Monday, 16 October 2017

Neil Young "Living With War" (2006)

Neil Young “Living With War” (2006)

After The Garden/Living With War/The Restless Consumer/Shock and Awe/Families//Flags Of Freedom/Let’s Impeach The President/Lookin’ For A Leader/Roger and Out/America The Beautiful

“I don’t know why man has to keep starting wars. Maybe it’s the same reason I keep repeating myself…”(Neil Young at Long Beach 1989)

When the illegal, outrageous, oil-grabbing war started with America and Britain and their allies against the inhabitants of Iraq who were fighting using weapons we’d sold them thirty-odd years ago (and who had nothing to do with 9/11, the main reason given for ‘smoking them out’), I waited  in vain for a new band to speak up against it the way that they had back in CSNY’s youth. Nothing happened. This was a different era, when music meant shaking your booty and looking good on camera and never, ever having an opinion (heaven forefend that your audience might actually hear you saying something they didn’t agree with or controversial!) Music had gone back to the bad old times, when David Crosby could get kicked out of The Byrds for mentioning JFK’s assassination (admittedly doing so in front of the biggest crowd the band had ever played to and with a few references to politicians taking drugs thrown in) and when Graham Nash was told not to mess with the successful Hollie formula. But some things need to be said more than you need record sales and – after sitting back and waiting the way I was – Neil just couldn’t wait anymore. After writing about the start of the whole mess with the gulf war soundtrack ‘Weld’ (the concert tour when the news played behind Crazy Horse on big screens night after night) it made sense that Neil should offer us an update, this time with all-new material. ‘Living With War’ was written and recorded with the by-now traditional Neil Young customary  haste, the songs written in a hurricane of CNN news reports and paper articles and then recorded in even more of a rush, crunched out as simply as possible to get the thing in the shops to counteract the next pro-Bush news bulletins. After years of skirting with being a pro-Reagan Republican, this was Neil back in the liberal headspace  where he belonged and the first time since ‘Ohio’ in 1970 that the guitarist had been moved to make politics so central to his work.

Here’s a quick history lesson: Iraq were a threat once, in 1987, fighting Kurdish rebels in the North with mustard gas they bought from, err, America and Britain. By 1991 though it was all over. The news told us all in 2003 that cruel dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction hiding in Iraq and must be stopped, this idea somehow neatly tucked into the back of a rampaging spirit of vengeance after 9/11 and a desire to get the Middle East where it hurt. However Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with Al Qaeda or the Taliban and the problems that were crippling the country could all be laid at America’s door. We’ve already seen in this book how moved Neil was by The Gulf War in 1991. What was often portrayed on the news as a ‘right and just’ war was secretly for oil and involved the bombing not of Iraq’s military but their power supplies; in all eighteen of their twenty power plants were blown up and then probably only because two missiles missed. Far from removing a dictator, the chaos helped to keep Hussein in power, worsened by endless sanctions (including, most devastatingly, chemicals that treated water supplies) which punished a people who had never asked for war with America (it would be like refusing to send supplies to America because not that many of them voted for Trump). Nine full years of bombing continued between 1991 and 2000, almost all of it not shown on the news after America learnt its lessons about public reaction. In the meantime the press kept exaggerating the dangers, of how Iraq were ready to be another deadly terrorist attack, but it was all a lie: weapons inspector David Kelly couldn’t find any weapons of mass destruction as promised and was found mysteriously dead from an alleged ‘suicide’ in woods near his home before he could make his report. Drugs were found in his system, apparently before he had slashed his wrists in a manner that made them look awfully as if someone had done that for him. The report of mass weapons was later revealed to have been part of a university dissertation proposing without proof the idea that one day Iraq might build up such weapons despite strong sanctions against chemical components – part of which made it, unchecked, into the official dossier. That major immediate danger we were told so much about? Iraq had an army, but it wasn’t a very big one, she didn’t have a navy, she didn’t have chemical weapon plants and she didn’t even have an airforce. They were about as threatening to America as Cornwall. Less so, given that the locals could have made quite an impact with their Cornish pasties. It was all a lie. Neil was not happy. But still some people preferred to trust the Government that had once hidden Watergate from sight over Neil Young who had once brought the massacre of students at Kent State University to the national consciousness.    

‘Living With War’ is an album that’s been dividing fans ever since. On the one hand it’s as specific as yesterday’s newsprint and more tied to its era than any other Neil Young album and became obsolete just two years later when Barack Obama (‘though they say that he’s too young’) entered the White House. In the days of Trump it seems almost quaint that we had a president who kept changing his mind and had the IQ of a chimpanzee when we have a president who is intrinsically evil and has the IQ (and looks) of an orang-utang, a ‘happier’ time when we were only blowing up soldiers and ‘foreigners’ rather than having terrorists blow everyone up at random. To Neil’s Republican fans it was the last nail in the coffin as they were forced to choose between their favourite musicians the their president (though clearly there is no choice: you should always trust musicians over politicians, always. Unless it’s The Spice Girls. Especially when they’re in congress). Even without the politics ‘Living With War’ is a scrappy album, raw and undignified and full of the same thrash riffs over and over and yet also very top heavy, dominated by heavy brass and a choir of mass voices that never quite works, making the set sound pompous and strange rather than unified, which was probably the intent. In terms of execution this is Neil at his all-time worst, with nine tracks that all sound the same and an a capella all-choir finale that’s the single sickliest moment in his back catalogue.

And yet…even though this album frequently trips over it’s flat feet without the grace of the usual Neil Young album, it’s heart is so in the right place. For much of the 21st century Neil had been coasting, denying his frequently complex love life by writing about something, anything to distract fans from what was on his mind. Neil was in danger of becoming a hollow shell of himself creatively and suddenly here he sounds human again, even if that emotion is outright anger. Neil means this angry turbulent album in a way he hasn’t meant any of his other recent records (the sickly worried ‘Prairie Wind’ aside) and snarls his way through this record like a man possessed and thirty years younger. This isn’t merely his yearly record anymore, it’s a literal matter of life and death and Neil’s commitment is what makes this record work, scruffy edges and all. Neil’s anger and his desire to become the Dylan of his generation also inspires a whole new style for Neil that works very well: poetic journalism. None of these songs are his best work all the time, but considering the rush they were made in Neil is truly inspired at times across this record in a way he hadn’t been in over a decade. ‘The Restless Consumer’ was a far better analysis of the situation than any political commentators I heard on the news, backdating the trigger point of the war not to 9/11 but to earlier causes and effects as a political vacuum coupled with poverty and cheap weapons sold by the Western world adds up to hideous extremes. ‘Families’ works on so many levels and is such a shock after so many one-note Neil songs: the families who have soldiers who will never come home, the contrast between the cosy American homelife and those of the lives the soldiers shoot and the irony of protecting what family life stands for by shooting members of somebody else’s family. ‘Lookin’ For A Leader’ soothsays the rise of both Obama and Hillary Clinton long before most people had really taken notice of either (‘Maybe it’s a woman or a black man after all?’) ‘Let’s Impeach The President’ comes out and says things braver than anyone else was saying at the time, using Bush’s own contradictory words to bait him as Neil cries for blood. And best of all is ‘Shock and Awe’ which tries to make sense of the whole sorry mess, a bitter ironic take on the American military slogan and what it really means for people around the globe, not so much shock and awe as fear and dread, warning that America is on the wrong side of history and that it will ‘be a cruel judge of over-confidence’. This is an unwinnable war that should never have been fought and is costing too many lives on both sides. ‘America is beautiful;’ Neil sighs ‘But she as an ugly side’, before offering us ten songs about why he feels such a fierce patriot – and why feeling a patriot is what made him speak out, not keep quiet.

There’s one major loss with this album, though, which will be put right on the subsequent tour. This isn’t a natural Neil Young album and really doesn’t suit the crunch of Neil’s usual rhythm section Rick Rosas and Chad Cromwell who are too heavy-handed for an album of this subtlety and depth. Instead this record cries out to be a CSNY record, full of the quartet’s unity, bravery and angelic harmonies offering us a half-sight of the utopia this album reaches for. Neil felt too nervous to tour this album himself and so asked his colleagues to help him out, even though they were rather estranged at the time, seven years on from the failure of ‘Lookin’ Forward’. It speaks volumes that all three agreed without hesitation and put together a setlist that took away all the traditional CSN family favourites in favour of the band’s most fiery political material. ‘Living With War’ sounds pretty weak as an album, but it worked very well on that tour surrounded by similar songs from yesteryear like ‘Long Tie Gone’ ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Military Madness’ that added to the fury in the room. Alas the resulting live album ‘Déjà vu’ is hopeless, diluting the politics and drama in favour of singalongs, but the full tours on bootleg are superb as harmonies and hope clashes with feedback and brutality. One day CSNY might put out a full live recording of the tour (many exist on bootleg) and their reputation will surely only be enhanced by it, as these songs of Neil’s cry out for harmonies to soften the blow and their aged, cracked voices make so much more sense than that tacky choir.

Or then again, would anybody want a souvenir of the tour? Neil fans have put up with a lot down the years: the arena-agony of ‘Time Fades Away’, the drunken wake that was ‘Tonight’s The Night’, the road-eyes setting up 100 foot tall microphones for ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ and the calls from ‘mom’ and the ‘cops’ that kept interrupting 1987’s ‘garage band tour’. Never, though, did a Neil//CSNY tour cause as much fuss as this one did. The ‘Déjà vu’ documentary recounting this album in brief and the CSNY tour in depth featured the audience booing, cat-calling, swearing and walking out en masse during the performance of ‘Let’s Impeach The President’. Far from preaching to the converted, Neil walked into the lions’ den and baited it with a stick, playing in Southern states that were pro-Bush and hitting the audience with song after song about his mistakes and errors. Neil lost many fans that day and seems to have lost many more judging by the album sales (this record did quite well, but the ones after it have all sold far worse). For a time in the 1980s Neil was the only rock and roll musician outspokenly Republican and won over so many fans who were nervous of hippie politics and that leads to this album’s biggest contradiction. ‘Flip!...Flop!’ runs the chorus to ‘Let’s Impeach The President’ as Bush first says he spends no time thinking about terrorists and then says he thinks about nothing else (a quote given to the press from his golf course and followed by the line ‘now watch this drive!’; truly you couldn’t make this up!) But Neil has flip-flopped too. Back on ‘Hawks and Doves’ in 1980, a concept album that split war and peace songs down the middle, Neil still came down on the side of the hawks, rolling up his sleeves and telling America to nuke Russia if they had to. 1981’s ‘Re-Ac-Tor’ is even more pro-Republican, with its tale of imported workers and exported cars leaving the country and its anger that America wasn’t being the big business tycoon of the world. Wayward youth? A midlife crisis? Or is Neil just as guilty of flip-flopping? An attempt to calm the waters by ending with a choir version of ‘America The Beautiful’ and reconciling the two sides falls flat: this is an album that stirs up trouble rather than brings peace.

That is also, though, what this album does so well. Politicians can’t come out and say stuff against their low IQ president – they’d be sacked outright. Political commentators in the papers and on TV tend to be ‘owned’ by the people who really really really want  the money that such an illegal war would bring and so can’t speak out either. The literary world was being slow to respond. The art world hadn’t even daubed their paintbrushes. Plays took ages to put together. The world needed liberal musicians to get out there and speak the ‘truth’, which is what this album does so well. What’s so clever is that Neil also flip-flops his approach to this album and yet all roads point to the same result: this war is wrong and it should be stopped. Sometimes he’s a character watching his children go off to a war they didn’t need to fight, all because of their misguided trust in a President who is lying to them. Sometimes he’s involved in the fight too, a ‘restless consumer’ who benefits from the war, but at a price higher than he wants to pay. Sometimes Neil is an orator for his times, commenting on the disparity between what we’re told and what’s really happening, offering up counter arguments. Sometimes Neil is looking for an alternative to come and save us (‘Lookin’ For A Leader’). Sometimes he’s hopeful (‘After The Garden’ looks forward to peace and starts the album on its only happy note), sometimes he’s despondent (‘Roger and Out’ almost-ends the album with a tale of the world blowing itself up and America losing its prestigious role in the world). And sometimes it’s personal: ‘Let’s Impeach The President’ is his single most damning song about anybody since ‘Ohio’ sent Nixon coming with his tail between his legs.

