; "Blue Red and Grey" is one of Townshend's best ballads, and so are "However Much I Booze" and "How Many Friends". Townshend's in a confessional, self-reflective mode; he's grown weary of the rock'n'roll life but he doesn't know how to do anything else, and the songs keep circling in on themselves with self-doubt and self-pity. I like this album quite a bit, but it's nowhere near as exciting or urgent as the earlier Who. And it's a weird Who record indeed in which the best song on the second half, and also the only song that rocks on the album, period, is an Entwistle composition, "Success Story". The reissue just adds some live tracks, so don't bother upgrading.

Who Are You (1978) **1/2

Now this is the type of crap that makes people hate the Who. I count one great song, "Sister Disco," which makes the connection between the Trammps and Tommy and is an anti-disco song, really, but it works because it points out that technology-loving disco discs aren't anything new - the Who were in love with ear-splitting technology from the start (so you could make the argument that as technophiles they were the first electronica band, but I won't since some of you might actually take me seriously). Actually, Townshend's love of technology goes overboard on this album - it's overwashed with incredibly dated synthesizers, which drown out anything interesting going on musically. But trust me, there's not much going on interesting, anyway. Daltrey sounds hectoring and Moon's down for the count (he would die shortly after the release), and the only other good song is Entwistle's science fiction "905". The songs mainly concern getting drunk and getting laid, same as usual, except now the Who are whining about getting old and losing their creativity - yes, we certainly do need a "New Song," Pete, so bust out that "Guitar and Pen," again and write some decent ones. The heavy metal crunch the lads attempt on certain numbers sounds pathetic and tired, and the title track rivals "Squeeze Box" as the Who's most annoying ever single: Daltrey wakes up hungover in the gutter and some cop pokes a stick at him and asks him the key question; the song keeps mindlessly pounding over and over until you've got a headache like you're the one that's waking up hungover.

Reader Comments

Jeff Blehar, jdb3@jhu.edu

Strange, I agree with your final conclusion on Who Are You but almost completely differ with your means of arriving there. I think that every song you single out for praise here is weak: "Sister Disco" is representative of what does the album in - too many annoying synths and not enough creative melodies - while "905" (as well as Entwistle's other clunker, "Had Enough") are the first weak songs he'd EVER contributed to a Who album. Whereas "Guitar and Pen," despite its Gilbert-and-Sullivan bombast, is a hoot, with wonderful lyrics about Townshend's creative process and shimmering synth lines which add to the texture of the song rather than detract from it. Similarly, "Who Are You," far from being horribly annoying (how dare you lump it in with "Squeeze Box," a stinking piece of tripe if ever there was one!), is ferocious and mature. Apparently, sometime in 1977 Townshend stomped out of a board meeting with record label suits and went to a local bar. There he met two members of the Sex Pistols, and much to his horror, found out that the reputedly idolless Sex Pistols were Who fans. He couldn't deal with this contradiction in ideologies and proceeded to go on a bender (didn't take much to set him off, eh?), eventually waking up hungover on someone's stoop. The song tells the story, more or less. It's really quite innovative, especially in the mesmerizing middle section, where Townshend mimicked the hypnotic chanting of Middle Eastern Sufi dancers to great musical effect.

That song aside, too much of this is just disposable, like "New Song" (which sure as hell ain't) or "Love Is Coming Down (which is pretty nonetheless). I DO think "Music Must Change" shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, however - it would have made a much better title for the album (and perhaps helped its reputation in retrospect) - its hot and cold jazz dynamics could have been an unmitigated disaster, and despite the fact that Moon couldn't drum on the track due to its time signature (which isn't THAT difficult, if you ask me) they pull it off with aplomb. Furthermore, the bonus tracks are almost all interesting: the two new songs are excellent Townshend confessionals (and the performance of "Empty Glass" here is a much rawer, more harrowing version than his solo take) while the alternate versions aren't as useless as one might think. "Guitar and Pen" is certainly superior in its rougher mix, with a more hectoring guitar tone, while the lost verse of "Who Are You" is at least an intriguing bit of archaeology.

Face Dances (1981) ***1/2

A minor comeback, though nobody realized it, and probably the most underrated album in the Who canon. It's no masterpiece, but a pleasantly diverting power-pop gem; perhaps realizing that they weren't going to credibly catch up their punk proteges, the Who decided to take a few cues from that other group of late '70s Who disciples, the power popsters. So we get an album of punchy melodic pop-rockers worthy of the Records or 20/20 or Nick Lowe or somebody, leading with "You Better You Bet" that drinks itself blind to the sound of old T. Rex (even if musically it's more of a cousin to Blondie's "Dreaming"). It's all very solid, and if ex-Faces Kenny Jones ("Face Dances", now I get it, har-har) isn't Keith Moon, it's not as big a deal as you might think since the Who are understandably playing it MOR and mid-tempo, avoiding any real overdrive. Like The Who By Numbers, there aren't any really bad songs (except for the whiny "Did You Steal My Money?"), but there aren't any "Baba O'Riley"s here, either. Don't write this off just because it's '80s Who, and post-Moon.

