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"I said a young man ain't got nothing in the world these days"

Class A

Main Category: Rhythm & Blues
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Pop Rock, Psychedelia, Art Rock, Arena Rock
Starting Period: The Early Years
Also active in: The Psychedelic Years, The Artsy/Rootsy Years,

The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day







Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Who fanatic (even if the Who are one of my favourite bands) and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Who fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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One true sign of a truly great band is when said band ardently defies categorisation, that is, when for every "well, they sound like this reggae-influenced heavy metal band playing avantgarde bebop" remark you can have yourself a "funny, I thought they were this raw punk outfit doing acoustic folk" counterproposal. And I don't simply mean "being diverse" here, I mean "being different". Blazing off every colour of the spectrum. Baring one's soul in all of its existing aspects. That sort of thing.

Few bands were as good at that as the Who. When they started out on their recording spree in 1965, the pop music world was only beginning to get slowly adjusted to the idea that, instead of making artists rot in the rut by recording the same record as long as there were enough fans to compensate the expenses, it might be more reasonable to let the artists change and evolve into something completely different. The Who were among the first bands, if not the first band, to lock on to that idea from the very beginning, and as a result, no two Who records - at least, not until Keith Moon's demise, that is - sound the same. Garage rockers, surrealistic artists, psychedelic visionaries, art-rockers, roots-rockers, synth-poppers, the Who were all that and more.

Not that this alone should be enough for granting them top honours. More important is the idea that, unlike so many others, the Who were rarely following trends - they were setting them. They weren't above borrowing ideas off others, of course: in this world of constantly interlocking interests, nobody really is. But that was never an overriding concern for the band. Not even the Who's most ardent haters, and there are plenty, could accuse band leader Pete Townshend of lacking a musical vision expressly his own. Whether it was annihilating his guitar - figuratively or literally - or toying with freshly constructed synthesizers or coming up with strange tales of deaf, dumb and blind kids empowered with extrasensorial capacities, he always knew what he was doing and why he was doing it, and it was never for the sake of jumping on bandwagon X or Y. Whereas many others might not have been knowing that.

Many people define the Who as the quintessential rock'n'roll band, with a heavy emphasis on the "rock" thing. Others contest the title, somewhat justifiably pointing out that the Who rarely rocked in a way as hard and uncompromising as, say, AC/DC or Motorhead or certain other rock'n'roll bands that came later and truly redefined the meaning of "raw sound" as we used to know it. In a way, this is true. Even for me. For me, "quintessential rock'n'roll" is something you hear, for instance, during the first twenty seconds of the Stones' 'Can't You Hear Me Knockin'. That kind of thing I only sporadically find on the Who's live records, and never on their studio ones.

The truth, I think, is that the Who, from the very beginning, were essentially an art band, and rock'n'roll, for them, was primarily an art object rather than a lifestyle. This is why, for all their diversity, the Who never ever touched the style which we commonly define as "barroom rock"; they'd simply lack the spirit to do it. I can't even begin to imagine what a song like 'Honky Tonk Women' or 'Rip This Joint' would sound like in the hands of the Who. Simple or complex, original or ripped-off, in ninety-nine percent of all possible cases, the Who's music was carrying a message; when it wasn't, it usually sucked, like on the band's early laughable James Brown covers.

To put it differently, where other bands just used rock'n'roll for fun, the Who used rock'n'roll as a medium to let out their "spirituality". From the very outset, Townshend used to regard rock music as the perfect tool for uniting people and channelling their emotions into one massive collective stream; this eventually reached its culmination on the Lifehouse project, which, according to Pete's plan, started life as the project to end all other projects, and it is absolutely not surprising that the eventual failure of the project nearly cost the guy his life. In this respect, the Who were the rightful progenitors of the entire arena-rock / stadium-rock genre, where the anthemic and "unificatory" qualities of the music matter more than anything else. Of course, seeing the word combination "stadium rock" on a page dedicated to the Who is bad news. The good news is that, again, unlike so many of their lesser followers, the Who (a) sincerely believed in the anthemic power of the stuff they were writing and performing and (b) actually wrote good music to go along with the feeling.

Which brings us to the next point, namely, Pete Townshend as one of the finest composers of his generation and maybe the pop music world in general. If we agree to roughly divide great pop composers into "masters of the form" and "masters of the spirit", Pete will unquestionably join the latter category, along with John Lennon and Ray Davies (whereas, for instance, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson I would rather stick into the former - not that I'm denying them their rightful spiritual shares). His songwriting has always been a little crude and spontaneous, even during the Who's 70s period when he would spend huge amounts of time complicating and polishing the arrangements. He hasn't been above recycling his own melodies, either, or overrelying on similar chord progressions. But when it comes to basic, simple, instantly grappling emotional hooks to chain you to a certain song for life, he's beyond all competition - except for maybe the two guys I namechecked above.

What I mean is, for Pete Townshend "art" was never just an empty word. Maybe "art" was different from "real life", but it was still an evident piece of "reality", and you only have to watch a few minutes of any of the Who's classic live shows from around 1969-71 to see the truth of it. At times, the pedantic mathematician in Pete would take over and he'd try out all kinds of rigid formulas to synthesize true beauty - but these things always failed, like the symbolic failure of the band trying to play along to their synthesizer tapes during Quadrophenia live shows, or the equally symbolic failure of their finding the "perfect chord" for the Lifehouse project. But the non-mathematical things, surprisingly, always survived. And that's what makes analysing the Who's albums such a delightful gas: separating the sincere and spontaneous from the calculated and overwrought. It's almost always a mixture of both.

As is the case with the Kinks, the biggest flaw that can be ascribed to the Who is the lack of a second equally gifted songwriter within the band. (Neither Dave Davies nor John Entwistle, with their limited access to the recording mikes and only moderate wishes to actively participate in the writing process, really count). With no-one to act as a counterweight, the Who had little choice but to accept every single idea that Pete deemed worthy, and as cool as the guy was, not all of them were worthy. While writing his rock operas, he could get carried away with the storyline, disregarding the musical content. While feeding on his depression and disillusionment, he could get carried away with conveying the idea of miserability - again disregarding the music. Finally, to put it blunt, one person just can't write as much good music as two people can, unless that one person is Frank Zappa and Frank Zappa's idea of "good music" was an entirely different thing altogether.

Yet on the positive side, the Who had something that neither the Kinks nor 99.9% of all rock bands ever had: distinctive artistic identities for all four of the band members. Pete Townshend may have been the band's creative leader, primary songwriter, and guitar wiz par excellence, but the Who were never just "Pete Townshend and the Who". Every member of the band brought something vital to the table; every member pioneered something in rock music; and even in real life, every member - bar maybe Roger - was as interesting a human being as you could ever desire.

First, there was Roger Daltrey - vocals - the quintessential rowdy suburban kid who started out as little more than an annoying arrogant bully but eventually became the father of the Big, Brawny, Heroic Anthem Delivery. His patented lionine roar, as forever immortalised in the wall-rattling scream at the end of 'Won't Get Fooled Again', is nowadays a rock cliche, but, believe it or not, there actually was a time when it wasn't. And he's still pretty much the only wide-lunged arena-rock screamer that brings out the positive emotions in me, although even today I can't fully decide if that is mostly his own merit or if it's mainly due to his singing all that "intelligent" Townshend-penned material.

Second, there's John Entwistle - the guy that, at one time, finally convinced me of the importance and potential of the instrument we commonly refer to as the bass guitar. Suffice it to say that, again, even today, while hearing or seeing his playing on some bass-heavy passages of the Who's music, I still have a feeling that somebody's got to be deceiving me because it's frankly impossible for a living person to play that instrument that fluently unless said person's fingers have been diligently pre-programmed. Whether playing live or recording in the studio, Entwistle could at the same time make his bass act the "exuberant lead guitar" part to Townshend's drier, minimalistic power chord riffage and act as the stable rhythmic anchor to prevent the band from slipping into musical chaos. In that way, he was the quiet one of the band, which only made him all the more noticeable - because for the Who, "crazy" was normal, and "normal" was crazy. Additional Entwistle-related features would include occasional significant help with singing (John actually had the widest range of them all, making it possible for the same guy to deliver the creepy "I'd like to help you son but you're too young to vote" basslines in 'Summertime Blues' and the angelic falsetto of "you are forgiven" in 'A Quick One'); occasional catchy songwriting; and a distinct touch of - mostly black - humour that added further diversity to the band's albums.

Finally, the drummer was Keith Moon, a figure as legendary in its own rights as JFK or Martin Luther King and therefore not really worth writing a lot about. The only issue I'd like to address is that some people seem to seriously believe that the only thing Keith Moon could ever do was bash, thrash, and crash. Well, that's true. And John Coltrane could only blow. And Hemingway could only write. The art of bashing and thrashing can be as much an art as anything else - and the bashing and thrashing of Keith Moon had a clever and unique bashing and crashing technique all its own. In fact, I'd like to see some of his bashing and thrashing converted to guitar music one day, just to let the dissenters see what he really was trying to achieve with his style. (Note: I am primarily referring to stuff Keith did in the studio here, not in a live setting - his approaches were quite different onstage and offstage).

Thus, even if the songwriting was primarily Pete's domain, every single member of the band had his own agenda, and the resulting fusion of the four - Pete the songwriting philosopher, Roger the heavy-fisted rebel, John the technical-minded scepticist, and Keith the schizophrenic surfer - was something completely unprecedented and, I'm afraid, never to be repeated. Even the Beatles fall behind in this personality department, and this is the main reason why The Kids Are Alright is widely considered as the best "rockumentary" of all time: because its non-musical parts are almost as interesting to watch as the musical ones, which is a pretty rare thing for a "rockumentary".

Now then, why are the Who ranked among the select few on this site? After all, you could pile plenty of vile accusations against these guys. Inconsistent songwriting (even I have to admit that, although I do think it's far less inconsistent than some would have you believe). Pompous, overblown concept albums whose ambitions do somewhat exceed their grasp. A relatively small amount of recorded output - much of it due to a crippling legal battle with their first producer, Shel Talmy, which prevented them from recording at the same speed as their contemporaries during the Sixties, but also due to Pete's own neuroses and paranoid procrastination. And, finally, a much-tarnished reputation gained by their deciding to carry on playing after Keith Moon's untimely death and then reuniting for innumerable "anniversary tours" throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s, tours that have not been stopped even by John Entwistle's recent demise.

Well, fact is, none of these accusations are decisive. Inconsistent songwriting - heck, you could accuse anybody of inconsistent songwriting. Pompous albums - who cares as long as the pomposity is just a by-product of utter sincerity? This sure ain't Queen we're talking about. Lack of output - well, that sort of helps you out with the inconsistent songwriting problem, don't it? And as for the tarnished reputation, this is simply not a good argument at all, not to mention that some of that touring was actually quite good.

To summarize my feelings about the band - I like rock'n'roll music "for the body". I also happen to like intelligent music "for the soul". And I happen to think that, contrary to rumours, these two things are not at all incompatible, provided they're being made compatible in the proper way. And finally, I think no other band in pop music history has been able to make the two compatible in a way more proper than the Who did it in their glory days, from 1965 to 1973. And that about winds it all up.



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

One of the births of punk rock - sort of. Takes a good bunch of artsy guys to make real good punks, too.


Track listing: 1) Out In The Street; 2) I Don't Mind; 3) The Good's Gone; 4) La La La Lies; 5) Much Too Much; 6) My Generation; 7) The Kids Are Alright; 8) Please Please Please; 9) It's Not True; 10) The Ox; 11) A Legal Matter; 12) Instant Party (Circles).

Unless you vehemently equal "punk" with "hardcore" and consider the Ramones a sissy pop band, My Generation was, quite inarguably, the first punk album ever recorded. Not "in spirit" - "punk in spirit" is so vague a definition that, with a little stretch, you might whop it onto the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Pope Gregory the Great. But real punk, with rebellious punkish lyrics (the only thing lacking is politics, but that's not the main criterion), screamed and stuttered rather than properly sung vocals, and a guitarist so obsessed with power chords that it actually takes time to realise he loves melodic Beatles-Byrds jangle just as fine; you're simply more used to the latter than the former. At least you must have been, way back in 1965.

Because way back in 1965, nobody could, or would, play like this band allowed itself to play. Not the Stones, not the Kinks. The Kinks had actually pioneered "hard rock" a year before, but didn't quite understand how to expand on it - so they ended up rewriting the same song four or three times and then moving into a different direction altogether. Not so Pete Townshend. He was smart enough to figure out quite a few new possibilities. For instance, the minimalist possibility. If you're using heavy fuzzy tones and feedback to convey teenage aggression and rebellion - and you are, aren't you? - you don't need complicated riffs to go along with it. Simple, brutal means for simple, brutal feelings. Also, the technophilic possibility. If simply plucking an amp with a needle, like Dave Davies did, yields such marvelous results, guess what shoving your guitar right into it might do.

So My Generation isn't even the first "punk" album. It's the first "art-punk" album. Already they are passing off for red-eyed, foul-mouthed, pissed-off not-give-a-damners - and already they're trying to "open your mind" to all kinds of new perspectives. Thus they aren't really "rebels without a cause". They've got a pretty good cause. If they didn't, no way Pete Townshend would plop nine of his own compositions on a twelve-song debut album - which, even at the tail end of 1965, was still a pretty unusual thing for a bunch of recording beginners. And no way would he have given the hit single, or the LP itself such an audacious title. Up until then, in the pop world only Bob Dylan had dared to more or less openly proclaim himself as the speaker for his generation. For Townshend, this was a major gamble, and I suppose the only reason he won was that rock critics hadn't yet found a good use for the word "pretentious" by then.

One thing I have never managed to "get" about the album are the two James Brown covers, though. Not only are they godawful, they simply do not fit in with the rest of the album. This is very much the fault of lead singer Roger Daltrey, who was still about four years away from the transition to "lion-voiced" and whose delivery nevertheless works on the pissed-off or the poppy numbers, but is completely phoney and overwrought on the two "soul" covers; I've disliked them even before hearing the originals, and I can only imagine the reaction of anybody who gets to experience them after hearing the originals. "Parodic" or "pitiful" doesn't even begin to do these feelings justice. From what I gather, Roger was the band's biggest James Brown fan, so presumably the covers were included at his insistence - and as a result, only made the near-sighted dummy within clearly visible for the public. Heck, I would rather he'd written something himself.

But screw James Brown and his light-headed interpreters. The important thing is, the originals are real good. 'My Generation' - the song - still sounds as fresh and rabble-rousing today as it did upon release, having lost none of its actuality or impact and still influencing hordes of young garage revival bands. While all the young punks, mods, rockers and other low-life scum were still beating around the bush, the Who made a song that did not compromise over a single issue, overthrowing conventional standards of writing, playing, singing, and recording. I seriously doubt that all of the people who sent the single to No. 2 on the British charts liked the song - but all of them simply had to try it out, because nothing ever sounded like that before. And, just for the record, did anybody ever have a bass guitar solo in a non-instrumental pop number before the Who?..

But wait, maybe you've only heard 'My Generation' and it made you believe - not completely without justification, either - that the only thing the Who are good for is making "creative noise". Or maybe just noise, creativity my ass. In that case you shouldn't miss the second best known song from the album. If 'The Kids Are Alright' doesn't have one of the sweetest, most grappling pop melodies ever written, count me out of the pop business altogether and get me a forklift. It's not like it's an unprecedented thing, no, it's got plenty of the Beatles/Byrds spirit, too, but hey, this is pop, you can't invent your own pop style right off the hook, and besides, the instrumental section is clear-cut Who: minimalistic ring-ring from the guitar (much in tune with the "bells chime!" line, I'd say) pinned against Keith Moon's powerhouse drumming. (For some reason, most of that solo had been cut away for the original CD release of the album and only restored on the boxset version).

The rest of the album pretty much wanders around these two polar extremes - sweet, but sharp pop and aggressive feedback-choked racket. The two categories frequently overlap during the instrumental sections; once Roger steps away from the mike, you may be sure Pete is already coming up with a screwdriver or a chisel or some other torture device for his poor instrument. As for Keith, restricting that guy to a steady four-four beat would be a much harder task to accomplish than keeping Roger away from covering James Brown - and, thankfully, much less necessary, because he's being so diverse and creative with his pummeling. He may be providing a complex update on the Bo Diddley beat ('Out In The Street'), or sounding all African on the tom-toms ('La La La Lies'), or rattling machine-gun fire all over the place on the fast numbers ('It's Not True'), or looping himself into robotic overdrive on 'The Ox'.

Also well worth mentioning is the constant presence of session piano player Nicky Hopkins - actually, I think My Generation is the first album in my collection to witness that presence, and he's already well recognizable. A truly great session player can be recognized by being able to magically metamorphose himself into a legitimate member of whatever band he's playing for, and Nicky doesn't disappoint: he doesn't as much play the keyboards as he fires them, making the nice gentle instrument as aggressive and uncompromising as the fiercest guitar parts Pete is giving out. Now go and compare this work with the stuff Hopkins would be doing for the Kinks less than a year later. Write a thesis and get back to me on this.

All of the songs are memorable, even the slighter numbers like 'La La La Lies' and 'Much Too Much' which could never really mean a lot to the band but were nevertheless earnestly equipped with vocal hooks that lesser bands could kill for. Pete's warped sense of humour (not as warped as John's, of course, but at least it manifested itself before John's did) already shows on songs like 'It's Not True', where he makes Roger dispel a bunch of blasphemous rumours about himself, and 'A Legal Matter', in which the protagonist is busy escaping marriage with his already pregnant girlfriend. (Something tells me there must be a good reason Pete is singing this one and not Roger). Melodically, the latter song is rather obviously indebted to the Stones' 'The Last Time', but Pete gets away with it by adding a distinct and unforgettable introductory riff and extra lyrical poignancy.

The honour of being the most underrated song on the album must fall to 'The Good's Gone'. It's got this combination of moodiness, bleakness, aggression and proto-psychedelic trance feeling that has no parallels whatsoever among the rest of the band's catalog. The honour of being the most revolutionary song on the album must fall not to 'My Generation', but 'The Ox'. It takes the concept of a generic blues instrumental and turns it inside out, then stomps on it. Viciously. And literally, too. It was the only recording from those sessions that Pete was really pleased with, and although he's just being too modest, it's easy to understand his reasons. The track was named after Entwistle's nickname, but the recording does sound like an ox, or, rather, a wild bull with a freshly turpentined anus. Avantgarde? Dissonance? Ornette Coleman influences? I'll take four minutes of 'The Ox' over seventeen minutes of the Velvet Underground's 'Sister Ray' any time of day, because, unlike the latter, the former actually has an underlying sense of real purpose to it.

As with so many early/mid-60s releases by British artists, there is some major controversy going on with this release. The original UK pressing, featuring a birdseye view of the Who cover, was simply titled My Generation and had a cover of Bo Diddley's 'I'm A Man' on it. The original US album, retitled The Who Sings My Generation, which is the one reviewed here, did not really come out in the States until a couple months later (already in 1966, that is); it also dropped 'I'm A Man' in favour of the single B-side 'Instant Party (Circles)', the Who's first cautious venture into the world of psychedelia, with Pete inventing an appropriately "circular", mind-blowing riff and John pulling out his French horn for the first time in what would soon become a respectable tradition.

Both versions were also the only remaining property of the band's original producer Shel Talmy, whom they managed to drop soon after the album's release at the expense of having to pay him royalties from the next four or five albums. This is why, for a long long time, My Generation remained unavailable on CD, or was available only in the form of a non-remastered, poor-sound-quality version of the American release - which is, believe it or not, still the version that I'm reviewing here. Recently, though, a remastered double CD version, chockful of bonus tracks, was finally issued - you may want to consult the reader comments if you really wanna find out about whether it's worth your money or not.



Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

Maybe it wasn't such a great idea to suggest Daltrey and Moon start writing songs...


Track listing: 1) Run Run Run; 2) Boris The Spider; 3) I Need You; 4) Whiskey Man; 5) Heatwave; 6) Cobwebs And Strange; 7) Don't Look Away; 8) See My Way; 9) So Sad About Us; 10) A Quick One While He's Away; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Batman; 12) Bucket T; 13) Barbara-Ann; 14) Disguises; 15) Doctor Doctor; 16) I've Been Away; 17) In The City; 18) Happy Jack (acoustic version); 19) Man With The Money; 20) My Generation/Land Of Hope And Glory.

A good chance wasted. This album came out at a period when the group was badly out of cash (too much guitar crashing can be bad for your finances), and the promoters advanced some of it to each member of the group so that he write his own songs. An idiotic move, since Townshend was the only prolific songwriter at the time. Well - half-idiotic: it pushed John Entwistle onto the steep path of song-writing and made him produce one of his greatest songs ever - "Boris The Spider", with humorous and goofy lyrics, a great bass line and spooky vocals - and "Whiskey Man", a track of somewhat lesser status, but still, its quiet and steady rhythm, the slightly blurred vocals, the Eastern-sounding horns and, once again, amusing lyrics do make it stand out.

Moon's contributions to the album are weaker. "I Need You" features some great drumming, with Keith ever expanding on his instruments and seemingly at the peak of his physical potential (he bashes the kit so hard it's a wonder the instruments actually stood this torture), but the melody is uninspired silly pop, the lyrics are dumb, sounding like an unexperienced psycho love ballad, and as for the vocals - well, he's no George Harrison. "Cobwebs And Strange" isn't a song at all - it's a silly circus show soundtrack, and once you've assumed that, you may actually enjoy it, especially if accompanied by video on The Kids Are Alright. Oh, and if you ever wanted to know what a Keith Moon drum solo would look like, you just need to check this out; the short solo drumbursts are not actually solos, but in a certain sense, they are, as in a couple of cases Keith is actually playing a melody with his drums, and I mean it - you can even hum it!

Meanwhile, Daltrey's only song here (by the way: he should have written two! Was the other one so horrid they even refused to put it on the album?) is "See My Way", and you probably shouldn't, it's that bad. Roger himself eagerly admitted he's no songwriter at all, and the entire Who catalog includes, like, two or three of his compositions, most of which I ain't never heard (hint: he never got further than an obscure B-side).

To make matters worse, even some of Townshend's own contributions are rather lame. The idea of the title track was suggested to Pete by his manager Kit Lambert after the band found out it was still too short on material, and without a doubt, 'A Quick One' is completely groundbreaking in that it was the first true rock opera ever written (in the very sense of the word: it's Townshend who's responsible for coining the expression 'rock opera' in this exact case). Over the course of its nine minutes, Pete and Roger and John tell us a hilarious story about an unfaithful wife who 'has a nap' with a bypassing engine driver, confesses her sins to the husband and is ultimately forgiven. The 'suite', 'opera', whatever, consists of several parts - some slower, some faster - that ensure it never gets too boring, and the rousing climax, with the band chanting 'you are forgi-i-ven', is the best place to look for the Who's much underrated vocal harmonies. Even so, these nine minutes are rather hard to endure even with the catchy and amusing lyrics and interesting links between different parts. Later on, the song would take on second life on stage, becoming a furious, exciting, powerful live number - but that's later.

