Wednesday, 1 August 2018

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Monday, 30 July 2018

Neil Young: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

My very dearest readers. Well here we are at last, at the every end, with the final regular article of new material at Alan’s Album Archives after ten long years of blogging, 1247 posts and 500 in-depth reviews. We’ve laughed, loved, loathed, praised, pedandicated and pounced on anything not up to scratch, worked out what made albums tick and what made some of them turn out less than stellar. What a journey and one which I really am astonished to have completed after this being just one small idea on a time-filling jobcentre placement that somehow became an industry (well I do have a t-shirt anyway, it’s an industry to me!) It’s been one hell of a journey I couldn’t have done without you wherever you are around the world – and its only the end of this chapter. Over the past two months there have been Alan’s Album Archives books released on The Beach Boys and The Beatles (see our author page here at ) and there are another twenty-eight due out on the 1st of every month from here until the end of 2020 so keep your eyes out for them. We end though with a last look at the concerts and cover versions of Neil Young and one last joke about The Spice Girls:

If you are trapped in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with the Spice Girls, but there's only enough room for 5 people, who do you throw out? Yourself!
Till the next review (whenever one of the AAA bands does something new – probably around Christmas) take care and keep rocking!

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Neil of course has barely been off the road since he started going solo back in 1968 and in the fifty odd years since he’s given us nearly everything: solo acoustic shows, Crazy Horse tours with Roadeyes and overgrown rusty garages, big country music bands, a blues band with horns, heavy metal power trios, a rockabilly band dressed all in pink, the gloomy drunken ‘Tonight’s The Night’ tour and the ‘Transband’ where Neil and co would sing along to pre-recorded vocoder tracks operated by opening their mouths. What I find even more fascinating though is when Neil chooses to book a tour to promote an album and then bring in an entirely different bands to play it – sometimes he’ll play solo to promote a big Crazy Horse album, debut some new songs while jamming with Pearl Jam or use a power trio to perform a pristine and pretty record. To date there have been an endless supply of the two thousand-ish  shows Neil has now played out there, each one subtly or fascinatingly different as Neil constantly tweaks his live sets and sometimes revives old songs he hasn’t played in decades on a whim (while dropping other songs just as quickly). So far we have had six live albums (‘Time Fades Away’ is the weirdest made up of all new material, ‘Live Rust’ is the most rounded, Gulf War soundtrack ‘Weld’ the greatest and ‘Year Of The Horse’ the most under-rated and ‘Road Rock’ and ‘Earth’ the weakest) , a similar number of ‘archive’ sets (the early solo Neil shows from 1968 are a delight, even more than the shows that overshadowed it in the press like the famous Crazy Horse gig at the Filmore or Neil at Massey Hall in 1972, while ‘Bluenote Café’ and ‘A Treasure’ are under-rated gems too) and dozens more bootlegs (the 1989 acoustic tour plugging ‘Freedom’ being my personal favourite – when’s that coming out as part of the archives Neil?!?) Live shows have always been as integral to the Neil Young experience as the records – sadly while space precludes us from writing more if you’re interested Pete Long’s book ‘Ghosts On The Road’ was one of the first books to draw up a semi-complete collection of set-lists, a valuable reference manual in the days before the internet nicked it all!

1)   Where: The Bitter End, New York When: October 23rd 1968 Why: First Solo Gig Setlist: Unknown

The name of the venue sounds like a Crazy Horse song already, but back in 1968 the fans only knew Neil as the nervy guitarist dressed like an American Indian from the Buffalo Springfield (who played their last show on May 5th the same year). As one of the more obscure members of a fairly obscure band the early Neil Young tours didn’t get much of an audience – which is a shame as I still rate these early intimate shows as some of his best, with Springfield songs beautifully reworked into solo piano or acoustic guitar form and the tracks from Neil’s eponymous debut also sounding rather better in basic form without all that superfluous overdubbing. We don’t know specifically what songs Neil played at his first ever gig but I would imagine they were much like the ‘Sugar Mountain’ show, taped just eighteen days later. Oddly for an artist whose live career has been catalogued more than any other (Pink Floyd are the only really comparable band in the AAA canon) we don’t really know much about this live show at all – how well it was received and what the speeches between the songs were like (they tended to vary night to night too and rambled across anything from seconds to ten minutes concerning such topics as Neil’s previous careers – as a bookseller on drugs – how to write a ‘hit’ song back in the days before he’d written one and his increasingly bonkers ‘riders’ about what he wants onstage and back!)