It's Hard (1982) **

I will refrain from making any stupid jokes about the title, especially seeing as how the Who do it themselves (they're talking about their dicks, estupido!). The cover's got this kid standing in front of a video machine, so the Who can keep up to date and bring Tommy to the Pac-Man Age. Unfortunately, the Pac-Man Age was also that of a)over-synthed, over-produced rock, and b)AOR corporate rock (think Foriegner). And guess what? The Who, being the radically innovative band that they are, have decided to fuse the two! "Athena" has its moments, the title track glides on a pleasantly catchy Brit-Invasion melody, and "Eminence Front" has a nice repeating synth-line. And that's about it, folks. Even the three half-way decent songs I just mentioned are just that - half-way decent, not a "classic" or "great" or "excellent" or even "really good" one among the bunch. Obviously the work of a band that had come to the end of the line, the only good point in the album's favor is that it lowered our expectations of the Who for all time - it's so bad that no one in their right mind would ever expect the Who to ever produce good music again, which they didn't. You see, if the Who had broken up at their peak like the Beatles, people would romanticize about the great music they could have made, but, as the ex-Beatles' solo careers attest, if the Beatles had held on they would have released crap as pathetic as the Who in 1982. So you can't hate the Who, since it's not their fault that they were creatively bankrupt old men. It goes without saying that unless you're a terminal nostalgiast, avoid any of the relentless product that has come from the Who's recent "comebacks" - stick to the early records instead.


Pete Townshend Solo

Who Came First (1972) ***

A pleasant enough album, with Pete paying tribute to his mentor (dead by this time) Meher Baba. "Pure and Easy" is one of Townshend's greatest songs, and ex-Faces Ronnie Lane chips in with the modestly charming "Evolution". Modestly charming, in fact, is the description that typifies this album: it's all good, except for the overlong religious hymn on side two, but the sound is thin, and Pete solo lacks the power and majesty of the Who. The CD reissue adds five bonus tracks, and should be a good investment for Who/Townshend fans.

With Ronnie Lane: Rough Mix (1977) ***1/2

This one's a real gem, not only because of Townshend's really good compositions, but because it's also one of the few widely available albums in the U.S. to taste the late Ronnie Lane's underrated talents. As with the last album, the atmosphere is relaxed, a pleasant buddy album that never gets monotonous because of the wise juxtaposing of Lane's and Townshend's songwriting. Lane's "Annie" is a warm, lovely folk ballad, and his highlight; Townshend throws in the lyrically witty "Misunderstood" and the affecting "Heart To Hang Onto". The symphonic sweep of "Street In the City" is a surprising anomaly among Townshend's canon, a good song that doesn't sound like anything else he's ever done. Heartily recommended.

Empty Glass (1980) ****

Townshend's best solo album not so coincidentally sounds the most like a Who album; with backing from future Big Country members, he delivers a surprisingly solid and exciting effort, especially considering the late date - most of his peers were releasing tripe by then. I don't know the band politics well, but it's obvious that Pete was saving most of the good material for his solo work instead of the Who. This also seems to be, as far as I can tell, the album in which Pete comes out, which might have been another reason these didn't wind up Who songs: can you see Daltrey singing, "Rough boys, I want to bite and kiss you"? "And I Moved" likewise hints at sexual ambiguity. "Jules and Jim" is his defensive reaction to the press' handling of Keith Moon's death, and one of the hardest-rocking, angriest songs Townshend has written in years. "Let My Love Open The Door" was the other big hit here, and "I Am An Animal" and "Keep On Working" are almost as strong. This is one of Townshend's best ever efforts, and actually stronger than any number of Who albums.

All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982) ***1/2

My first piece of advice: completely ignore the liner notes. It's just Pete trying his hand at poetry. Just why do rock stars think because they can dash off a good song lyric that automatically makes them capable of writing talent? Even a guy as intelligent as Townshend, whose IQ is considerably higher than your typical rock star with literary pretensions, is an embarassment when he relies on his pen sans guitar. As for the music on this album, however, it's mainly still prime. An early '80s overreliance on synthesizers hurts the overall sound, but the songwriting itself is still sharp, insightful, humanely compassionate, and ocassionally capable of brilliance. Despite a few "poetic" clunkers, the lyrics are among Townshend's best: first person narratives that seem to be based on real people, it's hard to imagine how Roger Daltrey could have sang these songs with the proper subtlety and vulnerability. Perhaps that's why Townshend didn't hand these songs over to the Who; certainly at this point, he was saving all the best material for his solo work. "Uniforms" is yet another interesting youth study (the Brits have this weird mania for adolescent subcultures - mods vs. rockers, etc. - that Americans don't really have). The rocker "Slit Skirts" novelly examines a middle-aged relationship with a frank honesty only Townshend could have offerred. "Exquisitely Bored" is another interestingly observed sociological treatise that contains one of Townshend's best chorus melodies. The catchy "People Stop Hurting People" (despite the strained metaphors) and "Somebody Saved Me" are also highlights. Don't be put off by the pretentiousness, because there's some quite good music found in here.