However Neil is at pains to point out that he’s not just attacking Bush personally. There are many references to ‘history’ on this album and the sense that in another future time zone Americans (and other people around the world) are going to look back on this period in shock. How did Bush get to turn murder into a phone opportunity? How did we go to war based on no other evidence than a ‘dodgy dossier’ full of lies and a manifesto copies from an undergraduate’s theoretical essay? How did a small backwater of the world get blamed for something they weren’t even involved in (we didn’t go after where the Taliban were last spotted because they were, uhh, our allies offering business deals, so we went after their impoverished neighbours instead. And though Neil oddly misses a chance to make the point and people tried to pretend it wasn’t, this war was clearly about oil and natural resources). And most of all, how did people let this happen? Neil spends much of the album outraged: outraged not just that Bush is a moron in office after his own evil ends but that so few people spoke out against it and backed him up all the way. As a one-time spokesman for the 1960s Neil is furious with his baby boomer generation as much as he is at the politicians here (born in June 1946, Bush Junior is eight months younger than Neil).

Throughout the record we get a mere ‘lone voice’ calling to us from across the darkness. While the choir and guitar, bass and drums make everything sound rigid and stuck, we get the sound of a lone bugle calling to us across the album. Sometimes it’s a bitter, sarcastic twist on what a bugler should be doing, calling the troops to war – only the troops are the masses who are letting all these bad things happen. Sometimes it’s a moment of beauty in a world of noise and mass destruction. Sometimes it’s a glimmer of hope in a world that’s doing its best to trample it under foot. Mostly, though, it’s Neil’s way of speaking out for the military rather than against them. There’s a moment, on the world tours, where Neil (and sometimes CS or N) would turn to the bugler and salute, seconds after damning the American military to death that’s more poignant than anything actually spoken on this album. He’s paying tribute by trying to save lives, not damn the service. Even though as a card-carrying hippie I disagree in the need to have a military at all (and think anyone dumb enough to  sign up to earn blood money by killing people deserve everything they get and any person who signs up to the armed forced out of choice is a murderer, pure and simple) I have to say this is a very clever touch and gets Neil out of all sorts of trouble with the media who, if this was a blog of any respect or following at all, would no doubt get persecuted for comments like that. Alas his idea of using the choir in a similar way – as a mass of unified voices – really doesn’t work that well. Every time Neil gets personal, in come the choir to dilute everything. Every time the album starts grooving and overcomes it’s power trio slash to start moving and dancing, the choir swamps it all. Every time Neil sounds real, pushed to his limits, the choir sound posh and indifferent. Like the bugle the choir are seemingly meant to play a different part on each and every song. But that doesn’t work: like most sounds built up from a group of people rather than one or two they are too stuck in their ways and sound the same whether they are meant to be sunny, horrified, detached, angry or mocking. Instead it just sounds like a group of people who aren’t quite sure what they’re singing or why, trying to keep up with the sheer speed of Neil’s band and overpowered by their rawness when they’re not being overpowering themselves. Some albums need choirs. A rushed, raw polemic anthem against the stupidity of mankind’s actions that reflects a lone voice fighting in the wilderness isn’t one of them. This is an album that sounds better in the remix, rush-released almost straight away as ‘Living With War – The Beginning’. This should have been the end product too, with its clever disc of ‘music videos’ which are actually footages of war new bulletin style with the lyrics going across the screen as the subtitles (very moving it is too by the time you reach the end, although watching news reports admittedly isn’t every fan’s idea of a ‘good time’).

Not all the techniques work that well then (‘America The Beautiful’ is wretched, intended as a last hopeful hymn that Neil isn’t even on and which the choir just sound deluded on after all that’s gone before it), but we fans had waited over thirty-five years to hear him attack and stomp on anyone the way he did on Nixon. He might not do it with quite as much class as he did on ‘Ohio’ or make as timeless a statement about the war as a history lesson we can learn from the way he did in 1970 (everything on this album is so specific in scope that it will probably confuse future historians who see Bush as part of a chain of dumb Republicans who shouldn’t have been allowed to graduate never mind serve time in office, rather than as the be-all and end-all of our problems). But Neil makes his point well for the most part (certainly in songs, if not always execution) and this is an impressively brave record that features more passion and heart in one place than all of his record since. Maybe Neil should speak out against a few more wars, including the fourteen that Trump is inevitably going to have started before the end of his time in office. Alas that’s also this album’s legacy: it didn’t end the war, we’re all still living with it and a few extras beside nowadays and instead of kick-starting a new generation of writers inspired to become political, Neil was so put off by the flack of making this album that he hasn’t made another even though Trump is a sitting target (I can see it now: ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ ‘The Loner With Orange Hair and Tiny Hands’ ‘After The Missile Rush’ ‘Heart Of Mould’ ‘Harvest Gloom’ ‘A Lotta Nukes’). However that’s the album’s legacy rather than the album itself and despite the rawness, despite the choir, despite the lack of any beauty and the hideous treacly ending ‘Living With War’ is very much one of Neil’s better ideas, full of a spirit and fire and passion that all his other albums would have benefited from. Sometimes too, when Neil’s poetry is in sync with his muse and his emotion (as on ‘Shock and Awe’ and ‘Families’ in particular) he goes back to writing fully developed thoughtful songs that touch a nerve. And when you are living with war in your hearts every day, a writer like Neil who can make you feel less alone and less isolated with your pain is the most important job you can have: far more important than a flip-flopping president, his hand-tied underlings and media or the soldiers who are pawns in a game much bigger than they ever realised when they were first signed up. Neil aims his weapons of mass destruction at all the right targets here and only a few of them miss.


You play a game, as a Neil Young fan, as to whether the title of the album just out has anything to do with the actual album. What is ‘Re-Ac-Tor’ re-acting to? Why is there a second Chrome Dreams when the first one only appeared on bootleg? Where the hell is ‘Greendale’?!? If you missed the publicity and with the bland paper-bag packaging of the album cover, you could just about fool yourself that ‘Living With War’ was a quirky album about anything. But in comes the opening lines of ‘After The Garden’ and you know where this album is going: ‘Won’t need no shadow man running the Government, won’t need to stinking war!’ I’ll put you down for a protest vote then Neil? Interestingly, while this track feels musically like the perfect opening track - fast, anguished, a little paranoid – it feels lyrically like a rousing album closer, full of hope for when the current mess of war is over and we can go back to peace again. Neil mourns for the soldiers sent to fight a rich man’s war and looks forward to a time when we ‘won’t need no strong man walkin’ through the night to live a weak man’s death’. The ‘where will people go after the garden is gone?’ chorus is sadder, imagining a time when there is no garden left, but this also sounds oddly happy in context: maybe we won’t need to keep dreaming of a garden because we’ll be living there? My guess is that Neil, a compulsive news watcher, saw the same bulletins I did about the once beautiful cities of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan being trampled underfoot by soldiers, all that beautiful architecture and all those lovely gardens turned into no-man’s land of sand and dirt. Another verse points to the wider idea that this is just one war of many, as Neil dreams of a time when everyone is a peace-loving hippie and we won’t need ‘no Purple Haze, won’t need no sunshine’ because we’ll be living there all the time. The choir sounds rather good on this one – the only time they will on the album – singing with real gospel joy as Neil’s embittered guitar and the crushing drum ‘n’ bass feel still finds times for sudden moves to the major keys, a light in the darkness before things get too heavy. The result is a likeable singalong track that’s maybe a verse short of being amongst the true classics on this album.

Title track ‘Living With War’ matches perhaps the single best lyric on the album with the weakest melody, turning what should have been a poetic Dylanesque call-to-arms into something of a dirge. On this song the war is personal: Neil talks about his own experience as a peace-loving liberal trying to lead his everyday life when he knows that out there somewhere people are dying illegally for an unnecessary war. Though Neil is, like the rest of us, watching events unfold on the ‘flat screen’, he still feels personally involved, feeling every shot, every wound, every dead body as if it was one of his own. All Neil can do is take a ‘Holy vow’ never to support a war again and to ‘try to remember peace’ as something to cling on to so that this death and devastation no longer seems ‘normal’. In an alarming second verse Neil tells us that it doesn’t take a full-on disaster, like a tidal wave  or a set of mass graves, to ‘prove’ America’s point: they can win by diplomacy and bargaining, not war. A painful middle eight roars with the pompousness of a national anthem, but the lyrics make it clear that it’s nothing to be celebrated: yes the American flag flies, but only at the cost of lives on both sides and the chaos of ‘bombs bursting in mid-air’. Across this song the bugle works well, sounding as bleary-eyed as the troops it usually calls to battle and with a world-weariness that works really well. Alas the choir really doesn’t work as well, at least on the ‘main’ version of the album: this is a personal re-action to war and hearing posh people enunciate lines like ‘I join the multitudes’ it all gets a bit cheesy. Neil’s guitar sounds good though, with a crunch of feedback and a busy-ness that recalls one of his more powerful full-throttle rockers even though the setting is slow and languid, a requiem not a celebration.

‘The Restless Consumer’ sounded glorious on the CSNY ‘Freedom Of Speech’ tour, but loses a little of its punch on record. This is still one of Neil’s best songs in years though, twisting and turning from verses trying to understand the true underlying triggers of the war and the context of history and a much more personal extended chorus that goes on for hours as a sea of voices chant ‘no need!’ over and over. The opening rhyme of ‘The people have spoken…and they ain’t jokin’ loses this song several marks but the rest of this lyric is superb: Neil sees this war as inevitable from the ‘modern disease’ of how people live their lives. He speaks up, a lone voice fighting against the ‘TV ads telling me how sick I am’, sick to his stomach at the ‘boxes I can’t see on TV’ full of dead bodies coming home. Neil then juxtaposes the scared, lonely and impoverished around the world crying out for help and the West’s ‘restless consumer’ flying out there to bomb them or give them what they want for a price when they could just pay for food instead. Neil imagines himself as an impoverished family in one of these bomb-scarred lands: ‘How do you pay for war and leave us dying?’ Namechecking Bush’s famous quote Neil destroys what the American Government are telling us: ‘There’s no mission accomplished here, just deaths to thousands’. Neil is frustrated: he’s old enough to have lived through lots of lies and he proclaims ‘We don’t talk to them and we don’t learn from them…Hate don’t negotiate with good!’ The whole wordy song is then wrapped up with a punchy cry of ‘don’t need no more lies!’ which punctuates the end of every verse and rescues this very asymmetrical song from falling over. Meanwhile Neil’s ‘old black’ guitar chops and saws its way through the musical landscape like a demon possessed, Chad Cromwell’s drumming is deliciously inventive and heavy and Neil’s own lead vocal is a thing of beauty, by turns angelic and pure, concerned and frustrated then angry and demented. By the end Neil is screaming, so affected by the claustrophobia of lies and avarice around him and it’s an exhilarating moment, like the days of old.

‘Shock and Awe’ is even better, with one of Neil’s more straightforward crunch rock and roll riffs put together with a lyric that’s obviously dripping with sarcasm. Bush Jnr’s phrase for countries bowing before military might was ‘shock and awe’ but Neil uses that phrase in a whole new context: he is shocked and awed, but at America’s stupidity and greed, not their might and right. Neil is an impersonal omnipotent narrator here, looking in a detached way at how it came to this and deciding, even at this early stage, that ‘history was a cruel judge of over-competence’. Instead of people coming to liberate and help, Neil envisions the troops having a ‘giant photo op’ in front of the sun as thousands of dead bodies are left scattered on the ground, with no one there to mourn as entire families are wiped out, while America sends her dead back in boxes. ‘Both sides are losing now, Heaven takes them in’ snarls Neil as he foresees another decade and counting of stalemate, multiple generations ‘scarred for life’. He figures that America has ignored her last chance, screaming passionately that it didn’t have to be this way and that ‘we had a chance to change our minds’, switching violently back to the first-person to make his point all the more emotional. Alongside his emotional delivery rocks a mother of all guitar parts, choppy and angry and all bared-teeth, playing a wonderful double-act with another bleary bugle solo that would be comic if it weren’t all so tragic. ‘Wisdom was so hard to find’ Neil sighs and the song’s theme is clear: There had to be a better way than this. We have to learn from it.