2)  Where: Santa Monica Civic Auditorium When: March 28th 1970 Why: Danny Whitten’s Last Gig Setlist: ‘On The Way Home’ ‘I Am A Child’ [42] Everybody’s Alone [40] I Believe In You [38] Birds ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ [15] The Loner ‘Helpless’ ‘Country Girl’ [25] Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [66] Winterlong [27] Down By The River [160] Wonderin’ [80] Downtown [24] Cinnamon Girl [30] Cowgirl In The Sand

We could have gone with Crazy Horse’s first gig next (February 12th 1969 and again at ‘The Bitter End’, a mere three days after the solo Young show released on CD as ‘The Riverboat’) but that isn’t far off the official Horse archives set at the Filmore anyway. More poignant perhaps in the light of what will happen afterwards is the last Crazy Horse show with Danny Whitten in the band, the last time he will be considered with-it enough to still function. However even this early on (almost exactly at the midway point between ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ and ‘After The Goldrush’) Danny is failing and Neil is forced to extend the show with a lengthy opening acoustic set. Into this he throws lots of oddball songs he won’t often sing again including the rare outtake ‘Everybody’s Alone’, a non-CSNY or Springfield version of ‘On The Way Home’ and ‘Déjà vu’ song ‘Country Girl’ on acoustic guitar (a favourite of bootleggers that really deserves a proper release soon too). When Crazy Horse come out their setlist is a bit in freefall too: ‘Wonderin’ will later be revived as late as 1983 as a rockabilly number for The Shocking Pinks but is a country-rock number here, ‘Winterlong’ will be abandoned until being revived for ‘Decade’ in 1977 and the last song Danny will play on stage with Neil will be the stinging criss-crossing guitars of ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’. Unbearably poignant in retrospect is the song Neil and Danny wrote together, ‘Downtown’, about being on the run from the cops and taking drugs (Danny will die from an overdose on November 26th 1972). Though Crazy Horse will reconvene without Danny for some Summer 1971 shows and will play a major role on the 1973 ‘Tonight’s The Night’ tour they won’t play with Neil under their old name again until as late as December 7th 1975. Astonishingly fourteen tracks of this precious show (which begins at the start but fades out during ‘Winterlong’ will survive in bootleg, but only in very poor sound.

3)  Where: Topanga Corral, California When: August 11th 1973 Why: First Tonight’s The Night Tour Setlist: [76] Tonight’s The Night [81] Mellow My Mind [78] World On A String [77] Speakin’ Out [83] Albuquerque [84] New Mama [82] Roll Another Number [86] Tired Eyes [76] Tonight’s The Night [30] Cowgirl In The Sand

The audience have heard the rumours of course. Neil hasn’t been himself since his guitarist died and he’s gone a little crazy. That’s all over now though right? I mean we’ve had the bonkers soundtrack to an even more bonkers film (‘Journey Thru The Past’) and the tie-in album of a tour so miserable Neil couldn’t face re-cutting the songs in a studio (‘Time Fades Away’). ‘Harvest’ is still in the charts so I’m sure he’ll be back to making proper music again…’ The rotting old palm tree in the middle of the stage doesn’t bode well though. Nor does Neil when he walks on, barely recognisable with six-day stubble and a beer in his hand as he leans up to the microphone ‘welcome to Miami beach – it’s all cheaper than it looks’. Hmm, it looks mighty cheap to you and why is Miami Beach being replicated here in inland California?… The band look worse for wear too. The bassist keeps laughing and joking in between smoking. The drummer looks forlorn as if his mind is elsewhere. The guitarist is walking round as if he has lead-weights tied to his doc martin boots. Oh dear. The pianist you vaguely recognise from some music profile on Phil Spector though – surely that’s Jack Nitzsche and he should be good! Neil starts with a brand new song that somehow ambles into an angry and emotional rap. ‘You put my guitar in your arm, Bruce!’ Neil pleads, half drunk and reliving a painful memory. It takes him five minutes to get to the end of a simple story about a roadie who used to borrow Neil’s guitar and play ‘as real as the day is long’. Next is another new song. And then another. And another. And another four follow, all featuring images of death and desperation – from gang-murders that went wrong to a junkee mother strung out on cocaine to how the world on a string don’t mean a thing. In between songs Neil keeps asking the stunned audience to applaud the band members and keeps pointing towards a part of the stage kept empty, almost as if a ghost is there. By the end Neil tells us that he’s ‘now going to do a song you have all heard before’. Aha, it was all a test – we’re just getting the new songs out the way before the ‘greatest hits’ set (mental note: maybe don’t buy the new album just yet although hang on, Neil doesn’t have an album out yet and these songs will feel like a bad dream by the time they do appear on vinyl two years later). Only Neil starts up again with a story of how a roadie called Bruce borrowed his guitar and…aaaagh! So you get up and leave and only on your way out do you hear Neil finally doing a song you know, a sweet version of ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ for the first time since March 28th 1970 when he sang it in such very different circumstances, the world at his feet. So ends the first of twenty-eight equally ramshackle shows played across Europe and America by The Santa Monica Flyers, a tour after which Neil will never quite be the same again.