A collection of outtakes and demos that covers most of Townshend's career.

White City: A Novel (1985)

I don't really like this one much at all; it's not as bad the two after it, but it is the beginning of Townshend's unfortunate decline.

The Iron Man (1989) **

Based on a Ted Hughes poem cycle, this is distressingly bad, and not helped by the various guest stars. Townshend's stated goal was to craft a song cycle for a children's play, but I doubt real kids would be able to stomach this. The main problem isn't that Townshend's weak melodies aren't that memorable, but that the music is flimsy and serves only as a backdrop for the lyrics. In short, Townshend doesn't come up with any decent songs or hooks, a fault that is not covered up by inviting John Lee Hooker and Nina Simone to sing lead on a few numbers. Townshend's so desperate he even reunites with the Who for a handful of tracks, which only proves that Daltrey's voice is shot and the old lads can't rock out very well any more. Also, taken out of the context of the play (which I haven't seen, and am not sure ever saw release), the likes of "I Eat Heavy Metal" and "Fast Food" seem like throwaway novelty numbers, and not very fun or charming ones at that.

Psychoderelict (1993) *1/2

Yet another Townshend album sabatoged by its pretensions, only this time it's not worth the bother. Almost every track comes with added voice-overs narrating the storyline, and they are definitely not a bonus: the dialogue is a distraction at best and an unlistenable irritant most of the time, especially when inserted not before, not after, but right in the middle of the tunes. Given that some of the songs themselves aren't that hot - strained AOR rock that would fit in fine between Journey and the Fixx (geez, Pete, didn't you realize that '80s overproduction is kind of out of date by now?) - this makes for the worst piece of crap Townshend has ever put his name on. The story revolves around an aging drug addict/alcoholic has-been rock star who's trying to make a comeback (hmmm, any autobiography there?) who gets bamboozled by a journalist bitch (Townshend's dialogue, not mine) with a fabricated sex scandal. Unlike the other Townshend concept albums, the plot is strikingly straightforward and easily understandable. It's also strikingly stupid and full of more plot holes than Swiss cheese. Songs like "Let's Get Pretensious" (his misspelling, unless it's one of those English "labor/labour" words) and "Outlive the Dinosaur" attempt self-parody, but don't work any better as actual songs (most of which don't have any hummable melodies) than the rest.

Reader Comments

Tony Souza, avsouza@webtv.net

I pretty much agree with your assement of the Who's albums and Townshend's solo albums. The thing for me is that at the time the Who's albums were coming out it was also the time I was growing up and listening to music. As as I can recall, the Who made their reputation as a live band, not as a studio band. Sure, Who's Next is a classic and Tommy put them on the map, but while these albums sold, they didn't sell as much as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, etc.

However, many people who saw them live were blown away by the fact that what they saw in concert was infinatly more powerful than what they heard on their studio albums. Live is where they made their mark, IMHO. The younger people who haven't seen the Who live in their prime give greater respect to the studio albums than most of the people my age who were able to see them live. Listen to Live at Leeds and then listen to Tommy. The music they generated live was so much more powerful than what they accomplished in the studio.

As for Townshends' solo projects, while all of them have something to offer, my favorite is Rough Mix because the songs are stripped down and they don't have all the extra keyboard crap that for me marred some of the Whos' and especially Townshends' albums.

Micheal Walker, mjw@surreypages.com

Your assessment of the WHO is intelligent and accurate!

I became a Who fan (soon a fanatic) back in the mid-70s after hearing the first two albums. I soon collected all their records, all the solo albums and every bootleg I could get my hand on... I recall waiting with much anticipation for records like "the Who by Numbers" and "Who are You" to make the record stores...

After a while though, it became "Much too Much", and "my enthusiasm waned"... I recall leaving one of their BLOATED reunion concerts midway through in disgust (I think its was the 25th anniversary Kids are Alright "final" tour) because whatever the 4 guitarists and two drummers and 5 back up singers and the full horn section were, it sure werent the 'OO I had come to know and love... The "world's biggest WHO fan" cashed in his membership after that! I did think they rocked pretty good back in '82 (the "its hard" tour) as I recall, they had the entire stadium mesmerized in a couple places....

Highlights to me: Live at Leeds, Who by Numbers, Quadrophenia, and John Entwistle's highly underated solo album "Too Late the Hero".

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