‘Families’ is a third strong song in a row, this one a brief but catchy song that sees Neil playing the part of a soldier’s family wanting to keep their loved one’s safe. The trick, though, is that we don’t know which side we are ‘on’ – both sides in a war have loved ones who won’t see their soldiers come home. There is, as we’ve seen, a few things working at this song: the American ideal of family life juxtaposed with slaughter of another’s family, the feeling of disunity war brings even at home and the desperate aching need for Neil to keep his family safe. The first verse has Neil as an actual dead body, asking for his loved ones not to mourn but to ‘celebrate our lives’ and ‘try to bring our spirit home’. He even talks to himself, pleading with songwriters to ‘do us justice, because we’re just like you’, Neil keen to stress that soldiers aren’t some distance detached force but real people with real relationships and people who care about them. Neil is reaching out to the soldiers and to his own families, telling both how much they mean to him and acknowledging that just because the soldiers happen to be part of a ;different’ family to his own that doesn’t make their lives any less meaningful to him. We should all be one big happy family, not a dysfunctional one who keep lobbing things at one another. Neil longs to be enjoying family life, but suddenly he’s called to battle, a ‘chill wind blowin’ and a rifle in his hand and a light of the great unknown up ahead. What does he think about when he dies? Not his country. Not this war. Definitely not his president. He thinks of his family. The word ‘family’ punctuates this angry, defiant song like a balm, appearing tacked on to the end of every verse as the one thing driving the narrator and his soldier buddies onwards, their vow to protect their loved ones back home. The choir works better here than most songs, although the many times that the word ‘faaaaaamily’ is repeated across this song does make their entrances a little predictable. There’s a nice punchy guitar grove on this one, either pumped up full of adrenalin as the soldier goes out to kill or his excitement at getting a pass to go back home and see his ‘family’. A clever little song, which neatly deflects all the ‘but what about our soldiers?’ guff the Republicans always speak whenever a Democrat comes out in criticism of a war. Yeah, Neil cares for the soldiers too, that’s why he doesn’t want them to be shot – and why he cares for the soldiers of both sides.

‘Flags Of Freedom’ isn’t quite as good. Neil tries a little too hard to be poetic here and his idea of being a family of someone going off to war is a little clumsier than some other album tracks. The melody too is recycled wholesale from ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, although in many ways that’s quite apt given that Neil resurrected Dylan’s track for the ‘gulf war’ tour of 1991 that rather started this sorry mess (odd isn’t it how a Bush can start a war and a Bush try to end it, with the Republicans avoiding one in the middle!) – Dylan even gets a namecheck in verse three just to show Neil’s realised this but is going ahead anyway a la ‘Borrowed Tune’. This time every verse ends with the line ‘the flags of freedom flyin’. At first Neil means it truthfully: he’s a proud parent watching his son march off to war to keep the country safe, while on the second verse the ‘soldiers look so brave’ and the church bells chime in celebration. The soldier’s sister is watching the President speaking on the news as she says goodbye to her brother in verse four – but he’s already gone as her ears are filled with his ‘lies’. There’s a gorgeous middle eight that says everything about the stupidity of war and makes the idea of ‘flags of freedom’ look more suspect: ‘What colour are they now? Do you think that you believe in your flags more than they do somehow?’ Over on the other side of the world another family is sending their children off to war in the name of peace and freedom: so how can they both be right? The answer is both are wrong – these aren’t the flags of freedom but a trap, both sides sent off to fight an ‘age-old war’ that’s been fought over and over again so many times with no sides ever truly winning. Alas this song sports a less interesting melody than the other songs on the album and gets rather forgotten sandwiched between two of the more memorable songs here, for all it’s worth.

‘Neil, what’s your new single ‘Let’s Impeach The President’ about then?’ asks a clueless reporter to a bemused Neil in the ‘Déjà vu’ documentary. Neil seems to have written the album’s most controversial number in an attempt to reduce this album’s themes to the bare=-bones so even Republicans can understand it, without this album’s imagery, play-acting or poetry. Instead this is pure anger: the world has seen proof that Bush Jnr lied to get America into a phony war, attacks him for ‘abusing all the power that we gave him’ and has obviously read the same report about he and his family having a say in all sorts of dodgy committees with the line ‘shipping all our money out the door’. Neil further harangues Bush for hiring criminals, ‘bending facts to fit with each new story’, of phone-tapping computers and telephones of ordinary Americans who might disagree with him and putting the blame squarely on Bush for abandoning the poor during Hurricane Katrina that so devestated New Orleans (in the song’s most killer line: ‘If Al-Qaeda blew up the levees would New Orleans have been safer that way?) Neil then has a go at Bush for ‘hijacking his religion’ and pretending to be Christian when he acts more like a sinner than a saint and ‘leaving black people neglected’ as he ‘divides the country into colours’. A mocking last verse than decides to praise Bush for what he has achieved during his six years in office: ‘Thank God he’s cracking down on steroids…but of course our president is clean!’ (Bush had a very major drinking problem, more double standards at work here!) Behind Neil the choir intone ‘Thank God!’ like a demented gospel choir (which is hilarious, though sadly they sound less good chanting these lyrics behind Neil’s heartfelt lead). The result is clear: presidents have been impeached for far far worse (there’s no kindness or mercy to Bush here the way there was to Nixon on ‘Campaigner’), it’s time for Bush to go now that he’s more of a danger to America ns than terrorists could ever be. In an extended instrumental break we get Bush damning himself by his own words, contradicting himself in one speech after another while the mass choir yells ‘flip!...flop!’ as Bush goes all gung-ho and then says he doesn’t think that much about terrorists before ending with a half-apology as ‘most of our intelligence turned out to be wrong’. Neil ends the soliloquy with Bush’s heartfelt ‘no one can no doubt the word of America’, which is now clearly a joke after more u-turns than a car full of u-bends. All in all it’s safe to say that Bush was not on Neil’s Christmas card list that year. Neil got into one hell of a lot of trouble for this song, with fans walking out and columnists raging and politicians falling over themselves to dismiss this song. It was all worth it: the result is s clever, sassy, sarcastic song so singalong and catchy it’s guaranteed to stick in your head and simple enough even your war-supporting Republican friends can actually understand it. The result is a fabulous song, laugh-out-loud funny but never disrespectful to the people who gave up their lives for this ongoing farce. And yet, by Trump’s standards, Bush now seems to be a pussycat. These are worrying times.

They were in 2006 too, with two more years of Bush still to go and the prospect of another four years with a different Republican leader. Neil’s looking to the future to try and give himself something to look forward to ‘Looking For A Leader’ and hopes that the Democrats can fight back with a respected candidate who takes them to power and restores sanity again. Neil does a spot of fortune telling on this song, seeing what even the Democractic party hadn’t yet in the year when he was one of several candidates: ‘Maybe it’s Obama though they say that he’s too young’. This was, in fact, the first time as a British citizen I had even heard of Obama and I had to look him up and thought ‘yes he looks a credible candidate’ – maybe we should get Neil to pick our next president without all that democracy business? Then again that line rhymes with ‘maybe it’s Conan Powell to right what he’s done wrong’ so who knows?! All Neil knows is that America needs somebody to believe in again: he’s afraid of corruption after the 2000 voting scandal (when Bush was declared hours early despite a tight fight against Al Gore), knows that the country needs to come together before it falls apart (at every nail) and that ‘someone walks among us’ who can put things right (‘Maybe it’s a woman or a black man after all’). Neil’s conclusion: ‘America is beautiful – but she has an ugly side’. He desperately wants the beauty to come through, not this greed and cruelty. Alas, while Neil wins points for fortune-telling, he doesn’t win many for songwriting as this is another album track that doesn’t quite cut it. Hur-hur-hur this song is looking for a tune more like (Boom! Boom!) No actually the melody is fine, punchy and memorable, but it’s very repetitive and seemingly arranged to be as bland as possible, with no difference in the boom-boom-thwack playing throughout. I’m really not sure about the choir either, or the rhyme of ‘chance’ and confi-daaance’ which is one of Neil’s weakest. The worst thing, though, is how tied to time this song is: it became obsolete the minute Obama got into power in 2008 in a way that Neil’s other political songs, even on this album, never are.

‘Roger and Out’ is – ever so nearly – our ‘goodbye’ too with just one song after this on this album, one more set review and a sudden flux of new recordings coming out (many of them by Neil, of course) to go before we run out of reviews for good. Roger and out- goodbye. Fittingly Neil takes on a nostalgic walk through the past, recounting a close relationship with someone he doesn’t see anymore from the hippie days (First wife Susan? Stills?) Neil wonders what happens to them, remembers their days protesting Vietnam and that ‘we were just a couple of kids then’ – and yet the kids knew the answers, while the ‘adults’ all messed up big time. Or does it? In the next verse Neil and his significant other sign up to fight ‘laughing all the way’ on a reference back to an unfinished 1974 album as they travel on ‘the old Hippie Highway’. Now, though, Neil is mourning a friend who never came back while he did, wracked with survivor’s guilt and bidding goodbye to his friend. The message is clear: Neil never got over the loss of a friend from forty years ago and as much as he tries to sing ‘Roger and out, goodbye’ he doesn’t really mean it because the grief never really goes. He warns all the youngsters rushing off to sign up to war to be careful, that war victory is – As we’ve seen – temporary while grief is forever. Neil’s friend too ‘gave for your country’ but that’s not enough when his country did not give to his friend and kept starting wars again instead so that other people could die, lessons still unlearned. This is a moving, solemn song and it was another that was powerful in concert, draped with CSN harmonies (that made it sound even more like Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door…’) and a solemn serious feel. Here on record it’s a touch too slow and dull, while the choir doesn’t really fit and at three verses and no real chorus or middle eight it arguably needs another something else to keep it moving.

Talking of the choir that’s all we get for an over-heavy choir rendition of ‘America The Beautiful’. Now, I like to hear my new albums on ‘shuffle’ – it enables me to get a different ‘feel’ for a record and the true ‘heart’ not what the catchy first track wants me to hear (unless it’s a prog rock concept album of course!) You can imagine my shock when this song came on first and I thought ‘oh no – Neil’s turned full Republican and this is about being proud of the war’. You see, the choir sing so straight, as if they mean it: that America is graced by God ‘from sea to shining sea’ (odd how many countries claim that God is on our side: the ‘forgotten’ second verse of ‘God Save The Queen’ claims that God loves the English and hates the French; the forgotten second verse of La Marseilles claims that God loves the French and hates the English. The answer surely is that God hates both of us). Only after hearing the nine songs before it do you realise what Neil is trying to do here: he has made this album not because he is an anarchist but because he is a patriot who cares about the soldiers giving their lives for nothing. He also wants us to think about these words and how America’s actions is so different to the ‘American dream’ that we were led to believe in. Even so, the result is woefully misguided: Neil doesn’t appear at all on this a capella song as far as I can tell and the choir aren’t the best around, singing like a big fat lump rather than a hurricane of poignancy as they should. What should be a really moving and powerful ending is too Republican for most Democrats to stomach and too Republican to be giving your Republican friends the lessons about life and death and liberty the album has taught us. Of all of Neil’s album endings this is surely the worst since ‘Baby What Do You Want Me To Do?’ was recorded a mile away down a noisy pub and almost ruins the best Young album in years (give or take ‘Prairie Wind’).

Even so, for the most part ‘Living With War’ judges things right – impressively so given that this is maybe the most rushed of all Neil’s ‘first thought, best thought, only thought’ albums. No other musician was putting their careers on the line in quite the same way Neil did with this record but for the most part the songs are up to his bravery, especially the brace of moving songs in the middle. This is Neil back to being his most thoughtful and deep after over a decade of largely ‘phoning it in’, an album full of some of his best politics and his best poetic imagery, while unlike some other political records this album also feels connected and emotional at all times. Neil sounds reborn on these vocals too, really getting inside these songs, while his guitar is delightful and the military bugle a spot-on choice of irony and melancholy even if the backing is often a bit ploddy and the mass voices all but sink it. What a shame that we get a choir instead of CSNY harmonies and that we get a production that so insists on placing the same hard-riffing crunching at the heart of every song, with no real variety and colour. Then again, ‘Living With War’ was never meant to be a ‘pretty’ album. It was meant to be a newspaper, released as close to the events as possible, with a plain brown wrapper and an ugly font, functional and necessary rather than a luxury. On that score it succeeds, full of deep thought, deep emotion and songs that manage to balance being simple and straightforward with being thoughtful and complex. It didn’t stop the war, it didn’t get Bush impeached and it didn’t change the world for the better – not with Trump about to make us live with a whole new raft of wars. But ‘Living With War’ did make more than a few fans think, it confronting casual Neil Young fans with truths they wouldn’t have learnt from their right-wing media and it got people talking – and thinking. On those terms this might make it the most important album in this book and is a heroic wonderful record that deserves all our praise, though ‘Living With War’ isn’t for every fan and it also sounds a little dated today, the soundtrack to so many wars and presidents ago, more time sensitive than any other Neil Young record.

