Monday 2 October 2017

The Who: Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1965-1972

You can now buy 'Gettin' In Tune - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of...The Who' in e-book form by clicking here!

"The Who Sings My Generation"

(Brunswick/Track Records, December 1965)

Out In The Street/I Don't Mind/The Good's Gone/La La La Lies/Much Too Much/My Generation//The Kids Are Alright/Please Please Please/It's Not True/The Ox/A Legal Matter/Instant Party (Circles)

"It's a legal matter from now on!"

Back in the 1960s American record labels weren't used to issuing British LPs Stateside and often insisted on tweaking the running order and contents around. The Who got away with this more lightly than most actually, thanks to the close ties between Brunswick and Track Records (who released the Who albums in Europe) and they only ever suffered this with their first two LPs. The biggest change is the title and cover: while the British LP is just titled 'My Generation', the American edition is called 'The Who Sings My Generation' (because they can't play it?!) while instead of cynical pouting behind some bins The Who cynically pout instead of London's Big Ben and Houses of Parliament instead. Track-wise the album substitutes the mysterious 'Circles' under the 'wrong' name 'Instant Party' (only released as the B-side of 'Substitute' in the UK) for the cover of Bo Diddley's 'I'm A Man', which seems a more than fair swap to me. 

"Ready! Steady! Who!" EP

(Reaction, November 11th 1966)

Disguises/Circles//Batman/Bucket T/Barbara Ann

"I think it's you but I can't be sure - you're wearing disguises!"

The weekend starts here! Err, maybe. I don't know when you're reading this to be honest and maybe it's a repeat anyway. All I know is that's what they used to shout every Friday night on UK TV's second most important music programme of the 1960s every week between August 1963 and December 1966. Fans tend to forget about this show now, which is one of the few that survived the 1960s tape purge (thanks to our beloved hero Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five who bought up all the tapes he could with his own money) but has still been largely unseen by people in the years since and is always being pulled off youtube (thanks to that swine Dave Clark who hasn't let anybody re-issue this priceless footage since some highlights shows and a Beatles special came out on video in the 1980s). Anyway, 'Ready Steady Go' was a bit more 'hip' than it's Thursday-night rival 'Top Of The Pops' and was intended for a much younger, more music-loving audience than it's more family viewing sister programme. The Who were naturals, being young angry and wildly exciting and were almost a 'house band' for the show, turning up regularly and even getting their own 1966 special 'Ready Steady Who' (joining a list of just two other acts who had a whole episode to themselves: the fab four and Otis Redding, so they were in great company!)

Never one to miss a marketing trick and needing money fast, Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert organised a new EP to be released to cash in on this Ready Steady craze. By breaking the lengthy silence since 'The Who Sings My Generation', it could also be seen as a pun on words with the band getting 'Ready Steady' for the Christmas market when it was all systems 'go' with second album 'A Quick One' in the shops only a month or so later. This EP also marks a Who tradition whereby the band were celebrating an institution and era they knew was dying: despite still being very popular, the BBC axed 'Ready Steady Go' at the end of 1966, aware that ratings were beginning to slide now that mod was out of fashion and wanting to find another cool young alternative (not that they ever really did - the closest any BBC music show came to matching the popularity of these two was 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' in the 1970s - and that mainly appealed to the thoughtful adults the teenage mods who watches RSG!' turned into). The Who probably knew the mutterings and warnings from the programme makers, being the biggest darlings the show had and all, and they pay tribute here in the same they will to pirate radio on 'Who Sell Out' when that gets axed in 1967 and the whole mod scene in 'Quadrophenia'. For a band who never wanted to grow old, they spent a long time looking back on their younger days and that trend arguably starts here.

Anyway, at the time nobody in or around 'The Who' thought of the 'RSW!' EP as anything more than a quick cash-in. The five-song set includes only two new Pete Townshend songs and one of these named 'Circles' could already be heard, briefly, on the flipside of the original single of 'Substitute' before the dispute with Shel Talmy saw the record pulled and, well, substituted with a new B-side (even if it is a new, inferior recording that's slower and calmer and features plenty of John Entwistle's lovely French Horn).That leaves three cover songs - the last The Who will release on a 'proper' studio release, with the exception of 'Eyesight To The Blind' on 'Tommy' - and none of them are songs anyone was itching for The Who to play. Recent Beach Boys hit 'Barbara Ann'? Jan and Dean minor hit 'Bucket T'?!? The theme from the TV series 'Batman'?!?!? At times you wonder if The Who put any thought into this album at all or whether they just turned up one day and went 'gee guys, what's a song we all know how to play?' This EP is very much dominated by surfing (and Batman) fan Keith Moon, who chose the entire second half, gets to 'sing' lead vocals for the first time on a Who recording and plays out of his skull on the first half, with some fascinating (and loud!) drum sounds that have to be heard to be believed. Unless you're a fellow surfing/Batman fan you might not enjoy quite as much as Keith clearly is doing here. However the EP is saved single-handedly by the 'other' Townshend recording here, the thrilling 'Disguises' which is an angry, atonal, raucous song where musically the ground always seems to be shifting under your feet, while lyrically too the narrator's lover always seems to be transforming into somebody new. For a band who sounded so 'right' on songs about change and who often sounded like things were always moving at speed, it's a natural sound the band should have used more. Overall, though, the EP is a curio, not a 'proper' thought out and well executed Who recording, in the modern age given a natural home as a 'bonus' on the end of the 'A Quick One' CD where it fits quite well - all except for the re-recording of 'Circles' at least, for which you'll need to track down a copy of rarities set 'Two's Missing' (1987).

Note: We've already dealt with [  ] 'Circles' as part of our 'non-album recordings' for 1965, though strictly speaking the version on the EP is a re-recording with added horns!

'Disguises' is the EP's most lasting moment, the Who's heaviest recording so far and  another Pete Townshend composition concerned with 'identity'. This time the narrator has a hard track keeping himself together because his girl keeps changing - at first she just has a different mood each time he sees here, but then her appearance changes and then her clothes too. Possibly an early Townshend 'drug' song (an early experience on board a failing aircraft meant that Pete didn't 'trip' anything like as much as other writers on this list, but he is known to have taken drugs across 1966 and 1967), the fact that LSD changes a taker's 'perceptions' of other people and the drug's ability to juggle 'multiple' personalities at once (rather than one mood changing it reads several moods simultaneously) seems to be a dead 'ringer' for this track. What's more, this song 'sounds' different: John's bass has been stripped back to a loud squeal running through the song while Pete's guitar doesn't play so much as sizzle, making weird noises throughout. The lyrics feature Pete and John singing deep in tandem with Roger's more 'normal' vocal, which is very disconcerting: this is a world where nothing is certain and nothing is 'safe'. It's also rather 'surreal' - at one point the narrator even sees his girl disguised as a 'flower bed'. The result is 'Susbtitute' raised up a level, although the lyrics aren't quite so clever or the effect quite as 'musical'. Still, 'Disguises' is an under-rated track that easily beats the cover versions that surround it on the 'Ready Steady Who' EP. Paul Weller, noted Who and mod fan, recorded his own version with The Jam on their 1981 LP 'Absolute Beginners' in an arrangement that stays pretty faithful to the wild psychedelia of the original, but doesn't have the French Horn solo!

For a while there - till it got outrageously cancelled at the height of its fame due to an ill-advised move to a different network and confusion that led to the pricey sets being demolished - 'Batman' was the coolest programme on TV. It was also about the most pop-art and mod-ish, full of bright colours, sharp dressing and a bunch of obviously fake fight scenes that made The Who look like a bunch of hippies (kretch!) If you were a hip teenager of 1966 then you were probably singing The Who, but if you weren't then you might well have been singing the distinctive 'Batman' theme tune and The Who weren't the only ones to fall under it's spell - The Kinks kovered it too on their 1966/1968 live album 'Kelvin Hall'.  While The Kinks extend the song past breaking point in a mammoth medley, The Who are short and too the point and add a lot more guitar swirls around John's take on the stabbing riff. Keith causes chaos on the drums while Roger sounds distinctly uncomfortable shouting 'Batman!' for a living fifty times over. The result is, like most selections on 'Ready Steady Who', truly weird and something only a fan could love - but love it we do!