4)  Where: Mountain View, California When: October 13th 1986 Why: First Bridge School Benefit Setlist: Unknown

Neil Young did so many great and noble things in his career – Live Aid, Farm Aid, more charity shows than anyone outside CSNY and a number of protests against everything from dead student protestors (four dead in Ohio) to Vietnam Veterans denied care. However perhaps his greatest gift to the world is the shows that he organised himself with wife Pegi’s help. The Bridge School was where their son Ben went to learn alongside other handicapped kids. It’s an annoying quirk of fate that the schools that need the most money spending on them (generally for children who don’t fit anywhere else) are almost always the most poorly funded. Pegi was shocked at the state of the school’s finances and urged her husband to do something, while taking over the committee books and taking over his contact book. Neil won’t play solo at this show but he did reunite with CSNY for only the second time in twelve years (with David Crosby out on parole from his drug sentence to play it). He was also instrumental in signing up the other acts who took part and often took part in their sets too – this first year included Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, old friend Nils Lofgren and comedian Robin Williams acted as compere. The shows brought in revenue of around a million dollars and was such a success that – after a year’s gap in 1987 – the shows were held every until 2016. In that time a whole host of acts performed including a great big long list of AAA names: Brian Wilson, The Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel (a one-off reunion of theirs in 1993 ten years since their last!), The Who, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and even a long awaited Buffalo Springfield reunion in 2010. Pegi usually sang backup on Neil’s gigs but went solo in 2014 and fans could tell that something wasn’t quite right. Indeed, the Youngs announced their divorce shortly after the show that year and while the couple soldiered on for another two years, for the sake of the charity and their child, tensions were strained backstage and they decided to knock the charity on the head in 2017 with no further plans for any concerts as yet. This is such a shame – the shows were held for a great cause, always delivered extra surprises fans couldn’t get elsewhere and saw some lovely crossovers between acts who admired each other which couldn’t have possibly happened without someone like Neil as compere. To date one ‘best of’ disc, one ‘twenty-fith anniversary’ disc and one six disc box set of ‘Bridge School’ recordings have been released to raise further funds for the school (the single disc, officially titled ‘Vol 1’ though so far it’s the only one, was released in 1997 featuring Neil singing ‘I Am A Child’, the ‘25th Anniversary’ set contains Neil’s guestspot with REM on ‘Country Feedback’ and  a storming [220] ‘Crime In The City’ while the box set, officially also titled ‘Vol 1’ though so far it is again the only volume, was released in 2006 and includes four songs by CSN/Y alongside a medley of [13] ‘Sugar Mountain’ and [113] ‘Comes A Time’)

5)  Where: Coronation Hall, Omemee, Ontario When: December 1st 2017 Why: Homecoming Gig Setlist: [113] Comes A Time [96] Love Is A Rose [97] Long May You Run [57] Journey Thru The Past [385] I’m Glad I Found You [383] Tumbleweed [51] Old Man [249] Old King [225] Someday [52] There’s A World [**} Stand Tall [246] War Of Man [63] Don’t Be Denied ‘Helpless’ [49] Heart Of Gold [247] One Of These Days [239] Mother Earth [13] Sugar Mountain

Hopefully we don’t know what Neil’s final gig will be for a long time yet and this is the spot usually reserved for such a sombre occasion. If I know Neil he’s still going to be playing to the last day of his life somewhere. So instead we bring you a much happier occasion all round – Neil’s recent gig and the first time he ever played a show in the town where he was born, Canada’s Omemee (he moved to Winnipig as a toddler). Neil teased us for weeks referring to this special gig as being ‘from my hometown’ without actually telling us where till quite late on in the day (so many fans were expecting it to be in Winnipeg or Laurel Canyon or even The Broken Arrow ranch!) Omemee is quite small and even their biggest venue doesn’t hold many people, with only two hundred lucky fans able to go with invitations. The concert was however streamed for broadcast in Canada via TV and to the rest of the world via facebook. Rather sweetly proceeds from the concert (it was quite expensive) went to a local school – which just happened to be named after Neil’s father Scott who went there himself as a boy in the days before he was a famous author. The show is a good one by recent Neil standards, with The Promise Of The Real much better on the stage than they are on record and with an intriguing collection of songs old and new (including a surprise throwback to 2014’s ‘Storytone’, the first hearing of the autobiographical [63] ‘Don’t Be Denied’ in many a long year and the biggest surprise of the night is the 1976 outtake (released on ‘Decade’) [96] ‘Love Is A Rose’. This was a busy time for Neil as, making the most of the extra publicity, on this exact same day he also launched his online version of ‘The Archives’ project and released his new record ‘The Visitor’ (though typically he only performs one solitary song from that album at this gig that was meant to be promoting it!)

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) I’ve spent much of this book discussing songs with the idea that no one else except Neil would ever think of these songs and it seems odder than most to hear his songs performed in a different voice, with that familiar quiver or sense of vulnerability where they can often sound quite different. I’m surprised then by quite how many cover songs there are out there (three hundred ish? More than our AAA average of one hundred that’s for sure, behind perhaps only The Beatles and Stones out of our thirty acts) and not just that but the breadth. With some AAA bands finding ten different songs covered by other people is a struggle – with Neil easily one hundred songs have been covered by somebody. This pile is admittedly helped by two of the better tribute albums out there: ‘The Bridge’ from 1989 is a bonkers one that caught the end crest of the heavy metal wave and the beginning of the ‘various artists sing the hits of…’ craze and features such delights as Bongwater ‘Mr Soul’, Sonic Youth treating [149] ‘Computer Age’ as a synth-less rock and roll song and the unlikely sound of Nick Cave singing ‘Helpless’; 1994 and 2007 saw two volumes of ‘Borrowed Tunes’, the first of which is the best cleverly split into ‘hey hey my my’ acoustic and ‘my my hey hey’ electric discs with Randy Bachman’s take on [15] ‘The Loner’ easily the standout in this crowd, while Volume II is most notable for Neil’s half-sister Astrid’s take on [257] ‘Sleeps With Angels’. Money from both volumes went to Neil and Pegi’s Bridge Street School charity; ‘Cinnamon Girls’ is a female-only tribute album from 2008 oddly sticks to Neil’s earliest most misogynistic era from the early 1970s where Kristin Hersh’s impressive sex-reversal on [109] ‘Like A Hurricane’ impresses most; finally there’s also ‘MusiCares’ from 2016 which is the weakest set despite featuring the biggest names like Elvis Costello (doing [28] ‘The Losing End’ of all songs), Norah Jones and James Taylor. CSN even appear to sing ‘Human Highway’ on what may well prove to be their last studio recording. We have however skipped all of these for three other comparative rarities you might like:

1)  [18] The Old Laughing Lady (Stereophonics, B-side to ‘I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio’ 1999)

One of the most altered Neil Young arrangements for the ‘Unplugged’ set in 1993 was his take on this orchestral epic from his first album. Performed as a semi-fast acoustic rocker it sounded mighty good if not up to the majesty of the strings. Stereophonics, one of the better Britpop bands around (why do they always get a bad press? Kelly Jones’ voice is one of rock and roll’s secret weapons!) loved the Unplugged set and started doing this song in their act, later taping a studio version for the release on one of their lesser singles. I remember being in sixth form college where many of my classmates assumed this song filled with metaphors and cupboards and death was a new original and wondered why it wasn’t the A-side; they weren’t too pleased when I pointed out it was a song from fifteen years before I was born (and yes I did have an anorak over my school uniform). The Stereophonics version is subtly different to Neil’s many because this band can’t do anything that quietly (despite the fact that their ballads are often their best material), the throaty roar giving away that this song is meant to be about an underlying death and loss. The line ‘laddddeeeeeeaaaaahhhh’ is either the greatest or worst thing about this cover depending on your taste and while nowhere close to the original (or even Neil’s Unplugged version) this is a fine band covering a fine song and doing it proud.

2)  [125] Pocahontas (Johnny Cash, ‘Unearthed’, 2003)

Effectively the ‘outtakes’ from the ‘American’ series Johnny Cash was recording with Rick Rubin up until his death, in many cases I prefer this stash that was kept back to what was released on the records proper. While Rubin messed up on the intended CSN ‘Covers’ album of 2014 he did wonders for The Man In Black, giving him dangerous music to sing again with bare-bones arrangements that showed off the strain in his aging voice. After a career of being a brave tough guy, its deeply moving to hear Johnny as a brave fragile old man. Rubin was a particular Neil Young fan and actually provided Johnny with two covers – [49] ‘Heart Of Gold’ is the better known (it’s from a follow-up outtakes set ‘American Rarities’ of 2010) but I prefer this cover, where Johnny sings Neil’s comical tale of American Indians as if it’s one of his tragedies, the line ‘they might have left some babies lying on the ground’ even more of a tearjerker (Johnny’s greatest album is surely his most controversial, ‘Bitter Tears: Ballads Of The American Indian’, a brave move to release such anti-white man songs in 1963 and which might well have inspired Neil’s original). Johnny’s deep growl is moving indeed but better still is the arrangement which includes a creepy violin effect playing the guitar riff and some occasional piano that fleets in and out of this song as if it’s playing in slow motion. The slower stately tempo too really suits this already gorgeous song.

3)  [51] Old Man (Wailin’ Jennys, ‘Forty Days’, 2004)

We end our entire thirty-part ‘cover songs’ series with a rare track free with Mojo Magazine that was actually rather good. Neil may well know this band of three female country singers – they were formed in a Winnipeg music ship that Neil knew well (Sled Dog Music) when three separate solo singers were asked how they’d feel about performing one or two songs together and they named themselves as a pun on their biggest musical influence and Neil’s old collaborator Waylon Jennings. ‘Old Man’ is a rare cover song in their set but it sounds as if it could have been an original, perfectly cast for three part harmonies (what a shame CSNY didn’t often do this song as a group performance like this, it would have been lovely!) and with some lovely bright acoustic playing by Carla Luft but no bass or drums to distract us. This song sounds like a much purer distillation of the song and nudges it further down the country road than a rock road. Though I really miss the harmonica and the pedal steel I’m really impressed with this song, a highlight of their debut album.
Other Neil Young and related articles from this site 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)

‘This Note’s For You’ (1988)

'Freedom' (1988)

'Ragged Glory' (1990)

'Weld' (1991)

'Harvest Moon' (1992)

'Sleeps With Angels' (1993)

'Mirror Ball' (1995)

‘Silver and Gold’ (2000)

‘Are You Passionate?’ (2002)

'Greendale' (2003)

‘Prairie Wind’(2005)

‘Living With War’ (2006)

‘Chrome Dreams II’ (2007)

'Fork In The Road' (2009)

'Le Noise' (2011)

'A Treasure' (1986/2012)