Other Young-flavoured articles from this website you might be interested in reading:

'Neil Young' (1968)
'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969)
‘After The Goldrush’ (1970)
'Harvest' (1972)

'Time Fades Away' (1973) 
'On The Beach' (1974)
'Zuma' (1975)

'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977)

'Comes A Time' (1978) 
'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979)

'Hawks and Doves' (1980) 
'RelAclTor' (1981)

'Trans' (1982) 
'Everybody's Rockin' (1983)
'Old Ways' (1985)

‘Landing On Water’ (1986)
'Ragged Glory' (1990)

'Weld' (1991) 
'Harvest Moon' (1992)

'Sleeps With Angels' (1993)

'Mirror Ball' (1995) 
‘Are You Passionate?’ (2002)
'Greendale' (2003)

‘Prairie Wind’(2005) 
‘Chrome Dreams II’ (2007)
'Fork In The Road' (2009)

'Le Noise' (2011)

'A Treasure' (1986/2012) 
'Storytone' (2014)
'The Monsanto Years' (2015)
'Peace Trail' (2016)
The Best Unreleased Neil Young recordings

The Who: Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Three 1976-1982

Pete Townshend/Various Artists "With Love"

(Universal, March 1976)

Hail Avatar Mehere Baba/Give It Up/Without Your Love*/His Hands*/Just For A Moment/Baba Blues/Meher*/Contact/Gotta Know Ya/Sleeping Dog*/All God's Mornings/Lantern Cabin*
* = Pete Townshend Performance

"All I can do is love you - so that is what I do"

With The Who again on hold and Pete in need of some spiritual balm after the harrowing sessions for 'Who By Numbers' (though part of this album dates as far back as 1974), the guitarist retreated to the healing bosom of his Meher Baba family with a the third in his trilogy of tribute works. 'With Love' is the weakest of the three, partly because Pete sounds more lost and helpless than spiritual for much of the record but mostly because he barely appears, with old friends Billy Nicholls and Ronnie Lane 9with new pal Ronnie Wood) singing on more of this record between them despite Pete's name on the cover. However there is still much here to recommend - what other album released under the name of one of the leading rock stars of his day would open with 30 seconds of chanting by a Qawwali choir (not even George Harrison did that!) Also the sleepy instrumental 'His Hands' is gorgeous, a rolling folkie lilt that would have gone nicely on the 'Rough Mix' album, which grooves along like a slower 'Amazing Journey-Sparks' with similar peaks and troughs, but with little bits of the riff from 'Pinball Wizard'. 'Sleeping Dog' has its moments too, with the unlikely metaphor of mankind as a sleeping dog in front of a fire, oblivious of how deep and big and scary the 'real' reason we're here is with Baba/God our owner looking over us with the same affection/pity we do with our pets. Unfortunately Pete's third and final solo composition 'Lantern Cabin' isn't up to the other standards though and sounds as if the singer was trying to re-write another Cole Porter song before giving up and writing a new piece for himself (even if the trilling piano chords is very reminiscent of 'Quadrophenia'!) 

Elsewhere Ronnie Lane charms as always with 'Just For A Moment', a sweet song that's folkier than The Faces but rockier than his work with Slim Chance - it was later re-recorded for the film soundtrack 'Mahoney's Last Stand'. Billy's 'Without Your Love' too is a pretty ballad but doesn't really fit with the Baba theme and Staffordshire blues band Medicine Head don't sound as if they understand what is going on at all. As with the other two albums the spoken word passages (occasionally backed by Pete's guitar) are also very of their time and not entirely convincing, more likely to put you off Baba than make you want to enrol. Overall, though, this is another nice album to own and Pete's spirituality shines through - even if you wish it would shine a bit stronger and a bit longer at times. As with the other two Baba sets, the Townshend-only performances were included as bonus tracks on the CD re-issue of 'Who Came First' and the whole Baba trilogy was collected on the double-CD set 'Avatar/Jai Baba' in 2001.

"The Story Of The Who"

(Track Records, October 1986)

Magic Bus/Substitute/Boris The Spider/Run Run Run/I'm A Boy/Heatwave/My Generation/Pictures Of Lily/Happy Jack/The Seeker/I Can See For Miles/Bargain/Squeeze Box//Amazing Journey/Acid Queen/Do You Think It's Alright?/Fiddle About/Pinball Wizard/I'm Free/Tommy's Holiday Camp/We're Not Gonna Take It!/Summertime Blues/Baba O'Riley/Behind Blue Eyes/Slip Kid/Won't Get Fooled Again

"Gather your wits and hold on fast, your mind must dare to roam"

Whilst I love the idea of The Who's catalogue being a 'story', it's probably fair to say that this compilation is lacking many of the most important chapters. There's no 'I Can't Explain' or 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' for instance (though you can explain that, because the Shel Talmy court-case was still ongoing in 1976 - 'My Generation' appears in unsatisfactory truncated 'Live At Leeds' form), only one track off the most recent 'Who By Numbers' collection, none of the post Who's Next run of singles (so no 'Join Together' or 'Relay' even though they were bigger hits than half the album) and not even a single song from 'Quadrophenia'. That's a little like telling the story of The Beatles with no inclusion of the early songs or 'The White Album' (assuming, for now, that 'Tommy' is a deaf dumb and blind 'Sgt Peppers'). If your interest in The Who peaks with 'Tommy' and 'Who's Next' though then this is still a worthy collection with several songs included from these two records (even 'plot' songs from 'Tommy' that make little sense out of context), plus an otherwise almost complete run of 1960s singles ('Call Me Lightning' and 'Dogs' are the only pair missing - to be fair you aren't missing much). It would be nice if we could hear the 'story' in chronological order, with this track listing even more wildly all over the place than a Keith Moon drum solo, but then I suppose many modern books do like their 'flashback' sequences nowadays. Talking of (acid) flashbacks, the biggest song of interest here for collectors is the 'lengthy' mix of 'Magic Bus', here extended to four-and-a-half-minutes and which had only been released on one other Who compilation before. Ultimately it's great to see The Who covered by two slabs of vinyl at last rather than one which does give this album more scope than in the past, but Track could and should have done a lot more with that space and there are better Who compilations to follow. The album artwork also has to be seen to be believed - a pinball machine in the process of being smashed to smithereens, which does I suppose show the aggression and frustration of The Who but nothing like the depth or subtlety and Tracky's idea is a little tacky. Sometimes you can judge a story by looking at its cover...

Roger Daltrey "One Of The Boys"

(Polydor/MCA, May 1977)

Parade/Single Man's Dilemma/Avenging Annie/The Prisoner/Leon/One Of The Boys/Dizzy//Written On The Wind/Satin and Lace/Doing It All Again/Say It Ain't So, Jo/You Put Something Better Inside Me/Martyrs/Teachery

"The good ol' days have gone!"

Originally Roger was going to respond to punk by recording a 'we did it first!' style rockabilly album and he even approached 1950s legends Leiber and Stoller to produce it. When they declined the singer got cold feet and decided to make a record more in line with 'Daltrey' and 'Rock Horse', but with a bit more of a rocky edge. Roger chose his songs with more care this time and took them from both established names (Including Paul McCartney and The Zombies' Colin Bluntstone) and from up and coming songwriters who he helped break into the industry the same way he had done with Leo Sayer (including Murray Head's gorgeous 'Say It Ain't So Jo' - which The Hollies loved so much they recorded on their next album '5317704'). The result is the most balanced of Daltrey's solo albums, with the best range of what Roger can do and the best evidence of what a great singer he is, even if this album lacks the cohesion of it's predecessors and all too often sounds like a various artists compilation set. Some of the songs too frankly aren't up to much (even the McCartney tune is clearly one he'd buried under the sofa and dusted off rather than a carefully tailored classic) and the result is yet another Daltrey album that makes you miss the rest of The Who. Even with his old bandmates do turn up (or John and Keith do at any rate) you can't really tell with Moon drowned out by the orchestra on 'Jo' and Entwistle lost in a sea of mediocre rock jamming on the title track. Other contributing musicians reads like a Who's Who (or at least The Who's address book) of rock musicians of the day: various members of The Shadows, Wings' Jimmy McCulloch (who always admitted to being more of a Who fan than a Beatles one!), Eric Clapton, Andy Fairweather-Low, a Zombie (the group silly, not a real life zombie - if that's not an oxymoron!) and a member of Ten Years After all appear. So this is a good album? Yes, but only if you keep the skip button very handy. At least the cover is one of Roger's best, a play on a Magritte painting where an artist looks in a mirror and sees what he shouldn't be able to see from his perspective - similarly Roger can only see the back of his head!

The charming 'Parade' is a great song, if not necessarily a great Daltrey song. A Nilsson-style dramatic weepie about a loser figure so shocked at being loved by someone he admires he wants to parade down the street, it is at least quite like what Pete was busy writing in this period.

Colin Blunstone's 'Single Man's Dilemma' is an unusual song for both writer and singer - it's a country-rocker complete with pedal steel that sounds more like an Eagles song. Roger sounds quite good though and the song isn't bad.

'Avenging Annie' is enlivened by some natty Entwistle bass work and as a slow-charging song with peaks and troughs it's well suited musically to Roger's emotional vocals. Lyrically, though, this is silly stuff despite being the biggest hit on the album originally (it's still writer Andy Pratt's best known song).

Daltrey co-writes 'The Prisoner' and it's closer to his natural style, a dramatic song about betrayal and wondering is his wife ever loved him. However it lacks the simplicity or directness Townshend would have given the song and just comes off as somebody moping.

'Leon' is the most obscure song on the album, which is a shame because it's one of the best, a reaching helping hand to an old friend who disappeared from the narrator's life after problems. It could be picked because of Roger's feelings for Pete or Keith, who both had their troubles in this period but were actively trying to turn them around, or maybe Roger just liked the song?

Steve Gibbons' 'One Of The Boys' is the only song to come from Roger's original idea and is a punk song featuring as many 1950s, 1960s and 1970s rock luminaries as could fit into one room. It's clearly meant to be the Rock Godfathers showing the young punks how things should be done, but if so it fails by coming off as just a lot of aimless shouting without any of the true spirit of punk. Roger's having fun though.

'Giddy' begins with a siren and cruises to a jazz setting. Few people buying this album would have guessed this noisy slice of nothing was a Paul McCartney song and it sounds much like 'Got To Get You Into My Life' played at slow speed (it's actually based on the am 'Rode All Night' busked during 'Ram' and released on that album's super deluxe box in 2010). Roger sounds good though, mocking his exes' new partner who goes by a giddy new name - Paul may have written it for Gerald Scarfe, then dating his ex Jane Asher.

The haunting 'Say It Ain't So Jo' brings out new layers in Daltrey's voice and is easily a cut above anything else on the record, even if this arrangement is rockier and lumpier than the lush Hollies version. Roger doesn't want to hear about a breakup and would rather stay in his dreamworld where everything is fine, even if the strings' sweeping melancholy proves that he's only in denial. The narrator, you see, knows that if they split both partners are going to 'get burned' and it's going to hurt, causing Roger to plead for a second chance with everything he's got. Superb.

Paul Korda's pretty piano ballad 'Written On The Wind' is another album highlight, continuing the writer's strong showing on 'Ride A Rock Horse'. This is the gentler, more melodic side of Roger's singing but he's rarely sounded so good as a ballad singer than here. Even the strings enhance rather than detract from the song the way they did on 'Daltrey'.

Roger's own 'Satin and Lace' is a little less impressive though, a moody ballad about walking back to an empty house after his lover leaves him. We've heard this sort of thing so many better times before.

The album closes with second Murray Head song 'Doing It All Over Again' and while it isn't as strong as 'Jo' it's another pretty piece about picking yourself up after bad times and trying to find a way to move on. Roger sounds good and amazingly so do the children's choir - so much for the original punk idea, eh?