[  ] 'Bucket T' is even weirder. Keith chose the Jan and Dean surfing song to record and sang the lead vocal, which is arguably the most 'together' vocal he ever gave. At least he's more on form than Pete and Roger's falsetto shrieks in the background, though John's french horn part steals the show (french horn on a surfing song?!? It can only be The Who...) The original is actually a rare 'spoof' song from Jan and Dean who were annoyed that all their fans were moving on to car songs and neglecting their surfboards and so made up a song about a form of car popular in the 1910s-20s (and thus was popular with the parents of The Who's biggest audience!) They actually mean a 'T-Bucket' though, which probably wasn't as easy or catchy to sing. A lot of fun but, truly, this is a 'leave it in the vault' moment if ever there was one - how did it end up on an EP when so many better things were left in the can? (I just can't handle these things the way I am!)

On a similar note, Keith Moon famously missed a prestigious Who gig with the very understandable excuse that The Beach Boys were in town and he wasn't going to miss them play just for some responsibilities with his own band was he? Despite his wild rock image and (along with Dave Davies) the best claim to have invented 'heavy metal', Keith was a 'surfer' at heart, spending his pre-teen years collecting the records by Dick Dale and The Surfaris and his teenage years as a fan of Brian Wilson and his brothers. With an EP to fill in a hurry and only one Townshend original to go on it, The Who held a quick discussion to see what songs they ought to cover, preferably ones simple enough to be rehearsed in a hurry. The Beach Boys had just scored a hit with 'Barbara Ann', a Fred Fassert song recorded in a similarly haphazard hurried way for their 'Party!' album (a 'fake' party album made of an 'unplugged' session and a later playback where band, friends and girlfriends all joined in making daft comments). Keith particularly liked that record and suggested it to the band, getting his first lead vocal on a Who record to boot. Keith's falsetto is vaguely enough like Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean)'s guest vocal on the Beach Boys version for him to get away with it, but it's not a great vocal even for a drummer notoriously 'banned' from most Who vocal overdub sessions. This is a nice rare chance to hear the whole band singing together though, with John unusually singing the bass part, and while chaotic in the extreme (Keith is the only one who knew the song well) this version is a lot of fun, with one of Townshend's most gonzo guitar solos (dressed up in final production with some squeaking 'sound effects' that sound suspiciously like a swannee whistle, though none of the band ever admitted to playing one!) Listen out for the fact that The Who re-create the 'mistake' of The Beach Boys version in the last verse; not sure whether the correct line is 'Betty Lou' or 'Betty too' half the band sing each version ('Betty Lou' is the right line, by the way!)

  "Happy Jack"

(Track Records, December 1966)

Run Run Run/Boris The Spider/I Need You/Whiskey Man/Cobwebs and Strange/Happy Jack//Don't Look Away/See My Way/Sad About Us/A Quick One While He's Away

CD Bonus Track: Heatwave

"My head's in a lion's mouth, wants to eat me up"

The American version of 'A Quick One' substitutes the cover of 'Heatwave' for hit single 'Happy Jack' (though the American CD edition adds that as a bonus track) and adds a bit more advertising and pictures to the back sleeve (the front cover being the same except for the change in album title). Otherwise it's business as usual and The Who's albums will never be messed around with again Stateside. 

"Magic Bus - The Who On Tour"

(Decca/MCA, September 1968)

Disguises/Run Run Run/Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde/I Can't Reach You/Our Love Was/Call Me Lightning//Magic Bus/Someone's Coming/Doctor Doctor/Bucket T/Pictures Of Lily

"Famine, frustration, we only acted out an imitiation of what our love could have been"

By 1968 The Who's fanbase had moved on from teenyboppers who thought their singles were kinda cute to rock fans who knew that The Who were at their greatest on stage, undiluted, with microphones twirling guitars wind-milling and cymbals flying in all directions. Given that even largely studio-based bands like The Kinks and The Beach Boys had released live albums by 1968, it was surely time for The Who to release their first live set. That's what most fans thought they were getting when they handed over their hard-earned pennies for a new album that was actually called 'on tour' and had a hilarious cover sleeve of The Who larking around on a bus (sadly not magic, despite what it said on the cover, but an old disused one borrowed from a London depot and painted rather unconvincingly in flowers - a ramshackle, falling apart, seat-bumpy-but-still-road-worthy Who version of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour). Instead 'Magic Bus' is one of those occasionally misleading cash-ins record labels liked to rip people off with in the 1960s, perhaps misunderstanding just how cross consumers got about such things then and now. 'Magic Bus' is really the first ever Who compilation, dressed up by the band's American label who thought that releasing a best-of when the band had only released three albums (including one they didn't have the rights to) was possibly a bit premature. The answer: it was and even as the world's first compilation released before the band had had a chance to record many of their greatest moments (and thus on a par with The Beatles' 'Oldies but Mouldiers', The Stones' 'Big Hits, High Tide and Green Grass' and especially 'The Beach Boys' Greatest') 'Magic Bus' is a shoddy set. The disc contains just two bona fide hits (the title track and 'Pictures of Lily') plus the major flop 'Call Me Lightning' with no sign of 'I Can See For Miles' 'I'm A Boy' or even 'Substitute'. Though fans of the day who'd worn out their B-sides and had lost their copy of 'Ready Steady Who' might have been pleased to have these songs out again nobody else was and this album rightly became a byword for everything that was wrong about the capitalist music machine of the 1960s, occasionally still parodied today (usually by rather desperate 1960s various artist compilations). Amazingly this shoddy set still found a CD re-issue in the 1980s (which included the rarer, extended mix of the title track, unlike original vinyl copies), although it hasn't been seen since which makes sense - it's almost old enough for a bus pass now and there are so many better Who sets around today (i.e. all of them!)
"Direct Hits!"

(Track Records, October 1968)

Bucket T/I'm A Boy/Pictures Of Lily/Doctor Doctor/I Can See For Miles/Substitute//Happy Jack/The Last Time/In The City/Call Me Lightning/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Dogs

"Just how long is there to go? Please tell me I want to know. No, on second thoughts don't tell me, I'm too ill!"

Meanwhile, over in Europe, Track Records filled the gap between Who albums three and four with this similar and even more esoteric compilation. If anything the title of this set was even more misleading, with only three songs close to anything that might actually be called 'hits' (and a weird trio they are too: 'Substitute' 'Happy Jack and 'I Can See For Miles') with lots missing: the Brunswick recordings with Shel Talmy obviously (the court case over who owned what rights was in full swing by 1968) but also such big sellers as 'Magic Bus', given a starring role on the other side of the Atlantic even though the single shifted far less copies there, weirdly. With the debut album out of bounds too that means 'Direct Hits' is taken from just two LPs and an EP - not exactly a great amount of material to choose from. Like 'The Who On Tour - Honest They Are, No Really' this set is of much more interest to the 1960s collector containing the first appearance on a long-playing record for such oddities as the flop singles 'Call Me Lightning' and 'Dogs', B-sides like 'Doctor Doctor' and 'In The City' and - most bizarrely of all - EP cover 'Bucket T' and Stones cover 'The Last Time'. If it wasn't for the presence of the hits Track could probably have got away with calling this 'The Worst Of The Who' as the album tracks aren't exactly chosen with care either. Even the album artwork is weird: lots of small photographs that have nothing whatsoever to do with The Who and strung together in a very arty 'Hipgnosis' style which isn't like The Who at all. Perhaps mercifully this compilation has never appeared on CD, except in Japan in 2007, though it was re-issued on vinyl in America to coincide with the reunion tour in 1989. At least the title - with its sense of violence and guitar-smashing - gets half a point for being clever. Legend has it this album became the first ever British 'import' to be reviewed in America's premier Rolling Stone Magazine. That should have been a time of  great tribute for the band - except they didn't like it much. General fans had to wait another three years for 'Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy' which did this sort of thing with much more class - erm, despite that title!