'Storytone' (2014)

'The Monsanto Years' (2015)

Live/Compilation/Crazy Horse Albums Part One 1968-1972

Live/Compilation/Crazy Horse Albums Part Two 1977-2016

Surviving TV Clips 1970-2016

The Who: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! The Who, of course, were born for the stage with a power and fire that couldn’t be contained within their (generally) more complex and elaborate studio recordings. To this day ‘Live At Leeds’ is the best-selling AAA live record of them all (just squeezing out The Rolling Stones’ ‘Get Yer Ya Yas Out) and while it was the Rollers who liked to be described as ‘the world’s greatest rock and roll band’ on stage, fans of both (who had to sit through more than a few patchy gigs) knew that The Who surely deserved that accolade. It seems a shame to restrict ourselves to just five concerts (especially given that The Who may well have played more shows than any AAA act bar Neil Young or The Beach Boys, with some three thousand ish – including five hundred odd gigs added to the official tally after their first official break-up in 1982). However until they invent a time machine so I can go back and watch every single one of those shows (sigh, trust me I really would…) this little list will have to do. Please note that, rather than do what we do with most of our bands, we haven’t gone with a ‘final’ gig even though the one performed at New Jersey’s Prudential Centre on March 29th 2017 was announced as the ‘last’ gig. We have of course been here before many many times (in 1982, 1985, 1989, 1997, 2000, 2008, 2014…) and my guess is that The Who will never be able to retire for very long. They just belong on stage too badly…

1)  Where: Paradise Club, London When: July 1st 1962 Why: First Gig Setlist: Unknown

We can though bring you their first gig, what little we know about it (there’s even debate about where and when it was though – some Who books say that it was Acton’ Town Hall on September 1st 1962; some form of this band existed since 1959 by the way but only Roger survived from that lineup and most people don’t count it as ‘The Who’). What we do know is that at the time The Who were still known as ‘The Detours’. They were very different though: Roger Daltrey is not yet their lead singer and is instead their lead guitarist, with vocals handled by Colin Dawson, while Doug Sandom is still their drummer for the next year or so before bumping into Keith Moon and Pete Townshend, down as their rhythm guitar player, is not yet writing any songs. Only John Entwistle is taking up the position he will take up on stage for the next forty years although for now he is playing on a home-made bass he created himself during woodwork lessons. The Detours are in fact all still at school except Roger (who has just left) and Doug (who being ten years older than the rest of the band left what must have seemed a lifetime ago). The setlist is very different too:  no one’s all that sure what the band played but it almost certainly featured nothing from any of the band’s future record (Roger hasn’t even started on his James Brown obsession yet) and probably included Chuck Berry covers (the band definitely played ‘C’mon’ for a time after London’s biggest local band The Rolling Stones started doing it). The band probably got this booking – the band’s first not for a school function or a private wedding – through local promoter Robert Druce, who was contacted as a favour to the band by Pete’s mum. They will continue to play around London’s clubs as The Detours until 1964 when, to their horror, they see a poster for a band named ‘Johnny Devlin and the Detours’ and realise that they need a new name. Oh and a new drummer…

2)  Where: Railway Hotel, Wealdstone When: June 30th 1964 Why: Breakthrough Gig Setlist: ‘Smokestack Lightning’ ‘I’m A Man’ ‘Road Runner’ (incomplete)

The two years up to mid 1964 are a time of growth and development for The Who. Roger moves into lead singer position, Pete writes his first song (‘It Was You’, a ballad he is deeply embarrassed by and is often teased for) and Keith is a new drummer after joining the band from May 2nd 1964. However The Who don’t feel quite right yet. Their set is full of tidy covers of songs every other band was doing (including future live favourite Bo Diddley covers [  ] ‘Roadrunner’ and [26] ‘I’m A Man’ - Roger has indeed ‘made twenty-one’ though the rest haven’t, not for another couple of years yet or four in Keith’s case) as well as blues standard ‘Smokestack Lightnin’. Other songs known to be played on this tour (though not necessarily at this gig) include The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’, Booker T and the MGs’ ‘Green Onions’, Willie Dixon’s ‘Pretty Thing’ and future live favourite [114] ‘Young Man Blues’. They don’t yet have any of the songs from their debut album the next year in place and, well, it all feels a little bare and artificial. Until tonight when Pete gets really angry – this band are great, why are the crowd not dancing? Desperate to get them up on their feet and dancing he starts lunging about the stage, trying to get their attention. Unfortunately in his passion Pete forgets that the venue they’re playing is a very tiny place with very low ceilings and his Rickenbacker guitar launches up and tears a hole right through it. Everyone is watching now but Pete doesn’t want them to stop or freak out over what he’s just done to his guitar. So he nonchalantly plucks it down from the ceiling and stamps on it, Keith choosing that moment to utterly destroy his drums at the same time while Roger and John look on bemused. The audience goes nuts, thrilled at the sheer danger and excitement of it, starting a chant of ‘smash your guitar, Pete!’ that will last for decades. Pete will oblige more times than he says no (and even John will wreck a few instruments in shows a few years from now) and The Who become known as a violent act who care nothing for the destruction of their instruments every night. What no one knew at the time is that, as penniless musicians, The Who couldn’t afford to destroy their instruments every night and spent their time in-between gigs desperately sticking their guitars and drums back together for the next night when they will get smashed up all over again…