Overall, 'One Of The Boys' is a bitty frustrating set that reveals both how great Roger can be when he has the right song he can really get into and how ghastly he turns when he's singing the wrong song. This third album has higher highs than the first two LPs but also much lower lows and doesn't quite fulfil its promise as a chance to hear one of the leading rock singers of his day doing something different. If this project had been released as an EP it might have been heralded as one of the best things Roger ever did, but as an LP it's patchy at best and annoying at worst, in the end being exactly the sort of indulgent light ballad work punk was meant to destroy.

"The Kids Are Alright" (Film Soundtrack)

(Polydor, June 1979)

My Generation (Smothers Brothers 1967)/I Can't Explain (Ready Steady Go 1965)/Happy Jack (Live At Leeds 1970)/I Can See For Miles (Smothers Brothers 1967)/Magic Bus (Beat Club 1968)/Long Live Rock (Old Grey Whistle Test 1972)/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere (Ready Steady Go 1965)/Young Man Blues (London Coliseum 1969)/My Wife (Kilburn 1977)/Baba O'Riley (Shepperton Studios 1978)/A Quick One While He's Away (Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus 1968)/Tommy Can You Hear Me? (Beatclub 1969)/ Sparks (Woodstock 1969)/Pinball Wizard (Woodstock 1969)/See Me Feel Me (Woodstock 1969)/Join Together-Road Runner-My Generation Blues (Michigan 1975)/Won't Get Fooled Again (Shepperton Studios 1978)

"You are forgiven!"

In 1977 American Who fan Jeff Stein approached the band about doing a documentary film. He had no previous experience of film-making (and though he'll make a few music videos afterwards he'll never make a second movie) and nothing to commit with except enthusiasm, but as a seventeen year old he'd published a book of Who photographs and impressed the band with his knowledge of their background and career. For a band like The Who, always so keen on looking backwards to their past from 'Quadrophenia' on, it was an invitation that intrigued them. Jeff's enthusiasm for the band came along at just the right time when interest in their own career was beginning to flag. Keith was clearly poorly and struggling, Roger and John were spending more time on their solo careers and Pete was at the peak of his self-critical years. Early sessions for 'Who Are You' were becoming difficult and the band needed someone like Jeff to pull them together and remind them of what they had just achieved - you can feel the glee when the band are back together again for the new footage short for the film (a wonky 'Barbara Ann' rehearsal and glorious definitive performances of 'Baba O'Riley' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again' shot before a specially invited audience of 500 Who fans). It is to this album's credit that Keith Moon's last few months on Earth were spent looking at early film rushes of himself in his prime and glowing while giggling in the presence of Ringo Starr. Sadly he died before the film's premiere though not without first giving it his stamp of approval - and an axe if publicity shots of director and band working on it are to be believed! John, meanwhile, supervised all the music remixing just as he did on 'Odds and Sods'.

The film was a big success on first release, partly because of the even bigger phenomenon of 'Quadrophenia' which turned up in cinemas just three months later. There was clearly always going to be a soundtrack album to help sell the film and given that it was pretty much the first of the entire run of the many Who archive sets to be released it was greeted like the holy grail by fans. Understandably the set is less interesting now that you can buy the band's 'Woodstock' and 'Rolling Stones Circus' sets separately complete, while the inclusion of a couple of just-the-singles-but-in-poorer-sound-because-they're-taken-from-the-TV performances (such as a 'Magic Bus' from 'Beat Club' and an 'I Can See For Miles' from the 'Smothers Brothers' show while 'Long Live Rock' as heard over the closing credits is just the studio take from 'Odds and Sods') seemed a curious idea even at the time. It seems odd that there is no appearance of the title track - for which The Who did, after all, film a rarely seen promo video that would have slotted in great. If I had a chance to pick highlights from the entire filmed Who canon I also probably wouldn't have picked the rather grumpy 'Young Man Blues' from the London Coliseum in 1969 or an interminable chugging blues medley of 'Roadrunner' and a slowed down 'My Generation' from 1975. The double album set could easily have been cut down to a single disc without losing anything, while this album's had a slightly unhappy life on CD - the first version was a pricey double album set that only ran a few seconds over the full running time for a single disc, while the second go snips a few seconds of feedback from some of the longer songs (why not just take one of the studio or TV recordings or the 'Live At Leeds' duplicate of 'Happy Jack' away?)

However there are still many reasons to love this disc, even if just hearing rather than seeing The Who means you lose a slight something compared to the film itself (wind-milling solos, microphone twirling and explosions mainly). The two 1978 recordings ('Barbara Ann', probably mercifully, gets the push) sound wonderful and are the last truly definitive Who recordings every fan should own. The Who's anarchic stage patter and drum-explosives on the opening Smothers Brothers 'My Generation' is the perfect beginning (especially if, like Mickey Rooney backstage at the real event, you can persuade someone to faint into your arms in shock like Bette Davis. Clue: this might not work). A glorious early live performance of 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' on 'Ready Steady Go' beats the record hands down, with a gloriously unhinged guitar solo caught somewhere between aggressive blues and howling psychedelia. If you don't already have it the 'Woodstock' numbers are phenomenal - though 'Sparks' is more tentative than on 'Live At Leeds' the 'See Me, Feel Me' might be even better, a glorious final hymn from a band that have been 'listening' to the biggest crowd of their life for the past three thrilling hours. If you don't already own it, the Stones Circus version of 'A Quick One' is one of the most brilliant performances offered by any rock band in any era, a tight punchy seven minute tour de force. 'You are all forgiven' indeed! Even fans who were appalled at the state of The Who in 1979 would have forgiven anything after hearing this clip, a microcosm of everything The Who were all about: power, ambition and hope at a happy ending. Despite a few issues, a few repeats and a few curious track choices, taken as a whole The Who have never sounded more mad, bad or dangerous to know. Stein may not have been the world's greatest director, but he was clearly a passionate Who fan who made both film and soundtrack album with care and that is the part that matters. The kid did alright. So did The Who. By and large the band stops here really, with the Kenney Jones albums more of a slightly ragged coda to a great story.

"Quadrophenia" (Film Soundtrack)

(MCA/Polydor, October 1979)

Original LP: I Am The Sea/The Real Me/I'm One/5:15/Love Reign O'er Me//Bell Boy/I've Had Enough/Helpless Dancer/Dr Jimmy//Zoot Suit (as The High Numbers)/Hi Heel Sneakers (The Cross Section)/Get Out and Stay Out/Four Faces/Joker James/The Punk and The Godfather//Night Train (James Brown)/Louie Louie (The Kingsmen)/Green Onions (Booker T and The MGs)/The Rhythm Of The Rain (The Cascades)/He's So Fine (The Chiffons)/Be My Baby (The Ronettes)/Da Doo Ron Ron (The Crystals)

1993 CD: I'm The Face/Zoot Suit/I Am The Sea/The Real Me/I'm One/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Bell Boy/I've Had Enough/Helpless Dancer/Dr Jimmy/Get Out and Stay Out/Four Faces/Joker James/The Punk and The Godfather

2000 CD: I Am The Sea/The Real Me/I'm One/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Bell Boy/I've Had Enough/Helpless Dancer/Dr Jimmy/Zoot Suit (as The High Numbers)/Hi-Heel Sneakers (The Cross Section)/Get Out and Stay Out/Four Faces/Joker James/The Punk and The Godfather/Night Train (James Brown)/Louie Louie (The Kingsmen)/Green Onions (Booker T and The MGs)/Rhythm Of The Rain (The Cascades)/He's So Fine (The Chiffons)/Be My Baby (The Ronettes)/Da Doo Ron Ron (The Crystals)/I'm The Face (as The High Numbers)

"You tried to walk on the trail we were carving!"

Back in 1973 'Quadrophenia' was viewed with scepticism as nostalgia for a past that couldn't possibly be as exciting as it seemed at the time and most fans wondered why The Who were going backwards when there were so many exciting new sounds to explore. By 1979, though, things were different and enough time had gone by for the Mods v Rockers battles of 1964 to seem genuinely exciting again. In a sense the old battles were repeated again, as new wave bands copied the mods' tastes for smart suits, scooters and guitars they could actually play in contrast to the punks of a couple of years before who seemed more like the rockers. Suddenly 'Quadrophenia' and it's explorations of disenfranchised youth being forced to grow up in Thatcherist Britain made sense again and the 'Quadrophenia' film released in the summer of 1979 did much to boost the reputation of the band and the album, as well as mods in general. The film is a very different beast to 'Tommy' - earthy, often brutal and pulling no punches in the way it tells the story of Jimmy's mental breakdown. What it doesn't do though - what it could never have done - was truly reveal Jimmy's inner mental state as he wrestles with big concepts about having to settle for less and get on with living despite suffering so much pain before contemplating suicide, which is effectively what the original album is all about. Instead the film focuses on Jimmy's search for identity, his struggles to get the girl (played by Leslie Ash in one of her first screen appearances) and his sharp suits and scooter. While Pete's 'Quadrophenia' mainly takes place in Jimmy's head, 'Quadrophenia' is a colourful film mostly filmed on location in London, with honourable mentions of the many 'battle' sequences on the beaches in Brighton. Clearly the projects are saying two very different things so, rather than simply re-issue the original pricey double album (which had only just gone off-catalogue anyway) Polydor decided to release a new soundtrack to go with the new-look all-singing all-dancing all-sharply dressed version of 'Quadrophenia'.

While the 'Tommy' film soundtrack stuck slavishly to what was used in the film, 'Quadrophenia' is in some cases very different indeed. The more intimate, introverted moments are gone (at least on the original vinyl) with only ten of the original seventeen songs included with just important, nay essential songs as 'Quadrophenia' itself 'Cut My Hair' 'The Dirty Jobs' 'Is It In My Head?' 'Sea and Sand' 'Drowned' and 'The Rock' all cut and the ordering is blown to smithereens ('Love Reign O'er Me' is in the middle and 'The Punk And The Godfather' sits alone out of the new tracks on side three, for no apparent reason - unless it's meant to be a 'warning' to all future generations that the characters have 'lived your future out'). Instead this budget double disc album includes another eleven songs to replace them with, including eight original early 60s mod 'n' soul classics heard in the film from James Brown to Otis Redding's backing band Booker T and The MGs, which was a valuable way for aspiring teenage mods to collect a ton of decent singles in their collection but doesn't offer much to The Who community.

Cleverly, though, fans of the band had to buy this set anyway for three 'outtakes' originally intended for 'Quadrophenia' but left unused until being dug out for the film soundtrack and re-recorded by the 1979 model of The Who (ie with Kenney Jones on drums for the first time). All are reviewed at length under our 'Quadrophenia Director's Cut' so we won't go into detail again here. Suffice to say that they were probably all cut from 'Quadrophenia' for a reason without the same class or gravitas, although as extras included for the fans there is something to say about all of them. 'Four Faces' is a comic look at Jimmy's impending breakdown and a 'Substitute' type song where half of his brain wants to do something - and half wants to do something else. 'Joker James' is an odd revival for the film in the sense that 'this' Jimmy isn't like the one we see on screen at all: he's a practical joker, bordering on being a bully, rather than a teenage hoodlum so prepared to fit in he'll do anything to belong to his 'gang'. It's a silly novelty song of the sort The Who were writing in 1968, albeit with a strong punchy chorus. 'Get Out and Stay Out' is the song that most resembles 'incidental music' here as Pete plays Jimmy's 'mum' booting him out the house as he drives off down the road on his scooter, without quite as much pathos and underlying shame and guilt but also worry as the scene actually demands. Cool piano riff though. By far the most interesting songs - at least at the time, when they were as rare as a mod with a crease in his shirt and a button missing from his jacket - were the two featuring The Who when they really were 'mods' as they charge and zoom through two songs written by then-manager Pete Meadon (who died in 1978, with the original version of the soundtrack album was dedicated to him) and which were released under the name The High Numbers. The cocky 'I'm The Face' B-side is the better of the two, sadly only available on the CD versions not the vinyl, though 'Zoot Suit' also captures the 1964 spirit better than anything the modern Who could have come up with.