"The Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus"

(ABCKO, Recorded December 1968, Released October 1996)

Entry Of The Gladiators (Circus Cast)/Song For Jeffrey (Jethro Tull)/A Quick One While He's Away (The Who)/Over The Waves (Circus Cast)/Ain't That A Lot Of Love? (Taj Mahal)/Something Better (Marianne Faithfull)/Yer Blues (Dirty Mac)/Whole Lotta Yoko (Dirty Mac)/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Parachute Woman/No Expectations/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Sympathy For The Devil/Salt Of The Earth (Rolling Stones)

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, dig The Who!"

Though unreleased until 1979 and only heard in context as late as 1997, even at the time in 1968 Who fans knew that this performance was the 'holy grail'. The Stones partly abandoned their intended TV special because they knew they'd been upstaged by their rivals, unwisely brought in as a support act and told they could only do one song - being The Who in 1968 they made their own song a mini-opera that lasted nine minutes and played out of their skins. This is really a visual performance, full of bouncy flying guitars, twirling microphones and Keith turning his drunkit into a fountain - but even on the soundtrack album the Who's power really shines through on easily the definitive version of 'A Quick One'. The Who were tight and disciplined in late 1968 after an American tour and on this evidence it's a tragedy they didn't record a live record a couple of years before 'Leeds' - this performance suggests it might have been even better than that superlative album. The track was first released on the soundtrack of Who documentary film 'The Kids Are Alright' in 1979 but for the full experience try and buy the Stones set if you can - it's the perfect summary of the era and the Stones' own much-maligned set is actually pretty good and one of their very best too, while a young unknown band named Jethro Tull and new boy Taj Mahal are also on cracking form. However there can only be one winner of this circus's greatest highwire trapeze act and that's The Who. In 1968, with the band already pregnant with 'Tommy' and at the height of their live powers and unified like never before, truly Who else could it be? 

Pete Townshend and Various Artists "Happy Birthday"

(Universal, February 1970)

Content*/Evolution**/Day Of Silence*/Alan Cohen Speaks/Mary Jane*/Alan Cohen Speaks #2/The Seeker*//Begin The Beguine*/With A Smile Up His Nose They Entered/The Love Man*/Meditation
* = Pete Townshend solo ** = Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane

"I am happy singing in the arms of God"

Happy birthday to Who? No, happy birthday to Baba as Pete's guru Meher's spirit turned 76 on February 25th 1970 (his body having passed on at the end of January 1969, a few months before 'Tommy's birth - coincidence or karma?) Pete wanted to pay tribute and the best way he knew how was through music. However rather than releasing an all-singing all-dancing wind-milling affair, Pete chose to release this set quietly in collaboration with other Baba believers including Small Face Ronnie Lane, Pink Floyd collaborator Ron Geesin, Mike Da Costa and Vytas Serelis. The album was pitched mainly to fellow converts and crept out quietly - at least at first, until Who and Faces fans heard about it and started buying up every copy they could and creating a collector's item in the process (shocked at all these 'lost' sales Track Records will ask Pete to re-assemble this and the next Baba album 'I Am' for re-release as the rather different 'Who Came First' record in 1972). To get the most out of this and the two sequels you do really need to be a Baba fan, as these spiritual bordering-on-religious works are a long way from the cynicism and anger of The Who. For the most part this record of devotion is peaceful and heartfelt and pointed for the first time to the passionate, lost soul beating at the heart of The Who's creative powerhouse.

On that score it's an intriguing album even for non-converts, containing as it does a glimpse into Pete's firm beliefs behind concepts like re-incarnation and the interconnectedness of man, key cornerstones of 'Tommy' 'Lifehouse' and 'Quadrophenia'. Some of the music is rather good too even if some is pretty awful: 'Content' is a sweet piano ballad that's a little like the start of 'The Song Is Over' with a double-pun on the devotional 'content' on the album and the 'contentment' such thoughts brings it's worried author; 'Day Of Silence' is a meditative song about the healing power of silence that heads towards 'Too Much Of Anything' in its need for stillness and emptyness; 'Mary Jane' has Pete swapping the marijuana drug often given that nickname for God (or nearest offer) because of 'things I've been told by a man who is very old' (Pete is, of course, now Baba's age); there's a clumsy cover of Cole Porter's 'Begin The Beguine' simply because Baba 'liked' the song; also 'Love Man' is a rather clumsy attempt to work out why Pete is being 'used' as a vehicle for Baba's love when he feels unsuitable but has to pass on the word anyway (It's a little like the awkward 'but I'm not a God!' works of Tommy's fourth side and not totally convincing); then best of all there's a very apt demo for period Who single 'The Seeker' - the first of Pete's Who demos to find release. Rough as it is (much more so than later Townshend demos with particularly rudimentary drums and vocals), Pete's devotion is readily apparent and has never sounded more charming.

Elsewhere Ronnie Lane steals the show with his jovial song of 'Evolution' (better known to Faces fans as 'Stone' from their debut album 'First Step') which does the John Entwistle tradition of laughing good naturedly at the seriousness of Pete's higher concepts while Ron Geesin gets to sound weird all over again and Allan Cohen bores the pants off us with a lecture delivered to sitar backing. It's all terribly earnest and not all that convincing, like one of those interminable Christian sermons in school assemblies that made you become Buddhist or Islamic they were so bad. However for the most part and especially when Pete is in charge, this is a nice enough LP made mainly as a hobby to be passed around by other converts rather than as a grandiose concept album. Stuck at the time on the first stages of 'Lifehouse', Pete sounds as if he needed the rest and the mind-clearing and we got a so-so album almost as a bonus - which sounds like a bargain to me, if not quite the best we ever had. Fans in the CD age can now hear all of the Pete recordings as bonus tracks on the 'Who Came First' CD re-issue (except for 'Mary Jane', which isn't really much of a loss), which is the sensible place for them rather than tracking down this expensive set individually even if the songs are all in a bit of a jumble. 

"Live At Hull"

(Decca, Recorded February 1970, Released as part of the super deluxe 'Live At Leeds' set 2010)

CDs One and Two: Deluxe Live At Leeds

CD Three: Heaven and Hell/I Can't Explain/Fortune Teller/Tattoo/Young Man Blues/Substitute/Happy Jack/I'm A Boy/A Quick One While He's Away/Summertime Blues/Shakin' All Over/My Generation/Magic Bus

CD Four: Overture/It's A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey-Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas/The Acid Queen/Pinball Wizard/Do You Think It's Alright?/Fiddle About/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/There's A Doctor/Go To The Mirror/Smash The Mirror!/Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I'm Free/Tommy's Holiday Camp/We're Not Gonna Take It!