3)  Where: Bolton Institute Of Technology When: April 1969 Why: First Tommy Setlist: [116] Heaven and Hell [4] I Can’t Explain [86] Fortune Teller [56] Tattoo [114] Young Man Blues [87] Overture [89] 1921 [90] Amazing Journey [91] Sparks [92] Eyesight To The Blind [93] Christmas [95] The Acid Queen [97] Do You Think It’s Alright? [98] Fiddle About [99] Pinball Wizard [101] Go To The Mirror [102] Tommy Can You Hear Me? [103] Smash The Mirror [105] Miracle Cure [106] Sally Simpson [107] I’m Free! [109] Tommy’s Holiday Camp [110] We’re Not Gonna Take It-See Me Feel Me [78] Summertime Blues [115] Shakin’ All Over [22] My Generation

By 1969 The Who are an institution. They have survived the great split of 1967 (when Keith and John very nearly broke away to form ‘Led Zeppelin’ with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and Roger was nearly kicked out of the band for arguing too much!), flower power (1967 didn’t suit their natural destructive sound very much, though a performance at the Monterey Pop festival went down well) and the ‘lost’ year of 1968 (when the band released no new LPs and only novelty singles, unsure as to their new direction). Suddenly though, just as everyone have written The Who off, back they come with not just a new album but a whole new concept of making music. This first performance of Tommy (which we’ve picked as a ‘key’ gig over Woodstock four months later simply because we’ve already written about that elsewhere in this book) is a key moment. No other band had devoted so much of their setlist to a new work and even in reduced form (the band gave the boot to [94] ‘Cousin Kevin’ and [96] ‘The Underture’ in rehearsals figuring they slowed the piece down and would later drop the wordy [106] ‘Sally Simpson’ too) this new part of their show still ran to an hour without a pause or a break anywhere. Bolton fans weren’t expecting to be treated to such a debut and had in fact yet to hear the album which wouldn’t be out for another month (the gig was in fact a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the gig the papers were invited to, at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London on May 1st) but the show was a success right from the first and vindicated the faith the band had put into this major change in direction which, had it not been a success, could have easily been the last thing The Who would ever do. In time The Who would perform this setlists more or less complete for the next two hundred odd shows and two years including some of their finest  not just Woodstock but ‘Live At Leeds’ and ‘The Isle Of Wight Festival’ too.  Alas no live recordings exist of ‘Tommy’ all the way up to Woodstock.

4)  Where: Cow Palace, San Francisco When: November 20th 1973 Why: Keith Collapses Setlist: [4] I Can’t Explain [78] Summertime Blues [22] My Generation [145] I Am The Sea [146] The Real Me [149] The Punk and The Godfather [150] I’m One [152] Helpless Dancer [155] 5:15 [156] Sea and Sand [157] Drowned [158] Bell Boy [159] Dr Jimmy [161] Love Reign O’er Me [130] Won’t Get Fooled Again [83] Magic Bus [110] See Me Feel Me ‘Smokestack Lightning’ [117] Spoonful [140] Naked Eye

It’s not every gig that nearly gets cancelled not because of illness or a band split but because the drummer has just overdosed on animal tranquilisers. This gig has gone down in history as the moment when things go a bit mad (well, madder), with Keith having an eveil look in his eyes all night and playing most of the songs in the first set too fast for the band to keep up with (playing havoc with the backing tracks for ‘Quadrophenia’). Come set two he’s visibly struggling and collapses across his kit a few bars into ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. The roadies heave him backstage and stick him in a cold shower – Keith comes around enough to try again and after a half-hour delay bounds back on to the stage apologising to fans. However he collapses again seconds into the same song and lies there lifeless. A desperate search backstage reveals that Keith has taken not just his normal quantity of booze and drugs but enough animal tranquiliser to fell an elephant. Unwilling to go home and afraid of a riot if the show gets stopped after such a long wait Pete pleads with the audience ‘is there anybody out there who can play the drums? I mean anyone good?’ A nineteen year old named Scott Halpin is out with friends who realise that he is a drummer and push him towards the security guard at the front of the stage - he’s the only person to put himself forward. Bill Graham, in charge of the show as ever, asks him if he thinks he’s up to it – Scott surprises himself by saying ‘yes!’ Pete chats to him, asks what songs he knows, introduces him to the audience and leads him to Keith’s drumkit. Alas The Who have already played most of their live favourites in the first half so decide to stick to the simplest songs in their set. Scott equits himself well and though debate still rages as to which songs he played on (memory being a fickle thing) most people agree that he played at least ‘Naked Eye’ ‘Magic Bus’ and ‘Spoonful’ (The Who also filled in time witrh a drum-less ‘See Me Feel Me’ while waiting for Keith to wake up – it seems odd they didn’t do their near a capella [129] ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ this way too). Poor Scott was exhausted after three songs and couldn’t manage a fourth, making this one of the shortest Who gigs of the era, but he gave the crowd a concert to remember and by all accounts acquitted himself well (he is, naturally, the AAA’s very own time-traveller if you read our April Fool’s Day column, *here*…) Amazingly, shaky audience-shot footage exists though alas only ten minutes worth of highlights (including the moment Keith collapses and Scott playing on ‘Smokestack Lightning’). As for Keith, he recuperated in hospital and never took animal tranqulisers again. He did, however, take lots of other stuff instead…