Clearly, then, owning this album isn't that essential if you own the original or the '30 Years Of R and B' box set of 1994 which includes the High Numbers songs. All the songs used from the original 'Quadrophenia' album sound much the same, except that a few of them (such as '5.15') seem to have been sped-up to make The Who sound 'younger' and 'hungrier', one track has been remixed to give it more whallop ('The Real Me' where John's bass is now even louder) and all of the linking sound effects have been trimmed so that songs now have much shorter, more clean-cut endings to them (which must have been an engineer's nightmare to put together). Or at least that's true of the original vinyl: at first The Who were content to just keep their 'proper' version of the album on catalogue when they came to release their material on CD, but an outcry from mods who wanted the other songs on the record and fans who were after the three 'new' ones meant that The Who put this set out on CD anyway in 1993 and 2000. However the two CD versions are around are quite different to the original vinyl version: the earlier disc returns to the running sequence of the original 1973 'Quadrophenia', albeit with'The Punk and The Godfather' still at the end, with the two 'High Numbers' tracks at the start and the outtakes towards the back; the 2000 model is just the original double album vinyl with The High Numbers' 'I'm The Face' added to the very end of the album. Which one you get depends really on how high your mod quota is and how many of these songs you already own!

Various Artists "The Concert For The People Of Kampuchea"

(Atlantic, Recorded December 1979, Released March 1981)

The Who: Baba O'Riley/Sister Disco/Behind Blue Eyes/We're Not Gonna Take It (Listed as 'See Me, Feel Me')

Other acts include The Pretenders/Elvis Costello and the Attractions/Rockpile/Queen/The Clash/Ian Dury and the Blockheads/The Specials/Paul McCartney and Wings

"See me, feel me, touch me, heal me!"

Rather forgotten nowadays, sandwiched between 'Woodstock' and 'The Concert For Bangla Desh' on the one hand and 'Live Aid' on the other, in the late 1970s this multi-starred benefit gig raised money for the victims of Cambodia. Despite being chiefly organised by 'old fogies' like Paul McCartney, it was a rare chance for older music festivals to view the music performed by their youngers (Elvis Costello and The Pretenders were largely unknown when they opened this gig) and for youngsters to appreciate their elders' music too. The Who were an obvious act to invite given that in 1979 they were just about the only group around that appealed to both halves, even if their 'Quadrophenia' film and it's soundtrack released that year (and causing a mini mod explosion all over again) didn't have much to do with the current line-up of the band. The Who were equally eager to participate, using this gig as a chance to road-test the new Kenney Jones era of the band and break a year-long period of silence after Keith Moon's death when it looked as if the band might be finished. The Who play a strong set - one of the best of the night - though due to contractual difficulties only four songs from their originally 25-strong set has been released to date on side one of the original various artists double-vinyl compilation (though in actual fact The Who performed in the middle, closing the first of the two night show). The show has still to be released on CD or indeed DVD, although a video was released in 1988. For Who collectors the real thrill is the chance to own a rare live recording of 'Sister Disco' which is particularly spry on its feet and fits Kenney's new drum sound, while a mournful 'Behind Blue Eyes' is particularly passionate this night and 'See Me Feel Me' is a rousing closer and an apt choice given the plight of the homeless refugees the shows were raising money for. Pete also appears on the 'Rockestra' superstar line-up that ends the gig and the album, performing some oldies and Paul McCartney's weird near-instrumental of the same name. However he was the one member of the line-up to baulk at the idea of wearing matching gold suits and spends most of his time on stage standing behind Paul and giving him the 'evil eye' while windmilling furiously! Hopefully the full Who show will be released one day because it's a good one, with no less than four covers unavailable anywhere else ('Hoochie Coochie Man' 'I Don't Want To Be An Old Man' 'Dancing In The Streets' and 'Dance It Away') and a rare return to the setlist for 'Long Live Rock' and 'The Punk and The Godfather'.

Pete Townshend and Raphael Rudd "The Oceanic Concerts"

(Recorded 1979-1980, Released October 2001)

Raga/Drowned/The Seeker/Magic Grace/Who Is Meher Baba?/The Ferryman/Kitty's Theme/A Little Is Enough/Contact In Solitude/Sleeping Dog/Sound Barrier/Bargain/Looking For The Beloved/Tattoo/Let My Love Open The Door/Awakening/American (Western) Arti/Parvardigar

"Focusing on nowhere, investigating miles"

Moon is dead, The Who are in trouble, Pete's struggling to juggle demands for releases for both band and solo albums and things are going very wrong in his marriage - and yet here, in the eye of the hurricane, is the real Pete playing acoustic re-workings of obscure favourites to a bunch of fellow spiritual Meher Baba fanatics at his own Eel Pie studio. You can almost hear the weight lifting from Pete's shoulders as he forgets about tailoring arrangements to fit John's roar or Roger's screams or the pop market and instead concentrate on bringing out the healing, cerebral end of his talents. Pete performed this gig as a 'double act' with fellow Baba devotee Raphael Rudd, a classical pianist then still in his early twenties (and first contacted to help out with the new arrangements for the 'Quadrophenia' film soundtrack) who brings out the jazzier side of Pete's writing and despite their different backgrounds and ages the pair make for a pretty good double act, pushing each other to new heights of prettiness and poignancy.
There are several fascinating moments amongst this set: premieres of new songs 'Let My Love Open The Door' and 'A Little Is Enough', both Baba-inspired songs that will become more famous as the singles taken from Pete's 'Empty Glass' the following year and which sound mighty good here in gentle, acoustic form; the won't-be-released-till-'Scoop' metaphysical afterlife piece 'The Ferryman' and such relatively rare Who revivals as 'The Seeker' (which is even better suited to folk-rock acoustic strumming than the full electric band performance), 'Bargain' (perhaps the most Baba-inspired song of them all) and, weirdly, 'Tattoo' which has clearly been ret-conned from being a song about a youngster coming of age by a writer who hadn't yet thought about his spiritual side to a Baba-song about identity and the soul being more than the body. Admittedly most Who fans could probably have done without the Rudd interruptions every other track (although even these have a quiet grace and beauty) and the one exclusively exclusive song 'Sleeping Dog' isn't up to much (being a rather empty song of devotion to Baba). However, this show is undeniably special and exactly what Pete should have been doing with his career circa 1979, regardless of what the people around him wanted him to do. Much talked about by those who were lucky enough to be there and later much bootlegged, the shows were finally released in limited form in 2001 and deserved a much wider audience given how much light they throw onto Pete as both composer and performer and a treat to have on the shelves officially at last. Highly recommended. 

Roger Daltrey "McVicar" (Original Soundtrack)

(Polydor, June 1980)

Bitter and Twisted/Just A Dream Away/Escape Part One/White City Lights/Free Me//My Time Is Gonna Come/Waiting For A Friend/Escape Part Two/Without Your Love/McVicar

"A hero or villain is what you become, or you can take the road in-between"

Released hot on the heels of 'Quadrophenia', 'McVicar' was even grittier and more brutal film about an armed robber once declared 'UK public enemy number one'. Daltrey is all too believable as a Londoner with a heart of gold whose ended up with the wrong people and has the wrong set of values - it's not that unbelievable as a reflection of what made have happened to him if Roger had never taken up an interest in music. It's easily his best film role and suits him much better than the arty-farties-dressed-up-in-wigs over directors kept giving him after 'Tommy'. However just because it's Roger's best acting doesn't mean that this soundtrack album features his best singing. perhaps because he's 'playing' a role here, Roger doesn't sing with his normal voice but a lower, grittier vocal without his usual range, character or panache. Too much of the time he sounds like just another punk wannabe than one of the greatest singers of his generation. The songs, too, frankly aren't much good despite the heavy presence of old Who pal and Track Records comrade Billy Nicholls in the writing credits (Roger even sings 'Without Your Love', a track Billy wrote for the third of Pete's Meher Baba records 'With Your Love' in 1976).

Roger's pals from The Who all appear (including Kenney Jones before he'd been heard on record as a member of the band), but you wouldn't know what tracks they were on unless you checked the album sleeve - like the 'Tommy' film, this is more the work of a musical director and musicians under him doing what they're told (in this case Jeff Wayne - and it's an odd fit, this being more a dust-up in Durham prison than a 'War of the Worlds', without a synthesiser or an 'ullah!' in sight). The result is not without worth: the reflective 'Just A Dream Away' is a pretty ballad as good as any in the similar style used on 'Daltrey', the Jethro Tull-style flute-based prog rock of 'escape' is new ground for Roger and the Entwistle guest appearance on 'Waiting For A Friend' makes that track the most Who-like track here. The album was the most successful of all of Roger's solo albums to date with a US peak of #22, which was almost up to what The Who were achieving as a band at the time. It deserves its success, being a shade better than everything else Roger will work on under his own name across the 1980s, but in truth it's a little less appealing and a lot less consistent than his previous solo work from the 1970s. 


(Polydor, May 1981)

Disc One: The Who Sings My Generation

Disc Two: A Quick One While He's Away

Disc Three: The Who Sell Out

Discs Four and Five: Tommy

Disc Six: Live At Leeds

Disc Seven: Who's Next

Discs Eight and Nine: Quadrophenia

Disc Ten: Who By Numbers

Disc Eleven: Who Are You?

"Like the tide and the waves growing slowly in range crushing mountains as old as the Earth..."

Now here's an interesting debate for you: did The Who end the cold war? Is it a coincidence that Polydor hired a pressing plant in West Germany to create an impressive eleven disc box of every Who album released up until that point (even the debut, miraculously, after a lot of intense negotiations with Shel Talmy's lawyer). This was a big event in most of the world with The Who's albums generally unavailable (except for beaten up copies in second-hand shops or prized possessions purloined from your elder siblings) - Germany must have felt honoured. Little did anyone involved in this creation know, of course, that the Berlin Wall was about to fall only eight years later with The Who's songs of love and peace (hidden behind that wall of aggression) clearly doing their work slowly over that time - or that the compact disc was about to be invented so fans would have to buy all these sodding albums all over again anyway in a few years. But that's the future - at the time the intriguingly titled 'Phases' filled in the hole where the next Keith Moon-era might have been quite nicely and enabled The Who to dump their past while ploughing on in the present. The cover was nice too, picking up from the 'Quadrophenia' film where Jimmy had a collage of all his mod favourites on his bedroom wall, only these are all blue-tinted photos of The Who in action, plus guitars and mod shirts. A fine, comprehensive collection which reminded people just how good The Who were and a worthy introduction for many fans who hadn't heard of the band until Keith died and their mates started riding scooters and wearing smart jackets and talking about this great band they'd just discovered.


(MCA Records, September 1981)

I Can't Explain/I Can See For Miles/Pinball Wizard/Let's See Action/Summertime Blues/Relay//Baba O'Riley/Behind Blue Eyes/Bargain/The Song Is Over//Join Together/Squeeze Box/Slip Kid/The Real Me/5.15//Drowned/Had Enough/Sister Disco/Who Are You?

"Goodbye sister disco, I go where the music fits my soul"

What a bunch of 'Ooligans this is! Barely anything from the 1960s, no sign of 'My Generation' anywhere and more songs from 1978's 'Who Are You' than any other album! At the time the album was worth forking out extra money for, if only to get hold of the rare flop singles 'Join Together'  'Let's See Action' and 'Relay' (here re-named 'The Relay' for some reason: that's what gets of having your work proofread by a 'Ooligan' maybe? The track also fades early, about twenty seconds before the single mix), but now all three are more widely available on CD the need to own this set has vanished. You certainly wouldn't want to own it for its cover, which must be the daftest in this book: an ugly picture of the mess outside a factory, one that had no connection with The Who at all! (MCA were probably going for a 'Meaty Beaty' look but couldn't afford the child stars!) Still this album was strong enough to just miss out on a top fifty placing in America so somebody liked it and the set deserves a few half-marks for the brilliant title alone, even if ironically this set is more fixated on The Who's 'grown up' and softer material.