As for the minor contributions, "Don't Look Away" has an interesting melody, but still - v-e-e-e-ry lightweight. It's kinda countryish, with moments of vocal greatness (listen to Roger pleading out the line 'I've always been true and I'm still loving you'), but somehow 'tain't the kind of thing I'd be expecting from Pete. Okay. "Run Run Run" is fast, furious, full of feedback and everything, but it's not a great song. Very good, but not great. The only great composition on the album is "So Sad About Us" - a beautiful mighty ballad with Pete bashing out the trademark power chords and Roger singing "la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la" as fast as he can. Can you?

Oh yeah, the best track here is arguably Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" - the only cover on record: fast, great backing vocals, great lead vocals from Roger, but much too short. Less than two minutes, actually. Some people hate it, but I far prefer it to the original. Sue me now.

The newly-remastered CD version features ten more bonus tracks, some of which are just novelties (the closing medley, in which 'My Generation' suddenly transforms itself into 'Land Of Hope And Glory', although the way it sounds makes my heart ache; an acoustic version of 'Happy Jack' - for those who think that the original two-minute version is much too short, here's ample proof that it isn't), but some of which are very interesting ('Doctor Doctor' - great lyrics and singing from John, one of his best Sixties songs; "Bucket T" and "Barbara Ann" - amusing Beach Boys imitations; "I've Been Away" - another hilarious Entwistle song, country-western this time - you would never guess it could have anything to do with the Who, but it does!; "Disguises" - an interesting psychodelic experiment with Pete's guitar sounding like a hammer on an anvil). Most of these come either from B-sides of hit singles or from the EP Ready Steady Who. The less interesting ones, though, were previously unreleased. In my eyes and ears, these bonus tracks are easily the best on any Who re-release bar Who's Next; while the Who ain't no Beach Boys in the vocal department, it's still interesting to hear the luvly vocal harmonies combined with Pete's guitar crunch. Oh, and John's, of course. Watch out for that 'Batman' theme! He'll simply blow you away with the bassline.

The rating is based on the remastered version; subtract a point for the old one without bonus tracks.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

The closest they ever got to a pop masterpiece.


Track listing: 1) Armenia City In The Sky; 2) Heinz Baked Beans; 3) Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand; 4) Odorono; 5) Tattoo; 6) Our Love Was; 7) I Can See For Miles; 8) Can't Reach You; 9) Medac; 10) Relax; 11) Silas Stingy; 12) Sunrise; 13) Rael; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Rael 2; 15) Glittering Girl; 16) Melancholia; 17) Someone's Coming; 18) Jaguar; 19) Early Morning Cold Taxi; 20) Hall Of The Mountain King; 21) Girl's Eyes; 22) Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand (alternate version).

A conceptual album! And a good one at that! Apparently great care was taken of all the details here. The first side is presented as an extract from a pirate radio station program, with fake ads and tiny commercials (all written by the band) popping in and out and creating cute little links between the actual songs. Funny, too. In fact, strange as it may seem, I've grown so used to them that I cannot even picture 'Our Love Was' without the preliminary 'RADIO LONDON REMINDS YOU - GO TO THE CHURCH OF YOUR CHOICE!!!' or 'Tattoo' without the preliminary 'It's smooth sailing with the highly successful sound of wonderful Radio London...' You have your hungry family longing for 'Heinz Baked Beans' ('WHAT'S FOR TEA DAUGHTER?'), your teenage skin problems ('Medac') and rock band equipment ('Premiere Drums'). And some of these even have good melodies - imagine that! 'Odorono', a pathetic story about a performing girl being left by her adorer because she stank, features a magnificent ringing guitar line and I bet it could have even been a hit if it featured a different set of lyrics. Plus, the concept is carried over to the album cover, and yes! 'tis one of the funniest album covers I've ever seen: Pete using a deodorant, Daltrey sitting in a tub of beans, John showing off his muscles and Keith applying cream to his face. Wow! And don't forget to read the actual ads, too! As far as I can understand, the whole concept was a somewhat self-ridiculizing idea: The Who were perfectly aware of the fact that their LPs never really sold well, and the very idea of 'the Who selling out' was an obvious oxymoron at the time. On the other hand, the album title is really a pun accentuating both meanings of the word 'sellout': significant commercial success, on one hand, and a 'go-for-the-average-public-taste' approach at the same time. So it's simultaneously a self-parody and a parody on pop tastes in general, with all the fake comic ads on here.

But just don't you go off thinking that this album's greatness lies entirely in its concept. Nope. The concept is funny, but little more. The songs are astonishing, though! First of all, they are extremely diverse. Some people get annoyed at it, but I say swell! I like diversity, and I raise my thumbs up! Nearly every song sets different moods, and that's not a thing that just any rock band could do on a single album. Led Zep? Certainly not Led Zep! Beatles? Yeah, the Beatles could manage it, but apart from the Beatles, well... Oh, see for yourself: the album opens with a psychedelic crashing feedbacky-backwards-solo-all-that-stuff rocker 'Armenia City In The Sky' (if I recall it right, credited to one John Keene), where Daltrey finally begins to fully display his vocal talents. Next comes the acoustic folky 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' which may seem fillerish - for a moment, but you're sure to appreciate its melody with a couple more listens; and yes, the lyrics are about wanking off, whatever doubts you may hold. The beautiful ballad 'Tattoo' is actually a joke - about two brothers sharing the idea that it's a tattoo that 'makes a man a man'; but, joke or no joke, the vocal harmonies on that one are enough to knock you off your seat, and the pretty pretty arpeggiated chords that herald the song are worth the price of admission alone. The next ballad is 'Our Love Was (Is)', with a soaring chorus ('soaring' in all senses, 'cos they sing 'our love was soaring') and a guitar line which could have easily been stolen from The Beatles' 'Dear Prudence' were it not for the fact that The White Album came out a whole year later. Just when you get the impression you're gonna be routed in these pop ballads forever (not a totally unpleasant idea, even considering that it's the Who we're talking about), crash bang whallop comes the mighty 'I Can See For Miles' - another psychedelic rocker, this time an original and an absolute classic. Many people regard it as the band's finest moment, and I can easily understand them. The combination of crunching block chords, wild drumming and extremely complex vocal lines (just try to sing along with the sweeping chorus and you'll know what I mean) makes it a highlight indeed.

After the storm, the calm: another ballad ('Can't Reach You', and again, beautiful vocals from Pete). 'Relax' is the only serious stinker on here (an acidified rocker, probably influenced by Pink Floyd), just because it sounds somewhat weak in the company of all the other masterpieces. 'Silas Stingy', the Entwistle contribution, is yet another childish spooky song, and it could have been nice were it not for the constantly repeating annoying chorus ('Money, money, moneybags'). 'Sunrise' is one of Pete's most astonishing ballads, where it's just Pete and his guitar, and the way he sings a single verse in three different keys constantly changing the sound effect is really unique (not to count the complex, but brilliant melody). And the album closes with Pete's second attempt at a mini-opera: a conceptual oeuvre called 'Rael' ('Is-Rael'?) which is nice but borrows too much out of traditional war marches, so I'm not that impressed. The funny thing is, it also features the theme that would later become 'Sparks' in Tommy.

All said, this is one of the most magnificent Sergeant Pepper offshoots, and if you are not acquainted with the Who's early period - start here. The Who sell out! Actually, they hadn't (just as the previous ones, the album sold miserably 'cos the stupid Brits were still fawning all over Hendrix). But lend 'em a hand!

The new release, as usual, has some bonus tracks, but the album was so almost perfect in the first place that they really add nothing much, unlike the ones on A Quick One: there are some decent ballads, like Keith's 'Girl's Eyes', an unconvincing Entwistle comedy number with heavy emphasis on a brass section overdubbed in Nashville ('Someone's Coming'), and some plain hard-rockin' jammin' ('Jaguar'). Plus there's 'Glow Girl' which is taken directly from Odds And Sods, so it's redundant, and an alternate, electric version of 'Mary-Ann' which is nice but actually adds little to the original besides some additional lyrics. The weirdest of these is a four-minute instrumental called 'Hall Of The Mountain King', said to be a rendition of the corresponding extract from Grieg's Peer Gynt suite; it hardly sounds like Grieg here, anyway, and the main function of the composition is to evoke thoughts of (naturally) King Crimson and (unnaturally) Pink Floyd, because in parts it sounds exactly like 'Interstellar Overdrive'. Which is not that surprising, on the other hand: Piper had just come out, and it certainly did have an impact on Sell Out. But if Townshend would have decided to sling 'Hall' onto the record, he'd have been sued for sure, for both blasphemizing of classics and plagiarizing Syd Barrett at the same time. Nevertheless, one can only imagine the Who's state of mind at the time: psychedelia gripped them by the collar and made them really engage in some of their most vicious and straightforward sonic experimentation ever. Another interesting thing about the bonuses is that they feature some more 'publicity' grooves from the boys, and the whole coda is designed to look as the 'Lost Third Side Of The Album'. It doesn't quite work, though, because the songs are really inferior, and I can understand Pete for shoving them into the vaults.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

Forget that rock opera stuff - it's simply excellent rock music.


Track listing: 1) Overture/It's A Boy; 2) You Didn't Hear It; 3) Amazing Journey/Sparks; 4) Eyesight To The Blind; 5) Christmas; 6) Cousin Kevin; 7) The Acid Queen; 8) Underture; 9) Do You Think It's Alright/Fiddle About; 10) Pinball Wizard; 11) There's A Doctor I've Found; 12) Go To The Mirror; 13) Tommy Can You Hear Me; 14) Smash The Mirror; 15) Sensation; 16) Miracle Cure; 17) Sally Simpson; 18) I'm Free; 19) Welcome; 20) Tommy's Holiday Camp; 21) We're Not Gonna Take It.

Yes, this is the apple of controversy. People either pray or spit on this album, holding no middle ground. Let us hold the middle ground and see what happens.

On the Conceptual Side. This is a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball messiah (?). Actually, for a long time I thought this was the first rock opera, until the worthy reader Boris (see the comments below) quite correctly corrected me with a correcting correction, namely, that the Pretty Things beat the Who to it a whole two years with S. F. Sorrow. Well, at least it's the first universally acknowledged rock opera, let's stick with that? (And, if we really want to set the thing straight, the first rock opera was 'A Quick One', which beat the Pretty Things by one year). So, anyway, Pete Townshend was not only responsible for rock opera's origins, he carried this genre high and proud to its climax.

I presume you already know the story. If you don't, you might as well look it up in a million more interesting places - you might also go and see the movie, which is at least vaguely entertaining, even if it does distort the original conception in quite a few ways. Here I'll just say that this concept is at the least interesting and entertaining, no matter what other feelings you might experience towards the plot and the message. Also, it was not a gimmick: Pete certainly took the idea seriously, so it probably meant a lot to him. We'll just leave it at that; in any case, do not hurry to dismiss the concept as a load of pretentious nonsense simply because you feel like it at the moment. The concept does have its fair share of truly emotional moments.

On the Musical Side. The actual music of Tommy is often neglected when it comes to foam-at-the-mouth battles about the importance of this rock opera and whether it makes sense or not and if it does, whether it should make sense or not. But screw the plot - name me a record that has more original guitar riffs and I'll call you names. Indeed, this is Townshend's high point as a composer. The themes of 'Go To The Mirror', 'Pinball Wizard', 'Amazing Journey', 'Sparks', 'I'm Free', 'We're Not Gonna Take It' and 'See Me Feel Me' are all quite different, but they all have something in common. And that something is - all of them are built on short, simple, catchy and consequently brilliant riffs. Plus - tons of them played on acoustic guitar! How's that for musical purity? You tell me! And, since it's an opera, these riffs keep repeating themselves, but almost always in different arrangements and with different moods. The majestic (and not a minute overblown, as people keep deceiving themselves: it's a prayer, for Chrissake! Prayers cannot be overblown!) theme of 'See Me Feel Me', for example, is reprised four times throughout the album, but that don't make it any more boring. And if you do not shed tears over the gorgeous ballad '1921', you must have a heart of stone - and, by the way, do you realize that '1921' is actually a blues number? Eh? Nobody seems to realize that!

Even the shorter tracks that were primarily needed for unfurling the plot are OK: this is a rare thing in rock operas, since usually 'plot-related' songs are the weak links in that genre - when you're too busy with composing the lyrics, the music is necessarily saved for later. Not here. Ever heard the great hit numbers 'There's A Doctor', 'Miracle Cure', 'Do You Think It's Alright' and 'Tommy Can You Hear Me'? Well, wait, wait, of course they weren't hits - the longest of these numbers is one and a half minutes long, and the shortest is about twelve seconds long. They're all great, though - melodic, catchy and a bit funny. Now that's what I call real care for melody. And, just to add a saving touch of humor, both John and Keith contribute little tidbitds of their own. John's 'Cousin Kevin' and 'Do You Think It's Alright/Fiddle About' deal with poor Tommy being mistreated by really bad dudes, while Keith's 'Tommy's Holiday Camp' is a boyscout tune shamelessly inserted between the serious stuff. The fact that Townshend let these bits be incorporated is very important. After all, it's laughter that's gonna save the world, ain't it? The saving touch of humour! How can one really complain about the bombast and bloatedness of the opera when John comes up and growls: 'I'm your wicked Uncle Ernie/I'm glad you can't see or hear me/As I fiddle about, fiddle about, fiddle about...' Pete used to complain about the tune's cruelty (actually, Uncle Ernie sodomizes poor Tommy), but that's about the same as complaining about the cruelty of 'Boris The Spider': poor, poor Boris...

And what about the sound? The sound is great! Rumours say that Pete wanted to push up some strings and horns and orchestras, but he just hadn't had time for that 'cos there was little food left in the larder and the company was pressing him on so that he could finally pay for his broken guitars. And maybe that's good, because I shudder at the thought of the original Tommy sounding like that movie synthesizer-itis version. As it is, acoustic and electric guitars ring out loud and clear, the bass and drum work are outstanding as usual, and Daltrey finally shows us that he has mastered his voice, whether it be macho clamouring in 'Pinball Wizard' or the gentle, loving notes of 'See Me Feel Me'. Of course, this sounded nothing like the original Who, but all these changes were only for the better. Of course, the sound can seem pretty monotonous after seventy-five minutes, but in that case you'd better just split the listening process in two parts so as not to spoil the impression. The actual tunes are all swell.

So why only a 9? Well, unfortunately as it may seem, the 'Oo managed to blow it even here. Prolific as he was, Pete just couldn't produce enough material for a double album. So he decided to take the wonderful 'Rael/Sparks' theme and have some fun with it. Unfortunately, this results in a ten-minute bore called 'Underture' (a silly pun) which only serves to show that the theme was so perfect it was impossible to variegate it. So he just redoes it over and over again for what seems like ages until I find my finger pushing the 'Forward' button. Also, a couple of 'plot' songs aren't that good, notably the slow ballad 'Welcome' where Tommy invites people to his holiday camp (Pete eventually realized it himself, so it was dropped from the stage version). But apart from these little problems, there's absolutely nothing wrong about this album.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15

The best live rock'n'roll album ever.


Track listing: 1) Heaven And Hell; 2) I Can't Explain; 3) Fortune Teller; 4) Tattoo; 5) Young Man Blues; 6) Substitute; 7) Happy Jack; 8) I'm A Boy; 9) A Quick One While He's Away; 10) Amazing Journey/Sparks; 11) Summertime Blues; 12) Shakin' All Over; 13) My Generation; 14) Magic Bus.

I realize it's a common place - calling Leeds the best live rock album, but hey, what can I do? It's stronger than me... In case you're not competent: The Who may have been the third best studio rock band ever, but they were certainly the best live rock band ever. At least, at the time when Leeds was released. The old version included only six songs, three of them covers. The recent remastered version adds a whole eight more, thus making it a much more efficient and finished product. The effect you get from listening to this stuff is awesome. I mean, at first it sounds like a horrible cacophony; but after a couple of listens, when your ears grow used to the sound, you'll slowly come to realize that the murky noise generated by the band is actually just a shield under which resides some masterful riffing, fantastically fluent bass lines, steady drumming and powerful singing. And the next stage is to recognize that the 'murky noise' actually helps produce such a magnificent effect on the listener; namely, if Townshend weren't drenching all of his riffs and solos in that dirty distortion, loudness and quasi-chaos, the band would have hardly been any more interesting on stage than, say, Iron Butterfly.

Most of the songs on here are old hits, but I assure you they are very hard to recognize. 'Happy Jack'? It isn't a lightweight, bass-dominated pop ditty any more - it's a powerful rock tune with a roaring guitar and Daltrey sounding as if he was singing 'Rule, Britannia!', not 'Happy Jack wasn't tall, but he was a man'. 'I'm A Boy'? Where are those sissy backing vocals and soft guitar lines (not that I have anything against these in the studio version)? They are replaced by powerful windmills!

'Sparks'? Oh, yeah, 'Sparks'? Where's that classical guitar strumming? No, no, be prepared for a monstrous assault on your eardrums, like a thousand wild rhinoceros! It's hardly possible to think that that thunderstorm on stage was being created by just two guitars and a drumset, but it is so - no overdubs.

'Magic Bus'? The former three-minute Bo Diddley-ish single has been transformed into an 8-minute theatrical piece with Roger and Pete bartering for the right to drive the magic dingus. And Pete's riffing at the beginning of the track, when he duels with his own echo coming off the walls, is probably the best example of his amazing guitar technique on the album... maybe even in general. Meanwhile, John sticks to his simple bass riff, distorting it so far that he almost gives the impression of steadily, calmly drilling the stage. Listening to it intently in headphones drives you crazy.

'My Generation'? Forget it! It's a 15-minute suite, built on loads of driving riffs, some taken from Tommy, some probably invented right on the place! Oh, that Pete! He knows how to produce a carefully placed riff now and then. More important, he knows how to make a 15-minute improvisation really interesting: unlike Cream, he doesn't just stick to a monotonous, occasionally boring solo, but instead leads the band into a set of different grooves, all built on these captivating riffs. Some will sneer and say that he does that only because he simply cannot solo like Clapton, but that's all right by me. He finds the perfect substitute. Not that he can't solo at all, mind you: the few solos he plays are no slouch, either. The opening 'Heaven And Hell' (an apocalyptic tune written by Entwistle) should put Jimmy Page to shame, not because it's more perfect technically, but because it really gets your blood pumping without being too self-indulgent and show-off-ey.

The best thing about this furious rock machine, however, are the three covers (the re-mastered version adds a fourth one, 'Fortune Teller', but for me it's really a letdown: it starts off slowly and boringly, and even though it kicks off in the middle, it's too late to get interested already. The Stones made it much more efficient, I'm forced to admit). Mose Allison's 'Young Man Blues' is my favourite live number by the band (although I prefer the version on Kids): menacing sharp opening riffs, Roger's famous vocal battle with Moon's drums, and then the furious middle passage with Pete squeezing everything out of his Gibson. To me, this is what rock'n'roll was all about: fast, angry, uncompromising and intoxicating, with a good deal of teenage angst thrown in so that the fury and anger wouldn't seem pointless or aimless. Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues' is also reshaped beyond recognition and also turned into a hard rock fiesta, this time with all the band on parade: Pete beating out that famous eight-note riff, Roger screaming out the lines about the kid who didn't go to work, Keith crashing his cymbals as usual and John adding incredible bass runs and the deep-voiced 'boss lines'. Finally, the Pirates' 'Shakin' All Over' closes off the covers with Roger overdoing himself (who could have thought it was the same guy that whined James Brown's 'I Don't Mind' on their debut LP and roared the mighty 'SHAKIN' ALL OUUUUUVEEEEEEEER!' on here?) and Pete having fun with a chaotic guitar solo.

Oh, I forgot one more thing. Remember what I said 'bout that 'A Quick One' mini-opera on their second LP? Well, it might have sounded feeble there, but this concert version redeems it totally. It's been slightly shortened, some of the most stupid bits have been thrown out, the rest has been speeded up and tightened, and the result is eight minutes of pure fun, powerful guitar and great harmonies. Unfortunately, the mix does not do justice to the singing; for a truly unique live version of 'A Quick One' check out Kids again.

There is, however, a slight sense of uncertainty and tiredness beaming through the general excitement. You won't be able to notice it if you haven't heard any live stuff from 1969, but if you have, you'll be able to notice that Pete's playing is somewhat more 'generic' and less improvised than it used to be. Considering the fact that he ought to have been trying hard that evening (after all, they were recording it), this is even more foreboding. And if you read the interview given on that day (included in the booklet), you'll see that the band certainly wasn't on cloud nine at the time. Sad, but true: Leeds was at least several months late. They were already beginning to exhale, and playing Tommy for the billionth time wasn't much of a consolation, too. Oh well. 'You can't always get what you want', as fellow Mick once said. At least we got Leeds! And now, come to think of it, we got that other one, too... just take a look forward...



Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15

'SMILE, YOU BUGGERS! Pretend it's Christmas.'


Track listing: 1) Heaven And Hell; 2) I Can't Explain; 3) Young Man Blues; 4) I Don't Even Know Myself; 5) Water; 6) Overture; 7) It's A Boy; 8) 1921; 9) Amazing Journey; 10) Sparks; 11) Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker); 12) Christmas; 13) The Acid Queen; 14) Pinball Wizard; 15) Do You Think It's Alright; 16) Fiddle About; 17) Tommy Can You Hear Me; 18) There's A Doctor; 19) Go To The Mirror; 20) Smash The Mirror; 21) Miracle Cure; 22) I'm Free; 23) Tommy's Holiday Camp; 24) We're Not Gonna Take It; 25) Summertime Blues; 26) Shakin' All Over; 27) Substitute; 28) My Generation; 29) Naked Eye; 30) Magic Bus.

This is actually an archive release: certainly, it would be quite stupid to release this stuff as soon as it was recorded, what with Live At Leeds having just come out and all. Recently, though, there's been a lot of uproar concerning the lack of officially released early Who-candy, so some tweaky record company hastily reconstructed this totally embarrassing piece of shitty sounding old crap and....

No, no! What am I talking about? The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl? This is a great archive document! Believe me, even if you have already emptied your purse on the Leeds hotcake, you won't regret indulging yourself once more. Pete Townshend himself said that this was one of their best nights, and there may be a grain of truth in this saying. What distinguishes this album from Leeds is primarily the fact that it's longer (more expensive, too, though), and particularly impressive is the inclusion of the entire Tommy chestnut (except for 'Welcome', which was practically never played live, and 'Sally Simpson', 'Sensation', and 'Cousin Kevin', which were probably not played on that particular gig), instead of the short 'Amazing Journey/Sparks' bit on Leeds. Besides that, we have an interesting cover selection (an unedited version of the 'Shakin' All Over' medley, including a magnificent 'Spoonful' and - believe it or not - a 'Twist And Shout'!!), and two cuts from the already beginning to develop Lifehouse project.