5)  Where: Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinatti, Ohio When: December 3rd 1979 Why: Most Notorious Gig Setlist: [44] Substitute [4] I Can’t Explain [122] Baba O’Riley [149] The Punk and The Godfather [125] My Wife [187] Sister Disco [129] Behind Blue Eyes [188] Music Must Change [157] Drowned [192] Who Are You? [155] 5:15 [99] Pinball Wizard [110] We’re Not Gonna Take It-See Me Feel Me [144] Long Live Rock! [144] Long Live Rock! [22] My Generation [58] I Can See For Miles [90] Amazing Journey [91] Sparks [130] Won’t Get Fooled Again [78] Summertime Blues [146] The Real Me

The Who wasn’t an entirely unhappy ship fromn 1973 onwards but its fair to say that Keith’s incident marked a watershed moment in their live fortunes. The ‘Quadrophenia’ live tour hadn’t gone down as well with fans as hoped (especially as they played to a click-track tape and Roger was busy explaining the story every five minutes). A ‘greatest’ hits tour across 1974 and 1975 was the band’s last with Keith who was struggling to keep up with the band, the quartet playing their last full show at The Kilburn in 1977 (now out on DVD) and their last mini-performance together in front of a specially selected audience (and cameras) for the ‘Maximum R and B’ DVD. The Who returned to the live arena with a blast in 1979, eager to make up for lost time now that they had Keith’s replacement Kenny Jones of The Small Faces in tow who could give the band full power again at last. However even this longed for tour was not a happy one: they all missed Keith deeply, Roger struggled to sing to Kenney’s beat the same way he instinctively did to Keith’s and the band realised there was something wrong with the sound, electing to fill it with their first subsidiary musician, John ‘Rabbit’ Brundrick, whose keyboard work is the highlight of many a 1979 show. However it was by and large a miserable experience and the band only pushed through for financial reasons (John Entwistle needing a quick injection of cash to stay financially afloat yet again). The Who still hoped that things would get better though, that all band and fans had to do was adjust to the new sound. And then it happened – the deaths of eleven fans, in a terrible mistake. The arena seated 18,000 people with only 4000 pre-booked tickets – the rest were given on a first-come, first-served basis. Naturally many people wanted to get there earkly to get a ticket. So early, in fact, that The Who were still playing their soundcheck – later than planned due to a delay getting to the venue. The Coliseum had, at the time, a short corridor with single doors that could only be opened one way. It was, after all, everything they needed – they hadn’t held many large rock concerts and weren’t expecting so many people at once. But of course everyone arriving early heard The Who playing, clamoured to see what was happening and hadn’t realised the situation with the doors. The people at the front couldn’t open them quickly enough and got crushed, while more and more people turned up at the end of the line pushing to get in. The organisers decided to only open one official set of doors, to ‘funnel’ the crowd through these, but impatient and angry and sure they were missing a show the surge became too strong. As well as the eleven people who died of asphyxiation, twenty-three people sustained life-changing injuries in the crush. The Who weren’t told about any of this (for fear of cancelling and creating a bigger crisis) and wondered at half-time why the crowd were so subdued. The event had several ripples: The Who, used to violence at their shows since the early days, grew more sickened with touring; the next few shows were immediately cancelled; the venue had a ban on unbooked tickets until as late as 2004; a then-new band named Pearl Jam were the next to play the venue and played a version of [146] ‘The Real Me’ in tribute and the writers of Pink Floyd film ‘The Wall’ then in production decided to base their crowd scene on this moment (which must have been difficult for a guest at the premiere, one Pete Townshend, to sit through). The sad event was also a nail in the coffin of The Who in 1982, with none of the band facing touring with quite the same apetitite they’d once had (though they did still play forty-three shows across 1980, twenty-seven in 1981 and forty-two in 1982, so as usual these things are never clear cut!)  

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are, of course, zillions of Who cover songs out there just as there with many of the more famous AAA members. What’s interesting, though, is how much they are spaced out (there is no one Who song covered more than the others, though [99] ‘Pinball Wizard’ and the ‘See Me Feel Me’ part of [110] ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ probably win by a nose), how many songs have been covered in total (even fragments of rock operas that shouldn’t work without the concept such as [103] ‘Smash The Mirror’, a minor hit for King’s Road in 1973 or obscure John Entwistle B-sides such as Dollface’s contemporary cover of [81] ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’) and how these all seem to ebb and flow across the decades, peaking in the great mod revival of 1979 and to a lesser extent with Britpop in the mid-1990s. There are a few Who tribute albums out there too, such as 2001’s ‘Substitute’ featuring Paul Weller, The Stereophonics , Sheryl Crow, David Bowie and Ocean Colour Scene and 2012’s ‘Who Are You?’ featuring Ian Paice and Iggy Pop, though we’ve stuck with three alternative choices for this week’s article.
1)  [29] Disguises (The Jam, B-Side ‘Funeral Pyre’, 1981)
Paul Weller was a huge fan of the mod scene in general and The Who in particular. The Jam, like The Who before them, always wore their influences on their sleeve and they featured several Townshend songs in their act down the years. [42] ‘So Sad About Us’ is the cover that always gets the most attention, but to these ears the band’s B-side run through an even more obscure Who song from their ‘Ready Steady Who!’ EP of 1966 is better yet. It would have been, in the early 1980s, a very modern sounding song – the whole point of the track is that something isn’t quite right, with its lyrics about forever mistaking strangers for your loved one and a performance that has shimmering guitars meshing with a deliberately ugly bass line and lashings of French Horn. You’re not meant to know which way is up or down and that’s very much in keeping with the new wave music scene. Weller’s arrangement drops the French Horn and tidies everything into a neat jacket but is basically the same – the narrator’s girlfriend is forever wearing disguises and always looks different while he’s forever surprised by new things he finds out about her personality. He sounds detached from us throughout, while the ever under-rated rhythm section of Bruce Foxton and Rick Butler keep up the endless relentless cacophony. The result is one of the last Jam B-sides and one of their best.
2)   [27] A Legal Matter (Richard Thompson, ‘One Thousand Years Of Popular Music’, 2003)
In the millennium Playboy magazine decided to run a feature on ‘the best songs of the thousand years’. They were being facetious of course – they didn’t expect any nominations before 1950 – but they should have known better than to ask music scholar and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson. In total he chose twenty-three songs that he felt best summed up the different passages of human civilisation which veered from Purcell and tales of ‘Henry V’s Conquest In France’ to songs by Prince and Britney Spears. When Playboy, realising their folly, decided to condense the article down and release it as a bare-bones CD instead Thompson took his list out on the road instead, interpreting all of these tracks for a live album instead. ‘A Legal Matter’ is the clear highlight as well as being the most obscure of the 20th century songs on the list. Pete Townshend’s lone vocal on Who debut ‘Sings My Generation’ it’s a tale of impish glee at having escaped the institution of marriage and the fact that his wife has broken the ‘vow’ first. Perhaps cheekily written to reflect Roger’s marital struggles of the time, Richard had his own major public fallout with wife Linda, a singer with a beautiful voice who was co-credited on a string of jaw-dropping albums across the 1970s and early 1980s. Here, though, Richard is alone, singing alone to his acoustic guitar how ‘you’ve got me on the run’ and ‘marrying’s no fun’. The song sounds great stripped to its bare bones like this and – with all respect to a twenty-year-old Pete who copes remarkably well on his first time singing lead in a cold studio environment – sung by someone who can really sing. The song really swings into gear as Richard gets impassioned and whips the song up into more of a frenzy with the cry ‘I’m sorry baby!’ Thrilling stuff.
3)  [62] Rael (Petra Haden ‘Sings The Who Sell Out’, 2005)
We close with a real labour of love that simply must be applauded. There are fan works out there that re-create entire albums – generally Beatle LPs and usually badly. ‘That Dog’ vocalist Petra Haden, though, wins the award for the most inventive re-working of an AAA LP by re-creating the entire ‘Who Sell Out’ album using nothing but her voice. Every lead and backing vocal, every psychedelic guitar solo, every whizzing effect (check out [52] ‘Armenia City In The Sky!’), every groovy bass line, every Moony drum solo, every French horn part, even every jingle is sung one by one and overdubbed on top of each other to create an album that’s if anything even more out-there and psychedelic than the original. Almost all of the album sounds great (though alas [58] ‘I Can See For Miles’ is the only track that doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot) but surely the most impressive moment comes in the re-creation of the album’s six minute closing number. Even the original was ridiculously complicated and that’s from a band all playing at once – re-created everything in ‘aahs’ ‘dums’ and ‘woohs’ is astonishing. Best of all you can actually hear what the words are thanks to Petra’s crystal-clear diction (Roger could have learnt a thing or two from her!) Oh and if that wasn’t enough Haden even re-creates the album covers too. Haven’t baked beans got smaller and redder in the intervening forty years?!? This album must have taken forever to put together but its worth every moment, an astonishing achievement of devotion and attention to detail which leaves me with nothing more to do than take my hat off to her. Pete Townshend too, who said on this album’s release that hearing such love and care devoted to his work was ‘better than a Grammy’.  It’s been a long time since 2005 though – is it too much to hope that Petra is busy working on re-creating the whole of double-album ‘Tommy’ as a sequel?!?

Other Who-related fun from this website you might be interested in reading: 

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

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

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

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980) 
'It's Hard' (1982)
'Endless Wire' (2006)

'Quadrophenia' (Director's Cut Box Set) (2012) 
Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015
Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967
Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014
Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3
The Best Unreleased Who Recordings
Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part One 1965-1972
Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part Two 1972-1975
Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Three 1976-1982
Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Four 1983-1990
Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Five 1991-2000
Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Six 2001-2014