"All the time the needles flick and rock, but no machine can give him the kind of stimulation needed to remove his inner block"

Re-assemble the musicians! The Who were lucky when the mobile recording truck trundled into Leeds University on Valentine's Day 1970 - the musical Gods were on their side and even by their high standards they turned in a top show that day which none of the home-recorded bootlegs of the period can touch (unusual that it has to be said - usually the presence of recording equipment scares bands off from providing their best). However it was common knowledge amongst Who fans that the band had recorded a second show from the very next day in Hull University and the initial plan had been to combine the best of the two before discovering that the Hull show had been hit by technical problems (Entwistle's bass comes and goes throughout the show - nobody seems quite sure why; maybe the Ox had a malfunctioning microphone or maybe a wind-milling Roger accidentally pulled out a plug?!) For years fans had assumed the near-identical Hull show was un-releasable, but actually the lack of bass doesn't get in the way too much - certainly the gig is 'complete' enough to deserve release as part of yet another 'Live At Leeds' re-issue, with an extra two discs now added to this fourth straight version of the concert (following the condensed 1970 original, the extended 80 minute 1995 CD version, and the complete two-CD set from 2001). Released in a frenzy of fuss unusual for The Who, reviewers were falling over themselves to proclaim the Hull gig as being even better than its famous counterpart. A careful listen reveals that not to be the case however: with only one night between the gigs there aren't really that many differences, even in the bigger improv moments like 'My Generation' (which here runs only 20 seconds or so slower) and all the differences there are go in the Leeds set's favour. There's nothing 'wrong' with the Hull gig and it's a perfectly fine show in it's own right, but The Who are just that bit more tentative somehow with that magic 'fifth member' that used to take over when the band flew in tandem only putting in occasional appearances and the band playing more as individuals than through 'Leeds' telepathy. Some songs, such as 'Can't Explain' and 'Tattoo' are actually pretty clumsy for peak-period Who (only a snappy 'Substitute' with more falsetto harmonies, a funky 'I'm A Boy' and a slightly calmer 'I'm Free' come close to matching or surpassing the 'Leeds' versions) and the band are in a far grumpier mood too, with less on-stage jokes or ad libs to the audience. It’s as if The Who are trying to remember what made the previous night’s show in Leeds so special and they can’t quite relax enough to re-create it no matter how hard they try. Our verdict: considering the hefty price of this set (£60 when it came out, although some shops have it cheaper at the moment), personally I’d steer clear and go back to the two-disc version, one of the greatest and most musical noises it will ever be your privilege to hear and buy the 'Isle Of Wight' set too if you still can't get enough of period Who. 

"Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970"

(Decca, Recorded September 1970, Released October 1996)

Disc One: Heaven and Hell/I Can't Explain/ Young Man Blues/I Don't Even Know Myself/Water/ Tommy: Overture/It's A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey-Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas

Disc Two: Tommy (Continued): The Acid Queen/Pinball Wizard/Do You Think It's Alright?/Fiddle About/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/There's A Doctor/Go To The Mirror/Smash The Mirror!/Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I'm Free/Tommy's Holiday Camp/We're Not Gonna Take It!/Summertime Blues/Shakin' All Over-Spoonful-Twist and Shout/Substitute/My Generation/Naked Eye/Magic Bus

"Do you think it's alright, to charge the kids a fortune to hear Tommy on a field? Yes I think it's alright, I think it's alright!"

America had massive events in exotic sounding places like 'Monterey' and 'Woodstock'. Britain had The Isle Of Wight, a tiny island where it always rained and most famous for its sheep, which wasn't exactly in the same league in terms of numbers or music and the biggest get-together of music fans on British shores is generally remembered as an ill-tempered battle between the 'capitalists' insisting on people buying tickets and buying expensive burgers and the 'freeloaders' who tore down fences and burger vans in anger at being made to pay for something as spiritual and uplifting as music. The row still hadn't been decided by the time headliners The Who took to the stage on the Saturday of the three-day weekend show, but the band's nihilism and anger was the perfect soundtrack to a generally unsettling weekend (you can see more of this in the 'Message To Love' documentary film about the Festival in 1990, which in contrast to the films of 'Monterey' and Woodstock' mostly consist of angry locals - choice extracts from which ended up in Oasis' instrumental 'Fuckin' In The Bushes' ten years later. The Who get to play 'See Me Feel Me', while their full show was also released on DVD alongside this CD in 1996). For music fans this was kind of music's last hurrah a few months before Altamont when the mood had already turned surly; for Who fans this gig is more remarkable for Entwistle's outrageous skeleton suit and the last 'hurrah' of 'Tommy' before the 'Lifehouse' material squeezed it out of the setlist (The Who's 'dear little boy' won't go away though and will be revived in 1976).

This belated issue is surprisingly the only archive Who CD release in all the years since 1982 when the band split up and – even though its far to similar though not quite as good as ‘Live At Leeds’ – its nevertheless a very welcome opportunity to study The Who’s peak live years in greater detail. Had 'Live At Leeds' never existed and this album had been released instead it would still be regarded as one of the greatest live albums ever made. Everything The Who touched in 1970, especially on stage, has a certain air of magic about them as at last the band are in sync with each other and their audience and especially their material. Back in 1996 the first 'full length' version of 'Live At Leeds' was still five or so years away so for fans at the time this was a welcome opportunity to relish hearing the famous songs in context, with this show's setlist identical to the one played seven months earlier with the exception of three new songs 'I Don't Even Know Myself' 'Water' and 'Naked Eye' replacing 'A Quick One While He's Away' 'Tattoo' and 'Fortune Teller'. However now that 'Leeds' is out in an equally extended form on two discs (four if you buy the more recent set with 'Live At Hull' in there too), the less vital this show sounds. ‘Tommy’ is the greatest casualty in this era, with the band plainly tiring of it already a year on from its live debut (and that’s a shame because it takes up over half the running time of these two CDs!), especially as you have to change discs partway through which rather kills the momentum. The Who don't play badly any means - they roar in tandem for the most part, with a sloppy precision that's thrilling and makes them sound very much as if they've stolen The Rolling Stones' crown as 'greatest rock and roll live band' of their generation. But compared to 'Leeds' they're playing a level below their best, missing the occasional cue here, pulling short there and most regrettably diluting the wild improvisations that made the February 1970 version of 'My Generation' so memorable from fourteen minutes down to seven (while in turn 'Magic Bus' runs to just four minutes, not the original seven). There is nothing wrong with this show: it's 99% as good as 'Leeds' with The Who on top form and the live recordings of a bluesy 'Water', a nervy 'Myself' and especially a mad-eyed and dangerous 'Naked Eye' are worthy additions to The Who live catalogue, while throughout the sound is amazingly good for an outdoor show. There is, also, one live medley unique to this release: ‘Shakin’ All Over’/’Spoonful’/’Twist And Shout’ which is right up there with the best Who covers with Roger on especially good form. But with the complete 'Live At Leeds' now out and sounding almost identical to this gig (only better) there's less reason to own it nowadays. Plus it costs a fortune if you want to own both sets ('music should be free' remember) - one will probably do for most fans and this isn't it. 

John Entwistle "Smash Your Head Against The Wall"

(Track Records, May 1971)

My Size/Pick Me Up (Big Chicken)/What Are We Doing Here?/What Kind Of People Are They?/Heaven and Hell//Ted End/You're Mine/No 29 (External Youth)/I Believe In Everything

CD Bonus Tracks: Cinnamon Girl/What Are We Doing Here? (Demo)/It's Hard To Write A Love Song/World Behind My Face/My Size (Early Take)/What Kind Of People Are They? (Demo)/Big Chicken (Demo)/No 29 (Demo)/Ted End (Demo)

"You'll enjoy your stay - until you're all reborn someday"

With 'Lifehouse' taking it's slow steady time to make it into the shops, a hard-working musician like John Entwistle couldn't hang around waiting for his one lone contribution to the album to make it into the shops, so The Ox became the first member of The Who to release a 'full' solo album (Pete's Meher Baba birthday messages not withstanding). For now, a John Entwistle solo album sounds much like fans of The Who in 1971 would have been expecting - everything comes with that mid-tempo bass-heavy feel of John's period B-sides ('Someone's Coming' 'Doctor Doctor' 'Postcard' and 'Heaven and Hell', a song re-recorded here) and subject matters that vary from the quirky to the morbid. John gets the chance to show off his multi-instrumentalist skills, playing piano and flugelhorn in addition to his more usual bass 'n' brass while the presence of Keith Moon on the handful of tracks that include percussion (and backing vocals! Reportedly this was the price John paid for his friend's presence - Keith was always trying to get involved in the backing vocals despite the very obvious drawback that he couldn't sing!) adds a slight Who flavour to the performances. John's other main collaborator stays close to home too, with Who roadie Dave Langston providing the Townshend-like guitar (his album credit as 'Cyrano' also reveals that big-nosed Dave had more in common with Pete than just his guitarwork!) and it was his enthusiasm and support for the project that inspired John to make a full LP in the first place (so closely does Langston ape Pete's style that inevitably the rumour went round that it was just Townshend under a pseudonym but actually Pete seems to have deliberately stayed away to give his colleague his moment in the spotlight without criticism and witticisms about Pete secretly doing all the work).

What comes as more of a shock is how reflective and melancholy most of this work is and the set takes as its template the Who B-side 'When I Was A Boy' rather than the chuckle-a-minute 'My Wife' or 'Boris The Spider'. Throughout this solo career John presents himself as a much sadder and mournful figure than the deadpan comedian of Who lore and never more so than on this album which is a Townshend-style concept album about life and death and the inevitability of mortality. Even the cover art - made with Roger's help, via his cousin, medical photographer Graham Hughes - fits this theme, the front cover having John's ghostly form superimposed over the x-ray of a terminally ill patient with lung cancer, while the back cover has John looming over a pregnancy test. As for the songs, they all have a funeral air with characters worrying about the afterlife (typically, John's narrator 'won't get let in to heaven without a tie' and ends up in Hell by default!), worrying that life is passing them by and paying tribute to absent friends lost in the great struggle of life. If ever there was a depressing album in the Who canon then, well, actually it's 'Who By Numbers' although ironically that set is lightened by Entwistle's humour - but 'Smash Your Head Against The Wall' comes close. John didn't wear his skeleton suit most nights on stage in this period for fun it seems - he really was obsessed with the idea of death and what fate had in store for him. Little does he know, back in 1971, that his end would actually come after a good night out with cocaine and a groupie - but then the very earthiness of John's death after so many songs pondering it in a spiritual, existential self would probably have struck the bassist as very funny anyway.

Is 'Smash' a good album though? Yes, by and large, even if it's not the album you expect and even though it starts a trend for weepy ballads rather than the rock and roll fans were expecting (the album title, too, is a misnomer: this album should have been called 'Shake your head gently and stare at the wall' instead). Entwistle was always an under-rated lyricist though, summing up major life questions in a few witty lines and that's never been a greater strength than here where John proves himself every bit as much a poet as his windmilling band colleague. Whether bidding goodbye to an old friend, damning people who strain to life forever at any cost or coming to terms that all the cruxes of life he once leant on (such as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy) aren't true and life is truly a scary place, Entwistle is on top expressive form. So why isn't this album better known? Well, Entwistle's knack for melody seems to have escaped him compared to his past songs for The Who and his future songs for himself, while the lack of any real uptempo rockers does leave this album in danger of sounding a little the same before you get to know it. With all the best will in the world too, John isn't a natural singer the way that Roger and even Peter are and despite the pretty open-to-all surroundings they're in, John's voice takes some getting used to across a full LP. However, even if this album isn't a 'smash' in the traditional sense, it is a grower and a cult success and the longer you stay in John's company the longer you realise what a truly talent there was hiding behind the three extroverts on stage-left every night.

The CD re-issue includes numerous bonus tracks - nine in all, including five demos, one alternate take and three abandoned recordings of which a slow jugging cover of Neil Young's period hit 'Cinnamon Girl' and a very different take on opening rocker 'My Size' are about the best.

'My Size' is, after all, the closest thing to traditional Entwistle on the album, based around a strutting hard-rock riff and with clever lyrics about being put down by his missus so often John wishes he was 100 foot-tall and could tower over her for a change. Across the song, John's love makes him 'hit the ceiling' and his lover seems so above the world she 'never touches the ground'.

'Pick Me Up' aka 'Big Chicken' is a sprightly horn and booze-drenched song that predicts many of Townshend's alcoholic cries for help from 'Who By Numbers'. John is drinking heavily to blot out the fact that he is, umm, drinking heavily and it's beginning to make him ill. Telling his friends down the pub that he'll be back tomorrow to pick up the car he had to leave behind (and that this scenario has happened every day for weeks), Entwistle's sadness has never been more mournful of self-lacerated.

'What Are We Doing Here?' is the album highlight, a sweet slow country-rocker that agrees with 'My Generation' from a new perspective whilst complaining that after the fire of youth old age means continual drifting and 'all we can do is let the time drag by and think of home'. You can just imagine John putting this sad song together on the road, a million miles away from home and after a million hours of just 'hanging around', in a land 'without any friends' and watching the days go by one after another.

'What Kind Of People Are They?' has a stunning bass 'n' brass opening that's truly atmospheric and though the song soon settles into a more average rocker, there are some strong lyrics here. Everyone sighs when John walks past because of the way he looks and the way he lives his life and he's sick of it, always needing a tie to perform the jobs that are given to well-dressed incompetents instead. After watching a policeman directing traffic and 'causing chaos with his hands' John finally parks and coughs up endless coins to go to the profits of a traffic warden who hates his guts. He's clearly having a bad day, hence the singalong chorus 'they've only got their jobs to do - that's why they've got it in for you!'

A revived 'Heaven and Hell' - the only Who song to be re-recorded for a solo Entwistle album - sounds very different. Instead of noise, bluster and defiance this song is sad, slow and reflective, with John spending more time puzzling on how to work out how to get to Heaven 'if you've done nothing wrong' and worrying about 'having been a bad boy' and ending up in the other place. Langstons' superb Townshend-ish Who style guitar solo is the only part that sounds like the same song.

'Ted End' is perhaps the most substantial song on the album, with John bidding goodbye to an old friend he used to look up to at school who loved to dress up as a teddy boy. As the title implies, the shortness and pointlessness of his life and the lack of visitors at his funeral has led John to wonder if the way he's living his own isn't just a 'dead end' and some pretty colliery-style brasswork really brings out the waterworks for this track.

'You're Mine' is perhaps the weakest track on the album, an anti-religious rant where a drunk and out-of-tune John declares 'get behind me Satan!' and instead declares that unlike the preachers around him he can easily understand why the world is a wicked place - because it makes us that way. John knows what it's like to feel the need to drown a cat or rob an old lady of her pension, even if he doesn't actually do it himself and declares - in the voice of the devil -that all these forgotten and lost souls are 'mine'.

'No 29 (External Youth)' imagines an elixir of life that allows you to stay young forever and then worries about all the people (politicians, filmstars, even rock musicians) most likely to use it who will never benefit from the nuances of growing old. John doesn't want to stay young or live forever and distrusts those who do because they've clearly missed the 'point' of living and experiencing life in the first place. A thoughtful lyric goes well with a bouncy, zestful melody eager to experience all life has to offer.

The album ends with power-ballad 'I Believe In Everything' which features perhaps Keith's most precise and subtle drum-part of all as well as arguably the finest singing of John's career. The song itself starts off as another earnest diatribe about digging behind the excesses of life to the things that matter and discussing his belief in reincarnation, before turning into a self-confessed joke where John throws in every belief system he's ever had (which by the end includes love at first sight, Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!)

Overall, then, 'Smash Your Head Against The Wall' is a fine quiet album from The Who's biggest introvert that won't offer you the thrills or spills of almost all the other records in this book but does provide a fascinating insight into the complex mind of The Who's second most prolific writer. In many ways this album was long overdue, with Entwistle having already proven himself a diligent and creative soul and it was inevitable that, despite the relatively poor sales, the bass player would be back with another solo set barely a year later. John was a character with a lot to say and most of what was on his mind deserves to be heard, but curious fans might perhaps want to hold out for the later Entwistle albums which have a style much closer to The Who signature sound and return to this one once they've adopted to John's more expressive, intimate, understated frame of mind. 

"Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy"

(Track Records/Polydor, October 1971)

I Can't Explain/The Kids Are Alright/Happy Jack/I Can See For Miles/Pictures Of Lily/My Generation/The Seeker//Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/Pinball Wizard/A Legal Matter/Boris The Spider/Magic Bus/Substitute/I'm A Boy

"I'm gettin' funny dreams again and again"

This wasn't the first Who compilation - in actual fact it's the third - but it's the first to do things 'properly' and treat The Who as a band with a history worth listening to rather than simply cashing in on their fading fame and despite it's age now this set still remains close to being 'definitive'. The perfect introduction to the band's earlier singles for fans who'd only just discovered the band in the wake of 'Tommy' and 'Who's Next', it's a sensible collection of all of The Who's singles up until that time and perfectly timed for the days when the thinner vinyl used on 45rpm singles meant they tended to wear out after five years or so. This is also the first to recover the rights to the Shel Talmy material after a 'one-off' deal which won't happen again until the 1980s - and as every Who fan knows, you can't have a greatest hits set without 'My Generation'! What isn't quite so perfect is the running order, with Pete Townshend personally overseeing the track listing and putting together the tracks that he thought worked best together, regardless of their true lineage - something manager Kit Lambert is said to have been horrified by and tried to prevent before discovering that pressings had already been sent to shops. Actually the order works better than most compilation albums and works well considering it's out of sequence, with the scowl of 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' a natural side opener and 'I'm A Boy' a rousing finale, even if 'The Seeker' - the only song here to date after 1967 - sounds very out of place. Pete also controversially chose an 'alternate' mix of 'I'm A Boy' with added French Horn and extra backing harmonies which has been confusing fans ever since and still occasionally crops up on compilations instead of the 'real' thing, while an 'extended' unedited version of 'Magic Bus' first appears here and is the one generally heard on compact disc. Less controversially included the 'unofficial Brunswick' singles 'A Legal Matter' and 'The Kids Are Alright' to flesh out the running time as well as the only song here not released as a single, 'Boris The Spider'.

It's the packaging, though, that makes this set so popular with fans then and now. On the front cover four children gather round looking surly and all four are just enough like The Who to make you think for one moment that it's a genuine childhood shot (it isn't - Keith was seventeen when he first met the others and the 'founding trio' were all at high school and therefore at least eleven when they first met, Pete admitting later that he and John were scared of Roger at that age and didn't go near him till they formed a band at fifteen!) The boy playing 'John' is the brother of yet another Who manager, Bill Curbishley while the others are child models. The 'real' Who, meanwhile, appear in colour peering at their monochrome past. It's the perfect image for The Who, a band which more than any other in the 1960s was more like a 'gang', with so many of their songs reflecting brotherhood and unity and so many of their on-stage bust-ups suggesting the love-hate relationships common between close childhood friends - even if, ultimately, it is all something of a 'lie'. The title too is very 'Who': adults in 1971 would have recognised the title as the sort of thing usually printed on the front of lad's magazines referring to the women within; in a band context though it's said to refer to the band's nicknames for each other: Roger is 'Meaty' and the band's pinup, Keith the drummer is obviously 'Beaty', John was built like an Ox and so very 'Big', while Pete's on-stage acrobatics means he was 'Bouncy'. Overall, the set is a welcome one that collects the band's past together nicely just in time for the backward-looking 'Quadrophenia' album to come and for The Who to fully embrace being an 'album' rather than a 'singles' band. Though several later CD compilations arguably beat it, simply by virtue of coming later and containing more stuff, this is still a first-class release. 

Pete Townshend and Various Artists "I Am"

(Universal, '1972')

Forever's No Time At All/How To Transcend Duality/Affirmation/Baba O Riley*//The Song Is Green/Everywhere I Look This Morning/Dragon/Parvardigar*
* = Pete Townshend Performances

"Nothing sure is forever when forever is no time at all"

The title says it all: after seven years of being associated with 'The Who' and searching for identity, Pete knows who he is - because as a Meher Baba convert he knows he's destined to be forever evolving and is happy to be whatever he is. Or something like that: this second Meher Baba tribute actually features even less of Pete than the first, 'Happy Birthday' released the year before, as despite the billing Townshend only 'stars' on two songs himself, though he is involved on the rest of the album. This is arguably the best of the three 'Baba' records out there, with Pete adding subtle touches to some particularly inspired music by his friends and fellow Baba converts like Billy Nicholls (a fellow Track Records artist who was unlucky not to become a big star himself with his excellent post-psychedelia 1968 album 'Would You Believe?' and whose opener here 'Forever Is No Time At All' is a real highlight), poet Mike Da Costa (who is more of an acquired taste and very of his time, although he 'inspired' Townshend to a particularly gutsy guitar wail so, hey, all is forgiven) and Ronnie Lane and Ian 'Mac' McLagan on loan from The Small Faces who are effectively this album's backing band.

The biggest talking points though are Pete's two vocals. 'Parvardigar' is a Townshend composition based around the Meher Baba poem 'Parvardigar Prayer', a short hymn that offers thanks to God and is traditionally spoken or sung when followers meet and sung in the original Indian (sample translated lyrics: 'You are without beginning and without end and none can measure you without forms or attributes'). Though non-native speakers might not understand the text, Pete's devotion and awe come over strongly and the acoustic guitar accompaniment sounds rather like 'Pinball Wizard' at a slower speed, while the tune is a pretty one perfectly fitting for a spiritual prayer. Even more interesting still, though, is Pete's nine-minute instrumental demo of 'Baba O'Riley' before it became part of the 'Lifehouse' story and it's nine minutes of one of the most famous riffs of them all looped over and over to the point where the quickly cross-cutting synth lines become quite hypnotic while Pete's guitar, drums and piano (the latter largely cut from the final version, sadly - they sound rather good here) all maintain momentum. The recording really builds to an orgasmic peak towards the end as the song becomes more and more out of control before slowly coming to find rest and solace in the song's loop before going for that final  famous charge at double-speed, which on the demo lasts for nearly a full minute. Even shorn of the lyrics this is a pretty incredible composition and 'O'Riley' has rarely sounded more better or more inspired. Re-released in 2000 on Pete's mega box set 'Lifehouse Chronicles', it's a recording all fans should go out of their way to find on something, even if this Baba tribute album is probably the least consistent or interesting of the trio generally. Along with 'Happy Birthday' and 'Avatar', it has since been collected on CD as the double disc set 'Jai Baba', with this album split across the two sides.

The London Symphony Orchestra "Tommy"

(Ode Records, October 1972)

Overture/It's A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey/Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas/Cousin Kevin/Acid Queen/Underture//Do You Think It's Alright?/Fiddle About/Pinball Wizard/There's A Doctor/Go To The Mirror/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/Smash The Mirror/I'm Free/Miracle Cure/Sensation/Sally Simpson/Welcome/Tommy's Holiday Camp/We're Not Gonna Take It!/See Me Feel Me

"Do you think it's alright to leave the boy with a 100-piece orchestra even though it'll surely sound shite? Yes I think it's alright!"

Mercury Records A&R Man Lou Reizner loved 'Tommy' from the moment he heard it in 1969 and had a 'vision' of how it should be: closer to a 'true' opera played by classical musicians and with lots of special guest stars involved. Always open to a man with a vision, Pete Townshend listened patiently, told the record boss (who wasn't even involved with The Who's label) that it was a daft idea and The Who had moved onto 'Quadrophenia'. But the relatively weak re-action to that album and the need to get the fragmented Who back together doing something led Pete to listen again to the ideas and somehow slowly down the line he was persuaded to move from giving his relative permission to becoming an active participant, eager to hear how 'Tommy' could have sounded if it had been made the way he heard it in his head rather than by a rock quartet in rushed sessions with little or no record company support. Originally the 1972 production of Tommy was to star Rod Stewart and have little or no Who involvement, but one condition of Pete saying 'yes' was that Roger would be able to return to the role (because Pete couldn't imagine any other voice performing his work just yet) and slowly the other places got filled by Who friends including John Entwistle, Sandy Denny, Steve Winwood, Maggie Bell and Ringo Starr.
Though well received at the time, the general consensus now is that it probably wasn't such a hot ideas. 'Tommy' tends to work best when pared back to the basics - as a guttural cry from a disconnected youth whose so hurt by life that he shuts himself off from the world big time, arguably best heard stripped back to an hour and performed by The Who in concert without a pause. Even on the original studio record 'Tommy' sometimes sounded a little padded out or pretentious. Getting hold of a full-blown orchestra only accentuates the problems and makes the whole piece sound pompous and overly theatrical when it should be grounded and heartfelt. The guest stars too are here for laughs and/or career promotion and don't take this show either seriously enough or take it too seriously: Richie Havens blatantly doesn't understand why 'Eyesight To The Blind' is here, Maggie Bell is arguably a better singer than Tina Turner but her 'Acid Queen' lacks the theatricality and deliciously subversive nature and everybody's favourite Thomas The Tank Engine narrator Ringo is horribly miscast as Uncle Ernie (why couldn't they use Keith?!) Only Rod's strutting as the Pinball Wizard and Pete's folk-narrator on 'Sally Simpson' cuts through the sonic mess and delivers anything approaching a decent alternative to the original. There are some inadvertently great moments too: hearing Townshend try to sound like he means it on 'Amazing Journey' while an orchestra charges like a Mantovani session from hell and a choir wheeps and swoops might well be the funniest thing you've heard since David Cameron pretended he quite liked football and rock music, while the spacey orchestral take on 'Sparks' is actually pretty decent in a Stockhausen kind of a way. If you love 'Tommy' and don't want to hear it ruined, though, then this orchestral work is an even greater travesty than Oliver Reed allegedly 'singing' the film soundtrack and poor Tommy sounds bloated and in poor health throughout. Perhaps the best thing about this set was the inclusion of all the original lyrics as a 'proper libretto', which back in 1972 was quite a rare and exciting thing to do. Otherwise the packaging is awful though: goodness knows why this smoke 'n' pinballs cover won the 1974 Grammy for 'best packaging' as like the music it's not a patch on the original.

Pete Townshend "Who Came First"

(Track Records, October 1972)

Pure and Easy/Evolution/Forever Is No Time At All/Let's See Action!//Time Is Passing/There Is A Heartache Following Me/Sheraton Gibson/Content/Parvardigar
CD Bonus Tracks: His Hands/The Seeker/Day Of Silence/Sleeping Dog/The Love Man/Lantern Cabin/Mary Jane/I Always Say/Begin The Beguine

"Nothing is everything is nothing is everything is nothing..."

Pete's first solo album, released in the crucial gap between 'Who's Next' and 'Quadrophenia', was actually requested by Track Records. They wanted a more 'mainstream' release of Pete's trilogy of Meher Baba tribute records released in the past few years which were becoming hot property in the bootleg market - the guitarist at first refused, on the grounds that they were intended for Baba followers only. However he decided to compromise and agreed to the first ever official release of his growing collection of demos instead which might take away some of the attention given to the bootleggers. The release also enabled Pete to pass on more of the 'Lifehouse' story to fans interested enough to want to follow it, with solo demo versions of 'Pure and Easy' 'Let's See Action' and 'Time Is Passing' all given their first official releases long before The Who's better known versions came out. Pete also threw in a few extras he'd been carrying around with him for a while and which would never have fitted on a Who record: the charming improvisation 'Sheraton Gibson' written to see if Pete could come up with a song on the spot (answer: yes he can!) The  other five songs were the ones Pete considered the best recordings from the 'Baba' albums, even though two of them didn't feature much input at all (his friend Ronnie Lane's 'Evolution' - Pete might not have known that his pal had already re-recorded that song with The Faces for their debut album 'First Step' in 1970 - and his pal Billy Nicholls' 'Forever Is No Time At All), as well as Pete's take on Baba hymn 'Parvardigar' and a cover of Pat Barker's country song 'There Is A Heartache Following Me' (sadly the song fans really wanted to hear, the nine-minute epic instrumental version of 'Baba O'Riley', wasn't included). The result is still quite a thrilling LP though, especially at the time when the 'Scoop' demo series was still a couple of decades away and the album really enhanced Pete's reputation as a songwriter and visionary, with many reviewers commenting on just how Who-like he sounded on drums, bass and vocals even without his bandmates in tow. The result is a pretty listen that's downright compulsory in terms of the 'Lifehouse' recordings (thankfully two of them are on the 'Pete Townshend Anthology' as well) and even more so on CD which adds another nine bonus tracks taken from the Baba albums 'Happy Birthday' and 'With Love' (though sadly still not the 'O'Riley' demo, with a charming demo of 'The Seeker' the other period recording every fan should own).

Pete's demo for 'Pure and Easy' is stunning, sounding much like the 'Lifehouse' recording for the most part but with the obvious switch of Pete singing rather than Roger. The song sounds better in Pete's lighter, folkier voice although you miss the Daltrey roar on the word 'derrrrstrooooy!' Pete's simplified version of Moon's drums and his own later keyboard part are both very inventive too. However it's the ending that puts this version head and shoulders over the 'Who' version: 'There once was a note, listen!' two Pete's snap while a third goes into the realms of ecstasy with the gospel cry of 'pure and easy!' The holy trinity of Townshends then continue on this way for what seems like an eternity but is in reality around three glorious minutes, while the backing track weaves in and out of a minor key shift missing from the re-recording which gives the song a real added bite. Sublime, although it's a shame that Track Records chose to edit the song down from eight minutes to five.

Ronnie's 'Evolution' is a charming song too, as Lane tackles the ideas of incarnation and imagines himself as a stone, a blacksmith, a daisy, a goat and 'tinker, tailor, soldier, failure'. Though not as well-presented as the Faces version under the name 'Stone' and apparently without any Townshend presence whatsoever, it's a charming song that very much represents not just Baba's thoughts but Ronnie's own homespun down-to-earth philosophy to a tee.

Billy Nicholls' gorgeous falsetto-led 'Forever Is No Time At All' is another very Baba-esque song and one of the better ones from 'I Am', even if again Pete is largely not here at all. With its tale about time working in a very different way to how humans understand it, the song is an apt one and Billy doesn't sound all that different to Pete's own voice when he sings high.

The six-minute demo for 'Let's See Action', a song released almost contemporaneously by The Who as a mid-selling single, is thankfully kept complete here. A call to arms for unity and brotherhood, it's not quite as strong as the similar 'Join Together' but it is very Townshend with its call-and-answer responses and direct appeals to the audiences he 'feeds' off. The ending is again the best bit as the mantras 'everything is nothing is everything is...' gets repeated over and over, the hugeness of that thought taking on mystical proportions for almost half the song, in contrast to The Who's version which uses that sentence as a big finale. Pete also sounds far more comfortable singing this track than Roger.

'Time Is Passing' is the final 'Lifehouse' demo but the one here that doesn't  work quite as well as the Who version, with Pete lacking Roger's scowl and roar. The song sounds rather timid here and less urgent, even if again the lyrics are very Townshendesque in his Baba 'time is an illusion and lunchtime doubly so' phase.

The weakest track on the album is probably Pete's weird rendering of the Jimmy Reeves hit 'There's A Heartache Following Me'. Recorded because Baba once said (sorry, wrote - this was during his years of silence) that it was his favourite song, it's not my favourite song and Pete sounds all at sea here. Proof that even if you're the re-incarnation of God in human form, that doesn't mean your music taste is necessarily any good. 

However the album's only truly unique song 'Sheraton Gibson' is a charmer. Pete was feeling bored in yet another hotel room and with nothing to do, so he decided to test himself and see if he could write a song about nothing in minutes. Realising that he was sitting with his Gibson guitar on his knee while in the Sheraton Gibson chain of hotels, he figured that was enough of a coincidence to write about and starts making up a little ditty about all the nothing things on his mind. Pete wants to go home, he's due to travel to Cleveland in the morning (what is it with AAA acts singing about Cleveland?) and how he has 'someone' on his mind (wife Karen or guru Meher Baba? Probably the latter given this album is effectively an LP made for 'him'). Simple as the song is - 'Sheraton Gibson' is the only Townshend track written between 1969 and 1973 not intended for a 'concept' - that's all part of the charm as Pete has never sounded more alone or relaxed than here.

'Content' is another simple song, this one a more obvious spiritual first released as the opening track of 'I Am'. Pete sings about being ready to grow and learn spiritually over an acoustic guitar and piano backing, which is solemn and sombre. More religious than most of Pete's Baba inspired works, it's a bit of a shock to hear the cynical Pete of old turned into such an earnest unthinking unquestioning worshipper - but maybe that's being unkind as Pete is asking to be shown thoughts and to be given answers here. The song worked better on a private album for fellow devotees than this more mainstream record though.

Finally 'Parvardigar', repeated from 'I Am', is Pete's version and extension of the speech Baba supporters recite when meeting each other. Pete again sounds unusually reverent here, which will come as a shock to many, although there's no doubting the sincerity of the performance or the awe in the words (the parts that are in English rather than Indian at least). One of the synth riffs that plays throughout the 'noisy' verse in this song will be recycled as incidental music for the 'Tommy' film in 1975.

Overall, then, 'Who Came First' is a fascinating and revealing collection which offers a lot more than 'just' the highlights from the 'Happy Birthday' and 'I Am' LPs. Many fans would no doubt have preferred an early peek into the demos Pete was building up (and later released as the 'Scoop' series), especially given that the then-unreleased 'Lifehouse' recordings are clearly the best thing here. However as a halfway house between Pete coming to terms with his spiritual beliefs and inner confusion on the one hand and as an entertaining, melodic collection of songs on the other then 'Who Came First' is still quite a success, with only the songs towards the end of side two losing focus and interest. A much under-rated work and a fascinating peek into Pete's creative brain.

John Entwistle "Whistle Rhymes"

(Track Records, November 1972)

Ten Little Friends/Apron Strings/I Feel Better/Thinkin' It Over/Who Cares?/I Wonder/I Was Just Being Friendly/The Window Shopper/I Found Out/Nightmare (Please Wake Me Up)
CD Bonus Tracks: I Wonder (Demo)/All Dressed Up/Back On The Road/Countryside Boogie

"I'm just hoping for a glimpse of something I've never had and never will"

Beaten to the shops by a single month with Pete's collection of demos, John's second record became the third 'proper' Who spin-off solo album and made the most of Entwistle's growing reputation as the band's second chief voice and the increasing gap between Who albums in this era. This self-deprecating album (named after the common mis-spelling of John's surname with an added 'h' - similarly Pete's surname is often spelled without the correct 'h') is noisier and less subtle than the first, but it's arguably the most Who-like of all of the many spin-off records out there. It sounds in many respects like a collection of Who B-sides from a parallel universe, with some bass-heavy rockers dealing with characteristically quirky subjects such as suicide ('Thinking It Over', a song that calmly wonders about jumping off a roof) and - erm - trolls ('Ten Little Friends', written for Keith Moon as a 'thankyou' for his characteristic gift to John's new-born son Christopher). 'Who Cares?' may also be the most autobiographical song John ever wrote, as his narrator suffers all kinds of calamities and feels rather down and bitter about everything, while trying to pretend he doesn't care at all and keeping his distance from his troubles through his dark humour. There's nothing here quite as sophisticated as 'Smash Your Head Against The Wall' and nothing either as wonderfully moving as 'When I Was A Boy' or as funny as 'Boris' or 'My Wife', but this is a cracking band (with a guesting Peter Frampton, shortly after he left Humble Pie, filling in for Pete) often playing some cracking rock and roll. A fine cover sums the album up well, a dark and scary version of a world that in other circumstances would be a sweet world full of children's parties and cute animals - it's exactly what this album sounds like with its protests of 'why aren't I having any fun and why do I have to grow up?'

'Ten Little Friends' sounds like a squealing, noisy, inebriated rocker about a funky band getting their groove on. In actual fact it's a sweet little song to Keith about what John thought his present of ten troll dolls were getting up to when his back was turned. It's fun but not very revealing.

'Apron Strings' is an album highlight, a song full of worry and doubt as John realises he's now become an adult and is rather scared of the prospect of not being told what to do or where to go. It must have been a shock to be at home as a new dad after years of being on the road following the instructions of managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp and being the only real 'dutiful' and 'responsible' member in The Who (some of the time!) John's worry, which could have been played for laughs, is impressively heartfelt here and the vocal is one of his best.

'I Feel Better' has John not feeling anything of the sort. He's just split up with a girlfriend and is busy listing all the things he won't have to put up with anymore in his life and he's trying to feel positive about it, but without saying it you can hear the unspoken pain in this song.

'Thinking It Over' is a synth-waltz of all things as John decides 'not to bother' with life anymore and walks sadly up to the roof of the flat where he lives, ten stories high, to jump off it. As he sits and mopes and considers the effort he changes his mind, decides 'not to bother' jumping and sadly slinks home again.

'Who Cares?' is a fun song and offers Entwistle's philosophy of life. He tries to get away with what he can, responsibility free, because who cares really what he does or doesn't achieve in life, it's nobody's business but his own. Underneath it all, though, you can hear a slight defensiveness in this song as John tries to gee himself up to doing more with his life - as soon as he's finished partying!

'I Wonder' is, unusually, the only song here to feature John's beloved brass section. It's a wry hymn to all the great things in life to be grateful for, a little like 'Red Blue and Gray' but much heavier in feel and tone. The sarcastic way John sings it makes you wonder if he's not trying to deliver a double-meaning here as he's never sounded more fed-up despite his list of blessings!

'I Was Just Being Friendly' is the closest thing here to a ballad as a shocked and stunned Entwistle is accused of asking a girl if she's a prostitute.  If it had happened to Keith he'd probably have laughed, but John is genuinely hurt - he was trying to be nice and was genuinely concerned about the girl's future. You can hear a sequel of sorts to this song with the better and more powerful 'Trick Of The Light' on 'Who Are You' where John also tries to rescue a prostitute and offer her a better life.

'The Window Shopper' is a messy recording of what sounds like it might have been a fine song. John is looking for the girl he's always dreamed of but doesn't mean anything by it - he's dreaming of a different future but would never act on it. An angry guitar part adds defensive sting to this track, while a French Horn part buried in the mix offers a twinge of real sadness and hollowness.

'I Found Out' is another album highlight, a simple piano ballad with less production than the rest of the album as John sings prettily about how the woman he thought was going to be his wife forever never really loved him and how the uncle he cared for was just after his money. John's feeling gullible and betrayed and it hurts, inspiring one of the great unsung classics in the Entwistle canon without any dark twists, humour or rocking solos for once - just unmitigated pain in the 'Who By Numbers' style.

'Nightmare' carries on with almost the same theme as an insomniac John tries to dream of 'girls and money' and finds that his subconscious has other ideas. Quirkier than the last song but also rather sweet and sensitive, these two tracks reveal just how much of a strain John was under in this period.

The CD re-issue comes with four demos - a similar version of 'I Wonder' and three otherwise unreleased tracks that show promise: 'All Dressed Up' is a sad ballad that has John all dressed up with nowhere to go and no one to go out with, 'Back On The Road' is a 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' style ballad about wearily waiting for another tour after being bored at home and the more traditionally Who-like 'Countryside Boogie' features a proto-heavy metal surfeit of guitars before turning into something more like Sha Na Na.

'Whistle Rhymes', then, starts as just another noisy rock album but ends somewhere quite genuine and haunting. Whether you can cope with the oddball jokes and dark humour before you get there is another matter, but 'Whistle Rhymes' is another strong effort from an under-rated writer whose voice has never sounded better, caught on the cusp between sweetness and huskiness. Though 'Wall' is still just about the stronger of the first two records, both of these sets are welcome additions to the Who canon and come highly recommended, non-stop whistle tours of John's always fascinating psyche. 

In case you were wondering where it was, our old review for 'Live At Leeds' is here: 

A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

'Lifehouse' (As It Might Have Been) (1971)

'Who's Next' ('Lifehouse' As It Became) (1971)

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part One 1965-1972

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part Two 1972-1975

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Three 1976-1982

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Four 1983-1990

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Five 1991-2000

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?:

No comments:

Post a Comment