Oh, yeah. The sound. The sound is completely different from the Leeds sound. Leeds was somewhat, err, 'restrained', if the word 'restrained' is appliable to The Who. This is perfectly understandable: the hall was small, the audience was intelligent and polite, and moreover, they were recording it for the official release, and Pete was feeling slightly depressed, which is always a serious influence on his playing. The Isle of Wight gathering, if you're not too familiar with the environment, was a gang of bloodthirsty, stone-heavy, braindead motherfuckers inherited directly from Woodstock and numbering in hundreds of thousands. And good old Pete always felt somewhat enraged about such massive swarms of idiots, which results in his using the guitar more like a machine-gun than a musical instrument. In fact, if I might be permitted to use this metaphor, he practically executes the audience with his playing. Which, by the way, is often sloppy and out of tune. But hey, play a couple of windmills on your guitar and I'll be damned if it don't go out of tune forever...

Seriously, now, this sloppiness and Pete's frequent abandon of diligent melody in favour of making more noise is what turns a lot of people away from this album. I know this because I originally shared the same feeling: there was a bit too much noise even for me, who's a rabid Who freak. But put yourself in the background, picture the excitement generated by this kind of sound, the romanticism and sincerity of the performance, turn up the volume and you're bound to be carried away with the very first notes of 'Heaven And Hell'. And on 'Young Man Blues' Pete practically goes out of control totally, crashing and bashing around with ten times more zest than Jagger could ever muster on stage. (He had to change guitar after the song, as pictured in the video). Hey, did you know Pete has got more than a hundred seams on his right hand? I didn't! You might think a windmill is something easy and stupid - it's not, I assure you. Just go ahead and try.

So I just suppose you forgive Pete his multiple mistakes on this album (I'm the first to admit there are many of these), because his peak energy more than makes up for it. The best way is to listen to this album in headphones with the volume turned up as loud as possible - you'll know what I mean.

But there's not just Pete's frustration on this album. Keith is in great form as usual, and John - well, John is always good. You can't go wrong with John. What surprises me most of all, though, is Roger's voice - I have never heard him sing better than on here. Tommy goes off like a hydrogen bomb, and not in the least due to his humble efforts; however, the cover versions are what distinguish him most of all (oh, that 'LIIIES ABOUT IT!' line on 'Spoonful'), plus Pete's 'Water' on which Robert Plant is put to shame. Shame on you, Robert Plant! Go sulk in the corner.

So I'm really not at all bothered with the overlaps with Leeds. Who cares? Good old Pete always had enough improvisation power in him to make a single song sound in several entirely different ways. 'Summertime Blues' is probably inferior to the Leeds version, since the solo is a bit shabby (it almost sounds as if Pete was caught off-guard when he started throwing out the lead lines), and he misses that tremendous power chord that ends the song and segues immediately into 'Shakin' All Over'. But that one is far more impressive than the Leeds version, on the other hand - Roger yells like a demon, and the energy is tremendous.

As for the 'newer' cuts, 'Water' is an incredible song. At about nine minutes long, it slowly unfurls itself into a bombastic, unprecedented epic where 'water' stands as a metaphor for life energy and artistic inspiration, and Roger's screams of 'WE NEED WATER!' coming from the very depths of the band's collective soul. Along the way, Pete creates a couple more thunderstorms, cleverly alternating passages of utter chaos with crystal clear lead lines and catchy riffs created simply out of nowhere, before bringing it down with a bang on the hilarious accapella ending. And 'I Don't Know Myself' is a beautiful, confessional song featuring Keith happily tapping away on his favourite little wooden block (you should have watched his face on the accompanying video). Oh yeah, the band also does a short excerpt of 'Naked Eye' in the medley section... which is excellent.

Buy this album, now. And try to get the accompanying video, too: it has its flaws (see my review at the bottom of the page), but it's an absolutely essential purchase for all Who fans, young and old. This is a ten, a damn solid ten, and a solid fifteen on the overall rating scale. Thanks Goodness the band isn't planning on any more official releases of live shows from that era - I probably wouldn't have any other choice but to award tens to all of them. Whew. Judging by their form on Woodstock and at the London Coliseum in 1969, for instance, these two potential albums would also be worthy candidates for tens.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

A great album, but, like all great albums, it's been overrated.


Track listing: 1) Baba O'Riley; 2) Bargain; 3) Love Ain't For Keeping; 4) My Wife; 5) Song Is Over; 6) Getting In Tune; 7) Going Mobile; 8) Behind Blue Eyes; 9) Won't Get Fooled Again; [BONUS:] 10) Pure And Easy; 11) Baby Don't You Do It; 12) Naked Eye; 13) Water; 14) Too Much Of Anything; 15) I Don't Even Know Myself; 16) Behind Blue Eyes (alternate version).

This is a very controversial album - for me. It's often regarded as The Who's best and one of the best rock albums ever. Me, I concede there is something about that statement. But then again, let us stay away from the hype and be cool-headed. Let's just pretend we've never heard anything about this album. Like, say, there's been a nuclear war or something and somebody's found a half-broken dirty old LP among the ruins of an ancient music shop and managed to recover its sound. What would that poor guy discover?

Well, first of all he'd discover nine prime songs, all of them flawlessly performed and produced. He'd find out that Mr Big Nose has been busy with synthesizers lately, and for that reason his beloved guitar had had to hand some of its functions to tons and tons of keyboards. He'd find out that Mr Fringed Mike-Swirler had finally developed a fantastic singing voice (or, should we say, 'roar') that would eventually let him down in about twenty-five years due to overexposure and abuse, but back then it was just swell. He'd find out that Mr Ox's base lines are as fluent as ever, and Mr Nutsdrum had acquired an absolutely new drum sound (I still don't know what it is but it sounds completely unlike your average sound produced by your average drum. It has a kind of 'flat' sound probably designed to increase its outstanding position. What is it? A production device or is he pounding it with a dried piece of hamburger?)

What's still more important, Pete's Melody Maker is still running perfectly. At least five of these bummers are among my favourite rock songs of all time. The opening 'Baba O'Riley' has a fantastic build-up: opening with a synthesizer loop, it eventually augments the sound with mighty piano, drums, Roger's roar and (later) guitar. The main riff is simple as a doornail, but none the less majestic because of that, and the entire song goes off splendidly with its story of (as far as I can tell) post-Woodstock disillusionment (c'mon now - did Pete ever have any illusions about Woodstock?), finishing in a hilarious fiddle-driven jig (saving touch of humour goes again?) 'Bargain' is Pete's prayer to the above-mentioned 'Baba' (Meher Baba, a kind of Indian guru freak who Pete unexpectedly fell in love with), with highlights such as Roger's 'the best I ever HAAAD' line and inventive synth parts. 'Going Mobile' is a funny home-made travelogue-rock sung by Pete, and it's the most modest song on this album, highlighted by a real weird guitar solo; for some reason many people seem to hate the song, but I simply don't know why - I think it has one of the most interesting acoustic rhythm tracks recorded by the band, for instance.

And, of course, no classic rock radio station can get away without paying its dues to the two closing tracks. 'Behind Blue Eyes' is The Who's 'Yesterday' ('nuff said); it is a wee wee bit spoiled for me by the bombastic mid-section which brings it dangerously close to arena-rock level, but everything here is so painfully sincere and heartfelt that I simply don't have any rights to doubt the song's artistic merits. As for the closing 'Won't Get Fooled Again' (which you probably know as 'Ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta BO-BOOM!'), it is a gruff rocker obviously set as a counterpoint for the opening 'Baba' - with more reflections on the post-hippie disillusionment ('meet the new boss, same as the old boss'). Plus you have your mighty 'YEAAAAH!' by Roger at the end - arguably the most powerful roar ever captured on a rock record. Fine! Perfect!

So why not a 10? Well, it's because of the other four songs. (Oh, wait, three songs: 'My Wife' is The Ox's groovy contribution about his family problems, and even though the lyrics are hard to distinguish 'cos John is buried deep under the drums and guitars, there was enough drive in this song to make it a stage favouirite).

See, the whole bunch was originally planned as yet another rock opera/musical/movie called Lifehouse, whose plot was too complicated and bombastic to be described here. Suffice it to say that it was about a little boy called Bobby (eh? what's that, an obsession? Tommy? Bobby? Jimmy?) who set himself to finding the Lost Chord and flinging the world into Rock Nirvana in order to save it from the bad guys. A concept the likes of which I'd probably be able to reproduce in my 7th grade. Thanks God the idea had never happened... Along the way, Pete tried out several groovy ideas - like, for instance, the idea that at a certain point the band was to become one with the audience; it was reflected in the song 'Join Together' that never made it to the album but appeared as a single (and a fun one at that). Not to mention Pete's 'person-programming' when he used to encode people's personal data with synthesizer patterns ('Baba O'Riley's nagging loop, for instance, reflects either Meher Baba's or Pete's own personal data, I've forgotten which); later on he would join them all in one and bring out the 'ultimate chord' that woulsd be the salvation of mankind... you see now, this was undoubtedly the most Gargantuan project ever undertaken in rock music, maybe in art as a whole, and it couldn't but burst, as Pete himself humbly acknowledges in the liner notes. It's actually quite funny - disillusioned by hippes and Woodstock and witnessing the crumble of Flower Power, Pete preferred to surround himself with personally crafted illusions instead. What was he really thinking? It's obvious, then, that Lifehouse must have left him completely exhausted - and it's all the more amazing how he could still have forces left for Quadrophenia...

But as you might guess, lots of tunes intended for the bubble of Lifehouse were overblown and bombastic because of that, so bombastic that I even feel impossible to sing along with them without blushing. One of these ('Pure And Easy') was released only later, but, unfortunately, two of these tracks found their way onto Who's Next. These are the terrible 'Song Is Over' which starts as a beautiful Pete ballad before turning itself into a macho stupid anthem resembling the worst excesses of Russian rock (I hate Roger screaming 'I'll sing my song out to the infinite spaces'), and the somewhat more pretty 'Getting In Tune' is still spoiled by the same kind of machinery. Also, the cute short musical link 'Love Ain't For Keeping' just can't be taken seriously, even though it is rather pretty (an extended electric version can be found on the re-issue of Odds And Sods: many people actually prefer it to the original).

But it's not just these three songs that spoil the picture. There are some unnecessary instrumental passages in other songs, and damn it, the songs are too long! Nine songs on a greatest Who album? Two of them suck? One of them is too short? Nope, doesn't cut it for me. The idiocy resides in the fact that they could have easily cut most of these songs' lengths and included more original material - like 'Water' or 'Naked Eye', hell, maybe if this was a double album, it would help. A solid 9, though. But the best was still ahead...

Note also that the re-issued version is well worth having. Besides featuring amusing and self-mocking liner notes by Pete in person, it also adds a half dozen tracks of the 1970-71 epoch, thus attempting to re-create the atmosphere of Lifehouse in its germination. It's too bad that 'Too Much Of Anything' coincides with the version on Odds And Sods; however, the version of 'Pure And Easy' is an alternate one, and the version of 'Naked Eye' is a live one, and a great live one at that. There's also a ferocious recording of the old classic 'Baby Don't You Do It' with good old Mountain hero Leslie West on lead guitar, a six-minute live 'Water' (good version, but inferior to the Isle Of Wight one; maybe it's just because it is too short - 'Water' has to be endured throughout all of its nine/ten minutes in order to get the desired effect), and a lovely B-side called 'I Don't Know Myself' which you can also hear live on Isle Of Wight. Whatever the odds, all of this material is prime stuff... and now that I think of it, a weak ten is not out of the question, either.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15

Art-rock at its best. If you don't like it, stick to the Sex Pistols.


Track listing: 1) I Am The Sea; 2) The Real Me; 3) Quadrophenia; 4) Cut My Hair; 5) The Punk And The Godfather; 6) I'm One; 7) The Dirty Jobs; 8) Helpless Dancer; 9) Is It In My Head; 10) I've Had Enough; 11) 5:15; 12) Sea And Sand; 13) Drowned; 14) Bell Boy; 15) Doctor Jimmy; 16) The Rock; 17) Love Reign O'er Me.

At last. If the Who have anything which comes close to a masterpiece, it's here. It's now. It's the great Quad. Yet another rock opera, it distinguishes itself by having a distinct philosophical message (unlike Tommy, whose message is too 'encoded'), it... oops. I just discovered I wrote 'distinguishes itself by having a distinct...' Poor me. OK, let me rephrase that: what makes Quad outstanding is its easy-to-decipher inner sense. (I guess this works better). Next, it is not as pretentious as the aborted Lifehouse (how can a praise for love be pretentious?), and not as self-indulgent as Tommy. I know lots of people would probably shrug their shoulders at this remark of mine, but I say it now and say it loud: Quad is not bombast epithomized! Quad is just a humble prayer of an outcast, written with elaborate care and astonishingly sincere. In fact, I could have hated the overblown pathos of songs like 'Love Reign O'er Me' if it weren't for the fact that I know for sure it comes straight from Townshend's romantic heart, unlike, say, something like King Crimson's 'Epitaph' - a similar gesture of grandiosity, but, however beautiful that one is, it's rather fake and sterile as compared to Pete's confessional melodies.

To be more precise, Quadrophenia narrates the story of a young lad name of Jimmy and his troubles in the modern world (Pete wasn't that imaginative with the names of his protagonists - have you observed that? Tommy, Bobby, Jimmy... Where's Eddy?). Jimmy is a Mod; he feeds on 'leapers' and drivers a scooter. He's thrown out of his home by his parents for his rebellious life, slowly gets disillusioned about... well, just about everything, including his gal who left him, his work that never brings satisfaction, his former pals who get sucked in by 'normal life', finally in life itself. So he gets himself a boat and sails towards a lonely rock in the ocean, and there he discovers that everything is all right - it's just that the sense of life is contained in love and love alone, and nothing else. Revelation? Perhaps. It's unclear whether he drowns himself after that or not; I believe he does. The plot itself is quite convoluted - believe me, it's not as blatantly simple as I just described. Jimmy's visions, his reflections on life and its sense, his deeds and Townshend's judgements are all expressed in a mature, perfect form, far from the interesting, but somewhat naive and raw mysticism of Tommy.

And the music? Continuing the tradition of Who's Next and carrying it forward, Townshend places the main accent on synths and horns, with just a rare touch of guitar now and then - I mean, there's actually a lot of guitarwork here, both traditional (power chords) and innovative (lyrical, well-thoght-out solos, quite untypical for Pete), but trumpets and keyboards do tend to overshadow the sound. However, as we know from the precedent of Sgt Pepper, it doesn't matter what instrument you're playing. It sure does matter how you're playing it, though, not to mention the melodies you're creating with it. And the melodies here are first-rate! Like in Tommy, there are several main themes in this opera: actually, there are four of them, each corresponding to a single member of the band - the most bizarre element of the plot. These four 'faces' are supposed to reflect Jimmy's schizophrenic, split personality, hence the name 'Quadrophenia' which literally translates as 'four-appearance-ness' from... from... err... Greek-Latin ('Tetraphenia' would be a better name, actually, but can we blame Pete for confusing Greek and Latin? Guess he was not that literate).

The themes crop up from time to time, quite normally repeating themselves several times according to opera laws; yet this is in no way boring, as they usually come up in different arrangements. At their worst they're just funny and catchy: 'Helpless Dancer', Roger's theme, is built on a nagging, a trifle irritating repetitive guitar/synth melody with a slightly Eastern accent; it's supposed to symbolize Jimmy's helplessness in the view of all the world's problems. And Keith's theme, 'Bell Boy', presenting Jimmy in the guise of his 'sold-out' friend who used to be a mod but traded his old style for a low, but quiet social position, is powerful, rhythmic and quite riff-heavy. At their best, however, they're breathtaking. John's theme 'Is It Me?', supposedly Jimmy's 'romantic' facet, is the most touching and intimate moment on the album. And, of course, there's 'Love Reign O'er Me' - Pete's theme, the beautiful, bombastic and hope-inducing climax of the record. As it seems to me, 'Love' is Pete's most efficient try at a sound that is both epic and personal at the same time: that's why I don't feel turned off by the song, like I used to feel about, say, 'Song Is Over'. It's like a gigantic, Gargantuan, yet simultaneously humble and sincere prayer.

Quadrophenia is also Pete's attempt at a little sound-trickery: there's quite a lot of various sound effects and gimmicks on the album. However, the sound effects never tend to take over your attention: unlike albums like Pink Floyd's The Wall where this kind of stuff is always at the center of attention, here it is just a slight moment of nice decoration (storm waves on 'I Am The Sea', train noises on '5:15', etc.) supposed to complement the musical essence. And, speaking of musical essence, I could never understand people complaining about the monotonousness of this record. The songs are mostly great - diverse, entertaining, built on solid, memorable melodies. Nobody, as far as I know, can ever resist the unstoppable rocking beat of 'The Real Me' - the 'prologue' to the opera where Jimmy (Roger) is furious about his personality problems. It's prime Who at their best - Townshend churning out power chords like crazy, Entwistle contributing some of the most mind-blowing, awesome bass lines of his career and Keith pounding away in all the right places (I'll take the opportunity to say that Keith's drumwork on many of the songs here should be studied by all living drummers, beginners and professionals alike - the things he does on '5:15' or 'Drowned' are unimaginable. The man's a genius - how come nobody admits it?) Or, what do you think of 'The Punk And The Godfather'? That introductory riff ain't God-like? Sure is.

For your typical 'mixed-up ballad', look up Keith's singing on 'Bell Boy', which alternates Roger's scornful verses with Keith's gentle impersonation of the 'bell boy': 'Bell Boy! I got to keep running now. Bell Boy! Keep my lip buttoned down. Bell Boy! Carry this baggage out. Bell Boy! Always running at someone's heel. You know how I feel, always running at someone's heel'...

For something more complex and 'artsy', look up the 'overture' and, well, 'underture' (they aren't dubbed that, but it's kinda obvious) - the title track and 'The Rock'. 'Quadrophenia' is perhaps the most brilliant art-rock composition that Pete ever got out of himself: the four themes are beautifully arranged and manage to hold you in a state of never-ending catharsis for a complete five or six minutes. The bleeding guitarwork in the 'Is It Me?' part and the desperate, but solemn and majestic 'thump - thump - thump - thump' of the 'Love Reign O'er Me' part really make your life worthwhile - if only to hear this kind of stuff and die... eh, sorry, a little carried away, are we?

For something simpler - if you're a simplistic kind of guy - look up the sensible, acoustic-dominated 'I'm One', or Jimmy's melancholic complaint about his home problems in 'Cut My Hair'. Or, if ballads do not suit you, how about 'Drowned'? That's a plain old rocker in the plain old style. I used to treat it as filler until I had the chance to see the live version of it as recorded on the 30 Years Of Maximum R'n'B video where they really made this blues-rocker fire up and get smokin' all over, and this love for the live version has slowly crept over the initial feeling of disgust for the studio one.

For more brass, check out '5:15', a tune that's supposed to take part on a train and reflects Jimmy's hallucinogenous visions after the usual 'leapers' treat. The brass helps the song roll along smoothly, and, like I mentioned above, Keith's drumming is immaculate - check out the train-imitating patterns at the end.

Yeah, of course, every rock opera has its fillers - which is simply inevitable. For me, the fillers here are mostly on Side 2 of the first LP: the synth-driven 'The Dirty Jobs' sounds Broadwayish, the stiff ballad 'Is It In My Head' sounds Hollywoodish, and the closing 'I've Had Enough' just sounds slightly fake, especially since it consists of three entirely different parts (one of them being a reprise of 'Love Reign O'er Me') that do not seem to fit in; that is, they do fit in thematically, but musically the seams are a bit too rough. But once again, even the filler can be enjoyable - at times. Nothing particularly nasty about it. And even if this is not a 100 percent masterpiece (then again, nothing is), it's still a shattering listen. And it doesn't wear thin on me! Not yet! I don't suppose it ever will...

In any case, the fact that this extensive double album was completely made by ONE person - Mr Peter Townshend, who wrote all the melodies, all the lyrics, played all the guitars and all the synths, and mostly produced the album himself, without a doubt, makes Mr Peter Townshend one of the greatest persons in the world rock'n'roll music. This Album Alone - not counting everything else he'd done. Therefore, I can fully forgive him for everything that came out after - he was so drained and exhausted by this mastodontic effort that he would never be able to come up with something even vaguely reminiscent of the glory and brilliance of the album. Think about it - whenever you condemn It's Hard, do not forget that you're condemning the very man who wrote Quadrophenia....

The booklet for the album is horrendous, though. All of these black-and-white photos just don't turn me on, you know... I would rather prefer some informative liner notes, like, you know, like the ones that came with all the other reissues.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

Just what its title suggests. Some good stuff messed with bizarre crap. The reissue's well worth your money, though.

Best song: NAKED EYE

Track listing: 1) I'm The Face; 2) Leaving Here; 3) Baby Don't You Do It; 4) Summertime Blues; 5) Under My Thumb; 6) Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand; 7) My Way; 8) Faith In Something Bigger; 9) Glow Girl; 10) Little Billy; 11) Young Man Blues; 12) Cousin Kevin Model Child; 13) Love Ain't For Keeping; 14) Time Is Passing; 15) Pure And Easy; 16) Too Much Of Anything; 17) Long Live Rock; 18) Put The Money Down; 19) We Close Tonight; 20) Postcard; 21) Now I'm A Farmer; 22) Water; 23) Naked Eye.

A slightly more obscure album of outtakes selected and cleaned up by John while the other band members were following their own fortunes. The good Ox thus lent a hand to the band in that (a) 1974 did not pass out without a Who album and (b) some of the real good stuff has been given out instead of dusting on the shelves. Still, one should always approach an outtake album with caution since, well, outtakes are usually something the band does not like from the start, and if even the band itself does not like 'em, why should we? In fact, the only great outtakes album I know seems to be Tattoo You, but most of them were reworked, so it's not a clear-cut case... Oh, never mind. This stuff mostly falls in three categories, one of which is Lifehouse outtakes, the other one is tunes written somewhere around 1972-73 but not directly related to any conceptual project, and the most precious part is earlier stuff which for the most part rules. Funny enough, they decided to include even their first single which was yet recorded under the High Numbers moniker ('I'm The Face', a dorky mod anthem set to the melody of Slim Harpo's 'Got Love If You Want It' and lyrics of early mod guru Pete Meaden). It's nothing special, but it is funny, and especially weird-looking in this context. The early stuff also includes the anti-smoke groove 'Little Billy' which was originally made for a cancer society or something like that but rejected because the company thought it was too scary (ha-ha! little Billy didn't mind!), and the gorgeous ballad 'Faith In Something Bigger' with some unsurpassed vocal harmonies and an excellent, soaring guitar solo (modestly hailed in the liner notes by Pete as "the worst I've heard"). Apparently it could have easily fit in on Sell Out. Plus, the shorty 'Glow Girl' provides some insights into the beginnings of Tommy - and did you know that 'Tommy' was supposed to be a girl in the first place? All these songs are very far from being classics, but that's no big reason to dismiss 'em none.

Unfortunately, the 70's stuff is not that good. Sure, it has 'Naked Eye', one of their most fascinating rockers with some of Townshend's most hard-hitting, socially biting, pessimistic lyrics (check out an early, abbreviated, one-verse version on Isle Of Wight, as well as a live version as a bonus track to the re-issue of Who's Next). It's even a bit theatrical, with Roger impersonating the "power guy" and Pete playing the "bitter cynic", thus leading to their more famous vocal interplay on 'Punk And Godfather'. A classic track by all means. But then this stuff also includes 'Pure And Easy', which is the kind of real bombastic stuff I dislike about the Who; it's in the same vein as 'Song Is Over', with even more of that smelly 'universalist' flair, and even its good melody and brilliant, understated, economic guitar solo don't save it from ultimately getting my pukes. And the two songs of lesser cult status - 'Put The Money Down' and 'Too Much Of Anything' - are pretty average: no wonder they were left off of Who's Next. Too slow, plodding and long; can't say that the former lacks power (Roger screams his head off just fine), or that the latter lacks prettiness, but they cause way too little emotional resonance to justify the length and pomp.

The real dreck, though, comes with the even later stuff: Entwistle's bleak travelogue 'Postcard', which unexplicably is used as the album opener, just doesn't bother to be melodious (sadly, somewhere around this time Entwistle's talents at songwriting slowly began to sink down the drain. Maybe that was because he ceased to incorporate black humour? Who can tell?), and 'Now I'm A Farmer' is one of Pete's least convincing grooves. I do like Keith's hilarious impersonation of a gardener at the end of the track, though - pretty much saves the whole experience for me. Oh well, at least they bothered to have 'Long Live Rock' here. In case you haven't heard it, it's a brilliant anthem to rock music as a genre, and far surpasses the Stones' 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll' in that respect. Might seem a little dumb, but hey, it is meant to seem a little dumb - anthem or not, it's obviously supposed to be taken in an ironic key, and that's the way I take it. Don't know about anybody else. Still, an album that has at least one duffer for every gem is not that big of an achievement, I guess, and my original rating here was a weak seven - which is still pretty good by anybody's standards, and pretty good considered that these are outtakes, but...

PS. Hey, but wait! The new re-release of the album is greatly improved! It has almost twice as many tracks as the original, bringing the album's running time to 77 minutes, and some of them are good. And what's more, it's not just that they are good: actually, none of the bonus tracks are great, but the way they added 'em and rearranged the running order, you get a fascinating "discobiography" of the Who - from their earliest stunts like 'I'm The Face' and 'Leaving Here', through the poppy period, the rocky period, and the mature philosophic period. Kinda like the Beatles' Anthology popped into one seventy-minute discs, only most of the stuff are not raw demo versions, but real accomplished songs you ain't never heard before.

Among the general "additional" goodies you'll find such groovy novelties as studio recordings of 'Summertime Blues' and 'Young Man Blues' (both inferior to the live recordings, quite naturally, but still fun to listen to, especially since these are practically the only pieces of ferocious feedbacky, distorted rock'n'roll they recorded in the 1967-69 pop art era); more Lifehouse outtakes (a 'heavy' version of 'Love Ain't For Keepin'' with Pete on vocals, the gorgeous, not-a-bit-overblown ballad 'Time Is Passing'; the studio version of 'Water' - again, inferior to the live takes, because hey, 'Water' is supposed to be ten minutes long, not four, goddammit, but, surprisingly, the distorted solo at the end is truly excellent), and some early bits of amusement (an old acetate of 'Leaving Here'/'Baby Don't You Do It'). Missed anything? Oh sure! What about the hilarious cover of Eddie Cochran's 'My Way'? The pleasant organ version of 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' with Al Kooper on said instrument? The pathetic bluesy "introduction" to 'Cousin Kevin'? The "save-the-Stones" cover of 'Under My Thumb'? The... wait, there's just too much of that stuff here. Hell, it ain't exactly the greatest music these guys ever recorded, but it's all so diverse, intriguing, well-performed and involving that it's no problem for me to upgrade the overall rating one point. Get the reissue, not the original, and screw all you pessimists.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

Depressing, and, unfortunately, not very satisfying musically. Where are the melodies?


Track listing: 1) Slip Kid; 2) However Much I Booze; 3) Squeeze Box; 4) Dreaming From The Waist; 5) Imagine A Man; 6) Success Story; 7) They Are All In Love; 8) Blue Red And Grey; 9) How Many Friends; 10) In A Hand Or A Face.

The worst problem with The Who were certainly Pete's constant nervous breakdowns and midlife crises. And even if all of these things always seemed to emphasize his utmost sincerity and romantic belief in the supernatural powers of music, while fellow colleagues like Mick J went on splendidly and delivered high quality, but far too often fake 'product', all of these fits and downs had no good impact on the music. Basically, Pete was just too keen on laying bare his soul, and forgetting about pure musical quality in the process - something which John Lennon, for instance, never did. The Who By Numbers is probably the most obvious example. Approximately half of this album is very good, though not particularly breathtaking, and approximately half of it is annoying to the extreme. Take a song like 'How Many Friends', for example. It includes a heap of sad, bitter lyrics about Pete being surrounded by sycophants and braindead fans, but the melody is at its best rudimentary. Same goes for the unexpectedly jolly 'However Much I Booze' sung by Pete himself which drags on for about five minutes, based on the same monotonous plodding riff, and achieves practically nothing. See, I just corrected that rating from 7 to 6, because I feel a 7 is too good for this album. The closing 'In A Hand Or A Face' is all built up along a single line ('I'm going round and round'), and it's really bad. Dull and boring. Listenable, that is, but an incredible letdown after the relentless climaxes of Quadrophenia.

But are there any good news? Well, Pete shows that he has managed to preserve at least some creative instincts despite the poor state of mind, 'cos he didn't forget to add at least a couple of prime songs that redeem the failures. Among these I'd first of all include 'Dreaming From The Waist', a beautiful introspective epic with the best melody on here (and great bass swoops from John, too). This one would prove to be a great live highlight as well, and while some might deem it far too personal and rambling, just like most of the other numbers on here, it really has a very smooth and natural flow to it, with a catchy Roger-sung melody and great vocalizing on the chorus. To top it all, Pete squeezes out some particularly dreamy 'weeping' guitar notes, and did I mention the great bass swoops from John? Don't forget the great bass swoops from John, they deserve it fully. Especially the particularly great bass swoops on the coda - these are not just swoops, they're ZOOPS. True, patented ZOOPs from John's bass that any bass player would kill for.

Pete also mellows out (in a good way) on the gorgeous ballad 'Blue Red And Grey', which is an approximate equivalent of 'Song Is Over' without the overblown middle part. A pure Townshend solo number, it is still a classic. What makes it any worse than Lennon's 'Imagine', for instance? That's a question I'd be hard pressed to come up with an answer for. And what's that instrument he's playing? An ukulele? Wow. He really proves himself to be a true multi-instrumentalist on this album, man.

But the other ballads, unfortunately, are just OK ('Imagine A Man'; 'They Are All In Love'), and I don't quite dig Daltrey's tone on this album. Maybe he put a bit too much onto Who's Next and Quadrophenia, or maybe he'd been drinking, but somehow his voice just isn't that energetic any more. Lacks that kind of spark, you see. I suppose Roger was intentionally trying to get himself into the mood that Pete was in when he wrote these songs, because it would be really strange if you tried to sing a depressing or ultra-soft ballad in the patented Dr. Jimmy intonation. Nevertheless, Daltrey just isn't that suited to those intonations, and I miss the lionine roar of yore. Oh, well.

John contributes the decent 'Success Story' about his becoming a rock star, but that's about it. The video accompanying the song (a part of which you can see in the Kids Are Alright movie) was far more intriguing than the song itself, a rather pedestrian rocker with tired and bitter lyrics. And the saving touch of humor? The saving touch of humor is relegated to the jovial album cover where the band are depicted by numbers, indeed, and to the absolutely unexpected country excourse on 'Squeeze Box'. I love it, though, just 'cos it's probably the last funny song on a Who album. For some reason, it's one of the most hated songs in the band's catalog - many people somehow take it for a gross and banal offense when it should have been taken for what it is, a silly, funny, catchy throwaway with Pete proving himself to be a master of accordeon and banjo. That said, the song's selection as the main single from the album and subsequent apparition on hit packages is a rather weird phenomenon, I'll agree.

Overall though, The Who By Numbers is a serious letdown, marking the Who's transformation from a gritty, cutting edge ensemble brimming with innovation and creativity to a stagnated and unhappy unit. Of course, such things can't help but happen sooner or later, and the Who should be proud of themselves to have had nine years of cutting edge (not even the Beatles had as much - the Who are only second to the Stones in that respect), but still, whenever tragedy strucks, it's still a tragedy. Hey, don't you think guys with personal problems should be prohibited to write music? Oh, forget it. See, I'm writing this review in the middle of the night and I'm painfully searching for a bon mot to finish it. I just can't find anything, so let me just put a lot of dots and pretend I said something real significant .......................................................................................... ...................... There! Hope you get my drift!

P. S. Speaking about dots, have you ever tried connecting the dots on the front cover? This stuff actually works!



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

An experimental album, but it shows a renewed interest in music-making.

Best song: WHO ARE YOU

Track listing: 1) New Song; 2) Had Enough; 3) 905; 4) Sister Disco; 5) Music Must Change; 6) Trick Of The Light; 7) Guitar And Pen; 8) Love Is Coming Down; 9) Who Are You; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) No Road Romance; 11) Empty Glass; 12) Guitar And Pen (Olympic '78 Mix); 13) Love Is Coming Down (work-in-progress mix); 14) Who Are You (lost verse mix).

If we talk of controversial albums as those that run the biggest gamut between 'beloved' and 'despised', Who Are You is certainly a worthy candidate for the most controversial Who album ever recorded, as its evaluation varies from 'magnificent, fully confident and profound return to form' to 'tired rehashing of past glories with the band dying out more and more on every following track'. Now while I usually straddle the fence in such cases, Who Are You is one of those cases where I'd rather be agreeing with the former camp. If you ask me (though why should you), this album shows that these guys can have personal problems and write great music all in one time.

Yes, Pete has returned to his deeply treasured synthesizers again, but this time, his synthesizers probably said something nice to him, so he suddenly came up with a patch of beautiful musical ideas just when nobody was probably expecting anything else out of him. While there are no gorgeous synth landscapes of the Quad type any more, Pete is still the master of 'creative loops' and 'epic panoramas'. It's not that this album is good from head to toe, mind you. A couple of tracks still seem incredibly dull: 'Love Is Coming Down', for instance, is a major stinker, a rather unconvincing ballad which suggests that love was not the only thing coming down at the time. Sloppy and diluted, and pompous at the same time, I would have expected a song like that to come from Billy Joel, or a particularly uninspired Elton John, at least; what happened to the tight and precise memorable balladeering melodies of old?

Some other tracks have strange moments of dumbness - '905', for instance, an Entwistle sci-fi tale of a robot which was intended for a soundtrack and it should have stayed right there, 'cos it sounds like belonging to a fantasy movie and not to a Who album, or the Gilbert and Sullivan parody 'Guitar And Pen', even though the latter does feature Daltrey quite prominently and has an overall nice melody. Rid it of the corny falsetto 'your guitar and your pen, your guitar and your pen' chorus and you might just have something there. Even so, only 'Love Is Coming Down' is a definite stinker, as the melodies on these other two songs are still way too good for me to bash 'em into the Panzer tank.

But the rest is a definite upgrade (update? upstate?) from By Numbers, in so many senses: songs where Pete basically comes to his senses and preserves the pessimistic, depressed spirit of that record, but adds batches of memorable riffs and choruses and a couple exciting gimmicks along the way. Near-perfect balance, people! The title track is an absolute Who classic which is not that banal, by the way, considering they didn't have no classics since Quad, and that was already five years ago. You know what the lyrics relate to, don't you? It's all about Pete's unhappy encounter with the police after a particularly rowdy night at some club or bar where he'd been said to encounter a couple Sex Pistols members... Spooky.

And don't forget 'Sister Disco' which isn't an epithet for Donna Summer but is rather a rude name for braindead fans. (Ooh, I can relate, ooh can I relate now! Please let me relate, let me relate, let me relate!) And what about 'Music Must Change' - a creepy little jazzy tune on which Keith couldn't play drums because it had too unusual a tempo (although, to be frank, I don't think that tempo is that complicated - maybe Keith was just seriously stoned on the day of recording?), so they had to record Pete's footsteps instead? Note, though, that Kenney Jones mastered it quite well in concert; be sure to check out the live version on 30 Years of Maximum R'n'B, almost entirely different from the studio one - rowdier, mightier and with a powerful instrumental midsection that comes about as close to imitating a 'musical thunderstorm' as the Who ever did.

And Entwistle's two other contributions are probably the last good songs he ever wrote, and I do mean both the overorchestrated 'Had Enough' and the overmetallized 'Trick Of The Light'. Where's that black humour, though? Instead of these jolly spiders and old misers and whiskey people and pervert uncles we get a robot and a guy trying to find out how good he is in bed. Berk! The only master of black humour in rock, and he threw it all away. Come to think of it, I don't think black humour is that prominent in rock music. It's either bright humour or no humour at all. Maybe they should start to put limericks to rock music? Why not? Oh, well, sorry for digressing, I just wanted to finish this little review of mine by saying that this was the last album they ever did with Moon. SPECIAL NOTE FOR ALL THE FREEDOM-LOVING PEOPLE: Keith Moon died of an overdose of sleeping pills, whether intentional or accidental, nobody is sure (just like nobody is sure about Hendrix or Morrison). Please don't spread the rumour that he choked on his vomit or drowned in a swimming-pool. You might get arrested for slander. And don't say I didn't warn ya!

Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you, actually, why this album is better than the previous one. It's because Pete bothered to write some melodies and managed to stay away from at least some of his personal problems, concentrating more on the general philosophic state of things. You know, the usual stuff people begin meditating about when they enter the mid-life period: where are we heading to, what's gonna happen to our musical legacy, what's the meaning of life in general. But then again, where would we be without Pete's personal problems? We wouldn't have no It's Hard, that's for sure!

The more recent CD re-issue has a bunch of bonus tracks that are nice, but not particularly classic: 'No Road Romance' is a very complaintive, humane ballad with Pete taking lead vocals, but I've never been a great fan of Pete's title track to his solo album Empty Glass, and this group version doesn't look any more prominent to me, although the choice of instrumentation, with that crazy phased rhythm track, can be seductive. You also get alternate mixes of 'Love Is Coming Down' and 'Guitar And Pen' (the weakest tracks! go figure!), and a special 'lost verse mix' of 'Who Are You' - featuring a 'lost verse', sure enough. Important for completists, but casual fans might just stick to their old vinyl versions if they have 'em.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

A poorly conceived soundtrack album, but the previously unavailable live stuff more than makes up for it.


Track listing: 1) My Generation; 2) I Can't Explain; 3) Happy Jack; 4) I Can See For Miles; 5) Magic Bus; 6) Anyway Anyhow Anywhere; 7) Young Man Blues; 8) My Wife; 9) Baba O'Riley; 10) A Quick One While He's Away; 11) Tommy Can You Hear Me; 12) Sparks; 13) Pinball Wizard; 14) See Me Feel Me; 15) Won't Get Fooled Again.

Not exactly a greatest hits compilation - rather a movie soundtrack, but what with a lot of performances never released previously, this can count as an independent album. The song selection is somewhat peculiar, though. The movie (reviewed below) contained tracks not on the soundtrack, and vice versa. And the recent CD version bugs me because they decided to cut out the splendid medley of 'Join Together/Roadrunner/My Generation Blues' played on an exceptionally good night in 1975. Ever heard 'My Generation' performed as a slow menacing blues number gradually picking up steam? Totally fascinating! And with this stupid remaster, all that remains to you is grab the video. So grab it anyway!!!

Some tracks are also annoying 'cos they were all previously available. Well, I guess they decided to put 'Magic Bus' on 'cos it wasn't on any original LP except hits collections, and 'Long Live Rock' because it was on Odds And Sods which nobody was ever buying, but why put on the regular version of 'I Can See For Miles'? And, moreover, why leave these songs on CD and keep 'My Generation Blues' off? Whatever for??? I'm stumped. And the version of 'Happy Jack' here comes directly from Leeds... well, I admit it wasn't available in 1979, but for Chrissake it is now!! Bastards! Gimme my 'Roadrunner' right now! And why the hell did they decide to give us dismissable dung like that 1977 version of 'My Wife' from Kilburn, where both John and Pete were drunk beyond hope and Keith missed everything that was possible to miss? I'd bet you anything this was the worst performance they ever gave. 'My Wife' is often said to be a great stage favourite, with the crowds roaring in support of the trusty bass player, but you really couldn't tell it judging by this performance: it's a wonder they didn't just fall apart in the middle of the performance, because there are quite a few moments when the song transforms into virtually uncontrolled chaos. Then again, maybe it's wise to have something like that lying around just for comparison - to see for yourself what is really chaos and what is just an illusion of chaos.

Phew. That was hard. But these are only five songs. In compensation, though, you get a bunch of absolutely indispensable stuff that's so incredible I have no choice but to give the album a nine (remember what I said about all live Who albums as potential candidates for endless rows of tens?)

The early stuff, though often in crappy sound quality (well what could you expect?), shows that the Who were really developed as immaculate stage machines at a pretty early stage in their career. Thus, the Shindig show version of 'I Can't Explain', even if you hardly hear anything but the girls' screams and Keith's tremendous machine-gunnery, is notably faster and more fluent than the regular live version of the song as played around 1970 and witnessed on Leeds and Wight; 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' sounds even muddier, but I'm really impressed at how efficiently Pete was using feedback and playing all these sadistic tricks on guitar strings outside the studio; and the short, faithful-to-the-studio version of 'My Generation' is still fun - especially the bits of dialogue that precede it (taken from the Tommy Smothers show; you can see all that stuff in the movie).

The 'classic live years' contribute some stuff from Woodstock, which makes me all the more lament the fact that the performance is not yet officially available. The version of 'Sparks', in particular, is one of the most astonishing live Who tracks I've ever heard - this time, it is literally hard to believe there's only one guitar playing, because somewhere in one of the climactic moments in the mid-section Pete manages to have a feedback chaotic background AND play soaring lead guitar notes at the same time. Or was it John providing the background? Awesome. 'See Me Feel Me' is particularly impressive, too; you probably know that performance if you ever saw Woodstock the movie. Another little delicacy is an ear-splintering 'Young Man Blues' from the London Coliseum with Pete adopting a very bizarre, 'poisonous' tone for his guitar and playing some of the greatest blues solos I've ever heard. It's another definite highlight of both the album and the movie; if you haven't heard this version, well, you haven't lived. Sorry for the cliche. The song does demonstrate Pete's terrific abilities as a 'mad soloist', though - if you ever doubted it, his frantic lead work in between Roger's primal screams will shatter any doubt.

And, finally, two of the performances are quite 'recent': 'Baba O'Riley' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again' were filmed specially for the movie, in the summer of 1978, and the band made everything to be sure this would work. The performances are blistering - it's almost as if they knew it was going to be the last time they played together, and decided to give it their all: Pete adds flashy leads even to 'Baba', a song that never featured much soloing in the first place, and Roger's roaring on 'Fooled' is not less powerful than on the studio version. I'd bet you anything this was quite unlike the stuff they were... oh, wait. They hadn't toured since 1975 by then! (Except for that Kilburn horror, of course). One can only guess at how Pete kept all these block chords and jumps alive for three years when apparently the only thing he'd been doing was pouring booze into himself. Well, however much he boozed, there was no way out.

One last thing: if you're skint on money, skip this and buy the movie instead. This stuff is powerful enough to work without the video accompaniment, but when you get around to actually seeing this, Rock Nirvana is somewhere around the threshold.



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

A rather lame attempt at re-whoing the Who, but at least it's not as bad as it is often considered to be.


Track listing: 1) You Better You Bet; 2) Don't Let Go The Coat; 3) Cache Cache; 4) The Quiet One; 5) Did You Steal My Money; 6) How Can You Do It Alone; 7) Daily Records; 8) You; 9) Another Tricky Day.

Without Keith, The Who foolishly decided to carry on with ex-Faces drummer by the name of Kenney Jones - amazingly, their first years with the man even managed to result in some excellent, ass-kicking stage performances (as can be evidenced on the lengthy extract from the 30 Years Of R'n'B video); unfortunately, the infamous Cincinnati incident, when several people were crushed to death in the crowd, brought this short-lived "live revival" to an end as well.

However, if the live version of the Who could still kick ass, the same can hardly be said about most of their further studio output. Still, having read a ton of reviews that treated Face Dances as something worse than Puff Daddy (yeah, yeah, with all due respect, too), I was really very much amazed to see it ain't that bad. The biggest problem with this album is that it doesn't sound like The 'Oo at all. This seems to be your average keyboard-oriented pop - not the mighty synth delirium found on Quadrophenia, and not your guitar parade on Tommy. The Who enter the Eighties trying to sound slightly more contemporary, without stooping to cheap generic synth-pop, but also abandoning their heavy guitar crunch, traces of which could still be found on Who Are You, but not here. Not to mention that the record is produced by Bill Szymczyk, the guy who used to produce none other than the Eagles. Having said that, the overall quality of these songs is still decent, and I'm even ready to go out of myself and state that I don't find Face Dances much worse than Pete's solo Empty Glass, usually hailed as the 'real thing' released at the same time.

True, Pete rarely delivers a heavy rocker, leaving this prerogative to Entwistle. Unfortunately, that seems to be small compensation, since by that time The Ox's songwriting skill had atrophied with no hope for the better: 'The Quiet One' is just a hurried metal monster with no decent melody at all, and 'You' follows closely in its footsteps. Hey, maybe it's no coincidence that somewhere around this time he also ceased generating solo albums. The bass lines are still killer, though. Can't really argue with that one. But they're more "killer" in the technical sense than in the creative aspect - both songs are so desperately screaming out for a melody that it pains me to realise how low the author of 'Boris The Spider', 'My Wife', and 'Doctor Doctor' has fallen.

Pete's own compositions, wimpy and whiny as they are, are actually way better. You know an album can't be all bullshit when it kicks off with a song as classic as 'You Better You Bet', probably the last true Who classic of all (and as so, it duly closes off the recent greatest hits compilation. Or should I say - greatest hits copulation? Ha ha). Besides presenting us with an original melody and funny fast catchy singing by Roger, it has also some genuine sincere romantic moments somewhat capturing the old Who bandwagon. Its message isn't entirely clear, but it's obvious that it has a lot to do with Pete's nostalgia and yearning for the good old days: ol' Pete is growing really sentimental and for once, his sentimentality is of the lightweight, heart-warming character instead of the usual 'look at me, I'm so unhappy and depressed' schtick. As for the other minor classic, 'Another Tricky Day', which ends the album in a pessimistic way borrows its main riff from 'I Can See For Miles', so it just can't fail. Several complex, yet catchy, vocal melodies intertwining with each other - what else do you want?

The rest of the songs are no great shakes, but to tell the truth, not even a single one can be truly called bad. Throwaways as they are, any other second-hand band would kill for tunes of this quality, with all of their 'minor' hooks. Yes, a major complaint is that Daltrey adopts that Gilbert-Sullivan wimpy tone which he was already starting to display on 'Guitar And Pen', and this makes such otherwise good songs as 'Daily Records', 'Cache Cache' and 'Did You Steal My Money' sound somewhat insipid and flaccid. But there's enough redeeming factors for everything: all three songs have decent, memorable refrains. It is bizarre to hear Daltrey go with lines like 'there ain't no bears in there, not a single bear in there' on 'Cache Cache', but it's also intriguing, puzzling in a fun and inoffensive way. Plus, 'Don't Let Go The Coat' is mild, gentle fun with an inobtrusive religious message (the song is again dedicated to Meher Baba, Pete's spiritual guru), and the lengthy music hall influenced 'How Can You Do It Alone' is a half-successful attempt at a post-Moon epic song.

Truthfully, I don't even see why I should have written that review in such a defensive tone - I fully enjoy the album and do so sincerely. Of course, it all boils down to expectations: it does seem rather cruel to have Face Dances when you were expecting another Quadrophenia. But why would we be supposed to expect another Quadrophenia? The band had been going on for more than fifteen years now; obviously, you can't expect anybody, as great as they are, to keep on putting out immaculate masterpieces forever. Not even the Beatles could do that (and just to remind you, the early Eighties found both McCartney and Harrison in a rather pitiful state as far as their solo projects were going. And Lennon? They found him dead). But as far as 'minor' good albums go, Face Dances, apart from the already non-existent talents of Mr Entwistle, are quite cool. As a nice little 'postscriptum' to the Who's blistering career, I fully accept the record. To quote 'Another Tricky Day', 'you irritate me my friend, this is no social crisis - this is you having fun'.



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 9

Tiredness and boredom all over this album. What happened to the mighty?


Track listing: 1) Athena; 2) It's Your Turn; 3) Cooks County; 4) It's Hard; 5) Dangerous; 6) Eminence Front; 7) I've Known No War; 8) One Life's Enough; 9) One At A Time; 10) Why Did I Fall For That; 11) A Man Is A Man; 12) Cry If You Want.

By this time it seemed obvious that The Who had finally totally lost it: the stage performance had degenerated (as evidenced by the wretched live album that came out soon afterwards); Pete got into tons of nervous and drug breakdowns, culminating in a terrible collapse that almost made him follow in the steps of Keith Moon; and seeing as Pete was really in this terrible state, Roger and John finally let him go after cutting this bastard of an album. Yes, history has indeed evidenced that the Who as a band was mainly held together by Roger and John at that point, which was a rather selfish thing for them to do, but understandable: with an album like Empty Glass, Pete certainly had proved that he didn't need the rest of the Who to continue a moderately successful artistic career, but Roger and John certainly would not be able to stay in the spotlight for long without Pete around.

This time, though, this final tepid effort is even worse than Face Dances. The latter at least had the indisputable masterpiece of 'You Better You Bet'; here, there are no Who classics at all, and the best song, 'Eminence Front', isn't related to the Who sound at all: it's pure solo Townshend. It's nice, though: a good synth part originating from the likes of 'Baba O'Riley' interweaves with a cute little guitar riff to carry along a message of... absolute boredom and being sick of the world. There's an atmosphere of misery and desperation here that could in a subtler way rival such eminent New Wave-ish competitors as Joy Division, although in a slightly subtler way; the two-minute introduction alone brings tears to my eyes. Pete is singing, and when the tune stands out of all the muck surrounding it, it's like the ultimate cry of despair and breakdown from a man raped by and humiliated by merciless circumstances. A last drop of brilliance from the man who's sick of the world, sick of people, sick and tired of just about everything.

Sick of music, too - for the most part, the other cuts aren't worth listening to. Entwistle hits an all-time low with three songs which sound exactly the same and that same is 'messy'. Degeneration at its most obvious. Where is the funny little monster doing 'Boris The Spider'? Giving two of them to Roger to sing ('It's Your Turn' and 'Dangerous') hardly saves the material: lumpy, melodyless hard rock that fans of John's bass playing could still listen to, probably, but only as far as his technique goes. 'One At A Time' is only slightly better, with a funny avantgarde-jazz horns introduction and a moderate boogie-esque feel to it; still, even if it does have a good melody, the chaotic arrangement effectively eliminates it.

As for Townshend himself, there are only separate bits and pieces that manage to catch my attention at times. Thus, he comes up with yet another nice synth line on 'I've Known No War', a song whose main vocal melody I could even call memorable and whose anti-war lyrics are pretty good; but for such a simplistic 'synth popper', the song drawls on for way too long, with an interminable repetitive mid-section that goes nowhere but for some reason just keeps going. The title track is a slightly dull, okayish rocker, but at least the chorus is catchy. But what chorus is that? 'It's hard!... it's very very very very hard! It's hard! It's very very very very hard!' It's not even funny. Neither is the clumsy comedy number 'Athena'; and 'A Man Is A Man' is a pale shadow of Pete's earlier gorgeous ballads.

The rest are even not worth mentioning, ranging from banal lifeless opera arias ('One Life Is Enough') to dull war marches ('Cry If You Want'). Let me say, though, that while for the most part the fans' reaction to the album in general is similar, their choices for worst and best songs on the album are widely different - almost everyone loves 'Eminence Front', and rightly so, but there are almost no coincidences among the other choices. This is that typical situation when, in fact, all of the songs on a record are so mediocre that it only comes down to personal taste and the ultra-subjective factor when the choice is made. Maybe you'll hate what I checked as the 'highlights' on here and love some of the stuff I didn't even mention. Not that I really care in this particular case.

Whatever be, it's absolutely obvious that after a record like this the band had to go - not just because it was tarnishing its own reputation, but simply because the main creative force behind the band was no longer interested in keeping the band together. Think of It's Hard as Townshend's Selfportrait - an intentional sabotage of the man's own reputation. Only where Selfportrait was, in fact, a good album, because it was steering Dylan in a new direction, It's Hard sounds like a straightforward self-parody. And what's that with the album cover? Do you think that Daltrey cut his hair and Townshend shaved his beard in order to look 'younger', as in the good old days of '65? Well, the music sure contrasts a lot with that attitude.

Oh, and try to find the new re-issue if you decide to get the record anyway. It has a few bonus tracks from the Who's contemporary live performances, almost universally said to be far superior to everything else (these are live recordings of It's Hard numbers).



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10

An unfortunate live album, it's clear that the band didn't have anything to do with it.

Best song: none. All are mediocre

Track listing: 1) My Generation; 2) I Can't Explain; 3) Substitute; 4) Behind Blue Eyes; 5) Baba O'Riley; 6) Boris The Spider; 7) Who Are You; 8) Pinball Wizard; 9) See Me Feel Me; 10) Love Reign O'er Me; 11) Long Live Rock; 12) Long Live Rock (reprise); 13) Won't Get Fooled Again; 14) Doctor Jimmy; 15) Magic Bus; 16) Summertime Blues; 17) Twist And Shout.

What do you usually say when you have to pay for two CDs if their contents can be easily dumped together on only one? What do you say when instead of getting an adequate picture of The Who's farewell tour you get a 'Greatest Hits Live' package? What do you say when you are presented with a singer who can't make good use of his voice worth a crap? A drummer and a bass player who are only in it for the money? A guitar player who wishes he'd be anywhere in the world but there? And, finally, a booklet praising this load of half-baked noise-making as being played on a fantastic tour? What would you say?

I guess... same as me. DAMN THE RECORD COMPANY!

Indeed, I doubt whether Pete or anybody else even listened to the mastertapes before releasing them. Like Chris Charlesworth said, Keith must have had rolled over in his grave. First of all, it does painfully sound like a second-rate 'Greatest Hits Live': the track listing practically defines the word 'predictable'. 'My Generation', 'I Can't Explain', 'Substitute', 'Behind Blue Eyes'... and these are only the first four tracks. It's easy for any Who novice to figure out the rest. Who's Last, essentially, is an album for dummies: the biggest offense is that, as unfortunate and tired that farewell tour was, the setlist was NOT coinciding with the tracks they put up on the ensuing record. It is generally agreed, for instance, that songs from the last two albums were usually performed better and with more verve than the studio recordings - but of course, since neither Face Dances nor It's Hard didn't sell at all well, the industry bosses carefully removed all of them. Instead, you get a hasty pro forma runthrough through all the standards. I don't know about 'regular Who fans', but I personally feel offended when such a wonderful composition as 'See Me Feel Me' gets ripped out of context, cuts out half of the introduction, and is performed with the sole intention - 'we have to make the public happy, and we got little time, so let's pack as many of those classics into as little time as possible'. There's no unity in the setlist; it's absolutely clear that the band itself had nothing to do with this tripe.

The only big surprise out of the sixteen songs is maybe 'Twist And Shout' with Entwistle taking on lead vocals to a rather lame effect, and anyway, the currently available version on Isle Of Wight is better even if it is shorter. 'Doctor Jimmy' is a surprise, too, though it is hardly a highlight. The rest is hit singles played on the radio. 'Nuff said.

What's even more annoying, the quality of the performance really could be better. Daltrey's singing, in particular, is purely atrocious! The guys who were selecting the material were probably descended from Quasimodo, because 'Love Reign O'er Me' is not just a shame - it's an unprecedented embarrasment, with Daltrey spluttering out the words as if he was dying from laryngitis. 'See Me Feel Me' and 'Baba O'Riley' also get ruined. It's not that he doesn't hit the right notes - he just doesn't manage to pull it off with enough force. And hey, I don't want to say he lost his voice for ever - as Join Together demonstrates, he still had enough zest left in him even after all those years. But take the lamest performance ever and make it an official release? Good God but these record people are frickin' idiots! Who in this stupid world of ours advised them to include 'Long Live Rock' which is such an overwhelming fuck-up that it's hard to believe Pete wasn't just pissing off his fans, like Dylan used to do? And if THIS was the best material they could find, I can't even think about how the worst one looked. Brrr!

I don't want to sound like such a nasty bastard, though - of course, there are some things that redeem this crazy collection. The playing itself is not that bad: Pete even manages to come up with a couple of good solos (especially on 'Can't Explain'), Kenney is no Keith, of course, but at least he's professional and it's curious to hear Who classics played to a steady beat instead of that wild thumping; and John is John and will always be John, I daresay. He's definitely aiming for the position of chief bass player in paradise. 'Summertime Blues' is pulled off decently, too. And at least none of the songs are bad - they're all classics. So I still give the album an overall rating of 10, because it's hard to spoil a great song, even if they do come painfully close on a bunch of these numbers.

What really, really offends me are the liner notes. What a typical American musical industry approach: lull in the people by giving out exact figures and boasting how The Who sold out all those huge stadiums. 'Some of the most awesome, electrifying performances delivered on any stage in the world'? Maybe there had been some good nights - but the ensuing album sure doesn't uphold that idea. Truthfully now, I do not think that Who's Last should be retired from the shelves - it's an important document, after all, and at least vaguely enjoyable in a couple of spots (heck, it gives us the only official live release of 'Boris The Spider'); but I insist that it should always come with a sticker that says 'For Historical Interest Only'. Then again, the burning flag on the cover (there are two alternate covers - I actually like the burning flag more) is supposed to give a certain hint, isn't it?



Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

An effective reunion tour album. Buy it if you can't get enough of The Who - it's not bad.


Track listing: CD I: 1) Overture; 2) 1921; 3) Amazing Journey; 4) Sparks; 5) The Hawker (Eyesight To The Blind); 6) Christmas; 7) Cousin Kevin; 8) The Acid Queen; 9) Pinball Wizard; 10) Do You Think It's Alright; 11) Fiddle About; 12) There's A Doctor; 13) Go To The Mirror; 14) Smash The Mirror; 15) Tommy Can You Hear Me; 16) I'm Free; 17) Miracle Cure; 18) Sally Simpson; 19) Sensation; 20) Tommy's Holiday Camp; 21) We're Not Gonna Take It.

CD II: 1) Eminence Front; 2) Face The Face; 3) Dig; 4) I Can See For Miles; 5) A Little Is Enough; 6) 5:15; 7) Love Reign O'er Me; 8) Trick Of The Light; 9) Rough Boys; 10) Join Together; 11) You Better You Bet; 12) Behind Blue Eyes; 13) Won't Get Fooled Again.

Ooh! Contrary to rumours and biases, this is much better. After about seven or eight years the remaining members of the band thought it might be nice to make some easy money and offered the faithful this reunion tour. Its purely financial aim was obvious to everybody, and good old Pete even had the courage to openly declare it on stage at one time. By that time Pete himself was already half deaf, played mostly acoustic guitar and relegated electric playing to one Steve Boltz who was a cool guy looking like a punk and playing like a heavy metal musician (he could have fitted well in Europe, don't you think? The band, not the continent, I mean). The result is painfully predictable: lots of old Who classics are transformed into heavy metal fiestas, while Pete's guitar is hardly heard at all - which is a shame, since when he does get a chance to play some chords in silence, his skill with the acoustic, nurtured for years, becomes obvious.

Besides that, the band is augmented by miriads of supporting musicians, like an enormous brass section giving the music a mainstream pop effect, three backing vocalists to relieve Pete and John of the necessity to make more efforts, piano wiz "Rabbit" Bundrick to take the place of the tape recorder, and two drummers as a tribute to Keith's abilities, one of them Simon Philips of once Judas Priest fame. This should have been as horrible as one can ever imagine.

But it isn't, strange enough, and I still don't know why. For a certain bunch of reasons I still prefer it over Who's Last. First of all, it has a nice package, and that's something: this time each of the two CDs is over sixty minutes long, so it's at least worth the money. Next: this isn't a "Greatest Hits Live" any more. The first disc is a complete performance of Tommy which you might laugh at, but you'd keep it in mind that it was still six years before the Isle Of Wight release and no live Tommy was available, so it should have been quite a reasonable move. And shaking off all our biases about how Tommy is supposed to sound live on stage, we can actually enjoy it - especially since they make the good move of not inviting in any particular 'guest stars' like Billy Idol, unlike the video version of the tour. One can question the performance's necessity, but one cannot question the professionalism or even the sincerity displayed therein; or the certain wisened, moving aura that now surrounds Daltrey's vocal deliveries.

The second CD digs heavily in the backlog, but you only get two or three evergreens, which are the closing 'Behind Blue Eyes' and 'Fooled Again' - obligatory crowd-pleasers are thus kept to a minimum. Plus, speaking of overlaps, we have 'Love Reign O'er Me' once again, but this time it's certainly intended to correct the mistake made on the previous live album - here Daltrey soars high like he's supposed to be doing, and even the banal brass section does not sound out of place. In fact, I sometimes prefer this performance to the original: it may have a somewhat more primitive arrangement on here, but there's no denying the huge, grandiose cathartic effect. (If you doubt it, just watch the spectators all rising from their seats in awe as the band brings the song down with a crash-boom-bang).

And the others? '5:15', 'I Can See For Miles', 'Join Together', 'You Better You Bet'; all performed with a flair and none of them featured on any previous live albums ('I Can See For Miles', in fact, was performed live for the first time since a couple tentative performances in 1967 - the song always needed two guitars, so Townshend couldn't bring it in until Steve Boltz joined). And Entwistle gets to sing 'Trick Of The Light' instead of the everpresent 'Boris The Spider'.

Plus, we have some Townshend solo stuff - starting with 'Eminence Front' (well, I know it is a Who song, but it sounds solo to me and everybody else), and continuing with some of his big hits like 'Face The Face', 'Rough Boys', and 'A Little Is Enough'.

In a technical sense, the performances are flawless (and I do make an emphasis on technically - like I said, lots of them sound nothing like The Who, and some sound rather like, well, Judas Priest). Too flawless, in fact - sounding like a machine going on, but blame it on the backing musicians. Entwistle plays his fluent lines better than ever (check out the bass work on 'Sparks' and 'Trick Of The Light'), Pete even conjures a couple old tricks on 'Fooled Again' where he agrees to pick up the electric, and this time Daltrey made sure not to have any more problems with his voice: Tommy goes off splendidly, and the rest is even better.

This is an enjoyable album, believe it or not. It's just that there is absolutely no reason to buy it if you haven't heard everything else. But it's really entertaining to hear these versions - for a change. Don't blame the Who too harshly; they didn't tear themselves to shreds onstage every night for at least ten years for nothing. They had suffered, and at least they really deserved all that money. Whatever. As for the real pragmatic significance of the album, no Who fan should deprive himself of the pleasure of hearing these particular versions of 'Love Reign O'er Me', 'Trick Of The Light', 'Sparks', and 'Eminence Front'; not to mention that unless you really wanna pick up the laughable Townshend solo Iron Man LP (which I unfortunately did, so pity me), this is the only place where you'll find the last true Who classic, 'Dig' - a great, wonderfully involving and optimistic pop rocker that ranks with the best songs Pete ever wrote in the Seventies.

And moreover, I rather like the symbolic album cover.



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

Sharing all the advantages and all the stupidities of your average boxset.

Best song: go bug someone else.

Track listing: CD I: 1) Pete Dialogue; 2) I'm The Face; 3) Here 'Tis; 4) Zoot Suit; 5) Leaving Here; 6) I Can't Explain; 7) Anyway Anyhow Anywhere; 8) Daddy Rolling Stone; 9) My Generation; 10) The Kids Are Alright; 11) The Ox; 12) A Legal Matter; 13) Pete Dialogue; 14) Substitute; 15) I'm A Boy; 16) Disguises; 17) Happy Jack Jingle; 18) Happy Jack; 19) Boris The Spider; 20) So Sad About Us; 21) A Quick One While He's Away; 22) Pictures Of Lily; 23) Early Morning Cold Taxi; 24) Coke 2; 25) (This Could Be) The Last Time; 26) I Can't Reach You; 27) Girl's Eyes; 28) Bag O'Nails; 29) Call Me Lightning;

CD II: 1) Rotosound Strings; 2) I Can See For Miles; 3) Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand; 4) Armenia City In The Sky; 5) Tattoo; 6) Our Love Was; 7) Rael 1; 8) Rael 2; 9) Track Records/Premier Drums; 10) Sunrise; 11) Russell Harty Dialogue; 12) Jaguar; 13) Melancholia; 14) Fortune Teller; 15) Magic Bus; 16) Little Billy; 17) Dogs; 18) Overture; 19) Acid Queen; 20) Abbie Hoffman Incident; 21) Underture; 22) Pinball Wizard; 23) I'm Free; 24) See Me Feel Me; 25) Heaven And Hell; 26) Pete Dialogue; 27) Young Man Blues; 28) Summertime Blues;

CD III: 1) Shakin' All Over; 2) Baba O'Riley; 3) Bargain; 4) Pure And Easy; 5) The Song Is Over; 6) Studio Dialogue; 7) Behind Blue Eyes; 8) Won't Get Fooled Again; 9) The Seeker; 10) Bony Moronie; 11) Let's See Action; 12) Join Together; 13) Relay; 14) The Real Me; 15) 5:15; 16) Bell Boy; 17) Love Reign O'er Me;

CD IV: 1) Long Live Rock; 2) Life With The Moons; 3) Naked Eye; 4) University Challenge; 5) Slip Kid; 6) Poetry Cornered; 7) Dreaming From The Waist; 8) Blue Red And Grey; 9) Life With The Moons 2; 10) Squeeze Box; 11) My Wife; 12) Who Are You; 13) Music Must Change; 14) Sister Disco; 15) Guitar And Pen; 16) You Better You Bet; 17) Eminence Front; 18) Twist And Shout; 19) I'm A Man; 20) Pete Dialogue; 21) Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting).

Rest assured I did not shell out this box set's full value's worth, or else this'd have been the most arrogant (actually, the most predictable, too) rip-off in my shopping career. Actually, this boxset made a lot more sense in 1994 than it does now; reissues of the Who's entire catalog have rendered it almost useless nowadays. Back then, though, it was a smash hit among the critics and was often proclaimed as everything a good boxset should be. In my mind's eye, however, the principle of a boxset intended both for neophytes and collectors is either a ridiculously stupid or a non-ridiculously money-grubbing idea, so I consider it as a rip-off even back then. Ah well - at least it's got good collector's value.

As you might expect, the four CDs here present you with a rather detailed retrospective of the Who's past, even if "thirty years" is a bit of an exaggeration - hey, just because you guys reunited in 1989 to tour and in 1991 to record a song for an Elton John tribute album doesn't mean you've been kicking the world's ass all through the Eighties. However, as far as the tracklisting goes, I don't have too many problems with it. Okay, so I have a big problem - I want more rarities and live versions - but as far as "stupid boxsets" go, this one is at least reasonably structured. It should be noted that even out of the well-known songs, many are remixed in a way that makes them sound completely different from what you get on regular CDs. Which actually helps - sometimes - because you can trace every note that is played, but sometimes doesn't; check out 'Rael', for instance, where Townshend and co.'s extremely thin backing harmonies are brought so high up in the mix you can easily notice how limp and flawed they are, almost as if you were listening to a raw demo version of the song.

Actually, if you really are a Who completist, at the very least buying the boxset gets you rid of the necessity to buy any "greatest hits" compilation, as all of the Who's classic singles that didn't make it onto either the original studio records or the re-issues are here: 'I Can't Explain', 'My Generation', 'I'm A Boy', 'Pictures Of Lily', 'The Seeker', etc., etc., together with the lesser standards like 'Let's See Action' and 'The Relay'. Only 'Substitute', for some absolutely ridiculous reason, has been "substituted" for the live version from Live At Leeds - a pretty crappy decision if you ask me (not that the live version is bad, but how're you supposed to be getting the studio one? Buying a compilation? Aaaargh!).

Even so, though, after sorting out all the "hits" and previously available album tracks, and after sorting out all the tracks that made it onto the latter day reissues, you can still come up with about one CD's worth of material that's hard to come by otherwise - songs that are only available on out-of-print rarities compilations and songs that, to my knowledge, really aren't available anywhere else. Some of this stuff isn't recommendable at all, yet still some is very recommendable - to the point that if you're a fanatic, I can't imagine seeing you without them. Let me now briefly introduce you to this rare material by browsing through the four discs.

THE FIRST DISC roughly covers the Who's formative years and the early punkish/lightweight-artsyish years of 1965-66. As you might expect, it features a huge amount of hit singles plus some of the more important album tracks off the first two albums. Some of the rarities on here ended up as bonus tracks to A Quick One and Sell Out, but others did not. Among the earliest stuff you'll find a not particularly inspired cover of Bo Diddley's 'Here 'Tis', as well as the B-side to 'I'm The Face', the Shadows-style 'Zoot Suit', which is kinda fun (I think it's also available on the Quadrophenia movie soundtrack album). More impressive is the B-side to 'Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere', the band's furious rendition of 'Daddy Rolling Stone' which - if you really need my opinion - is one of their very best renditions of a true classic R'n'B number. Granted, in the Who's case that ain't saying much, but it really beats the shit out of the feeble James Brownisms of their debut. Then there's 'Happy Jack Jingle' ('Happy Jack had some fun here on Radio 1!'); the band's feeble, almost laughable, but still historically curious Stones tribute cover of 'The Last Time' (the other Stones-supporting song, 'Under My Thumb', can be found on the reissue of Odds & Sods) and the disc concludes with the rare B-side 'Call Me Lightning', actually one of the more "rocking" numbers done by the band in 1967. A bit slight already by The Who's current live standards, but catchy and melodic. Oh, and the most bizarre thing on the disc is the "hybrid" version of 'A Quick One', which incorporates parts of the studio original into a live version recorded at the Stones' Rock'n'Roll Circus - but it's NOT the live version you can hear on Kids, apparently it's a different take. Certainly gives you something to think about.

THE SECOND DISC, covering the "hippie glory years" of 1967-70, is somewhat less rarity-abundant, but there's some real good stuff on here. Namely, there are studio versions of 'Fortune Teller' and 'Heaven And Hell', which are both heavier and crunchier than any other studio Who of the period; still don't match the ferocious Leeds renditions, of course, but they DO kick ass nevertheless, and Pete's soloing on 'Heaven And Hell' is as ecstatic as ever. There's also 'Dogs', the unsuccessful 1968 single which might just be the most eccentric song The Who ever put on record (I feel a strong Keith Moon influence here, too!), with Roger singing in a heavy Cockney accent about how 'there was nothing in my life better than beer! until you, little darling...'. A good song to play to those who don't feel just how quintessentially British these guys are - obviously, it flopped for the same reasons as Village Green and Giles, Giles & Fripp's one and only album: 1968 wasn't exactly the best year for showcasing one's "traditionally-oriented" side. There's also a slightly extended (in comparison with the version on Kids) 'Sparks' rendition from Woodstock, preceded by the infamous 'Abbie Hoffman incident', when Pete booted Abbie offstage for talking political bullshit in the middle of the concert (too bad we don't get to hear the actual KICK!), and for some reason retitled 'Underture' even if it's not really 'Underture'; and the Leeds rendition of 'See Me Feel Me', also a weird 'hybrid' because the opening is taken directly from the studio version, and probably heavily edited. Overall, though, about half of this second CD is now on The Who Sell Out, so it's less interesting.

THE THIRD DISC covers the Who's Next/Quadrophenia period and is the least useful of all cuz it's mainly devoted to reproducing the radio standards off the former album. Out of these, only 'Bargain' is presented in an alternate version - a live rendition recorded at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium (and earlier available in a fuller form on the rarities album Who's Missing). It's a cool live number with a fake ending and all, but I wouldn't say it annihilates the studio original or anything. And unless you count stuff like 'Let's See Action' or 'The Relay', the only other two really rare numbers are: a live performance of the classic rocker 'Bony Moronie', taken from the band's Lifehouse sessions at the Young Vic (it's always fun to hear Pete go through a generic rock'n'roll riff, but I get the feeling the song is kinda "hurried"), and a weird, weird, weird re-recording of 'The Real Me' at the first rehearsal sessions with Kenney Jones (sic!). Weird, because it sounds like the original slowed down a couple of notches - I can almost feel Pete, John, and Kenney falling into a hypnotic trance as they play along! No, really, listen to that bass, it sounds like yawning. Ever heard a bass guitar yawn? John makes it yawn. All the more weird because Roger's lionish roar might be even better than on the original. A very confused performance, well worth hearing if you wanna get yourself a good puzzling.

THE FOURTH DISC, chronologically covering the hugest span with tracks ranging from 1971 to 1991, fortunately picks up the "rarity-fullness" again. The kickass live version of 'Naked Eye' here is now officially available on the reissue of Who's Next, and I might be mistaken, but the live 1976 version of 'Dreaming From The Waist' might have made it onto the reissue of Who By Numbers (I don't have that one, so can't really tell), but in any case, it features some of the most awesome moments in the history of John Entwistle's flying fingers. But the Swansea live version of 'My Wife' is certainly unavailable elsewhere, and it showcases the Who at the top of their game just as that other version of the same song, available on Kids, showed them at the total bottom of it. Hah! Fans of Keith Moon will be happy to have this particular disc, too, because of those four snippets of Monty Pythonesque comedy ('Life With The Moons' etc.) shoved in between some of the songs on here. They're certainly cute.

Finally, the post Keith Moon period is intentionally drastically underrepresented (no complaints here - they did take 'You Better You Bet' and 'Eminence Front', unarguably the cream of the period's crop, and wisely left out everything else), but you'll still be getting two good live covers: the band doing 'Twist And Shout' on the 1982 tour (very aggressive and almost inspired, I'd say, although John on lead vocals sounds like total shit - what's up with the guys singing and a laryngitis epidemy throughout the whole tour?), and the band doing 'I'm A Man' on the 1989 tour, with a very respectable Daltrey part. And they round things up with that Elton John tribute, which actually almost beats out the original cuz you'd sure expect Roger Daltrey to be more natural in his "tough guy" image than Elton himself; besides, it's fun to see the traditional "macho Roger main part/sentimental Pete middle eight" opposition recreated as Pete unexpectedly inserts the chorus to 'Take Me To The Pilot' smack dab in the middle.

And there you have it. Now you can actually decide for your own whether you wanna follow in my footsteps or you prefer to back out. One thing's for certain - almost none of these rarities fall under the "total shit" category, so if you're a 'casual fan' and just want a "one-time" cash spending on the Who, the boxset is a reasonable buy. On the other hand, I can't imagine anybody who would like the boxset and not want to invest in the actual albums anyway. So think!



Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

A good chance somewhat wasted - doubly wasted by both the band and those who put this puppy together.


Track listing: 1) My Generation (Radio 1 Jingle); 2) Anyway Anyhow Anywhere; 3) Good Lovin'; 4) Just You And Me Darling; 5) Leaving Here; 6) My Generation; 7) The Good's Gone; 8) La La La Lies; 9) Substitute; 10) Dancing In The Street; 11) Disguises; 12) I'm A Boy; 13) Run Run Run; 14) Boris The Spider; 15) Happy Jack; 16) See My Way; 17) Pictures Of Lily; 18) A Quick One (While He's Away); 19) Substitute (Version 2); 20) The Seeker; 21) I'm Free; 22) Shakin' All Over; 23) Relay; 24) Long Live Rock; 25) Boris The Spider (Radio 1 Jingle).

Aye, the Who were a good live band sure enough. But if you're expecting another Live At Leeds, stay away and stay out. The BBC programs for which bands were recording their songs usually served the purpose of promoting these bands' new material, which means most of these twenty five tracks were recorded only a few months, maybe weeks, maybe days after the Who actually went into the recording studio to do that. (Besides, many of them aren't actually live - some feature live vocals dubbed over pre-recorded backing tracks). And unlike other bands, the Who certainly needed some time to get all comfortable with their own material, an option which wasn't available at the BBC. Not to mention that the Who's crowning live period was in the late Sixties/early Seventies, while these tracks are almost all taken from the mid-Sixties archives.

So as much as it pains me to say that, but the BBC Sessions for the Who have much more value as a precious document of the epoch rather than an object of enjoyment and devotion. Not a unique exception, of course - much the same can be said about the Beatles' BBC recordings - but a little sad considering that we do have to deal with the greatest live band of all time. But hey, even the greatest live band of all time can have a growth period.

Not that I have any dismal complaints. The sound quality, as is usual for the BBC, is top level. The song selection is more or less predictable, heavily emphasizing the Who's hit singles and key tracks of the period (no 'Can't Explain', though - hey, bummer), but there's also a bunch of obscure stuff. In the beginning, you have some R'n'B covers that didn't make it onto the regular albums but were a regular part of the band's original stage show and certainly provide a glimpse (together with all those early recordings on the reissue of Odds And Sods) towards the band's humble beginnings and where the heck did it all come from. Of course, the actual playing on these obscure numbers is so-so - 'Good Lovin' and James Brown's 'Just You And Me Darling' sound okay when taken on their own, but I guess the Animals could easily blow the Who off stage with their own renditions, after all in the early Sixties Roger Daltrey was nothing but a whiny raspy teenage kid with not an ounce of the classic R'n'B darkness/sexuality. There's also a very, very, very weak rendition of 'Dancing In The Street', where the actual vocals sound like they were originally intended for the background and the guys actually forgot to overdub the lead vocal.

As for the originals, songs that you might not be hearin' outa your Who collection every day include some tracks from the debut LP (excellent performance of 'The Good's Gone', in particular, with Townshend perfecting his feedback skills rapidly, and I like the way he seamlessly advances from the threatening buzzsaw into his smooth jazzy style) and the 'Disguises' rarity: at least one advantage of having these raw unexperienced early live versions is that you might get some live (or half live, whatever) versions of songs that would just moments later be dropped from the setlist once and for all. Same goes for the timid performance of Daltrey's 'See My Way', although in this particular case you won't hear me complaining about dropping that one.

So what's up with the CLASSIC stuff? Let me tell you some of the impressions. 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' is a major highlight, with Pete kicking as much ass during the, er, "instrumental break"as on the Kids Are Alright version, but with ideal sound quality at that. The first of two 'Substitutes' has the song played at full length (in the regular 'classic' concert set it would be severely cut down), but the solo is just one chord repeated over and over again. 'Run Run Run' features a particularly long instrumental passage as Pete openly begins demonstrating some elements he'd already copped from Hendrix, alternating with all the regular power chords and Chuck Berryisms. 'Boris The Spider' has an unusually high-pitched vocal delivery from John on the verses, which nicely contrasts with the hideous bass on the chorus. 'Happy Jack' has Keith in overdrive, with a particularly sharp and edgy drumsound. 'Pictures Of Lily' adds harmonica for no particular reason, but no French horn. 'A Quick One' sucks some bad ass - they really only mastered the live performance of that stuff by the time of the Stones' Rock'n'Roll Circus, and you won't convince me otherwise.

Naturally, the very best tracks are the last ones, the few taken from the era when the Who were really the next best thing after Grand Funk Railroad. 'The Seeker' leaves me a little confused, though, because the main riff is played on an acoustic - what is this, MTV Unplugged for Pete's sake? But 'I'm Free' delivers the goods, fortunately, and the performance of 'Shakin' All Over' is the only track on here that could seriously rival the Leeds stuff - not sure if all those echo effects on Roger's voice were a good idea, but everybody's in top form anyway, and if you thought the Leeds version of the song was too chaotic, well here you got a much more melodic effort on the part of Mr Townshend. And then, at the very end, you get two tracks from 1973, 'The Relay' and 'Long Live Rock', both sang over - huh! - pre-recorded tracks. Oh well, at least it's a good place to have a full, unabridged version of 'Relay', and the performance of 'Long Live Rock' is tons better than the sloppy drunk debauchery on Who's Last.

Plus, the jingles are hilarious! 'Talking 'bout my favourite station', really! Were rock musicians obliged to do these jingles, I wonder - remember that 'Radio One, you stole my gal, but I love you just the same' thing on the Hendrix CDs? At any rate, they sure have fun with 'em. So anyway, all of these little surprises, and the fact that most of the songs are listenable and all and they're all timeless material, justify the relatively high rating, but it's only high relatively. It's very ironic that on the very first track Townshend is captured as saying 'we're trying to achieve the sound we get on the stage at present', when in reality it's vice versa on this CD: nearly all the time, they're achieving their studio sound in a live setting, and that's no good when you're talking 'bout dem 'Oo.



Year Of Release: 1983

A bizarre compilation. There's been a lot of better ones, and I'm primarily keeping it because it has 'The Relay' - a 1973 single featuring yet another Lifehouse outtake. It's a nice wah-wah driven rocker, though probably not one of Pete's better contributions to the project. However, calling it a 'hit' would be too much of an honour, since it flopped. The other cuts are quite predictable, yet there are horrible gaps here which make this collection seem absolutely miserable. There's no 'I Can't Explain', no 'I Can See For Miles', no 'Pictures Of Lily', no 'I'm A Boy', no 'Baba O'Riley', no 'See Me Feel Me' and nothing from the last two albums, not even 'You Better You Bet'. Simply horrible! What did MCA have in mind? And they didn't even use up all the space on the disc! Some fine 'Greatest Hits' these are! Don't, don't get it even if you're offered it for free. Instead, be sure to grab...



Year Of Release: 1997

...this fantastic collection! God, they couldn't have made a better selection in a hundred years! Well, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of 'Love Reign O'er Me', but I just cannot think of any more corrections! Of course, such a great band as The Who cannot be adequately represented on one CD, but if you're a novice or just an amateur, don't even think about not getting this. Twenty songs which highlight every significant period in the band's career. Here you will find the bunch of early singles that made them so revered among punks ('I Can't Explain', the earliest block chord festival; 'My Generation'; the cock-rock hymn 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' with Daltrey actually sounding good and Pete celebrating feedback), the classic mid-Sixties art rock ditties (the pretty 'I'm A Boy' is the first ever attempt at a mini-rock-opera clocking in at about 2:40; 'Pictures Of Lily' combines beautiful falsetto vocal harmonies with grungy guitarwork while depicting Pete's early experiences with masturbation; 'Happy Jack' is the most ingenious childish tune I've ever heard, outmatching even McCartney's efforts at a similar effect; 'Substitute' is, well, one of the greatest songs ever written); the weird psychedelic stuff from the late Sixties ('I Can See For Miles'; the classic Bo-Diddley influenced bus trade epic 'Magic Bus'; 'Pinball Wizard'; the desperate 'Seeker' set to a wonderful heavy riff the likes of which can be found on live 'My Generation' medleys played around 1969-70); the Lifehouse stuff (besides the obligatory 'Baba O'Riley' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again' you also have two later singles - 'Let's See Action', a so-so rocker with Daltrey at his best, and the unification hymn 'Join Together' which is a trillion times better than the somewhat similar mid-section on 'Song Is Over'); Quad is decently represented by '5:15', and the later stuff includes 'Squeeze Box' (not bad), 'Who Are You' (even better) and 'You Better You Bet' (thank God they didn't forget it!) Entwistle is represented by 'Boris The Spider'; I lament the absence of 'My Wife', but, like I said, you can't dump everything onto one CD. An incredibly shattering experience, and it totally eliminates the need for the early classic singles collection Meaty, Beaty, Big, And Bouncy. By the way, I've always wondered about the title. Does it refer to the four members of the band? In which case, Pete is probably Bouncy, Keith is certainly Beaty, John is probably Meaty (he always seemed to me the fattest of all before Keith started gaining weight as well), and Roger is Big - for no particular reason at all.

Anyway, like I said, I cannot actually imagine a better song selection. 'Let's See Action' is one of the weaker numbers, with Mr Bouncy adding stupid vocal anti-hooks at the end, but then again, it is otherwise only available on rarities compilations. 'Squeeze Box' could have been replaced by 'Dreaming From The Waist', but at least it was a hit single, which 'DFTW' wasn't. Otherwise - rock on, buddy!



Year Of Release: 1975

A movie. Not a very good one, but worth taking a look. Roger is starring as the kid himself, and his acting is quite fine. Keith is impersonating Uncle Ernie, and nobody could probably beat him at it. Other band members appear only sporadically. I won't give away the whole cast here, especially since I've forgot a lot of names. Suffice it to say that Pete has completely rearranged all the songs, expanding the sound with the synthesizers, and for the most part the arrangements are crappy - but this is probably not very significant for a soundtrack. The singing is mostly done by actors, and it's even more horrible. Ann-Margaret (Mother) and Oliver Reed (Lover) sound particularly out of tune. Only Roger, as usual, does a great job.

The story is re-written, too: thus, 1921 is replaced by 1951 (with World War I substituted by II), the Lover kills the Father (and not vice versa), etc. Some annoying new songs and sequences are added. The highlights are 'Pinball Wizard' (Elton John is acting and singing this one), 'The Hawker' with a great Eric Clapton and the closing 'See Me Feel Me'. You might want to get this film either if you're a hardcore fan or even if you just like Broadway musicals - in fact, this film is an obvious link between the original record and Pete's nowadays Broadway version.



Year Of Release: 1979

The best rockumentary I've ever seen. It's not just because it features the best live band in the world. It's just because it should be a model for every rock film director who wants to make something really entertaining. Practically every chosen live performance is spectacular - from the early stuff, like two 'My Generations' (from Monterey and the Smothers Brothers show), both ending with guitar crashes, through the classic years (the breathtaking 'Young Man Blues' with Pete in excellent form and the Woodstock stuff; see the review of the soundtrack above), the 1975 tour ('Roadrunner/My Generation Blues' with Pete in excellent form) and the final performance filmed specially for the occasion ('Baba O'Riley' and 'Fooled Again' with Pete in excellent form). All of these are sure to chain you to your seats, but there's much more to it - bits of hilarious interviews, important information, some lip-sync performances, some early musical videos (I especially love the promo for 'Happy Jack' and the edit piece for 'Cobwebs And Strange'), and everything is done to embrace virtually every side of the band - the ferocious rockers, the intelligent crowd-pleasers, the silly clowns, the sad intellectuals. Personally, I feel some of the more serious stuff is underrepresented (there is not even a single trace of Quad in the movie), but maybe that's just what they wanted - to have a good laugh and some mighty ass-kicking. And they succeeded admirably - the movie doesn't seem dull even for a single second. If you're ever planning on starting a rock videotheque of your own, this MUST be your FIRST buy. Run! Don't walk!



Year Of Release: 1979

Pfoooey. The bastards! I had such high hopes! The original Quadrophenia was a great conceptual album, with an inner 'message' of love and peace, using the mod backgrounds of Brighton beaches simply as a canvas, with songs like 'Dirty Jobs', 'Cut My Hair' and 'Sea And Sand' being pretty links between the real centerpieces such as 'Punk And The Godfather', 'Is It Me (For A Moment)?' and, of course, 'Love Reign O'er Me'. The movie forgets about this entirely. It is nothing but a story of a mod, taking the surface elements of Townshend's concept and totally and uncompromisingly discarding the others. OK, so they do feature excerpts from 'Love Reign O'er Me' in the movie, but it sounds completely out of place there, especially considering that the next thing that happens after they play the song is Jimmy driving his bike into the sea from the rocks. 'Dumb' is too soft a word to describe this piece of misguided shit. Even though it features Sting. I have only one question to ask: why the hell is it called Quadrophenia when the subject of 'four personalities' isn't even mentioned anywhere throughout the movie? It's like calling a film 'The Three Musketeers' and eliminating Athos and Porthos for technical reasons! Anyway, the music doesn't fit in anywhere at all, it just sounds like coming from another world. I dumped it onto the back shelves after watching it once and I'm not going to do it again. Not even for a hundred pounds! YEEEK! And it features The Who as 'executive producers'! Go figure!



Year Of Release: 1988

An hour-long video destined to accompany another one in an endless line of hit packages. It adds little to Kids, cuz many tracks are just slammed off of that one, and they sound worse, too. The big news is: some interesting early footage, mostly lip-synched ('The Kids Are Alright', 'I'm A Boy', full versions of 'Substitute' and 'Pictures Of Lily' which were briefly shown in Kids), but some live ('My Generation'). Plus, there is a great live version of 'I'm Free' from the London Coliseum (this unhappy, but great performance ended up being dissected onto three videos) and a passable version of 'Magic Bus' from Amsterdam, 1972. Not essential, but highly recommendable to novices who are not used to The Who's live sound.



Year Of Release: 1989

This is the video of the reunion tour shot in LA, and some of the performances here even made it to the official Join Together release (notably 'Love Reign O'er Me' and some Tommy tracks). The old Who energy still shows itself sometimes, but for the most part Townshend's leaps seem almost parodic, and overall you'll be greatly disappointed - this, for once, is a performance which is more enjoyable without the video presentation. Even worse, Pete has invited lots of 'guests' to sing on Tommy, some of which are good (Patti LaBelle on 'Acid Queen'; Elton John on 'Pinball Wizard'), but some just profanize the piece (Billy Idol as 'Cousin Kevin' - the jerk!; Phil Collins as 'Uncle Ernie'). Thanks goodness, none of these 'guests' were featured on the album. The second part includes some evergreens which are not found on Join ('Substitute', 'Boris The Spider', 'Baba O'Riley'), but they're inessential, too. Aw, skip it.



Year Of Release: 1995

This one was supposed to be a sort of "video companion" for the box set, and essentially, I'd say the video is a much greater asset for both Who fans and Who novices than the box set is. Of course, it pales next to The Kids, which is no surprise since everything does, but it is still a great job. It is exceptionally long (more than 2 hours 30 min.) and, unfortunately, has its dull moments: especially near the beginning, where the performances are not that entertaining ('Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' and 'So Sad About Us' suffer from terrible quality, while the Monterey version of 'A Quick One' shows they haven't yet mastered it as a great stage number by 1967) and near the end (three numbers from the infamous reunion tour just don't seem that good after all the prime stuff, and 'Love Reign O'er Me' from Shea Stadium is little less of an embarrassment than the contemporary version on Who's Last). The rest, though, ranges from magnificent (the 1969-70 stuff: a vigorous 'Happy Jack' from the London Coliseum, three terrific performances from somewhere in Michigan in mid-1970, especially 'Water' which overshadows the Isle Of Wight version; and two numbers from the Isle of Wight itself, which you just have to see, especially Pete doing his windmills on 'Young Man Blues') to very good ('Dreaming From The Waist'; some numbers from the 1974 Charlton show) or just enjoyable (a loyal 'My Generation' from Amsterdam, even though the sound is not very great and Pete seems slightly off his head). Almost an hour is dedicated to post-Keith performances, and the 1979 Chicago numbers are very strong, showing us that they did manage to pass on without Moon after all and the problem was with Pete and not with the drummer ('Music Must Change' is especially impressive, with Pete pulling off some truly emotional solos and directing the 'musical storm' to a shattering climax). In all, if you're a Who fan, this is an absolute must for you, along with Kids. But don't get it if you're only beginning to get into The Who, cuz it might just bore you at first - after all, one hundred and fifty minutes of The Who just will not be OK for just anybody.



Year Of Release: 1996

If you're in the process of comparing the freshly bought audio release of the concert with your trusty Leeds copy and feeling rather sceptical about it, don't hesitate to pick up a copy of this (rather rare - I was lucky to get it in Italy) video. The only existent official recording of an 'entire' (see my complaints below) concert in the Who's prime, it is totally shattering. I guess it goes without saying that the Who are a band that have not only to be heard, but to be seen just as well. If you haven't seen the video versions of 'Young Man Blues', with Pete going totally berserk over his guitar, or 'Shakin' All Over' with same Pete shakin' all over with same guitar, or 'Water' with Keith juggling his sticks, or 'See Me Feel Me' with the blue lights pursuing the audience, you won't really understand what the phenomenon of the Who meant for the late Sixties. I mean, the snippets and extracts found on the videos listed above are okay, but this is the real thing. The sound quality, of course, is inferior to the CD, but that's how it usually goes with videos: on the other side, the listeners' noises nicely stress the 'audience participation' element which is totally missing on the album. And the camerawork is excellent (read: Daltrey's mane is far not the only thing that gets in the view). In all, the video is an absolute necessity for any Who fan and far beyond that.

Unfortunately, real Who fans will be disappointed by the edit work. The songs' order is changed (Tommy is relegated to the end of the tape, when in reality it was stuck in the middle of the show; 'Summertime Blues' and 'Shakin' All Over' have unexplainably changed places), and what's even worse, lots of the songs are cut. Tommy suffers the most, with almost none of the songs left intact: there's only a short bit of 'Hawker', for instance. I particularly grieve the loss of 'Amazing Journey' and 'Sparks', the key element in the whole presentation. The framing sets are also shortened: we're deprived of 'Substitute' and 'Naked Eye', the solos on 'My Generation' and 'Heaven And Hell' are cut, and 'Shakin' All Over' loses an entire verse. The bastards! Moreover, lots of screen shots are substituted, so you're often tricked into thinking you see what they sing when in fact you see what they sung five minutes ago. WHY? The best guess would be that the tapes are partially spoiled; but in that case, why do I get the chance to observe an intact version of 'Naked Eye' on the Message Of Love video (dedicated to the entire festival, also a great buy, by the way)? The idiots! They went and repeated the standard mistake - the tape won't eliminate the need for bootlegs, it will only increase it. Now that the common fan has the video, he'll be painfully searching for a bootlegged full version - until he gets it, of course. Why are the record and video businessmen nothing but a company of brainless jerks?

On the plus side, on the video you get a couple bits that have been (also unexplainably) left off the album: in general, these are short extracts from Pete's solos, like on 'Young Man Blues' and 'Water', plus an extra verse in 'See Me Feel Me'. And there's some extra banter as well. So, with a little hard labour and patience, you could make yourself a CDR which will look real close to a complete version of a concert. Maybe these recording guys weren't jerks anyway - all they were trying to do is present you with a delightful puzzle.



As might easily be supposed, Pete Townshend had a successful and rather important solo career after disbanding the Who (actually, it started even before that /in/famous moment). I have reviewed what few albums I have by Pete on a separate page, hoping some day to bring it to completion. The funny thing is that all the other three members of the band also had solo records: Entwistle scored a few moderate successes in the Seventies, but kinda fizzled out at the beginning of the Eighties (it's no surprise that the material he recorded on the last Who albums was significantly below par: he simply ran out of gas); only in the Nineties had he somewhat reassembled his skills. Daltrey had several solo albums out, too, mostly atrocious, but I just can't resist these cheap copies... anyway, keep in mind that Roger was a next-to-none songwriter and his output is easily the most dismissable of all the band members. And finally, don't laugh at me, but Keith Moon also had a solo record out...


(released by: JOHN ENTWISTLE)

Year Of Release: 1972
Overall rating = 11

Old Freud would sure be happy to lay his hands on this one!


Track listing: 1) Ten Little Friends; 2) Apron Strings; 3) I Feel Better; 4) Thinkin' It Over; 5) Who Cares?; 6) I Wonder; 7) I Was Just Being Friendly; 8) The Windows Shopper; 9) I Found Out; 10) Nightmare (Please Wake Me Up).

The "Seventies Entwistle" formula is in full flight here. Not entirely serious, not entirely sarcastic, full of near-ridiculous bombast and sleazy to the extreme. Listen to this stuff and you get the impression of a concept album about a neurotic, paranoid, wimpy, ludicrous, Woody Allen-type guy with a sexual complex bigger than this whole page. Whether John was really like that or no, I'm not sure (well, at least he never really looked wimpy to me); fact is, ninety percent of this album sounds like a lyrical and musical cross between 'My Wife' and 'Trick Of The Light' - his opening and closing statements of the decade.

And yeah, references to untrue/bitchy wives and real/imaginary "ladies of the night" abound on here, but even more obvious is that John had by then established a near-unique musical style all of his own. If you want an Entwistlee recipee, here's one (or, rather, THE one) for you: a rather trivial basic melody, but not without a simplistic vocal hook or two, a complex, at times jaw-dropping, bassline to hang it upon, and tons and tons and tons of instruments around to compensate for the overall simplicity with a wall-of-sound: big booming drums with emphasis on the cymbals, high-up-in-the-mix electric pianos, wild wailing guitars, and a brass section where possible. Then - repeat the groove ad infinitum, trying to sound louder with each new bar - again, if possible.

I'm sure even those who haven't heard a single Entwistle solo album would get what I'm talking about: 'My Wife', for instance, follows exactly these instructions and nothing else. And if you like 'My Wife' at all, you gotta admit it's a successful formula at heart, however it wears thin after a while: looking at the names of the tracks, I really can't discern one from another after a while. The playing is great, and though some might cringe, having Peter Frampton on guitar actually adds a lot to the fun if you don't mind Pete's flashy "look-at-me-I'm-so-loud-and-ecstatic" style. This is a loud and ecstatic record, it's supposed to be one, but at the same time it never takes itself seriously enough to demand religious loyalty from the listener. That's not the problem. The problem is that I believe it was almost too easy for John to make an album like that at the time - with a backing band of a high caliber and himself at the forefront, he could have written and recorded most of these songs in about twenty minutes each.

The big exception is 'I Wonder', whose phenomenal funky brass riff was certainly a stroke of (perhaps accidental) genius. I mean, really, I don't think Sly Stone or Stevie Wonder would have refused that melody had it come their way even in their prime. However, John kind of fails to capitalize on that invention - the song is much too short and has nothing else of interest. And while every other composition has something to offer, it was still the only thing that was left in my head after the required three listens. Still, I don't want to bite too hard on a record that makes no claim at greatness from the beginning.

I suppose that on some level these songs have to be classified into "rockers" and "ballads", too, although that would be one hell of a subjective classification. But I guess we'd all have to agree that 'Ten Little Friends' opens the album on a rocking note (with the lead guitar distortion as the most memorable part of the song), and that stuff like 'Thinkin' It Over' is more of a ballad (country waltz, to be more precise), and the same goes for 'I Was Just Being Friendly' (a guy begs a girl not to sue him for sexual harrassment by subjecting himself to total humiliation - just the kind of subject you'd expect from the Ox)... the rest is debatable.

The grandest surprise - and the best (as the most unusual) track comes at the very end. 'Nightmare (Please Wake Me Up)' starts as just another sleazy-type ballad and tricks you into thinking John will sing you a half-lullaby half-wet dream description, but then it turns out the soothing "ballad" section is only a prologue to a real hell of an acid trip. The result is the most sincerely psychedelic track of 1972, in both sound and meaning, and it's really fun: it's got that goofy piano-'n'-drum rhythm to keep it moving, all kinds of psycho "nightmarish" effects, and it just falls apart in a real "crashy" way, too, if you know what I mean, as if you were indeed waking up from a real nightmare. Goddamn weird track, and definitely not at all typical of John, but he pulls it off well, and it makes me wonder why he never really tried anything like that again.

All in all, you can see why Entwistle never really contributed anything to Quadrophenia - obviously, by the time Whistle Rymes was ready he was really so engrossed in his own solo artist status he found himself with nothing to contribute in the end! Well... I guess. It also amazes me how a guy who could pull off an album of ten so consistently entertaining and professionally, if not magnificently, written compositions, turned to such a piece of songwriting-scrap in less than a decade... but hey, that's none of my business in the end.



(released by: JOHN ENTWISTLE)

Year Of Release: 1973
Overall rating = 10

Half-parody half-tribute? Or just a case of "Solo Artist Killing Time"?

Best song: MADE IN JAPAN

Track listing: 1) Gimme That Rock'n'Roll; 2) Mr Bassman; 3) Do The Dangle; 4) Hound Dog; 5) Made In Japan; 6) My Wife; 7) Roller Skate Kate; 8) Peg Leg Peggy; 9) Lucille; 10) Big Black Cadillac.

You gotta give 'em Russian pirates their due - this album was released on our market within months of John's death, and considering that so far Entwistle solo albums haven't been a big priority, this definitely matches a particular brand of black humour against the biggest known black humourist in classic rock. Not that Rigor Mortis Sets In is especially heavy on black humour itself, of course, although there are moments like 'Roller Skate Kate' that continue John's tradition. But essentially, the title is supposed to refer to the current state of rock'n'roll music: the inlay "tablet" says: "In Loving Memory of Rock'n'Roll... never really passed away, just ran out of time". Funny thinking for a time as early as 1973.

The biggest problem with John's third offering, though, is that it is not at all clear what the aim of the record is. For a loving tribute to the early "glory" days of rock music it is way too heavy on sarcastic humour; for a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek approach to the whole business, it is way too heavy on unimaginative cover versions like 'Hound Dog' and 'Lucille' that don't have much going for them ('Lucille', in fact, sounds closer to the watered-down, tepid Hollies version than to any of the innumerable ass-kicking versions of it recorded by true rock'n'rollers). In between faithful covers, parodies, throwaways, a re-recording of 'My Wife', and at least one piece of biting social satire ('Made In Japan'), Rigor Mortis is just one big mess. It's a funny and relatively entertaining mess, of course, and that's what most of the critics scolding the album fail to notice - obviously, you shouldn't expect a whole lot of grand things from an album whose first song is titled 'Gimme That Rock'n'Roll', you just should expect some innocent fun.

If there's anything to seriously disappoint here, it's John's downplaying his main strength: there's only one or two spots on the entire record where the basslines are really prominent (most notably, a short, but elegant bass solo on 'Big Black Cadillac') - although, to be fair, it was a tendency among Who members to sound not at all like the Who on their solo albums, reserving their trademark "Who-isms" for group efforts. Also, the re-recording of 'My Wife' is a total waste; rumor has it that John did it because he was dissatisfied with the Who's Next version, but for my money, nothing can beat Keith's timeless drum parts on the original, and no matter how professional Graham Deakin is, he's just a time-keeper. In no other respect does this version ever improve upon the original either. Maybe John just hated Keith Moon on his own songs, I dunno.

On the other hand, 'Made In Japan' should definitely be considered a "lost" Entwistle classic - at least, a minor one. Not particularly wanting to analyze it in socially meaningful terms (contrary to what you think, it is not a trailer for the newly-released live Deep Purple classic, but rather is a complaint about the global shift of goods manufacturing to Eastern countries), I'll just say that it's fun, catchy, rollickin', and has a goofy synth line to boot. Certainly better than all those uninspired It's Hard contributions, although anything could be.

But then there's all those things like 'Roller Skate Kate' (a doo-wop "take" on the already cheesy doo-wop death dirge subgenre), 'Peg Leg Peggy' (great jagged guitar lines on what's easily the album's heaviest original rocker - but it seems to go on forever with very little variety), and plain rock'n'rolling fun like 'Do The Dangle'. All of it is nice and occasionally amusing, but it hardly ever goes beyond that. One of the reasons is, like I already pointed out, that you never know when you're supposed to be shaking your butt and when you're supposed to be smirking and grinning; another one is that, simply put, the backing band is not all that hot. Alan Ross is a dynamic guitar player, for sure, but either he doesn't know how to get his thing going like all those flashy-and-fun glam-rock-guitarists of the epoch, or he just isn't given enough space by the boss. Tony Ashton, of Family's fame, definitely is given enough space on the piano - but that only results in the record getting a certain "loungey" flavour which only confuses things more (like on the cover of J. Cymbal's 'Mr Bassman'; never heard the original, but this stuff is just a cutesy novelty throwaway, although a real funny one with Ross and Entwistle dueting on the high/low vocal parts).

Not to mention it's really not clear how this all ties in with the sarcastic "necrologue" to rock'n'roll in the album sleeve. As a result, here's a record that begs to be bashed: confused, confusing, disoriented, and disorienting. But then again, whoever said rock music had to follow any kind of "rules"? One might just as well say that its confusion is part of its charm, and that in this modern world, a confusing record is worth ten times more than a totally transparent one. I don't think John really put all of his heart in here, though, and even on a pure intuitive level, it's more of a momentary distraction than a true "concept album" or anything. So it does not get a high rating, but that doesn't mean it's not worth listening to.



(released by: KEITH MOON)

Year Of Release: 1975
Overall rating = 9

Probably only interesting from a historical perspective; but lovers of Keith won't really be disappointed.

Best song: TOGETHER

Track listing: 1) Crazy Like A Fox; 2) Solid Gold; 3) Don't Worry Baby; 4) One Night Stand; 5) The Kids Are Alright; 6) Move Over Ms. L; 7) Teenage Idol; 8) Back Door Sally; 9) In My Life; 10) Together; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) U. S. Radio Spot; 12) I Don't Suppose; 13) Naked Man; 14) Do Me Good; 15) Real Emotion; 16) Don't Worry Baby; 17) Teenage Idol; 18) Together "Rap".

Roughly speaking, this is the first and the last Keith Moon solo album. The grim thing about it is that he actually knew it would be his last one all the way through, and he actually says 'first and last' in the very contemporary radio promotion spot, included here as one of the CD bonus tracks. Another grim thing is that you can actually see Keith fading away on this record. You'd probably expect a raunchy, debauchery, totally loony listening experience, something along the lines of 'Cobwebs And Strange', right? And in a certain way, this is what Keith was trying to present on this album, chock-full of various silly things and songs of all genres that fitted Keith's personal tastes, performed sloppily, but with enough passion, sincerity and humour to somewhat redeem the lack of experience.

But something doesn't really feel right about the record - from the very beginning. Just look at Keith's face in the car on the album cover: sad, gloomy and utterly melancholic. And yeah, the back cover of the record, where Keith sticks his naked buttocks out of the very same car, is the typical naughty Moon, but the very contrast can't help leading me to the thought that, at that late point in his career, Keith was merely faking it. The album itself was recorded at the tail end of 1974, at a time when Keith teamed up with John Lennon and Ringo in John's famous 'Lost Weekend' - a desperate, self-exterminating celebration of booze and debauchery in L.A., where they spent most of their time getting drunk to hell and getting thrown out of bars and restaurants. I suppose the process was just mindless fun from time to time, but usually it was just sad and stupid (John later referred to this period in his life as a real nightmare). And everything that they did served only one purpose - to mask the mid-life crisis and the disappointments in the guys' personal lives. John and Ringo managed to recover, though; Keith never did.

I really felt a need to go into these details, because Two Sides Of The Moon should really and truly be perceived in the context of what was happening during the recordings. Taken out of context, the record is a complete, absolute, undescribable failure. Just like Bill Wyman and Ringo himself before him, Keith had adopted their 'big-band' formula: billions of session players, loads of donated tunes (Keith has no songwriting credits at all), and an overall 'trashy' atmosphere that, in a perfect world, would result in a forgettable, but enjoyable one-listen record.

Unfortunately, Keith managed to blow it on several counts. First, his singing is horrible. It's not that he can never stay on key (sometimes he can't, though): but it's obvious that it takes him a lot of efforts to do so, and thus, when he takes on some 'classic' cover tunes, like the Who's own 'The Kids Are Alright' or the Beatles' 'In My Life', the results are laughable: he carefully evades lengthy notes, smoothes out all the edges and often ends up reciting the lyrics rather than singing them. Second, he doesn't even drum on his own record: I'm pretty sure that the drumming on 'Kids' is Keith, but for the rest of the tunes he handles the drumming to session players - altogether, there are seven different drummers on here, including Ringo, Jim Keltner and others I don't know. I guess this has something to do that Keith recorded most of this stuff in such a drunken state he couldn't even hold the sticks; a more modest explanation would be that the songs were mostly recorded live, with little or no overdubbing, in which case Keith simply couldn't sing and drum at the same time. Anyway, I'd say that listening to this record pretty much equals to listening to a bunch of accapella Jimi Hendrix numbers or to a Robert Plant instrumental album. Third and most important, though, the 'donated' tunes are often worthless, with little entertaining value at all. Sure, there's enough variety to have a little something for every taste, but somehow Keith manages to leave me unimpressed ninety percent of the time.

The plain old-fashioned rock'n'roll is stubbornly generic: 'Back Door Sally' manages to produce a little steam as Keith virtually screams his head off, but 'Crazy Like A Fox' is a tune so dumb that it hardly has any reason to exist at all, and I can't really understand why anybody should be really interested in hearing Keith strut his way through John Lennon's 'Move Over Ms L' when we all can easily prefer John's own version, now commonly available on the John Lennon Collection. Neither am I particularly fond of Keith's take on retro-Fifties pop like 'Solid Gold' (only barely interesting due to the complete fool that Keith makes of himself on that one) or Jerry Lee Lewis' 'Teenage Idol'. His take on country pretty much defines 'banal country fodder' ('One Night Stand'; at three and a half minutes, it's way too long for me), and the rendition of the Beach Boys' 'Don't Worry Baby' makes me cringe so much I actually reach out for these funny little surf covers on the bonus part of the Who's A Quick One.

Essentially, when you sort out all that dreck, you're left with... nothing. Nothing at all, unless you count Keith's whacky gospel rendition of 'In My Life' as a serious artistic statement. It's actually moving, I'll admit, and in the light of Keith's demise it's more than that - a highly emotional, touching confession, so I'll refrain from sneering at that one; I'll just say that Rod Stewart certainly took his inspiration from this album when he recorded his own version (now that's not a compliment to Rod Stewart). So the honour of being the best track on the record falls to the kitschy reggaeish number 'Together', written for Keith by Harry Nilsson, but having a fishy Lennon-ish look to it (especially these soaring strings - can anybody remind me which Lennon tune they're ripped off? I got amnesia!) Keith's friendly, highly idiotic chatting with Ringo at the end of the track is the best moment, though. Hmm.

The funny thing is that the bonus tracks on here, excluding alternate versions of 'Teenage Idol' and 'Don't Worry Baby', are actually better. The radio promo is wonderful, in the best traditions of Keith's humour; and the four slightly sleazy pop songs that come after it easily beat out anything on the record itself. 'I Don't Suppose' is heartfelt; 'Real Emotion' is engaging; 'Naked Man' is extremely weird; and 'Do Me Good' is such a blatant rip-off of 'Power Cut' from McCartney's Red Rose Speedway album that it's interesting in any case. Rip-offs are always interesting, whether you intend to discard them or not.

In any case, I would certainly only recommend this record to desperate Who fans in search of more product. Virtually it has absolutely no reason to exist and I don't even know if it managed to satisfy Keith's ambitions as a Solo Artist or not. But it makes a funny, listenable tribute to the Greatest Keith Moon Style Drummer Of All Times, and all the humour contained therein is probably enough to justify its existence if you love Keith as a personality, not just as an important drummer. And by all means get the CD release with bonus tracks: the old version only gets an eight.



(released by: ROGER DALTREY)

Year Of Release: 1973
Overall rating = 7

Don't believe that lion mane! It's a Leo Sayer record sung by Roger Daltrey!

Best song: ONE MAN BAND

Track listing: 1) One Man Band; 2) The Way Of The World; 3) You Are Yourself; 4) Thinking; 5) You And Me; 6) It's A Hard Life; 7) Giving It All Away; 8) The Story So Far; 9) When The Music Stops; 10) Reasons; 11) One Man Band (reprise); [BONUS TRACK:] 12) There Is Love.

There's no obvious answer to the question - why would Roger want to start a solo career at all? Usually, second-rate band members release solo albums when they have something to say. For instance, they might be decent songwriters whose efforts are significantly or totally ignored by the band's leaders (John Entwistle; Bill Wyman). Or they might just want to display their radiant personalities (Ringo Starr; Keith Moon). But truthfully, I simply don't see any reason for this record, the one that jump started Roger's solo career. Of all living people, he obviously made the worst possible choice and teamed up with Leo Sayer. Yeah, I know Leo wasn't a full-fledged fluff rock star by that time, but that doesn't mean his songwriting and cheesemeister instincts were any less developed.

Results? Daltrey is an album so full of cheese and so devoid of musical ideas or, in fact, any genuine sincere joyful excitement, that it belongs in that wretched bin where all Leo Sayer records should be thrown one by one. Sayer wrote the majority of these tunes (I seem to remember he later recorded some of these on his own records, but I'm not sure since I obviously don't have them), while the rest was written by Sayer's piano player. The band is mostly nameless, with the one exception being violin player Dave Arbus on some of the tracks - it's the same dude that's responsible for the crazy jig on 'Baba O'Riley'. Not that I care - all the instrumentation is as bland as possible, based on simplistic acoustic guitar strumming, watery two- or three-chord piano melodies and generic MGM orchestration. Sometimes it seems to me that at least half of the songs rip off Lennon's 'Imagine' (check out the intro to 'You Are Yourself' if you're wondering), and the other half utilises exactly the same pair of chords that are used by mediocre singer-songwriters who bother only about pretentious lyrics and never bother about diversifying the musical accompaniment. And I can't even say that the lyrics on here are interesting.

What's even worse is that Roger himself doesn't seem to be doing a lot on the album. After all these years of wailing and roaring along with Pete's waves of feedback, he suddenly feels like dumping it all and humming out a set of forgettable, often astonishingly sappy ballads. And it's amazing how feeble and shakey and unskilled his vocals suddenly become: either I'm just not able to represent Roger without his trademark 'YEAAAAH!', or he's a really limited singer when it comes back to 'toning down'. The second variant seems more preferrable to me - no wonder Pete sang all these cutesy little ballads on Sell Out.

The album begins with an okayish acoustic pop rocker, 'One Man Band', that has enough naive charm to not make you squint and squirm, and next minute it quickly dives head first into Lake Crapola. Particular lows include 'You And Me', an overdose of saccharine where Roger painfully tries to imitate a tender falsetto but fails as his vocal range just isn't that suitable, or the Hollywoodish piece of schlock 'When The Music Stops' that sounds more like Mantovani than Daltrey. Maybe none of the other tracks are that bad, but that's small consolation. 'Giving It All Away' managed to even be a hit, God knows why (well, maybe I shouldn't ask - weren't the Carpenters and the Osmonds at the peak of their popularity at the time?); the song is based on a dance-pop melody so trivial and stupid that it only accounts for the total lack of taste of the general record buying public at the time.

A little comfort comes from 'Thinking' and 'Reasons', two more mediocre ballads that at least manage to break away from the totally cliched structure of the album by displaying a little energy - Daltrey unexpectedly comes to life on both, and the powerhouse drumming on 'Thinking' and lively electric guitar solos on these songs at least bring in some half-hearted deviation from the formula. Not that there's anything special about these songs, of course, but they could make acceptable background listening. Also, the CD re-issue of the album includes a ridiculously overblown bonus track - the generic gospel number 'There Is Love', which will at least comfort you in that Roger does a little howling and roaring on the song, as should be expected from a generic gospel number. But on the other side, isn't the perspective of Roger singing gospel a little frightening?

Frankly speaking, I don't even understand why it was so necessary to 'completely remaster' the album and proudly stick this information on the front cover. No amount of remastering can bring it to life, and everybody but rabid Who completists are warned: stay away, unless you dig Leo Sayer, too. Although I must confess, I kinda like Daltrey's portrait on the front cover. Almost looks like Marc Bolan, doesn't he? And if you turn it over, you get a good, detailed overview of his lionish mane which he apparently hadn't straightened up since nineteen sixty-eight.



(released by: ROGER DALTREY)

Year Of Release: 1975
Overall rating = 9

I guess every one of us nerds secretly wishes HE could some day show off his manlyhood that way.

Best song: PROUD

Track listing: 1) Get Your Love; 2) Hearts Right; 3) Oceans Away; 4) Proud; 5) World Over; 6) Near To Surrender; 7) Feeling; 8) Walking The Dog; 9) Milk Train; 10) Born To Sing Your Song; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) You Put Something Better Inside Of Me; 12) Dear John; 13) Oceans Away (alternate version).

How amazingly good it is that Leo Sayer actually had a solo career, made a million bucks, infested the radio with pablum-a-plenty and became one of the reasons that punk had to happen. In addition to providing smartasses around the world with a million excuses for cynical remarks and lame jokes, he also stopped working with Roger Daltrey. This meant that for his next solo project Rojer had no choice but to procure the services of a different collaborator, and since we all know that anything coming from the Daltrey camp is only as decent as the guys he's working with, this was good news, per se. Of course, there was always a chance that he could team up with Richard Carpenter instead, but he preferred going the other way and procured the services of Russ Ballard.

Now Russ Ballard, if I'm not confusing anything, had freshly severed his ties with Argent, in which he had for five years been the primary driving force along with Rod Argent. Rod was the piano sprite of the band and its spiritual/artistic guru; Ballard, on the other hand, was the big pompous rocker with a penchant for overweight, fat-dripping riffs and arena-coloured flavour. The match between him and Daltrey was, therefore, much more obvious than between Daltrey and Sayer, in theory at least - after all, the same kind of generalisation could be stated about Townshend. Consequently, Ride A Rock Horse is everything Daltrey is not: with far more emphasis on ballsy, driving rock numbers, and above all, good old Roger the Lion (or, rather, Roger the Centaurus, as you can see, and you can see a darn fine sexy hunk out there, uh, ladies?) is back. Or, rather, he's "BAAAAAAAAAAACK", as Steven Tyler would say.

Not that this would under any conditions rank up there with the Who's worst. There are a few good songs, and a bunch of impressive performances, but inconsistency carries the day, and as for any kind of relevancy, the word "dated" was invented for records like these. I don't need to give you an average picture of a "70s superstar", do I? In between Elton John, Peter Frampton, and Meatloaf you've seen 'em all. Ride A Rock Horse takes on all the usual cliches: loud operatic singing, solemn backing vocals, triumphant piano, cheesy gimmicks like talkbox solos, and tons of radio-friendly bombast that is always ten miles ahead of the actual melody no matter what manner of transportation is selected by the latter.

But then again, today this kind of attitude is often better for a laugh than an excuse for bowel-cleansing (in comparison, generic Eighties-style party albums still sound pretty awful to my ears), maybe because of this kind of amusing, coke-soaked, bedazzled idealism that often permeates the records. So if you don't think too hard and don't analyse too much, Ride A Rock Horse can be fun. And it doesn't hurt that, out of all the superstars of the 70s, Daltrey is, after all, one of the most - if not the most - qualified. 1975 finds him in top vocal form, ready to take on all competition on the upcoming Who world tour and firing all the cylinders lodged in his throat.

Case in point: 'Proud', a rather rudimentary piano rocker whose one and only gimmick consists of Roger singing - nope, screaming - nay, offering a Scandinavian-god-of-war-like interpretation - of the song title. I don't see anyone else in the whole wide world who could get away with something like that. You try walking over to the microphone and singing 'Proud, ooh, it makes me proud' like you are the newly born Superman and the world's your playground. Okay, not you. Forget about you, you little wimp. Get David Coverdale to sing that and feel your brains turn to pheromones. Get Meatloaf to do it and have your idealistic fun spoiled by irony on one hand and decadent narciccism on the other. Get Ronnie James Dio to do it and feel yourself crushed by the weight of the Viking helmet. Roger Daltrey now, that guy does it just about right, with the correct mixture of intelligence (say, 5%?), naivete (give it 15%) and machismo (everything else).

Apart from 'Proud', Ballard also contributes the lounge-blues-rock 'Get Your Love' and the ballad 'Near To Surrender'. All of these songs - and everything else - is infested with his piano playing, whereas the guitars are either acoustic and unnoticeable or electronically processed so as not to sound like guitars at all. Despite this, the piano sound is so big and the horn and string sections so overpowering that the songs do seem huge, even if 'huge' is not necessarily 'rock'. Yet neither would 'huge' mean that there's an impenetrable wall-of-sound going on, a la Bruce Springsteen, because that's never the primary concern for these guys; what they don't need at all is hiding Roger's voice behind anything that'd even vaguely remind of a sonic curtain.

A couple more tunes are handed over by piano player Paul Korda, a gentleman of surprisingly diverse tastes, because one of them - 'Feeling' - is a lengthy, sleazy, ominous-sounding blues-rock creation giving Roger a big fat chance to come across as the insecure, passionate ogre being driven crazy with incontrollable desire; yet the other one, 'World Over', is a short, concise and upbeat sunny piano pop rocker with happy harmonies, glossy hooks, and a general look like it had just arrived out of Christine McVie's songbook. (I honestly don't know how I'd rate the song, though. Part of me wants to hip and hop along to it like crazy and the other part correctly replies that I should save these emotions for Mother Goose). Oh, wait, Korda also contributes 'Hearts Right', which, I guess, is, uh, catchy? Yeah, yeah, that's the word I've been looking for all my life. Catchy.

Lowlights, on the other hand, would include 'Milk Train', a piece of clumsy, cheap-looking vaudeville which finds Daltrey first in David Bowie mode (to be more precise, David Live mode, with even a bit of faux applause taped on at the beginning) and then in no particular man's mode, in fact, no mode at all. Ballads like 'Oceans Away' don't do much good either except bring on unpleasant reminiscences of the self-titled album. And the cover of 'Walking The Dog' is so ridiculously overdone that I wonder if Roger was also planning to steal away a part of Tom Jones' audience. For all I know, he may have been successful, but I'll still take the Stones version - not to mention Rufus Thomas' original - any day.

Maybe even more symbolic of the era in which this was recorded than the album sleeve is the name of the first bonus track on the CD reissue: 'You Put Something Better Inside Of Me'. This, I believe, should rank right along with Frampton's famous 'I'm In You', and had it been a hit, there is no doubt that Frank Zappa would have parodied it with a title like 'I Feel So Much Better With What You Put Inside Of Me', especially considering how well the subject would fit in with the general conception of Joe's Garage (the robot section, I mean). Ah, those sweet innocent days (actually, very very guilty days) when you could have these song titles and not bother about the consequences. (The song itself is tripe, by the way).

What really sucks about these early albums, overall, is that all of them followed the "I'm sick and tired of my bandmates, I'm off looking for fresh blood" principle. There is no question that if Rock Horse featured, say, a couple inferior Pete Townshend rejects, or a few guest spots by Entwistle, or a bunch of drunk and sloppy Keith Moon backing tracks instead of the sober-to-goodness Henry Spinetti, the results would still be far less forgettable. Alas, back in those days it was not to be because the Who were still officially a functional unit, and guest starring on each other's solo records, in their eyes, would do irrepairable damage to each other's unique identity. But then, who am I to judge? If Roger Daltrey prefers working with a guy called Paul Korda to working with a guy called Pete Townshend, it's his venerable choice, and I have to respect it. Oh well, at least he had the decency to airbrush the more outstanding parts of his equine body.



(released by: ROGER DALTREY)

Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating = 10

The "Lounge" boys, that is.

Best song: SAY IT AIN'T SO JOE

Track listing: 1) Parade; 2) Single Man's Dilemma; 3) Avenging Annie; 4) The Prisoner; 5) Leon; 6) One Of The Boys; 7) Giddy; 8) Written On The Wind; 9) Satin And Lace; 10) Doing It All Again; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Martyrs And Madmen; 12) Treachery; 13) Say It Ain't So Joe.

Guilty pleasure time time. After all's been said and done and all the coke stains washed off and all the Boogie Nights associations discussed a million times, the late Seventies are still a fun time, and not even necessarily "fun" in a "so horrible, it's fun to wonder how humanity could have sunk that low" late Eighties way, but something a little more genuine. Take this album, for instance. Third time around, Roger went and proved that if you thought his previous two were not the epitome of generic conformist schmoozako-pablum, third one would beat 'em all. It is somewhat comforting that there's virtually no disco on here, apart from a short funky section in 'Giddy', but, in a different twist, you could also take this as "poor schmuck, he didn't even get to learn disco as the new cutting edge thing".

I have absolutely no idea who are all these guys on the credits. They're probably all on the dole by now. Well, okay, one song is credited to Bluntstone, whom I assume to have been Colin, the ex-Zombie - his contribution is 'Single Man's Dilemma', and I bet you ten dollars he just stole it from some obscure Nashville record and the entire thing was just a plot to get the poor chap some extra royalties. Which, in my humble opinion, he does not deserve because it's piss-poor taste to rhyme 'whiskey' and 'misty', if you ask me. On the other hand, maybe we should think of an extra bonus for using the word 'dilemma' to go along with a good old country boy standard.

Another one, 'Giddy', is credited to some guy called McCartney - never heard of him. Some pathetic loser, methinks, wasting time on absurd power-pop/funk hybrids with way too little living potential. The credits also add "administered by McCartney" - don't believe I've ever met such a description anywhere else. You usually administer medicine, not songs. Then again, 'Giddy' does slightly smell of ethylene to me. I seem to recall that 1977 was, indeed, the time when McCartney dabbled a little bit in disco - remember 'Morse Moose And The Grey Goose'? Well, he was never as successful at it as he was at mocking the glam rock standard, anyway, and 'Giddy' is a clear throwaway that does not require necessary "administration".

The rest of the collaborators/co-writers/Seventies rabble is as good as anonymous these days. The musicianship is definitely another story, though - apart from Entwistle on bass, I recognize ex-Wings guy Jimmy McCulloch on guitars and Rod Argent on keyboards; plus, Alvin Lee, Mick Ronson, Eric Clapton, and later-to-be Eric Clapton's long-time partner Andy Fairweather-Low all make guest appearances. The atmosphere must have been quite celebratory indeed, and with the addition of all the saxophone players and backvocal croonies it often sways between festival and massive gospel, and every once in a while the mood gets all George Harrison-like. But much more often it's the winged chariot of Billy Joel flying over our heads. Lots of mushy piano and corporate sentiment.

There is exactly one track on here that "rocks" in any way - the title one, which can be perceived as sort of an anti-punk manifesto, a sneering satyre attack on the days of '77 akin to Ray Davies 'Prince Of The Punks'. Which, of course, makes the rest of the album even more defiant in its embracing the stale genericity of the Seventies. And it's pretty ironic, really, to hear lyrics like 'He speaks with a terrible stammer/So he don't have much to say/But he can spit further than any punk/So nobody gets in his way' when you know for sure that the one person they really fit to a tee is... Roger Daltrey around 1965, right down to the stammer, although I'm not too well informed of the spitting thing. This is as much self-parody as sarcasm, and this is even funnier. Isn't it real fun seeing an angry young man like Roger Daltrey get artificially mad at even angrier - and even younger - men?

Somewhat more memorable is 'Avenging Annie', a cute musical story that plays out like something (decent) by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with just a touch of genuine British progressive rock to restore the appetite of all you snub-nosed Broadway haters. It's a pretty great cut, actually, where, for once, Roger plays second fiddle to Rod Argent's persistent piano escapades, and then the entire band, inflamed by Rod's enthusiasm, gives out a tremendous crescendo in the middle. It doesn't stray too far away from its basic melody, but then this is not a prog rock album, after all, and Argent provides as much flash and diversity as is allowable within the confines of a four-minute pop song. And the decision to use it as the album's corresponding single was pretty brave, given that there are much more obviously commercial candidates on parade - for instance, the catchier, but far less interesting 'Written On The Wind'.

In fact, I think Rod is the primary reason why so much of this schlock, which in any other hands would have remained pure schlock, still succeeds on a certain level. He has a special sort of chemistry worked out with Daltrey, light years removed from the Who chemistry but quite effective in its own rights. I would never even dream of being moved to tears by such a carefully calculated "get your hankies out" piece as 'Leon', a funeral-style ballad about... well, about some dead guy named Leon, but there it is, it moved me so much I've even made a futile attempt at trying to learn who's Leon. No luck, but whoever he was, he got himself a darn fine tribute from "one of the boys". Is that Clapton's guitar gently weeping during the chorus? I'd be damn dissapointed to find out it isn't - it's so much his style, and brings to mind more of those sweet All Things Must Pass memories. Even more unimaginative is a ballad called 'Satin And Lace', but even that one has also touched my heart in a special way. And you're hearing this from a guy who normally hates predictable, overblown, operatic deliveries from big guys with big lungs and a whole pack of hearts on their sleeves to choose from.

Unquestionably, though, the record's tour-de-force piece, and one that actually earned it its extra point, is Daltrey's take on Murray Head's big hit 'Say It Ain't So Joe' (also done by Gary Brooker and God knows who else). On my CD it comes on as the last one of the bonus tracks, which is apparently a mistake, because it does belong on the original album (at least the British edition), but then it is wise to save the best for last. The arrangement is surprisingly complex, with multiple vocal overdubs and a great balance between Roger's own overdubs and the back vocal croonies, creating just the right amount of tension that the desperately political lyrics suggest, the power is right there, the guitar solo cooks, and to crown it all comes the mid-section crowned with a 'don't you think we're gonna get BUUUUURNED' of such force that I'm surprised - I thought he'd been saving those sonic tanks for Who records after all.

In the end, it's all just another boulder in the way of the theory that a song is only as good as its basic melody is. Doesn't work that way, really - there's no such great song as could not be spoiled by a bland arrangement, and there's no such shitty song as couldn't be given extra life by a passionate spirit. It's soothing to know that Roger could make the best of the situation he found himself in, or maybe it's just that I find his voice so much to my liking that I'm forgiving him on every possible occasion. But then it all depends on the proper weight of the scale, you know - if the other cup holds Leo Sayer, for instance, it's far weightier than holding a bunch of semi-anonymous guys called Blunstone and McCartney.



(released by: ROGER DALTREY)

Year Of Release: 1985
Overall rating = 10

Sometimes it pays off to be loud - at least you can outshout the synthesizers.


Track listing: 1) After The Fire; 2) Don't Talk To Strangers; 3) Breaking Down Paradise; 4) The Pride You Hide; 5) Move Better In The Night; 6) Love Me Like You Do; 7) Let Me Down Easy; 8) Fallen Angel; 9) It Don't Satisfy Me; 10) Rebel; 11) Under A Raging Moon.

For some reason, Roger's musical career after the [first] breakup of the Who has been even less prolific than his solo output in the 70s. Second- and third-rate movie cameos, yes, but very few albums. Okay, so his songwriting abilities do make Ringo Starr come off as creative genius, but since when has that stopped powerhouse singers like Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart from having long, fruitful, diverse, nightmarish solo careers in the Eighties and Nineties?..

I don't really know much about Roger's reasons. But I like Under A Raging Moon, his only major artistic venture since the sacking of Kenny Jones, and I wasn't supposed to like it. Like every known singer-not-songwriter in existence, Daltrey relies on sidemen to provide both material and arrangement, and what do they call sidemen who lack vision? Hackmen. And what kinds of hackmen are you expected to get in the mid-Eighties? That's right, don't even ask.

In form, Under A Raging Moon is generic mid-Eighties arena-rock. Two words: "Bryan Adams". Not scared yet? How about if I told you he contributes two whole songs? How about telling you that most of this sounds like a cross between, uh, lessee, late period Bad Company, late period Foreigner, Born In The USA or even Tunnel Of Love era Springsteen, and not one teenie-weenie bit like the Who, early, mid, late, or post-post-classic era? Would you tell me to piss off and judge the album on its own merits, shut my eyes on the historic and cultural context and enjoy these songs for what they are instead of for what my ridiculous pigeonholing desires tend to accentuate in them...?

Well, that's what I'm doing, goddammit. I dig Under A Raging Moon about as much as I can dig an album dominated by lifeless electronic keyboards, dumb, machistic, unmemorable Eighties guitar riffs, boring, overblown power ballads, and superhero-style anthems from under the pen of Bryan "A Pest On The Good Name Of Sir Robin Of Locksley" Adams. And the one and only reason for this, as far as my cerebrum is willing to tell me, is Roger's presence. Because Roger is really, really present on this album, if you know what I mean. Good or bad, most of these songs are tailor-made to suit him, his style, his personality, and in response, he makes many of them come to life where somebody like Lou Gramm would... gee, I don't even wanna know.

It's a good thing to learn that in between Roger's obvious throat problems as revealed on Who's Last and his still powerful, but frequently strained, overworked, and sagged delivery on all these relatively new "Who-related" projects, he still had these moments to remind us why there's good reason to consider his voice the ideal standard of brawny arena-rock. On Raging Moon, he screams, hollers, roars, and soars exactly like he used to in the old days, and sometimes even more so, and all of this with the reckless abandon of that ragged street hooligan that we know him to be, gritty and dangerous. (Listen to the amazing hoarse bawl during the chorus to 'Move Better In The Night' - a song so formulaic in melody it makes me suspect that maybe sitting through an album called Roger Daltrey Sings The Songs Of Foreigner might actually be a rewarding experience).

But there's more to it. Under A Raging Moon has a purpose. The gritty hooligan is growing old, see, and unlike many other formerly gritty hooligans who preferred to go through their mid-life crises trying to pretend they were above them, this one isn't afraid to exorcise his demons right before our eyes. Maybe it was Townshend's example that inspired him; whatever be, the record is honest, devoid of cartoonish posturing, and - in spots - genuinely touching. The 'Moon' in the title has, of course, little to do with green cheese, hares, and tortoises; the title track is directly dedicated to the memory of the one and only Moon we really treasure, and some say that the whole album plays as one big tribute, although, of course, its emotional scope is broader than that.

The title track is quite cool. The synths and power-chord-choked guitars are made to look as late period-Who-ish as is possible without Pete's assistance, the lyrics, although not written by Daltrey, are as tolerable as they come ("the wild man he laid the thunder down" - could be better, then again, could be much worse), and in the middle of this suitably tough rocker comes an actual multi-drummer solo as a whole bunch of the biggies in the business gather in the studio to render the honours. Besides the by-now regular session guy Mark Brzezicki (whom Roger probably got on Pete's recommendation), there's Queen's Roger Taylor, ELP's Carl Palmer, the Police's Stu Copeland, everything-in-sight's Cozy Powell, and even Zak Starkey, who, today, is a Who regular, but at the time of recording was probably, like, two years old or something and I betcha Roger fooled him out of his royalties, the scum.

The other song well worth saving for posterity is Townshend's donation, 'After The Fire'; you could probably tell it by the lyrics alone, ten times as confessional and visionary as everything else on here (sample lines: 'I saw Matt Dillon in black and white/There ain't no colour in memories/He rode his brother's Harley across the TV/While I was laughing at Dom deLuise/Now I'm cycling all my video tapes/ I'm crying and I'm joking/I've gotta stop drinking/I've gotta stop thinking/I've gotta stop smoking' - why does that remind me of 'You Better You Bet', I wonder?). The melody ain't exactly brilliant - why would Pete want to give away a brilliant melody to the ol' bully guy at this juncture? - but it still works, still has an ounce of the old Pete magic in it which makes even cliched stuff touch the heart and warm the soul. And there's something really really genuine about hearing Daltrey yell 'after the fire, the fire still burns!'. "After the fire" = openly accepting the fact that the old power is gone, once and for all, and cannot be recaptured. "The fire still burns" = indicating that something still remains and there's, like, no sense in not making use of that something.

And that's the good side of Under A Raging Moon - it takes up a difficult task of grabbing one of rock music's former symbols of limitless power and coming up with a good apology for the fact that that power was, in fact, limited. In a way, all of the Who's post-Quadrophenia career has been one big fat apology, dedicated to getting themselves out of this tricky situation: these are the guys that used to sing 'hope I die before I get old', and now they're getting old and?.. With The Who By Numbers and Empty Glass Townshend had, for the most part, redeemed himself. This is Roger's chance, and the good news is that even Bryan Adams can't make him blow it.

He tries hard, though; 'Rebel' is quite typical Adamsian garbage, and one of the record's ugliest moments, because not only is the melody predictable from the first to the very last note, but the 'I'm a rebel, just a rebel!' chorus is also not working in this context. Yes, Roger can still scream in "Won't Get Fooled Again"-mode, but he shouldn't be doing that, you fools! The very point of the album is that it's not just nostalgia - it's meaningful nostalgia, and the only meaning of this song is profanating the guy's earlier merits by switching from Townshend-mode to Adams-mode. Misstep, bad misstep. They do a much better job on 'Let Me Down Easy', I think, a song that's better in almost every respect - melody, catchiness, adequacy, etc.

Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't want anybody to walk away with the impression that this is a really good album. The songwriting is hit and miss and miss again. I don't even know most of these guys - okay, I do know ex-Argent fella Russ Ballard who contributes one so-so song ('Breaking Down Paradise') and he was a hit-and-miss songwriter even in his Argent days. There's a couple really lame power ballads that could have been rejected by Phil Collins. And even when the tunes are memorable (the somewhat creepy, effect-laden 'Fallen Angel'; the barroom rock of 'It Don't Satisfy Me'), they rarely rise above mediocre. And I do respect guitarist Robbie McIntosh for some of his work with Paul McCartney, but not even a moderately tasteful semi-acoustic, semi-electronic solo on 'Love Me Like You Do' can redeem the song as a redeemable entity, if you know what I mean.

In the end, it's just an interesting case of a very generic song collection being way less generic than the sum of its generic parts. I am honestly excited by Roger's vocals, and, more importantly, moved by Roger's attitude, and although Daltrey has always been my least favourite member of the Who (and I am probably not alone in this one), Under A Raging Moon helps me understand him a little better and realise just how essential the guy really was for the Who, contributing much more than just a powerful voice and three cubometers worth of blonde hair.


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