John Entwistle "Too Late The Hero"

(WEA/Atco, November 1981)

Try Me/Talk Dirty/Lovebird/Sleeping Man/I'm Coming Back//Dancing Master/Fallen Angel/Love Is A Heart Attack/Too Late The Hero

CD Bonus Track: Too Late The Hero (Single Edit)

"You aim high but you hit low, you live fast - better spend slow"

What was John's fanbase waiting for on solo album number five? Probably not a collection of synthesiser-filled drippy ballads if I'm honest, with Entwistle in morose reflective mood again across most of this album. To be fair most of John's most recent songs with The Who have been most successful in this style: '905' and the soon-to-be-released 'Dangerous'. But 'Too Late The Hero' lacks the sense of play and character of those songs and instead just sounds like The Who with no power whatsoever. Needing the money, John's clearly gone for a more middle of the road sound here and he's even tightened his vocals up with this easily his best album as a vocalist (with his voice full of husky smoke rather than a drug-fuelled croak). In other positives John's latest band is one of his best: 1960s shoulda-been-a-star Billy Nicholls adds some nice backing vocals (though never in place of John's lead), Joe Walsh (better known for being in Ringo's All-Starr Band, alongside John for a time) is a star on guitar (though without getting in the way of John's bass) and CSN drummer Joe Vitale plays hard and heavy in the Moon tradition without trying to be a poor man's Keith. The cover artwork is rather good too, with John dressed up as a whole range of caped crusader heroes and soldiers (it's a little like the way he's dressed in the 1974 tour booklet where The Who are all comic-book creations - it's re-used on the CD picture on 'Odds and Sods'). In terms of pure listening this is perhaps the easiest listen of John's career - but you badly miss John's quirky style across this album and the end result is an album that anybody vaguely tuneful could have delivered in 1981, which is perhaps the biggest insult you could ever give an Entwistle album. To be fair John was by now a family man and reported later that this album was more 'normal' because it was written in between middle-of-the night feeds for his new-born son Christopher and John didn't want to start writing dark-humoured songs about death or good-humoured songs about sex around his little one. However John doesn't seem to have gone the other way and written about his new feelings for his family either: instead this is just your average kind of a nothing album. Given the six year gap between records and the increasing role John had been playing on the post-Keith Who albums, this album is a big disappointment.

'Try Me' is a bass-heavy ballad about wanting to get closer to someone who still treats him like a long-distance friend when he's trying hard to get close. Though the lyrics are unusual ('Qualade shuffle up to my table') they lack the originality of John's old work, while the music does too good a job of sounding like a dispirited plod.

'Talk Dirty' was the album's (relative) hit single and one of the best things here despite being one of the most 1980s-filled. Once again John  wants a sexy, sultry conversation with his missus away from the baby talk and the weather ('and Godspell and go to hell'). In a hilarious second verse he says that his wife discusses everything with him about music ('Chopin - too square, heavy metal - too loud!, top twenty - who cares?!?') but never talks about them as a couple once. In fact Chopin's name crops up a lot, getting John out of trouble in his long list of rhymes and 'isms'. This would have made a fine Who B-side.

'Lovebird' is a better than average song too, one of the prettier ballads about a couple naturally drifting apart and how they both know it's the end but neither one will say anything. John gets a 'dear John' letter instead, a mere 'note which says 'thanks for the ride'. An unusually direct song from Entwistle but a good one all the same.

'Sleeping Man' is clearly the song of a newly-made daddy, with John singing in the third person about his new-found ability to sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat. Switching to the first person on the chorus, John pleads with the 'Sandman' to 'gimme a break!' and let him stay awake enough to at least 'answer the phone'. Proof that this song is autobiographical comes near the end when John complains 'he doesn't even hear the noise of the band - though his head is full of ideas, his eyes are filled with sand!' For all the fun lyrics, though, the slightly silly oompah-heavy metal backing is not one of John's better ideas.

'I'm Coming Back' is the closest thing this album has to a rocker, although it's more a slow-burning 'Trick Of The Light' than a killer 'Quiet One'. A sweet harmony-drenched chorus makes this one of John's more palatable numbers although the lyrics about returning home after a tour ain't much cop ('California, I got to warn-ee-ah!...Shangri-La it ain't too far!')

'Dancing Master' finds John as a puppeteer, pulling the strings as an impresario winning young girls over to his cause. Though Simon Cowell would no doubt like this song (it's his theme tune, plus it's as cheesy as, well, cheese) it's all a bit too 1980s pop for most fans' digestion.

'Fallen Angel' is a more Entwistle-like song about 'the prince of darkness' retiring and turning into a bored family man, which wasn't too far from the truth. Nobody stares or cares when John walks into a bar anymore, they just murmur to each other 'didn't he used to be a star?' The falling sales are clearly getting to John by this time. The bass work is as great as ever, but this song sounds as bored and passionless as the subject matter.

'Love Is A Heart Attack' is a riff-heavy heavy metal song full of shouting, but again at an oddly slow tempo. John's been warned by his doctor to slow down or his heart's going 'break' and 'you're not gonna make it' (sung in just the same way The Who once sang 'we're not gonna take it'!) Though the doctor's warnings won't come true for another twenty-year one years, in retrospect this song is spookily close to the truth of what did happen when John suffered his fatal heart attack after a night out with a prostitute at the Rock and Roll Hotel. It seems like John heard the warning, but went out and did what he wanted anyway.

The album ends on the treacly synth-heavy ballad 'Too Late The Hero' where John moans about only being as great as he wants to be in his 'imagination' and how everything always seems to go wrong. The song features some nice singing and is perhaps as commercial as John ever got, but truly it's the sort of drippy ballad lesser acts were writing in this period (it sounds like a bad Duran Duran song - and yes that does include most of them, I know) and not what John should be spending his last album for over a decade doing.

The result is an album that has moments of splendour, a fine and fun hit single and a number of things going for it but somehow ultimately ends up a bit pointless. There's no passion here, little humour and no real expressions of the soul while John suffers even more than The Who in this period from forgetting how to rock. perhaps the most middle-aged album any of the permanently youthful Who ever made, it tries hard to be grown-up but ends up being just another childish pop album after all. A shame because, as the highlights of this and his many other records demonstrate, John wasn't just an occasional B-side writer, but a composer of real scope and talent and a voice that the world deserved to hear a bit more of. Sadly John will spend the rest of the 1980s, after The Who's split a few months after this album's release, in something of a cloud falling deeper into debt and writing few if any new songs. You can hear the fire going out here already, sadly and it's not always a pretty sight/sound.  

Roger Daltrey "The Best Bits" aka "The Best Of Roger Daltrey"

(MCA, March 1982)

 Martyrs and Madmen/Say It Ain't So Jo/Oceans Away/Treachery/Free Me/Without Your Love//Hard Life/Giving It All Away/Avenging Annie/Proud/You Put Something Better Inside Me

"Years don't mean a thing"

The first solo best-of for Roger was released to cash in on the drama surrounding The Who's split. Given that Daltrey had only released three albums and a film soundtrack up to this point it's not a bad set, featuring many of his best songs such as 'Say It Ain't So Jo' and 'Giving It All Away'. However it's slightly out of date nowadays and you're probably best off with 'Moonlighting' in the modern CD age. I'm not sure it would ever convert you into becoming a fan but as a sampler of arguably the best three Daltrey records it does its job. The reason this album has two names by the way is that it came out with different titles and packaging in America ('The Best Bits', with a front cover of a tuxedod Roger holding 'bits' and a drill, which seems like rather a desperate pun to me) and in Europe (where this album became the much more straighrforward 'The Best Of Roger Daltrey' which features a 'Tommy' film era shot of Roger in a stripey jumper with his arms behind his head).

Pete Townshend "All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes"

(Atco, June 1982)

Stop Hurting People/The Sea Refuses No River/Prelude/Face Dances Part Two/Exquisitely Bored/Communication//Stardom In Acton/Uniforms (Corp D'esprit)/North Country Girl/Somebody Saved Me/Slit Skirts

CD Bonus Tracks: Vivienne/Man Watching/Dance It Away

"Watching the storms and tangled wires and rivers that meet on the corner"

Released just three months before final Who album 'It's Hard' , many fans considered that Pete was saving his best songs for himself with his second 'proper' solo album definitely patchier but in places just as strong as his first. To be fair Pete was probably enjoying the freedom that writing for himself as untried and untested artist allowed him more than working for a band he'd been writing for across the past seventeen years, with 'Chinese Eyes' a weirder, stranger album than 'It's Hard' from the title on down. In some ways it's a concept album, one that deals even more directly than usual about identity, with songs about first impressions and the deeper, often uglier character that lies underneath the surface. Now that the 1980s is really in full flow and more image conscious than any time since the mod movement, Pete is inspired to comment on how we're shaped by our background, the uniform we wear to work and our dress code. With 'fashion' a peculiarly human concept, Pete wonders aloud too about our more animal instincts hidden away inside, following up 'I Am An Animal' with more songs about our darker sides of which 'The Sea Refuses No River' is an especially strong confessional, a weepy guilt-ridden song more in the vein of 'Who By Numbers' and 'Somebody Daved Me' looking sideways at the basic need for love and affection. Unlike some Townshend half-concepts, both sides are tied up together at the end too, with 'Slit Skirts' a pop song about fashion 'interrupted' by Pete the songwriter admitting what he's really thinking as he mopes around at home trying to come up with the perfect song. An under-rated, more complex LP than it's usually given credit for, it's just a shame that Pete's inspiration doesn't quite last the course with 'Uniforms' 'Stardom In Acton' and 'Face Dances' amongst the lesser, sillier side of Pete's period writing as heard on, erm, 'Face Dances' (and yes it makes sense the song was originally intended for The Who album it was named after). Still, those who'd heard 'Face Dances' and were about to hear 'It's Hard' would have been impressed at just how much depth and poignancy there is on around two-thirds of this album and 'Cowboys' is still a far less bumpy musical ride than the post-Moon Who albums.

In case you're wondering about the weird title, most fans are too. Pete tried to explain it once in a period interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, saying that it referred to 'the fact that you can never hide what you're truly like' and that even a slit-eyed John Wayne character, appreciated as a pure hero, had his dark sides and moods too and the character he played in films often had to kill hordes of people to deliver hordes more to safety. More interesting are his comments that every nationality has set ideas of each other and each seems to have a different natural enemy. After multiple paragraphs it all boiled down to this: 'If you're a good person you can't hide that you're good even if you do bad things; equally if you're a bad person you can't hide that you're bad even if you do the odd good thing'. It's all part of a fascination with identity and how we recognise other people which has stretched back to the very beginning and the debates of Tommy and Jimmy The Mod's characters and whether they're 'good' or not, perhaps best heard in the unreleased cynical demo 'Politician' in 1967. Pete also confessed later he partly named the record in the hope of winning the 'silly album title' award handed out every year run by NME (they 'missed' it that year but later named it as #15 on their '50 worst album titles ev-uh' run down in 2004).

'Stop Hurting People!' seems like an odd plea for the least hippiest band of the 1960s, but there's always been a bleeding heart beating underneath the violence and aggression of many Who recordings and it's good to hear Pete in pure 'charity' mode now he's a solo star. Like 'Theresa' released a few months later the song also longs to be with a mysterious girl despite the fact Pete is still married and in love with his life, feeling that he can only find out who he is by seeing how other people see him (the song even has an 'I know the match is bad' refrain repeated from 'A Little Is Enough'). What's less appealing is the very 1980s trappings and the fact that Pete intones the opening verse like some bad B-movie, with the whole track sounding more like Duran Duran than The Who.

The album highlight is 'The Sea Refuses No River', a mournful and oh-so-sad song about all the things Pete regrets and thinks he's got wrong: his pride, his drug-taking simply because his peers were taking it and his fears that he's lost control of his own mind and body. Water is a big thing on Who albums, mainly thanks to Meher Baba - usually it's a chance for re-birth but occasionally it's so overwhelming in size that characters drown in it. Here things are slightly different: Pete's creative spirit accepts everything that comes to it, every impulse and every bad experience and every drug, even when he knows he should refuse them - they all add up to experiences for his writing, good and bad.Like 'Empty Glass' this song sounds slightly 'wrong', as if Pete knows he's heading down to a dark and dingy path he knows he shouldn't be taking but still feels compelled to take, with a guitar solo that's his most atonal and out-of-tune with the rest of the song as he ever recorded. Together with a pretty tune that seems to 'tut-tut' throughout the song and a glorious strong but shame-faced vocal, this is a candidate for the best Townshend song of the 1980s.

The ninety second piano ballad 'Prelude' was co-written with Andy Newman and sounds much like the 'observational' songs of 'White City' to come. Pete sings prettily over a lovely melody about the 'lovers and losers' he sees from his window, but with such a short running time this sweet song never really gets going.

'Face Dances' is  a song that the 1981-style Who would have performed rather well and it's a shame they didn't record it after all as originally intended as it would have gone well with that record's changing-faces cover. perhaps Pete felt it fitted this album's concept too well, with the narrator 'reading' people's true identified as their faces change expression and 'dance' in front of him. Though this is an impressive song, it's a shame it has to be quite so 1980s with the artificial period technology getting in the way of the emotion of the piece.

'Exquisitely Bored' is a 10cc-ish song about fakery and flippancy with a reggae middle-eight (the only reggae passage on any Who-related album, probably mercifully). Pete is bored on a holiday in California, bored of watching people pretend to be something other than themselves and fearing that their 'disease' is rubbing off as he himself feels 'hardly here...just like all the rest'. Pete sings in his best Southern American accent on an unusual song that would sound even better with a stronger 'hook' to it, although the fact that the song doesn't make the most of its powerful melodies and ideas is also rather fitting in context.

'Communication' is this album's 'Jools and Jim', a fast-paced drum-heavy song that's surely a tribute of sorts to Moon. Pete is back to his favourite lyrical theme - how humans speak to each other - with a lyric that takes in several different languages and another 'monologue' vocal about how different species communicate too where he sounds like David Attenborough. The song is a little bit silly, but saved in part by a glorious Paul Weller-style guitar solo and a singalong 'never never hesitate to communicate' chorus that's kinda catchy. This would have livened 'It's Hard' up no end.
Accidentally titled 'Stardom In Action' on many websites and reviews, actually the start of side two is the more home-bound 'Stardom In Acton', another 'White City' prequel about the dreams and desires for the future of a bunch of no-hopers from Pete's London borough. Dreams are 'all they've got' sings Pete, as he sings with amazement that of all his talented friends he was 'the first to get hooked' and remembering walking about town in a gang, 'wanting my bag, my stash, my omnipotence!' It's another catchy song, perhaps a little too catchy for its own good as the song goes for clever rhymes and melody over depth and poignancy. It's hard to know who Pete is 'angry' at in the middle eight for 'interrupting his dream' - is it Keith, for prematurely ending The Who or some earlier figure (perhaps a teacher who told Pete he'd never amount to anything?) A truly fascinating song.

'Uniforms' is sub-titled 'Spirit D'es Corps' - the spirit of the corporation, a very Townshend oxymoron. A rigid synth-based marching song with silly and impenetrable lyrics, Pete's marching soldier only discovers his real self when he dives in a 'river' (presumably, given past references, the love of Meher Baba and life). Pete complains that people 'dress alike to prove their identities' and how wearing the same as someone else makes us feel a part of something, even though it kills off individual spirit. This once well-dressed mod is clearly taking a cue from fellow Baba fan Ronnie Lane, who swapped his mod suits in this period for simple country attire with a middle eight that says that we were all naked when we were born anyway. He's still got a bit of Jimmy inside him though as he wails 'heaven knows, I need new clothes!', though this time it's more about identity and finding a life away from The Who (maybe anyway - probably only Pete knows what one of his weirdest lyrics is all about and maybe not even then!)

'North Country Girl' is a rather timid cover of an over-covered folk song already heard on albums by Bob Dylan and Stephen Stills. A simple Thomas Hardy-style song about love among the 'peasants', it's unusual for Pete in that it expresses love through purely physical means - usually his love songs are deeper and more character driven than this. The cover sounded nice in concert in this era, as a folky interruption of more band-driven songs, but here on record it's all too technologically-driven once again.

The beautiful ''Somebody Saved Me' was first tried out the year before by The Who, even though it's clearly a 'Townshend' song. Pete is in denial and does his best to 'pretend' that he's better off alone, 'saved' from love that is surely going to hurt him in the long run away, although his pained ending (in which he's never sounded sadder or more in need of a hug) suggests otherwise. 'If I'd have had her for just an hour, I'd have wanted her for ever' he sighs on another 'Theresa' style song about wanting to run away with a mysterious girl. A later verse has Pete's pal nurse him back from a drug overdose and end up dead himself - is this his old art college room-mate, who looked after Pete in his early days and was much 'straighter' in his drug and booze-use but died young in a car crash? Or Keith, whose premature death must have shaken a similarly out-of-control Townshend. A charging middle eight admits that 'I don't know about guardian angels - all I know about is staying alive' and feeling guilty that 'I've been making it' even though 'there are times I didn't deserve to!', Pete still driven by his 'My Generation' promise to always stay 'real' or 'die young trying'. A tremendous song although this re-recording lacks a little of the softness and honesty of the Who outtake (heard as a bonus track on 'Face Dances') which is clearly the version to own if you have a choice.

The album ends with 'Slit Skirts', another remarkable song presumably written in 1979 (Pete says he's '34 years old' at the start of the song). Pete is feeling sorry for himself and trying to get out of his depression because he knows people listen to his songs to feel 'better'. However he can't do it: all he sees around him in the modern world is misery too, girls missing the babies they never had through contraception and men running away from marriages to work on oil rigs. There are so many reasons to feel miserable and Pete knows he should have 'learnt' something about the pain and pressures of being in love he can pass down to 'us' - but he can't bring himself to tell us that he doesn't know anything. So instead we get a sudden 'Quadrophenia' song about 'appearances' and 'fashion' in which his girl has bought a new slit skirt that looks good, tagging on a final line about how all of us are always 'afraid of every new romance' because we fear, deep down, that it's always going to go wrong. A second verse has Pete branching out, telling us that his worry is that whoever falls in love with him only love the 'surface' him they know from Who recordings and that he can never live up to it as he slumps, depressed, in front of the 'late night' shows on TV. A remarkable song full of the schizophrenia of old as Pete both offers us a glimpse of the darkness he feels inside his soul and makes us feel better with a power-pop chorus anyway.

The CD adds three unreleased bonus tracks - none of them all that special and probably best left unreleased. 'Vivienne' has some church-bell sound effects to go along with the piano and another lyric about wanting to run away with a new girl Pete's only just met. However the song isn't that memorable and jumps around between tunes too often. 'Man Watching' is the most 1980s Pete Townshend recording of all, with an 'Eminence Front' style synth riff and a boring lyric about a man up to something he shouldn't be. Though set in a disco, I have an awful feeling the 'man' is 'Meher Baba', 'born in the future and arriving here sometime soon'. 'Dance It Away', meanwhile, is a 'Theresa' style song about nothing more than dancing, which began life as an improvisation The Who tacked onto the end of their cover of 'Dancing In The Streets'. Only Pete's aggressive guitar catches the ear.

Forget the bonus tracks though - the main 'Chinese Eyes' album is a largely impressive collection of heartfelt ballads, guilty autobiography and a fascinating concept about how we never quite present our full true selves to the world (did we mention Pete was an INFJ?) Though the album lacks the general consistency of 'Empty Glass' and the cohesion of 'White City' it contains many songs that are amongst Pete's finest solo work and though the 1980s production gets in the way that fits better than on Pete's other solo albums too, with tales of darkness pretending to be light and surface pop songs masking deeper thoughts. Pete is on strong voice throughout too, although it's a shame that his guitar so often takes back-seat to a synthesiser across this record. Certainly compared to 'It's Hard' most fans would probably take this record, although in truth they're a pretty good match for each other as that album too deals with darkness and worry and big life-changes hidden behind similarly daft singalong tunes. Another excellent album then but it's also the last of a great run of creativity and prolificness that stretches back to 1969, with Pete's next release three whole years away and with only two solo and one band records to go in the thirty-five years that follow this one. 

"Who's Last"

(MCA, Recorded October-December 1982, Released November 1984)

My Generation/I Can't Explain/Substitute/Behind Blue Eyes/Baba O'Riley//Boris The Spider/Who Are You?/Pinball Wizard/See Me Feel Me-Listening To You//Love Reign O'er Me/Long Live Rock/Long Live Rock (Reprise)/Won't Get Fooled Again//Dr Jimmy/Magic Bus/Summertime Blues/Twist and Shout

"Tell me who are you? Because I really want to know!"

So it ends, not with a bang but very much with a whimper. I'll defend the post-Moon studio Who to any fan (Kenney Jones really is the perfect replacement, Pete Townshend is still writing great material - if not great Who material - and when they want to The Who can still sound like the band of old, it's just that after Keith's death they've moved on to sound like a band that's new), but defending the live Who of the period is, well, to quote the album they're meant to be plugging, it's hard. The Who don't want to be on stage anymore, their audience don't want them to sound like this, the band have admitted defeat and played very few new songs on this tour (while none of them made this album three can be heard on the 'It's Hard' CD re-issue) and as farewell parties go it's all a bit of a shambles. Heard back to back with 'Live At Leeds' this era of The Who don't even sound good enough to be a tribute band. Unlike the DVD that's out which really was the last live show (in Toronto), this CD is mainly taken from the band's final US show in Cleveland a few weeks before - the fact that the differences between the two are virtually nil, right down to the inter-song stage patter, says everything you need to know about what The Who have become. Which, basically, is an arena-stadium act, playing with big gestures but barely looking at each other on stage anymore or connecting with the applauding fans - more than perhaps any other band The Who relied on their audience for feedback ('listening to you I get the music!') and the relationship is no longer two-way.

However there are, as always with The Who, occasional moments of light: 'My Generation' now ends with a cracking extended bass solo, followed by an equally cracking guitar solo with the song sounding almost as good as it ever did; there's a brave stab at 'Behind Blue Eyes' where the harmonies are pretty darn good even if the sudden crash into the main song is poorly handled; the live debut of 'Long Live Rock' is just a manic excuse for a party but at least the song sounds good in concert (we really don't need the 90 second reprise though - most fans sounded relieved the song was over the first time...) and of all the songs to revive from 'Quadrophenia' the plot-heavy 'Dr Jimmy' was no one's first choice but, pilled up to the gunnals, it's tricky key and chord changes are handled surprisingly well. Most of it, though, is just noise - and not seat-of-your-pants, how-good-is-this-and-what-will-happen-next????' noise as per 'Live At Leeds' or indeed any prior Who tour, but a 'what song is this again?' noise. Maybe, just maybe, The Who did leave it too long before calling it a day. The artwork of the original LP says it all: on the front is the band's trademark Union Jack flag 'on fire' (though not in a safe, controlled, this-band-is-really-on-it way but a drab smoke-filled mess) while the back features a clearly exhausted band in matching gold lame suits that a band like The Who should never ev-uh have agreed to wear, with Pete so tired that John is visibly propping him up. Released as an afterthought, two years after the actual shows, this is a needless souvenir of a moment in time no Who fan really wants to remember. Worryingly, it's still superior to 1989 reunion souvenir 'Join Together'...Oh and if you really need to own this album the Toronto show (which is basically the same thing) was re-issued complete in 2006 with the missing songs from 'Face Dances' and 'It's Hard' re-instated and a few other oddities thrown in too. This is clearly the better way to own the album if you really feel the need to have it...

"Live From Toronto"

(Immortal, Recorded December 1982 Released April 2006)

My Generation/I Can't Explain/Dangerous/Sister Disco/The Quiet One/It's Hard/Eminence Front/Baba O'Riley/Boris The Spider/Drowned/Love Ain't For Keeping/Pinball Wizard/See Me Feel Me-Listening To You/Who Are You?/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Long Live Rock/Long Live Rock (Reprise)/Won't Get Fooled Again/Naked Eye/Squeeze Box/Young Man Blues/Twist and Shout

"We tried but you were yawning, look again - rock is dead, long live rock!"

Though not many fans were asking for it, The Who returned to the live tapes of their farewell tour in 1982 some twenty-four years later and decided to have another go that featured the recordings made on their very final gig from Toronto which was broadcast around the world, rather than a compendium of their final American shows which 'Who's Last' had been taken from. The result is better, mainly because The Who were on form that day, played a slightly stronger set and there's much more of a 'loving' atmosphere in the arena as many fans realise this really is the last time they'll see their heroes. The longer setlist (played at the 'Who's Last' shows as well but cut and messed around for the CD) also makes more sense and hangs together better, starting with an arch, postmodernist take on 'My Generation' now the band are all in their late thirties, moving on to some rarities like 'Sister Disco' 'Squeeze Box' and 'Love Ain't For Keeping' that weren't often played live and were cut from 'Who's Last', that famous finale of 'Twist and Shout' released as the final Who single in 1984 and four songs from the recent 'It's Hard' record which sounded far better than the tracks ever did in concert (these had already been released though, as bonus tracks on the CD re-issue of that album). The Who still don't sound particularly good and are delivering at a vastly lower level than they were in their 'Live At Leeds' heyday and the show still isn't recommended for anyone but The Who completist. However we completists have our feelings too and the good news is that you won't get quite as upset at the depressing state of the world's greatest rock and roll band on this album as you would on 'Who's Last', with this album beating it in every way. 

In case you were wondering where it was our old review for Pete Townshend's 'Empty Glass' album (1980) is here: