Monday 23 October 2017

Cat Stevens "The Laughing Apple" (2017)

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In 2014 huge mega Beatles fan Cat Stevens announced that he was going to be covering a Paul McCartney song for a tribute album (released as the rather good ‘Art Of McCartney’). As one of the bigger names speculation was rife as to which song Cat might perform: a spiritual like ‘Let It Be’? An acoustic song a la ‘Tillerman’ and ‘Teaser’ like ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ perhaps? Or maybe, as a genuine fan, Cat would sing something not many people would know (I was so hoping for ‘Somebody Who Cares’ off the ‘Tug Of War’ album, Paul’s most Cat-like song). Instead the recently-renamed Yusuf surprised us all I think by doing ‘The Long and Winding Road’. Even though I’ve heard that song a million times in its Beatle version (with or without the messed up Phil Spector overdubs),Cat’s version was so strong that whenever I think of that song now it’s his version that comes to mind.
This shouldn’t have been quite the surprise it should have been because, in a lightbulb moment, I realised that Cat had been using the same long and winding road for a life imagery in his work even before Paul had written his song. While all songwriters are to some extent going on a ‘journey’ (a horrible 21st century word that simply means ‘they’ve lived a bit and their life experiences changed them’), Cat is the only other writer I’ve ever heard that rather than give us audio diaries of their life tries to give us a map as well. There are endless songs in his catalogue about roads, of setting out on a journey and what he might find there. Even now, in his comeback years, Yusuf’s best latter-day album ‘Roadsinger’ has him still on this journey, still learning and singing songs about his experiences. The result is, if you happen to notice it (or you are reading this article), a treasure map of sorts. Only the treasure is not gold or riches but a better understanding of the way the world works. To understand the world, though, first you must visit it…
Let’s go back to the beginning, when Cat is all of eighteen and cutting his first single [3] ‘I Love My Dog’. Though the A-side is deliberately cute and commercial (though contradictory; what next, ‘I Love My Cat By Dog Stevens’?!?) it’s the B-side that gives us our first clue. [6] ‘Portobello Road’ was, for Cat, a mere four miles away from his family home in Shaftesbury Avenue. A famous market district of West London, it’s a song with a very home-grown feel. There’s a jumble of images, of discarded items for sale at the market all thrown in together. Cat is particularly keen on the way items discarded by different cultures are all rubbing shoulders in the same box. The song is as literal and realistic as Cat Stevens songs ever become, but there’s a twist in the last verse. Cat has been insisting for several minutes now that he’s been walking miles trying to look for something he needs – by the end it’s a worry that he hasn’t found it here and ‘growing old is my only danger’. The hint is that he’s carried on walking past the end of the song, past the market stalls and onto some very different road to find a very different sort of item that he is searching for.
A few months later Cat is recording another of his early batch of teenage songs for first album ‘Matthew and Son’. Rather overshadowed amongst the three top ten hits (for himself and for The Tremeloes) lies a song titled [8] ‘I See A Road’. Cat tells us the title over and over – he’s seen the road he must leave on and it scares him a little bit. He’s not ready to take it yet, not when ‘home’ is so inviting, with his girlfriend waiting for him. He’s desperate not to lose time, scared that it’s her who will ‘grow old’ this time (maybe it’s even his worry that she’s going to grow up before him; it could well be an early song about his first serious girlfriend Patti D’arbanville, who by his own admission was a little more developed emotionally than he was at the time). So he ignores the road and runs home, more interested for now in ‘the yellow ribbon in her hair’ and oddly enough where ‘silk music plays out of the country’ (of all the AAA members, Cat was born the closest to the centre of a big city, namely London; by comparison The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks were all born on the fringes, at the point where London feels more like a ‘village’ full of locals you see all your lives and with a separate identity to the big bustling part of town). However its notable that in this song he keeps going back to the idea of the road outside his door and what might lie in the opposite direction from home – he’s still singing it when the song ends and the orchestra drowns him out. A quick mention here too for another song from the first album [7] ‘I Found A Love’. Rather than find her in the city, though, she was ‘hidden down a back street, ba-by-ee yeah’ meaning that Cat had to look for his love and she wasn’t obvious to find, an early sign that he’s going to prefer travelling down roads away from the straight and narrow.
Second album ‘New Masters’ is Cat growing up before our ears. Even though he’s only nineteen he already sounds old before his time and vulnerable, aware that he’s running out of time to see the world and escape where he’s living. For now, though, the road is still literal rather than metaphorical. This is the album that’s full of references to real places in the world: [24] ‘Ceylon City’ is now known as Sri Lanka and clearly isn’t anything like ‘where I was born’ as Cat puts it. Maybe he’s thinking about reincarnation as he wonders if the town will be the way it was when he left it, full of wooden sailing ships and children ‘laughing a happy song’. ‘Ceylon’ is the only song specifically set somewhere foreign, but there are so many other songs from this period that feel like it: [18] ‘Northern Wind’ is an early reference to the winds of change (as most famously heard on the song simply named [65] ‘The Wind’) and it’s clearly blowing him somewhere new, ‘come for you and anyone whose helped you along’. Cat yearns to live ‘where the stars shine bright’ – far away from the smoky metropolis of London – and when he hears the bird sing Cat ‘doesn’t want to fight it, because I want to go!’ There’s also a song that seems to reveal just how sick Cat was of home: while [31] ‘Lovely City (When Do You Laugh?)’ is not obviously set anywhere, its notable that Cat now feels lost in a place where he used to call home. ‘I’m an unexpected visitor who dropped in for tea’ he sighs, the magic of the city having been lost now that he’s seen so much of the rest of the world.
Or has he? I wondered, before I knew Cat’s chronology, if this was an album written on tour like so many other AAA albums that do similar things (10cc’s ‘Bloody Tourists’ is a good example, with songs for Tokyo and a hymn to the power of the telephone to keep you in touch with the folks back home). But no: the furthest Cat had been from home up till now has been up North to Carlisle (and it isn’t that alien a culture compared to London!) It seems more that he’s preparing for the big shift in his music, waiting for his big break to America and feeling that he’s outgrown the first phase of life and what it has left. He is, after all, in the habit of attending parties with the rich and famous in this era and desperate to do more with his life, to see more of the world. He’s also just realised that this isn’t all it could be: though he’s climbed to the ‘peak’ of success in commercial terms [32] ‘The View From The Top Can Be Oh So Very Lonely…’  Far from being a realistic goal to achieve and strive for, it’s turned out to be a red herring, one whose only gift is to reveal so many other more interesting and fulfilling roads down below. The only question was how to get there…
Actually fate will decide for Cat and it will all come crashing back down to earth, as a later album title has it, with Cat finding his world getting very narrow instead. Confined not only to a hospital bed but a hospital bed in the very restrictive city he thought he’d just escaped, dying from TB, must have been a colossal blow for a kid who was about to come of age and turn twenty-one (we’re not quite sure on the timings, but it seems likely that he was at least ill for his milestone birthday when traditionally youngsters set out to see the world – or at least they did until the credit crunch ruined that for a generation; possibly he was already deathly ill). Cat has nowhere physically to go and is literally stuck. However once he got better the music flowed from him as he learned the very vital life lesson that is still infusing his music now: you don’t physically have to go somewhere to ‘grow’ if you can mentally go there instead.
‘Mona Bone Jakon’ has shifted everything. Well nearly: there is still one last Cat Stevens song about a physical place to listen to: [47] ‘Katmandu’. This place is a much more spiritual retreat than the one in ‘Ceylon’, however, a mystical place that’s more about the thoughts and experiences Cat will have there. It sounds to me like a wish fulfilment: Cat still hadn’t been abroad yet and was maybe planning a holiday in some balmy spiritual place when he got sick; having already written about Sri Lanka he then goes for another place on his list, the capital of Nepal. Another step off on his journey from the physical to spiritual realms, perhaps, Cat sings that ‘soon I’ll be seeing you’ and imagining all the things he might be learning about the world if he were well enough to go. ‘Slow night, treat me right, until I go’ he sighs while asking for faith for the first time in song, to escape ‘Satan’s tree’. The ‘Mona’ album also notably ends on [50] ‘Lilywhite’, a return to songs about a mythical road and the first time that Cat equates it squarely with a metaphor for his life path (that settled it then: ‘The Long and Winding Road’, though recorded in 1969, had just become a big hit when this album was being written). ‘Back on the mended road I pause’ Cat sings, reaching out with his hand ‘to touch the wheel’, reflecting over this difficult phase in his life before turning back and getting on with life the way he was before he was so drastically interrupted.
‘Tea For The Tillerman’ is the album with the most places to chart on our map. The [61] Title Track, for instance, is about asking people to be kind and provide succour for those on a journey, because journeys are hard. [51] ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ is one of Cat’s most literal songs (‘gee, why are they tearing down so many children’s playgrounds?’) but it also sounds like a man whose seen a bit more of life and wants a bit more ‘fun’ in it. For all his intellectual traits, Cat is still a big kid at heart according to those who know him (he does take part in many school assemblies at his Islamia Primary school back home in London for starters) – this song sounds like a comment from someone on a life path that things got too serious too quickly to bear. [53] ‘Wild World’ is a warning from someone whose seen a bit of life too: it’s the opposite of [8] ‘I See A Road’ with Cat waiting anxiously at home for a loved one out there in the big world, afraid of what might happen to them to throw them off life’s path. [55] ‘Miles From Nowhere’ is the ultimate Cat Stevens worrying song. A tale of a journey through the afterlife, here Cat worries about what might happen when the ‘road’ literally ends. Where will he go? What will he do? Eventually the song picks itself up, dusts itself off and figures that without a road to follow at last ‘I can take my time’. It’s notable, though, that Heaven is for him still a physical goal, somewhere he has to travel to (perhaps through more than one lifetime back on Earth so that he can ‘earn’ it).
The big one, though, is [59] ‘On The Road To Find Out’ in which Cat tells us for the first time that the ‘road’ is very much a spiritual quest. Driven by curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, Cat leaves a ‘happy home’ where he was comfortable ‘with the aim to clear my mind out’. The road is at first busy and bright, full of ‘rowdy kids’ (surely a reference to his ‘pop star’ years) and lots of people who assume they know where the path he seeks lies and want to give him directions. The way gets hard though, his path blocked by snow and ice and he thinks about turning back, while the clock is ticking down. Eventually he finds that he’s alone, ‘hoping that someone will miss me’ and afraid that he’s made no impact on the world. By the end, though, he’s found the answer he was seeking and realised that he didn’t even have to go that far for it – the answer was inside his head all the time. ‘The answer lies within’ he yells, uncharacteristically for Cat, ‘so why not take a look now? Kick out the Devil’s sin and pick up a good book now!’ What’s interesting, knowing what we do of Cat’s future path, is the assumption many people have made that this is a religious text. The Bible is called ‘The Good Book’ by many people – and yet that’s not what Cat is saying here. He says ‘a good book’, meaning there are more than one. He may be thinking more than one religious books to read or he may not be thinking religion at all and means philosophical books to get people thinking (he isn’t, yet, anywhere near the stage of his religious conversion and is still declaring himself an ‘ex Catholic searching for answers like everyone else’ in interviews of the period).
Interestingly there are no ‘road’ references on perhaps Cat’s most famous album ‘Teaser and The Firecat’, though [65] ‘The Wind’ makes a comeback, the mysterious unseen force that keeps driving him on. Cat is still a wanderer without a set destination wondering ‘where I’ll end up only God really knows’, letting ‘my music take me where my heart wants to go’. By the time of next album ‘Catch-Bull At Four’ he’s more concerned about growing stationary. The title of [77] ‘Sitting’ alone gives you an idea of how far he thinks he’s come on his quest since the last album, even if the album opens with the pained cry ‘Oh I’m on my way, I know I am!’ He’s frustrated by where his spiritual quest has taken him, with a pained middle eight asking ‘if I’ll make it to the waterside, will I even find a boat or something?’ (imagery in many religions for death, which can only be reached by boat) and sighing that he’s truly and utterly lost, that ‘life is a maze of doors that only open from the side you’re on’. Kicking himself for ever walking at all, he turns on himself ‘Keep pushing hard boy otherwise you’re going to end up where you started from!’
Interestingly, too, this is the first album for three that has a song obviously set in the ‘real world’ too with an actual postcode, although [82] ‘18th Avenue (Kansas City Nightmare)’ is a very esoteric song. It really does sound like a nightmare, a surreal impression of life full of metaphor that feels like Cat trying to work out what a dream means that he’s just had. Realising that he’s been biting his tongue too long out of fear and paranoia Cat whispers ‘don’t let me go down!’, perhaps meaning that he’s been pushed back to Earth after having his head in spiritual heights for so very long. This ‘path is dark and borderless’, one he knows he shouldn’t have travelled down and he only feels better when the place is in his rear view mirror, checking his bags in at the airport (is this a spiritual ‘plane’ that will take him back to the Heavens?) Just what was Cat doing in 1972? Something he didn’t feel good about by the sound of it, admitting that he’s reached a cul-de-sac. Interestingly this song is followed immediately by [83] ‘Freeing Steel’ in which Cat feels himself physically crashing back into the real world (‘Though my body’s back I feel it can’t be real’). Suddenly he’s back loving physical pleasures, such as food that’s gone cold instead of the nourishment he was enjoying (‘A cold plate of meat and cold potatoes too, what’s a soul to do?’), his body ‘tied up’ and restricted by some mysterious force. ‘I’m only human and the Earth is where I belong’ he sighs, apparently turning his back on ‘the path’. It may also be significant that this troubled album ends with a physical place again – but one that used to be and which now only exists in [86] ‘Ruins’, a reminder perhaps that Cat isn’t going to get back to where he used to live in the physical plane at all. Maybe he’d better set out on that quest after all?
The next album finds his exiled, cut off from the spiritual path he was following and the earthly realm he used to know. Though named for Cat’s move to Brazil for the rather Earthly reason of paying less income tax, ‘Foreigner’ is about being cut off from the rest of the world in more ways than that. Cat sounds lost throughout, helpless, looking for answers on five troubled songs about life being crueller and more complicated than he thought it was. The side-long [878] ‘Foreigner Suite’ insists on telling us that Cat is ‘now over to that Sunnyside road’ and it appears for a time that Cat has discovered his calling. What he was really searching for was a ‘path towards your door’ to quote the Paul McCartney song, someone ‘who love you just for who you are, really are!’ Convinced he’s found the path, Cat and a gospel choir intone ‘Come on, its freedom calling!’ but he can’t convince us like the old days – he can’t even convince himself. ‘You can live in the largest house, have seven apartments too!’ he bawls at us, but if it’s down the wrong end of town then forget it; he’s rather be homeless and on the ‘right’ path. Though the love of his life has ‘just walked through my door’ and he was so happy a few minutes ago he leaves her behind, kicking her heels – he can’t sit still, not with so much of the world to discover, back to where he was in his teenage years. ‘When you’re with me, boy it chokes my mind!’ is Cat’s less than kind response to her loving. By the end of the song, though, he’s back where he started, looking for love. Or maybe he’s just looking for the wrong kind…
A mere two songs later Cat is trapped again, [90] ‘How Many Times?’ asking a series of rhetorical questions amounting to the same thing – ‘How long must I see this same old view?’ Cat’s had these dreams, found them wanting and not yet found anything to replace them with. A sad Cat then splits himself in three across next album ‘Buddha And The Chocolate Box’, perhaps the ‘Holy Trinity’ of the physical, spiritual and afterlife worlds. [95] ‘Sun/C79’ is the physical, the hotel room where Cat had a life-changing event with a girl (is this where he lost his virginity?) repeated like a mantra to his own children who are asking ‘why are we here?’ Cat can’t answer them – the path has gone cold – but he knows physically why they were there, after a night of passion that he still remembers and which stirs up powerful feelings to this day (it’s worth noting that Cat’s first child wasn’t born until 1979 and to this day there’s never ever been even the whiff of a paternity suit against him – even in his wayward teens). Songs like [97] ‘Jesus’ find Cat considering spiritual matters again while [94] ‘Oh Very Young’ realises that the physical world is no longer enough for him, that anything there is temporary, due to fade ‘like your daddy’s best jeans’ and patching up a body when it’s worn out just makes the break harder when it comes – it’s in the spiritual realm where lasting good can be done. [96] ‘Ghost Town’ and [101] ‘Home In The Sky’, meanwhile, return to the ‘Miles From Nowhere’ thought, Cat wondering about where life might take him after he dies, one a comedy full of all his favourite film stars having a ball, one a tragedy imagining him pulled from the Earth too soon before all his work is done (‘Come the morning I’ll be far from here, slowly rising in another sphere’).
‘Buddha’ is a much more ‘imaginary’ album than previous Cat Stevens albums, but it takes another whole leap of imagination again to wrap your head around ‘Pythagorean Theory Tale’ ‘Numbers’, a concept album about a land inhabited by numbers who all have their own distinct personalities. The theme is that the world they live in need each other to work – only by putting their characteristics together can they create ‘new’ numbers made up of two, three or more figures. This is interesting because it seems to be the opposite of what Cat was saying back in 1970 or even as recently as 1973, that any spiritual path taken has to be taken ‘alone’. It might be significant too that this nice safe cosy world of nine people is interrupted forever when ‘J-Zero’ arrives, the town renegade and black sheep of the universe who works for nothing and lives to his own rules. Seemingly having nothing, actually he has more than anyone around him because he’s realised there’s more to this life than riches and material wealth, realising that there is a whole new ‘layer’ of numbers out there that the others haven’t realised yet because they haven’t been looking for it. Cat is, you suspect, a Jzero himself. The quest is back on!  Notably, though, this album’s penultimate track pulls the opposite trick: speaking as ‘Monad’, the city’s ruler who thought he knew how the world worked and who is now lost and frightened, he longs for the safe pull of home. ‘Forever your lamp will burn’ sings the ruler whose now realised how many different levels of existence there, ‘Would that you’d learn!’
Soon after the release of ‘Numbers’ comes that infamous near-drowning experience whose path ends up at a mosque, London’s Regents Park Mosque to be exact. Cat is treated with suspicion by many when he asks to join, but knows he’s in the right place when the secretary takes him by the arm and shows him all the wonderful things she sees in this religion and talks excitedly about him having found his true path ‘at last’. Cat falls for her and they’ll be married by 1979. Cat loses interest in his work immediately, skipping his usual annual album and padding out his contract with a Greatest Hits album and the oddball single-only rock and roll cover (the first of only two on any Cat Stevens release) [102] ‘Another Saturday Night’, a tale of warning about how earthly pleasures after payday can result in some pretty nasty hangovers the next morning. The next proper record ‘Izitso?’ interestingly goes back to the physical world, even though Cat must have been dying to express the spiritual ideas that have just come to him (a la George Harrison). Both [118] ‘Kypros’ (the Greek name for Cyprus) and [122] ‘Sweet Jamaica’ are real places again – places that Cat really has visited this time. This is followed on final album ‘Back To Earth’ (a significant title? Well, it’s an odd one for an artist whose just found the quest he had been searching for – is Cat forcing himself back to Earth to make this last album and free himself of his recording contract?) on which we end up in New York this time on [133] ‘New York Times’. As the title demonstrates all too literally, this isn’t a spiritual song so much as a journalistic one. Unable to sing about his new life experiences, Cat is taking most of his direction from what is in the newspapers. Once his contract is up, though, Cat is free at last.
In retrospect his first comment to journalists that ‘I needed a break – I was fed up of being on the road’ is an interesting one. Cat only ever undertook one full tour (as well as a short package tour alongside other acts). That was as long ago as 1976 and far from being on the road the whole time Cat had only ever performed a few small shows a year (his busiest period is 1974 when he performed forty-five; to put that in context The Who were having a rest year that year in the wake of Quadrophenia and they still performed forty-four!) Did he mean, instead, that he was tired of being out on a metaphorical road? Was he tired of relaying his discoveries back to us when ‘we’ weren’t responding the right way? (A common complaint of both ‘Catch Bull’ and ‘Foreigner’) Was Cat aware that we all have our own paths to follow and he shouldn’t be talking about his? Either way, here is where the road ended for Cat. Those who had followed him on earliest songs wondered half-seriously if his path would lead him to be a political figure, a fighter for social justice or even a hermit or whether he would just carry on writing songs for a living (some even wondered if he’d return to being a cartoonist, his planned stock in trade). Instead it led him to be a teacher, founding a school for Muslim students after discovering to his horror that there wasn’t one in London to send his children to. Typically hands-on Cat became involved at every level – the assemblies, religious study, fundraiser, he even filled in as a teacher when someone was ill or went missing as well as taking on most of the secretarial duties. Many of his fans assumed his ‘retirement’ was from everything – but actually Cat was busier than he ever was.
Until 9/11. A brush with the media in the 1980s had convinced him that the world wasn’t accepting of him yet (asked if Salman Rushdie’s controversial book ‘Satanic Verses’ broke a religious law he replied yes it did and that under Islamic law being rude about The Prophet Muhammad would inevitably result in a Fatwah; he made no comment on his own opinion, just his religion’s). However after 9/11 Cat was in a unique position. He was the only Muslim that many Christians could name. he was certainly the only one who had been a household name before taking up the religion (though you could argue a case for Richard Thompson and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson – no relation – neither were household names the way Cat had been). The Western world was suddenly scared of what they took to be every Muslim and saw threats everywhere – on the tube, on the street corner, every big congregation of buildings. Cat knew that things were more complicated than this, that the religion is itself named after the Arabic for ‘Peace’ and that the perpetrators of 9/11 were radical extremists, the Christian equivalents of the first Christian Crusaders. As a liberal Muslim he felt he owed it to his community to show the world that they didn’t have to be feared.
Hence the come back, slowly at first until the first full album ‘An Other Cup’ in 2006. An odd and confusing work, part pop album, part religious text, it left fans scratching their heads. Cat also seemed to have forgotten all about his old metaphors: on the whole album the only reference to spiritual quests paths or roads is the comment that Cat hated being out in big cities late at night because he didn’t feel safe (** [  ] ‘Heaven- Midday (City After Dark)’). However sequel ‘Roadsinger’ gave us lots. The [ ] title track, for instance, has Cat physically leaving his home at the end of a path to go back down well travelled paths and tell the people he meets along the way how to get there. In it he travels not by foot but in a beaten old camper van with room enough for us all to get on board (of his past songs only [74] ‘Peace Train’ can compare and Cat wasn’t driving that one!) A pied piper followed mostly by children, Cat tries to remember what life used to be like and makes allowance for the fact that he’s ‘speaking another language’, but he still fulfils his duty, sets up in the market stall (perhaps the same one in [6] ‘Portobello Road’ where he started? So I would like to think anyway!) and starts to sing.
Cat/Yusuf also recorded another song that didn’t make the album but caused quite a stir all the same. [  ] ‘Boots and Sand’ is, by Cat Stevens, a most withering and sarcastic song about narrow minded people with limited world views. It might help to understand what this track is doing in his back catalogue if you know that he wrote it the night that he was blocked from an American airplane, denied access for his links with his religion. Though America backtracked and he was later greeted with open arms, it was deeply embarrassing at the point when Cat was trying to spread love and understanding about his religion to the world and it meant the premature end to an intended world tour. Here it might be significant that this song too is a journey, almost a pastiche of Cat’s old songs. Here he doesn’t yet have enough money for a camper van, reduced to merely ‘boots and sand’ but still walking firmly towards America, ‘the promised land’, ‘the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, where all your records turn to Gold’. Told ‘you’re on our no song list!’ Cat gets flown home ‘to the lower world’ , picking himself up by tracing back his steps to the path he was on as a side-section gets cut off from him and he’s ‘back on the long long road, one bag and a song I wrote, boots and sand’. Cat’s next record, his third since his comeback, largely ducks the idea of paths but this rather grumpy record (largely about how fans can’t keep pace with him) might be significantly titled ‘tell ‘Em I’m Gone!’ After that we turn full circle to the near-present day, with the hodgepodge of outtakes, abandoned songs and re-makes ‘The Laughing Apple’ that features a re-recording of [18b] ‘The Northern Wind’. Cat, by now his voice reduced by age to a hoarse whisper (hopefully put on for effect), is still buffeted about by the winds of change and yet he is still curious to see what happens next.
What will be next on the path? Will Yusuf quietly retire again? Will he return to only making religious albums after the (relative) commercial of his last two? Will there ever be a journey? Or has Cat indeed found it already (and has since 1979?) The road is long, with many a winding turn, but Cat in many ways closed the circle in 2014 by recording The Beatles song that so reflects his own style. Though we couldn’t travel the whole path with him and Cat may well still be ‘on the road to find out’, it’s been wonderful to get so many postcards from him on the way about where he’s going, where he’s been and how the journey made him feel. His whole catalogue feels in retrospect like a sat-nav, a source of comfort to seekers who share the same or similar paths and we can listen to it and take advice as we want to, but it can’t tell us where to go or live our lives for us. It’s been one hell of a journey, from the capitalist branch of [2] ‘Matthew and Son’ through to the [  ] ‘Olive Hill’ (the lone destination on last song ‘The Laughing Apple’) and hopefully it isn’t over yet. Cat sounds like there’s quite a lot about the world that he hasn’t quite found out yet…


'Matthew and Son' (1967)

'New Masters' (1968)

'Mona Bone Jakon' (1970)

'Tea For The Tillerman' (1970)

‘Teaser and the Firecat’ (1971)

'Back To Earth' (1978)

'An Other Cup' (2006)


'Tell 'Em I'm Gone' (2014)

‘The Laughing Apple’ (2017)

Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2015

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1969-2009

Non-Album Recordings 1966-2014

Compilations, Box sets and Alun Davies LPs Part One 1963-1990

Compilations, Box Sets and Religious Works Part Two 1995-2012 

The Who: Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Four 1983-1990

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

"Greatest Hits"
(MCA, April 1983)
Substitute/The Seeker/Magic Bus/My Generation/Pinball Wizard/Happy Jack/Won't Get Fooled Again//My Wife/Squeeze Box/Relay/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Who Are You?
"Upperd and downers - either way blood flows"
The first compilation that has the added bonus of being able to see The Who's canon as an entire, beginning-to-end thing and what do they do? They ignore length and go for compactness instead. Actually, considering the length, the selections aren't too bad at all: album favourites from the 1970s like 'My Wife' 'Love Reign O'er Me' and even 'Relay' which don't always get a look in on compilations appear alongside a selection of hits from the 1960s which go beyond the obvious ('The Seeker' 'Happy Jack' and 'Magic Bus'). It's all far from complete or representative  (no 'Baba O'Riley' or 'Pictures Of Lily'?) and the shortened single edits of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' 'Love Reign O'er Me' and 'Who Are You' rather than the full-length album cuts normally used on sets like these will make you want to hurl something at your speakers in true Who fashion. However if this is all you can afford - or at least if it was in 1983 and your record still works perfectly fine (as this set still hasn't appeared on CD just yet) then it's plenty good enough really. By the way, this isn't the same as the longer two-disc CD set released in 2003 and you'll soon be able to tell the difference - instead of The Who having a typically 'smashing' time this album cover features a buttoned up Union Jack shirt which is smart, but pointless (it should be a jacket!)

Pete Townshend "Scoop"

(Atco, April 1983)

So Sad About Us-Brrr/Squeeze Box/Zelda/Politician/Dirty Water/Circles/Tipperary/ Quadrophenia (Unused Piano)/Melancholia/Bargain/Things Have Changed/Popular/Behind Blue Eyes//Magic Bus/Cache Cache/Cookin'/You're So Clever/Body Language/Initial Machine Experiments/Mary/Recorders/Goin' Fishin'/To Barney Kessell/You Came Back/Love Reign O'er Me

"I know when I'm right - and I know when I'm wrong"

'This is a Pete Townshend recording, with traffic noises in the back, it's a collector's item and it must be, uhhm, treasured!' So starts Pete's first collection of demos, released in the mid-1980s as a special present to fans still lamenting the death of the band. Across the next two volumes and eighteen years Pete will treat the world to how many of The Who songs first sounded back when they were still figments of their author's imagination committed to tape for the very first time. Sometimes demos can be boring and yes, not everything here is that revealing. However The Who are a particularly good band to hear demos for because Pete's more vulnerable nature and especially vulnerable voice will often take his songs in a quite different direction to the one he knows Roger's roar and self-confidence will deliver  as Who recordings. Several of the band's better known songs sound, if not better than at least equal as demos - especially in later years when Pete captures his colleagues' bass and drum styles down pat too. On this first volume a folky 'Sad About Us', a gritty 'Melancholia' and an accordion-filled 'Squeeze Box' sound particularly hot, while a couple of the songs that never came out such as 1967's wry dig 'Politician' and undated comedy song 'Cookin' (which tries to praise his wife's cooking and claiming that's why he loves her - before breaking down into laughing and admitting real love is being with her despite her standard of cooking) both more than deserve release before this, being as charming and revealing as any song Townshend ever wrote. Lifehouse demo 'Mary' also receives its first release here too (though it sounds more at home on the 'Chronicles' box set) and is another golden gem; 'You Came Back', which again makes more sense on the 'Quadrophenia' director's cut, is a minor gem too. However not everything on this first set deserves to come off the shelf: the screechy 'Zelda, the ragged 'Dirty Water' and especially the synthesiser instrumentals that will plague all three 'Scoop' sets really shouldn't have been given the green light over some of the gems that came out on the next two volumes - or indeed some of the demos still hidden away in the vaults. You really really really don't need to hear Pete Townshend singing 'It's A Long Way To Tipperary' in a variety of weird voices - they will give you nightmares!  However this glimpse into an alternate world of Who-ness and newness is worth the time and effort of getting to know, even if it does suffer from the random chronology and grab-bag approach. Arguably, too, this first volume is the least interesting in the trilogy with less Who demos than either and with less consistency than the second set and less truly fascinating moments than the third. We look at all the 'Scoop' demos individually in more detail in a separate section at the end of the book; all you need to know now is that this scoop comes up with a variety of flavours of all tastes and ages and is pretty darn tasty, with a neat self-portrait watercolour on the front cover that makes Pete look suitably 'sketchy' along with his songs.

"Rarities" (Volumes One and Two)

(Polydor, '1983')

Volume One: Circles (Instant Party)/Disguises/Batman/Bucket T/Barbara Ann/In The City/I've Been Away/Doctor Doctor/The Last Time/Under My Thumb/Someone's Coming/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Dogs/Call Me Lightning/Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Volume Two: Join Together/I Don't Even Know Myself/Heaven and Hell/When I Was A Boy/Let's See Action//Relay/Waspman/Here For More/Water/Baby Don't You Do It!

"From tree to tree, from you to me, travelling twice as fast as on any freeway"

A random selection of B-sides and EP tracks that isn't quite as good or as comprehensives as the 'Who's Missing' and 'Two's Missing' set from a few years later. Though welcome at the time for the chance to own the superior 'American' version of 'Circles', the Rolling Stones covers, rare 1968 singles 'Dogs' and 'Call Me Lightning' and, erm, 'Waspman', all of these recordings are now available on sets that are easier to find and more fulfilling. Note that the vinyl version features the rarer B-side recording of 'Mary Anne', but the CD accidentally replaces it with the 'Who Sell Out' recording instead which isn't actually rare at all (oops!) The two sets were at least in the proper chronological order - unlike the later 'Missing' compilations - and feature a nice cover of a 1978-era Who leaning against a wall covered with a union jack. 

Roger Daltrey "Parting Should Be Painless"

(WEA/Atlantic, February 1984)

Walking In My Sleep/Parting Should Be Painless/Is There Anybody Out There?/Would A Stranger Do?/Going Strong//Looking For You/Somebody Told Me/One Day/How Does The Cold Wind Cry?/Don't Wait On The Stairs

"Desperation angels waiting, leaning on the walls"

Most fans reckon Roger's 1980s output is awful: they're mostly right, with later horrors like 'I'll Wait For The Movie' and 'Rocks In The Head' so unlistenable in every way. However I quite like 'Parting' and 'Raging Moon', which aren't quite as ridiculously 1980s in sound or as relentlessly the same in content. There's actually space for Roger to sing on these two albums and some quality material, even if none of these solo albums bar the first two are ever going to truly impress anyone. This is the first album Roger made after The Who's split and thus the first record where he gave his music his full attention rather than fitting it in between sessions for the band and it introduces his deeper voice and a more relaxed vocal sound.  Sometimes when the material is the equal of that voice this album works well - Kit Hain's title track for instance or the surprise cover of Bryan Ferry's 'Going Strong' which is the closest thing here to a 'Who' recording. However at other times 'Painless' is actually quite painful, with Roger sounding like a drunken karaoke singer tackling songs that simply aren't right for him, such as the numbers by pop writers Nicky Chinn and The Eurythmics' synth-based 'Somebody Told Me'. There is, at least, a slight theme here in the old 'Who' tradition, as Roger deliberately picked songs that summed up his feelings now that his 'day job' was no more and the mixture of relief at not having to cope with all the problems anymore mingling with the regret at not seeing his mates anymore and feeling a bit adrift. The title is ironic by the way: parting clearly was painful for the singer who struggles to find a new voice for himself or come to terms that things really are over now. The cover rather sums this album up: a bare-chested Daltrey with his hair now cut scarily short seems lost and pale, about as unlike his former 'Tommy' rock idol self as it's possible to be, while he's diving downwards off some stairs, apparently into oblivion.  It shouldn't have been like this for a singer of such talent but one can sympathise with Roger's confusion in this period, his desperation to move away from the harder-edged rock sound John especially had been pushing for within the band and the few moments when this album shows well this new sound could have worked given more time and confidence.

'Walking In My Sleep' is an apt starting point in as much as it has Roger walking around in a daze, on automatic pilot, lost in a world of pop synths where he doesn't really belong. Sadly, though, that's the problem - he really really doesn't belong here.

Title track 'Parting Should Be Painless' is better, with an atmospheric sound and an emotional lyric Roger can actually interpret and re-act to. The song was written by the bassist for Marshall Hains, Kitt Hain, and has an intelligent lyric about how even close friendships are doomed to fade the complex feelings of love and mistrust they leave behind. The couple always said that they would never let get things this bad - that they might fight and argue but would never be cold and distant - and their mutual feelings of horror that this is what's happened, which sounds very like The Who's real story by 1984.

Nicky Chinn's cod-horror 'Is There Anybody Out There?' though has Roger singing too deeply on a song that's too silly. Roger's narrator is feeling lonely and afraid of the nasty creature he turns into when he's left alone. That goes double as a singer left alone with some synthesisers by the way.

'Would A Stranger Do?' is a more hopeful and prettier song about trying to move on and where two hurt and heartbroken people wonder whether it's worth coming together. The song was co-written by Steve Climie of Climie-Fisher and has a similar slow, sultry feel to their band recordings that rather suits Daltrey's voice.

Bryan Ferry's 'Going Strong' actually features some drums for a change and Roger instantly sounds happier given a band to interact with again. The song isn't that strong, despite the title, with a generic lyric about digging deep and doing better that is all too obviously a Roxy Music outtake rather than an inspired song tailor-made for Roger to sing.

Hainn's second song 'Looking For You' opens side two with a bang, as heavy drums and sax combine for another atmospheric song about waiting for a sad time to end and for someone kind and good to come along to help you move into a new phase of your life. It's one of the better songs on this album, with Roger happier on the rockers than the ballads.

The Eurythmics' 'Somebody Told Me' really was written at Roger's request after the singer befriended them at a showbiz party and mentioned that he was looking for songs. However Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart apparently had no idea who he was because they just deliver a typical Eurhythmics song full of synths and drama that isn't quite good enough for them to have done. Poor Roger sounds lost and this song is blatantly a poor fit for him, but you can't turn down the gift of a song now can you?

'One Day' is an interesting song about being in competition with someone - which makes sense when you realise how many Who solo album spin-off albums were released round here. 'Well, you won't last long without me!' is the tone of Gerald Milne's lyrics, but the way Roger sings these words is gentler and more sorry that he had to split with his pals at all. Still way too many 1980s synths here though.

'How Does The Cold Wind Cry?' adds a dollop of country and western and while that sounds really doesn't suit Roger's voice either it makes a pleasant change away from 1980s synth pop. Though the mood is quite jolly, the sentiments are sad as Roger sings about being wrong and 'blind' to a difficult situation that he perhaps should have handled better.

The album ends with the usual Daltrey swagger of old, though, as 'Don't Wait On The Stairs' is a Stones-style clone about a man so angry with his girlfriend he tries to push them out of his life and tells them there's no going back. Roger is clearly aiming this at his old band, via songwriter and rock journalist Steve Swindells and he almost sounds like the Roger of old, this track recalling 'Another Tricky Day' though not even that good.
Overall, then, this low-charting, unwelcomed solo album really isn't a match for Roger's long career with The Who - but it is, in part at least, better than some of what had come before and it's one heck of a lot better than what will come in many respects. Roger can still sing well, he occasionally has the material to match his voice and the songs are picked with care, if not always for quality. This album is still painful, though, for anyone who was after a Who-soundalike record.

"The Singles"

(Polydor, November 1984)

Substitute/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/My Generation//Summertime Blues/Won't Get Fooled Again/Let's See Action/Join Together/5.15/Squeeze Box/Who Are You?/You Better You Bet

"You'd have thought I'd need a crystal ball to see right through the haze"

A sensible release of all the 'Track Records' singles, which contains everything you might want except for the rather obvious handicap that Polydor don't have the rights to the songs released on 'Brunswick' (so no 'I can't Explain' or 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' and 'My Generation' only appears in truncated live form) and some of the band's most famous material was never released on single (so no 'Baba 'Riley' or 'See Me, Feel Me'). As if that wasn't enough confusion, 'I Can See For Miles' has been taken from a TV broadcast with overdubs and isn't the 'normal' single mix, for no apparent good reason that I can see. If you can look past that - and the absence of relative flop singles like 'Call Me Lightning' 'Dogs' and 'Athena' - then this set is a fine purchase, but there are better Who sets out there. Japan have their own version of this set, issued on two CDs in 2011, which includes the missing 'Brunswick' tracks and two more late-period singles ('Don't Let Go The Coat' and 'Athena') plus, surprisingly, the Stones cover 'The Last Time' and is far better than what the rest of the world got - hopefully we'll get the same edition one day.

Roger Daltrey "Under A Raging Moon"
(Atlantic, September 1985)
After The Fire/Don't Talk To Strangers/Breaking Down Paradise/The Pain You Hide/Move Better In The Night//Let Me Down Easy/Fallen Angel/It Don't Satisfy Me/Revel/Under A Raging Moon
"My time is wasting, feel I'm moving too slow"
A slight resurgence, as Roger gives into the inevitable and accepts that as every fan expects his solo records to sound like The Who he may as well make them that way, especially as the band are no more. This is even a concept album of sorts - the only one Roger ever made on his own unlesas you count the film soundtracks - and it's an apt one, with Roger wondering what to do next now that the band is over and his life is put on hold. It's kind of like the middle age crisis on 'Who By Numbers' minus the pretty ballads, with Roger going into old age fighting and sounding younger than he has in a while. Roger's always done slowly brooding madness better than most and this record suits him far much than the silly pop songs or even sillier heavy metal thrashing of his recent records. It's a softer, gentler record than any he'd made since 'Rock Horse' albeit with a few tracks that still resort to endless shouting to make their point. Who fans will be most interested in the album's clear highlights - the first song Pete had written especially for Roger since 1982 'After The Fire' which nails the album's theme of 'what happens next?' and Roger's own impressive tribute song to fallen friend and drummer 'Under A Raging Moon'. Both are worthy songs, amongst the best of Roger's solo ouevre, and a couple more are up to standard but this is at best another patchy effort and doesn't allow Roger the space to breathe as a singer the way Leo Sayer's songs once did. A mixed bag then, but a better one than we've had for a while. Roger said in press interviews that 'it was the album I always wanted to make' though and it speaks volumes that he didn't say that about any of the others - this really is the 'true' essence of Daltrey captured on vinyl without help from Pete, John, Keith or Ken Russell's funny wigs at last. Zak Starkey, Keith Moon's God-child, appears for the first time on a Who project and Roger will be sufficiently impressed to recommend his new pal for almost every Who reunion to come.
Pete's 'After The Fire' was released as a (semi) hit single and is the single most Who-like of any of Roger's solo recordings. Snarling like 'The Real Me', Roger refuses to bow out gracefully and explains why he continues to keep going: injustice. Pete's lyrics have him ready to give up and hand the stage to someone younger and hungrier before he hears the souhd of a child crying who hasn't been fed and knows he can't rest until justice is done for everyone. Sadly the tune isn't quite up to the words and sounds more like a triubute band than the real 'Oo but even so this is a strong song performed with real gusto by Daltrey near his best.
Roger's co-write 'Don't Talk To Strangers' is more heavy metal shouting - ironically the very sort Daltrey had complained about when John kept writing them for the final Who albums! A very paranoid song, it features lots of crazy 1980s OTT stylings so doesn't exactly have many brooding shadows to hide in as the lyrics call out for.
'Breaking Down Paradise' features the retunr of Russ Ballard for the first time since 'Rock Horse' though again it's a very contemporary noisy track. The sentiments could be seen as Roger's feelings when The Who ended (he was their most enthsuiastic member in the final years) as he wonders why something so good has to end at all.
Roger's co-write on 'Pride You Hide' is weird - a gospel/world music song that sounds like either Michael Jackson on a particularly good day or Paul Simon on a particularly bad one. This track about 'poor people are people too' has charity single written all over it and may well have been inspired by The Who's performance at Live Aid a mere two months before this album's release. Roger isn't that sort of a singer though and sounds distinctly unconvincing.
Maybe it's just by comparison to the two records to come, but I quite like the hysterical heavy metal thrashing of 'Move Better In The Night', which at least has a decent riff and a vocal from Roger that's fully committed and youthful. Shame about the lyrics though which are just generic dross about taking life slower so Roger doesn't end up gone before his time like Moon.
The vinyl copy skips it, but the CD version comes with the bluesy track 'Love Me Like You Do'. It's no great loss if you don't have it on your copy as at six minutes it's too slow and too long, but the guitar work by future Paul Mccartney 1989-93 bandmate Robbie McIntosh is nice.
Bryan Adams' lightweight 'Let Me Down Easy' isn't that suitable for Roger (who has to sing at a higher pitch than normal here) but it is at least a good song, with a catchy chorus and a lyric that borders between excitement and expecting rejection.
Kit Hain's 'Fallen Angel' is one of the better album songs, with Roger 'a stranger in a state of change' as he tries to decide whether his demons will cause him to become evil or whether his lighter, brighter side will pull him through. The heavy metal stylings actually work on this track, though there's a nice quiet understated synth riff trying to pull Roger through to the good side too.
Roger's co-write 'It Don't Satisfy Me' is disappointing though, being more 1980s hysterical shouting for the sake of it. Roger's gruff vocal and harmonica sound good, but what they're singing and the context within which they're being used certainly isn't. This re-write of 'Too Much Of Anything' isn't a patch on Pete's song.
Bryan Adams returns for 'Rebel', another of this album's better songs and full of Who-style nostalgia and gang mentality behind all the pyrotechnics. Roger's heading back town, his head full of all the places he's seen and the people he's met, only to find people who toed the line still struggling to make a living and make ends meet. He pities all of them for not seeing what he's seen and yet still feels as if he's among his 'people'.
The album finale and title track 'Under A Raging Moon' is better still though. Written in tribute to Keith, Roger recalls what it was like to be on stage trying to sing over the sound of a superhuman figure making noise beuind hin, pushing him on and drawing the best out of him. Keith reaches out an arm with a drumstick to cue him and suddenly the band are running madly in tandem, trying not to trip up in a 'sea of hands' while they all 'wear the rebels's crown'. Roger still misses his old friend and asks pleasdingly 'do you remember me like I remember you?', wondering what daft tricks Moony is up to in heaven (or hell). The track could have been better (it could have been more Who-like ie more rock and roll than heavy metal for starters while spare a thought for poor drummer Mark Brzezicki forced to play a Moon-like solo; even Keith didn't perform many) and it ends before really saying much, but it has just enough autobiography and is sung with just enough power to get by. John certainly liked it, asking the rest of the band if they could play this at their 'Live Aid' reunion after hearing a rehearsal tape of what Roger was working on - allegedly Pete said no. That's a shame because it's a sweet heartfelt tribute that goes some way to paying Keith the tribute he deserved. The title is rather clever too.
Overall, then, 'Under A Raging Moon' is a mixed blessing. When this album works it's as great as anything Roger ever made in his solo career - especially the Who tribute songs that bookend it. When it doesn't work it's as ghastly as anything Roger ever did too with contemporary styling and needless shouting. It's one of those records that's best heard as a highlights set next to other highlights on a Daltrey compilations ('Madmen and Martyrs' is still the best) but does at least show a little more of what Daltrey was capable of as both singer and songwriter than his other 1980s efforts.

(Polydor, October 1985)
I Can't Explain/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/My Generation/Substitute/A Legal Matter/The Kids Are Alright/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/Boris The Spider/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Won't Get Fooled Again/The Seeker/Let's See Action/Join Together/Relay/Love Reign O'er Me/Squeeze Box//Who Are You?/Long Live Rock!/5.15/You Better You Bet/Magic Bus/Summertime Blues/Shakin' All Over/Pinball Wizard/The Acid Queen/I'm Free/We're Not Gonna Take It/Baba O'Riley/Behind Blue Eyes/Bargain
"I'd pay any price just to get you, surrender my good life for bad"
The first real Who compilation to be released on CD - though this set did appear on vinyl and cassette as well - is a pretty good stab at summing up the band's career across two discs. It could be better - the artwork is basically graffiti on concrete, which probably didn't tax the Ploydor art department too long and the running order is a mess, peaking with the most modern song 'You Better You Bet' in the middle and going backwards in time across side two. However most of the important stuff is here (all the singles through to 'I Can See For Miles' and all the important ones from then on, even 'Magic Bus' and 'The Seeker') as well as one or two good solid choices for album tracks including 'Long Live Rock!' 'Love Reign O'er Me' and 'Bargain', which makes for a particularly inventive finale. Note that 'Won't Get Fooled Again' has been remixed and trimmed slightly (it's longer than the single edit but not as long as the album edit) and 'Magic Bus' is an 'extended' version taken from the original tapes rather than the single recording - both were re-used on later compilations but feature for the first time here. Not definitive by any means, but as good a collection of Who songs as you were ever going to fit into two hours. Not to be confused with 2002's 'The Ultimate Collection' (which, confusingly, this set is and that one isn't!)

"Who's Missing"

(MCA, November 1985)

Shout and Shimmy/Leaving Here/Anytime You Want Me/Lubie (Come Back Home)/Barbara Ann/I'm A Boy/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Heaven and Hell/Here For More/I Don't Even Know Myself/When I Was A Boy/Bargain (Live)

CD Bonus Tracks: Doctor Doctor/Someone's Coming/Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde/Fortune Teller/Postcard/Baby Don't You Do It

"Although he may think we are broken, we get up and take two steps more"

Back in the mid-1980s, when vinyl was still just about hanging on as chief format and there wasn't yet such things as CD re-issues with copious bonus tracks, someone at MCA had the bright idea of putting together some of the Who songs that hadn't yet appeared on an album or compilation. The Who were, after all, enjoying a higher profile than they had in years thanks to their reunion performance for 'Live Aid' and people genuinely though at the time that, no honest, this second 'farewell gig' would be the last time we'd ever see the band (we didn't know at the time about the 1989, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2015 reunion tours etc etc...) Most of these were B-sides fans had been trying to get hold of for years, with this set particularly strong on John Entwistle flipsides ('Heaven and Hell' and 'When I Was A Boy' are the highlights here, plus there's Pete's rare country and western B-side 'I Don't Even Know Myself' and Roger's even rarer and even more country and western B-side 'Here For More'). To this day even these tracks are hard to track down on any other release, thanks mainly to the fact that the 'Tommy' and 'Who's Next' CD re-issues are already so over-stuffed there isn't room even for gems like these. Sometimes there were rare mixes that had leaked out down the years but hadn't been readily available everywhere - a, erm, shakier version of 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' and the 'Meaty, Beaty Big and Bouncy' harmony take of 'I'm A Boy'. There's also a rare live recording of 'Bargain'  from a San Francisco radio broadcast in December 1971 when the song was in its prime, later re-issued on the '30 Years Of Maximum R and B' box set (weirdly there are still only two tracks from this live show officially available though more presumably exist). However at the point of release - and for the next twenty years before Shel Talmy finally came to his senses and allowed a proper version of 'The Who Sings My Generation' out for the first time - the biggest selling point were the unheard outtakes from tat debut album. Though none of these abandoned covers are as good as the tracks that did make it to the final edit, fans felt a warm glow of completeness at the chance to hear the band in all their early prime attack 'Shout and Shimmy' 'Lubie' and 'Leaving Here' while 'Anytime You Want Me' is a rare example of a completely abandoned cover ballad, even if it is clearly an early and Motown-influences one rather than a true lost gem. All in all a pretty remarkable set for its day and even though around half of it is easier to find elsewhere nowadays the fully-committed Who fan will still need to track this set down for a number of still absent friends that deserve a wider release. Fans of The Who's pop-art stage will also be interested in the front cover, which is artist Peter Blake's second for the band following on from 1979's 'Face Dances' and features drawings of all four band members on top of a giant 'arrow' logo.

The set has been released on CD twice in the years since 1985, both times with sister set 'Two's Missing' (the second time collected as a set weirdly re-named 'Then and Now' to cash-in on the compilation of the same name, even though the two sets between them don't date from any later than 1971). They both contain an interesting array of bonus tracks too - this first volume alone includes another three Entwistle B-sides, an abandoned studio take of 'Fortune Teller' and John's 1973 recording 'Postcard' both previously released on 'Odds and Sods', rare 1968 single 'Call Me Lightning' and a second live recording from San Francisco in December 1971, a cracking version of 'Baby Don't You Do It'.

Pete Townshend "White City"

(Atco, November 1985)

Give Blood/Brilliant Blues/Face The Face/Hiding Out/Secondhand Love/Crashing By Design/I Am Secure/White City Fighting/Come To Mama

CD Bonus Tracks: Night School/Save It For Later/Hiding Out (12" Mix)/Secondhand Love (Live)/Face The Face (Live)

"Give blood, parade your pallor in iniquity"

Pete's subtitle for this album was 'A Novel', simply because that's how this concept piece first started back in the days when he was working for publisher Faber and Faber. However in many ways it's his most autobiographical work of them all and his least character-driven (it probably helped that he'd  just started work on his own autobiography at the time and was remembering his childhood in relatively-deprived inner London). Pete didn't quite grow up in London's deprived 'White City' estate but he lived very close and knew lots of people who did - all of them suffering by the sound of this album. Though racial and sexual tensions are about to explode in the world around them, the people who grew up there feel a real sense of solidarity and a sense of 'us against the world' and belonging that feels much bigger than their gender or the colour of their skin. Pete knows he can rely on the people he grew up with, even though they have 'nothing' in an outsider's sense to offer in the way of emotional or financial support and even though some of them are quite dangerous and scary characters. It's the same sense of 'belonging' and 'identity' he was searching for throughout his life and which Tommy found in pinball and Jimmy found in being a mod, but that schizophrenic sense of belonging and wanting  to escape all at the same time is here even earlier by the sound of things. Though the album moves away from this central conceit quite clearly and becomes a more boring, generic 'Romeo and Juliet' love story, at its heart is the violence and battles of growing up writ large and Pete really taps back into the early sounds that inspired him.

The characters in this album all swagger and fight and feel frustrated at their lack of prospects and chances in life and even when the music is, typically, trying to be arty and conceptual and operatic and high brow, there's the greatest sense of anger and frustration since 'The Who Sings My Generation'. That brings its own problems: Pete is now celebrating his 40th birthday (an age his 1965 'My Generation' writing self would have been horrified to have reached) and doesn't have that same anger flowing through his bones except as a 'memory'. He also isn't the right singer for this album (if ever a Pete Townshend solo album missed the presence of Roger Daltrey's screams this one is it) and in the final analysis 'White City' ends up sounding a less interesting album than it could have been, with a few too many pretty but empty ballads and a lot of silly pop songs. You can tell, in retrospect, that Pete is losing interest in his music and it makes sense that his next album won't be for another eight years (and that 'Psychoderelict' became even harder to finish off than this one). However the idea is sound and there are moments on this album ('Give Blood' and 'White City Fighting' especially) when Pete fully re-connects with his inner angry disenfranchised cynical mod teenage self and it sounds glorious in a way that only a young Pete Townshend can. Just for a moment you can hear the album The Who might have made if they'd stayed mods forever and had never heard of mini-operas, and even though this album is ironically more of a mini-opera than any previous solo work, it's also the most rootsy and gutsy Who-related work in many a decade. Perhaps Pete's most under-rated solo work and perhaps his best after 'Empty Glass', even if the album is far more wildly inconsistent.
Opener 'Give Blood' is a thrilling pot pourri of the early 1965 Who sound with everything Pete has learnt in the twenty years since piled on top of it. Musically this is an adrenalin, pill-charged angry song of denial and togetherness that really benefits from special guest stars Jon Carin (whose counterpoint 'divisive' keyboard runs really work well) and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour (whose restless, relentless guitarwork adds a 'Run Like Hell' style scream throughout the song). Lyrically, though, this is pure Townshend: though the song ends with a cry of 'give love' this is the more real, tribal bond between soul brothers who've been through hell together for which the metaphor of 'giving blood' to each other, so that it's further away from the heart but still helps keep each other alive, is perfect. A song about underprivilege and poverty that doesn't talk down to or patronise it's subject matter is long overdue and the sheer kick-in-the-stomach sound of the song is the perfect way to celebrate Pete's 40th birthday and prove he isn't growing old gracefully.

'Brilliant Blues' has Pete's narrator about to leave the estate and set off on his own merry adult life. Only he's bittersweet about moving on: sure the money's better and his new estate will be warmer and keep him in better health, but even the 'blues' he felt at his old place were 'brilliant' because of who he shared them with. Another strong song, if a little bit more naturally middle-aged, with multiple Pete's singing a pretty Beach Boy style harmony.

Alas album single 'Face The Face' is pretty awful. A noisy, shouting, aimless song it's more like the sort of thing Roger ends up doing on his period solo albums without anything to say beyond the aggression. 'The Face', of course, was an old mod slang term for trendsetter (as in 'I'm The Face If You Want It...') but Pete wasn't using Mod music here but wrote the song after an 'obsession' with a new keyboard sound (The DX7), coming up with a string of ideas he asked co-writer Rabbit Brundrick to turn into a song. And that's exactly what it sounds like: a string of ideas that don't go together. Like 'Eminence Front' the sound is very contemporary, but unlike that song it doesn't sound very Townshendesque either. Released at the single, it flopped - especially in America where the record company had to recall the single and re-release it when an 'inferior' mix of it got released by mistake.

'Hiding Out' sports some lovely words, as one of Pete's typically passionate-but-scared teens hides out in his bedroom, his only safety from the cruel world outside and worries about all the humans around him in pain he doesn't have the power to save. Unfortunately what could have been a very original song gets a very generic 1980s pop melody and performance to go with it, while Pete's vocal is more commercial than caring.

'Secondhand Love' has the narrator realising that he's been betrayed by his girlfriend and one of his 'White City' mates and given that the brotherhood between the estate is about the only thing they have going for them he feels it keenly. Pete's anger isn't often heard in song without Roger to express it and this track doesn't really suit Pete as a vocalist or character, but the moment when Pete drops his guard and sings a sad repeated version of the 'Give Blood' chorus from the opening track in a minor key is very Who-like.

'Crashing By Design' sounds like a simple pop song, but the lyric sheet reveals one of Pete's 'busier' songs full of metaphors and philosophy. The song deals with the fact that some people are just born unlucky and tries to work out what makes them so - is it nature or nurture and does being brought up on the White City estate help or hinder that? Pete's narrator is waking up out of the thought that someone might come along and 'save' him - he sits afraid in his 'single roomed courtyard building' afraid of the outside world and feeling like a 'broken toy' - his answer lies in people outside himself and he's doomed to 'crash' if he keeps thinking the same way. A very involved and revealing song, even if the poppy melody could have been better.

One of the album highlights is 'I Am Secure', a track that dodges the 1980s production handicap of most of the album by being solo and acoustic and therefore pretty timeless. Pete is now looking out from his cocoon to the outside world, dreaming of having the courage to go outside and walk with the 'heroes and princes' he views from his window. For now, though, it's experience enough to embrace the world outside. A nice counterpart to Pete's later song 'I Am Afraid', this song has a sense of 'I Am One' about it, of everything coming together after battles hard fought and is rather lovely.

The de facto title track 'White City Fighting' is another special song. Though Pete's narrator hated his formative years and reveals how black they were despite the estate's name, he also embraces everything they taught him and how much he loves to 'go home' and remember old friends and places. The place taught Pete everything that made him what he is today: his 'guilt' and 'shame' but also the drive to get out of there that led him to drive past in middle-age, in a 'German car' he could never have imagined owning when he lived there. Pete knows that he can't quite remember what it was like, that the 'blood' he once tastes in his mouth has been 'turned into fiction' and that though the battles he fought there have been 'won' he still feels their lessons. All this and a terrific driving beat that's very Who-like, switching from a 'Bargain' style sigh of an opening to full on attack, with a returning David Gilmour (who wrote the main riff) on fine form. The first track written for the album which kind of set the tone, Gilmour actually commissioned Pete to write a set of lyrics to go with his riff for his second solo album 'About Face' but admitted he didn't have a clue what the oh-so-personal lyrics were about so he 'let' Pete keep this one and got the much nastier 'All Lovers Are Deranged' for his album instead. The pair should have written more songs together as they clearly have compatible styles.

Alas 'Come To Mama' is a bit of an overblown finale, with the 1980s production pomp at its biggest. Further exploring the mother-son bond on 'Tommy', this song wonders about the mutual bonds that tie families together long after they've stopped physically being near each other. This feels like a song written for a different project and which doesn't really belong on this album except for the theme of looking backwards and the album should really have ended at track eight.

The original album ended here - at 38 minutes it's very short by Pete/Who standards - but the CD does contain four bonus tracks which makes things a little more palatable. One of these is an unnecessary 'extended' 12" mix of 'Hiding Out', which like a lot of 12" promises much but fails to deliver anything extra. However, a studio version of The Beat's 1978 song 'Save It For Later' (as performed by Pete at his Brixton Academy show in the same year) is a good 'un that fits nicely with the album's theme of entrapment and escape. Better yet, the uptempo funk of the unreleased song 'Night School' is a much better second attempt at the modernity 'Face The Face' was trying to for, with lyrics about self-improvement and hard work as a sea of backing singers slowly count up how Pete's grades are going up from U and F to something a bit higher. The Japanese edition of the CD additionally includes two songs released on the 'Brixton Academy' album.
Overall, then, 'White City' is a curious album that ranges from inspired songs about youth and desperation and more tired pop songs about looking backwards to your past. Had Pete stayed in the 'moment' more and written more songs firsthand about his emotions as a teenager who doesn't know he can 'escape' the world around him and less about wondering what it all means while trying to sell pop records this might have been his greatest achievement since 'Quadrophenia' and 'Who By Numbers'. Instead, 'White City' is an intermittent ball of fire that ranges from damp squib to the kind of excellence fans had been longing for from a member of The Who since at least 1970, maybe even 1965. 'White City' doesn't quite turn the clock back, but twenty years on its fire and danger makes it one of Pete's most neglected and satisfying works, some of the time at least.

Pete Townshend "Deep End Live!" aka "Live At Brixton Academy"

(Eel Pie, Recorded November 1985, Released August 1986/November 2004)

Deep End Live! Tracklisting: Barefootin'/After The Fire/Behind Blue Eyes/Stop Hurting People/I'm One//I Put A Spell On You/Save It For Later/Pinball Wizard/A Little Is Enough/Eyesight To The Blind
Brixton Academy Tracklisting: Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Won't Get Fooled Again/A Little Is Enough/Secondhand Love/That's Alright Mama/Behind Blue Eyes/The Shout/Harlem Shuffle/Barefootin'/After The Fire/Love On The Air/Midnight Lover/Blue Light/I Put A Spell On You/I'm One/Driftin' Blues/Magic Bus/Save It For Later/Eyesight To The Blind/Walkin'/Stop Hurting People/The Sea Refuses No River/Boogie Stop Shuffle/Face The Face/Pinball Wizard/Give Blood/Night Train

"Who've you been hanging round with this time?!?"

To promote his 'White City Fighting' album, Pete appeared on German TV's excellent 'Rockapalast' series with a one-off show and two shows in the UK at Brixton Academy for Pete's own 'Double O' charity (which helps treat victims of drug, sex and child abuse - fittingly most of the money comes from royalties for the similarly abused 'Tommy'). The first 'real' return to college campuses by any of The Who since 'Live At Leeds' and its sister gig in Hull, this would be it until 1998, so for a while the shows were much talked about amongst fans and achieved something close to legendary status - especially when a home video was released, all too briefly, of highlights from the gig (that's a surefire re-release for DVD one day). Later listening, especially with so many other Townshend solo gigs out there to choose from, is less kind but there's no denying the thrill of the audience at seeing Pete for the first time in three years or his abilities as a frontman after watching Roger so closely for so long. Pete's band includes some of his most faithful companions including Peter Hope-Evans on harmonica, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick on keyboards and a whole host of extras including a guesting David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, then touring his second solo album (at which Pete occasionally made guest appearances too), a female choir and a whole horn section! Frankly it's all a bit too much, with Pete trying to compensate for the lack of The Who by filling his songs and the stage with superfluous noise, but it's a valuable lesson he'll get right for his 1990s and 2000s gigs which are more stripped bare. The track selection is already pretty much spot-on for most Who fans curious enough to pay to see just one member at a pricey gig: lots of Who semi-rarities not often heard in concert including a sweet but rousing 'I'm One' and a surprise aggressive re-make of Sonny Boy Williamson's 'Eyesight To The Blind', a favourite from 'Tommy'. Pete also throws in a few real oddities: his only recorded covers of Robert Parker's 'Barefootin' (which is noisy jazz way beneath his standards), his own version of 'After The Fire', a forgettable tribute song to The Who that was first recorded on Roger Daltrey's album 'Under A Raging Moon', Nina Simone's 'I Put A Spell On You' (which would be unlistenable if not for Gilmour's guitar - he later re-cut this song for a Jools Holland CD) and - most unexpected of all - an acoustic cover of noisy 1978 hit 'Save It For Later' by relatively obscure ska band The Beat. Most casual fans would have bought this record in anticipation, got confused by the lack of names they recognised on the back cover and complained that out of ten tracks the only songs they recognised were one charting band song ('Pinball Wizard' at its most OTT), one charting solo song ('A Little Enough' which sounds about the best thing here) and perennial favourite 'Behind Blue Eyes' (which just sounds messy).

At least, that's true of the 'original' version of 'Deep End' - the set was re-issued in 2004 to be more in line with the modern-day Townshend live shows and it gained - and I mean gained - an extra seventeen tracks. The longer show is so much better in every way, with far more interesting songs to the point where I'm convinced whoever put the original version of the live show together was deaf, dumb and blind (well, at least deaf). I doubt you'd have got anyone to agree to a bet of 'Who Sell Out' rarity 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' to start things off but that's what we got, followed by a roaring acoustic version of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' , two of the better 'White City' songs in 'Give Blood' and 'Secondhand Love' that work rather well live, the only known live version of the 1982 solo pleas 'Stop Hurting People' and 'The Sea Refuses No River' plus a longer guest appearance by David Gilmour who sings his own songs 'Blue Light' and his Pete co-write 'Love On The Air' (which is closer to Pete's 'White City' style than David's 'About Face' version). All that as well as even weirder covers: Elvis' 'That's Alright Mama', recent Stones cover 'Harlem Shuffle', Miles Davis' 'Walkin', Jimmy Forrest's 'Night Train' and a nonsense jam named 'Boogie Stop Shuffle'. Pete is clearly having fun, far more so than on the last few Who tours and this pair of gigs (with the best bits taken from each) was clearly a rejuvenation for him. However, the sheer size of the spectacle and the strange choice of some of the tracks makes his later live albums a better bet for most Who fans who don't want to own everything Pete released. 

"Two's Missing"

(MCA, April 1987)

Bald Headed Woman/Under My Thumb/My Wife (Live)/I'm A Man/Dogs/Dogs (Part Two)/Circles (Instant Party)//The Last Time/Water/Daddy Rolling Stone/Heatwave/Goin' Down (Live)/Motoring/Waspman

CD Bonus Tracks: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde/Call Me Lightning/Melancholia/Eyesight To The Blind (Alternate Version)/I Don't Even Know Myself

"A kiss and a cuddle, a hot meat pie, two dollar tickets and a starry sky"

This second set with an even funnier name wasn't quite as interesting as the first, but it was still an interesting collection of rarities and oddities - especially back in the 1980s when this material was much harder to get than it is in the present day. The formula was much the same with an emphasis on the earlier years of The Who (and thus now largely collected on the CD re-issues of 'My Generation' and 'A Quick One') with such highlights as the first European release for the superior first version of 'Circles' released on the American version of the 'Who Sings My Generation' LP, the Lifehouse outtake-come-B-side 'Water' and the quirky 1968 flop single 'Dogs'. At the time unreleased material included 1965 James Brown cover 'I'm A Man' (sung when Roger really was 21!), 1965 Ivy Jo Hunter cover 'Motoring' and weirdest of all 'Goin' Down', a noisy  blues pastiche jammed by The Who on-stage in 1972 with all the sexual subtlety of a gorilla that must be one of the strangest AAA recordings ever. However that's not even the strangest song on the set, given that 'Two's Missing' also contains 'Dogs Part Two' (a rocking instrumental with dog barks and writing credits to Keith plus John and Pete's pooches) and 'Waspman' (in which Keith goes insane for three whole minutes and brings out his inner 'sting!') The end result is a collection so mad and weird that only true fans could love it - and yet we do, even though it sounds like loony Moony madness to most 'normal' people. Sadly the album's packaging is far too 'normal' for such a weird set, with a striking drawing of a pop-art era Who above a half-naked woman straddling a 'Who' logo (which makes this look far more like a Stones set of the era!) The CD adds several extra songs again although at the time the only release of any note was the glorious  'Who Sell Out' outtake 'Melancholia' (which now has a far more suitable home on the CD re-issue of that album), with other oddities including an alternate vocal take on 'Eyesight To The Blind', an inferior 1973 re-recording of 'I Don't Even Know Myself' which isn't a patch on the more common 1971 version already featured on 'Who's Missing', an American mix of 'Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde' and forgotten 1968 single 'Call Me Lightning'. Given what we know now was still there in The Who's archives at the time waiting for release it does seem as if we got all the dog-ends on this set ('Dog Part Two' included) so two-boo-hoo I suppose, though there are some gems in here too.

Roger Daltrey "Can't Wait To See The Movie"

(Atlantic/Rhino, June 1987)

Hearts Of Fire/When The Thunder Comes/Ready For Love/Balances On Wires/Miracle Of Love//The Price Of Love/The Heart Has It's Reasons/Alone In The Night/Lover's Storm/Take Me Home

"The voice of reason can't seem to find a listening ear"

...Because it can't possibly be as bad as this 'soundtrack' LP. Soundtrack to what you may ask? I don't know and I'm pretty sure Roger doesn't know either as his seventh solo LP is more of the same, only not even as good as last time (although one track did end up in a film that nobody saw: 'The Price Of Love' being in the flop period film ironically titled 'The Secret Of My Success'). Like far too many Who-related period releases, this one is dominated not by guitar, bass or drums but by a million synths. You'd have thought, given The Who's major role in making the synthesiser such a common sound on rock records, that the people involved would know how to work it, but no - it drowns out everything here with its 1980s tininess, including the star vocalist. Sometimes everything being drowned out is a good thing because, quite frankly, there's not much here for Roger to get his teeth into and the passionless, automatic pilot way he sings is distressing, almost as if he hadn't even heard the songs until he turned up on his first day at work. Also Roger goes for the worst solution yet to replace Moony: a metronomic drum machine that makes every drum track sound the same! I can hear Keith hurling something of Roger's into a swimming pool from here...but then this isn't meant to be a Who album, with the tones more muted and the depth decidedly shallow. The trouble is, ever since his strong start as a balladeer of lush, emotional songs Roger's struggled to work out what exactly he can be and in the end decides that sounding like everybody else around in 1987 will do. Plainly, it won't - for an artist of Roger's calibre this album is a terrible disappointment as, yet again for the solo Who in this period, rigor mortis truly sets in and the agility of old is long forgotten. The album's saving grace though, not for the last time in this book, are the pair of songs that Roger wrote himself: the theatrical 'Balance On Wires' and the sax-filled funk of 'Take Me Home' (it's not much of a tune but, hey, there ain't much synth either!)  If only Roger had written the whole album himself, hired a proper drummer (Zak Starkey, then in his early twenties, was crying out for a starring role and still in touch via the Moons, his Godparents) and drowned the synthesiser in a bath fit for an acid queen this album could have been just fine.

Producer Russ Ballard's 'Hearts On Fire' is exactly what noisy 1980s synth-filled pop sounds like - without the vocals this song could be by Starship, David Lee Roth or any Stock-Aitken-Waterman band. In fact I still have trouble convincing myself that weak singer buried in the middle of the mix and way out of his depth behind all the backing singers really is Roger.

'When The Thunder Comes' is a little better, if only because this one has a proper tune and Roger plays a bigger role, although considering that the synthesiser is meant to sound like thunder, how come it comes over more like a party-popper being blown by a frog?

'Ready For Love' is one of the better songs, with Roger in a dreamy mood about wondering whether he's ready to take the next step in a relationship after having his heart broken. He sounds more like his old self here, at least until the massed backing singers come in.

'Balance Of Wires' is the album highlight, with an unusual atmospheric sound that really makes it stand out on this album. Roger's lyrics about trying to hide a deep wound from the world are perhaps the most Townshendesque out of his whole solo discography, even if they are a little more melodramatic.

'Miracle Of Love' is just like every other 1980s perm-haired pop ballad ever released, complete with yukky saxophone solo. In John Entwistle's 'Heaven and Hell' the heaven would sound like 'Live At Leeds' and the hell would sound like this. Horrible.

'The Price Of Love' at least has a decent tune and enough space in the production for the lead singer to have a bash. Roger is on top form as it happens, trying to make his mind up whether a new love affair is worth it.

'The Heart Has It's Reasons' is a cute song too about a one-sided love affair where he builds a 'bridge' and his partner a 'wall'. You'd think he'd get the message but Roger's narrator is deaf, dumb and blind to her needs and ends up making a fool of himself anyway.

'Alone In The Night' is written by Richie Zito, who actually sounded quite good on one of Grace Slack's solo albums from the 1980 (if equally horrible on the other). More noisy synth-shlock that has the drum machine as the loudest thing on the track. No wonder Roger was alone in the night singing songs like this one.

'Lover's Storm' features a lyric by Gary Usher, Brian Wilson's first outside collaborator with The Beach Boys. Unfortunately this song is no 'In My Room' or 'The Lonely Sea' and is just more needless shouting about a couple having a row. The melody is, naturally enough, aggressive which is a shame because if played soft and slow it might have sounded rather nice.

The album ends with Roger's own 'Take Me Home', a track which sounds suspiciously like it's playing at the wrong speed. Roger sings in his best 'Keith Moon' voice on a track about alcoholism, but far from being a moment of vulnerability and emotion a la 'Who By Numbers' it's just an excuse for an odd drinking song a la the 'Tommy' film soundtrack. John Entwistle must have been fuming when he heard the 1980s slap bass.

In all, then, there are few AAA records I hate as much as this one. Roger's strengths as a singer - his range, his emotional connection and his choice of material - have all been ignored in favour of an ugly, overly-obsessed with period stylings album that wouldn't have been wearing if the album had come out in 1967, never mind 1987. Roger's career was clearly floundering as he put himself in the hands of the wrong people too many times, but then even some of the 'right' people worked with him on this album and they all seemed to fall into the same traps too. Something of a disaster at the box office, most reviewers wrote this record off at the time as 'Can't Wait To Sell The Album'. Roger won't make another record for six years and that one only sounds better by comparison if you've got the rocks out of your ears enough to give it a proper listen. Not a good period for The Who or their singer. I mean, there are blooming Spice Girls songs better than this record - not many of them I admit...

Pete Townshend "Another Scoop"

(Atco, July 1987)

You Better You Bet/Girl In A Suitcase/Brooklyn Kids/Pinball Wizard/Football Fugue/Happy Jack/Substitute/Long Live Rock!/Call me Lightning/Holly Like Ivy/Begin The Beguine/Vicious Interludes/La-La-La-Lies/Cat Snatch//Prelude #556/Baroque Ippanese/Praying The Game/Drifting Blues/Christmas/Pictures Of Lily/Don't Let Go The Coat/The Kids Are Alright/Prelude: The Right To Write/Never Ask Me/Ask Yourself/The Ferryman/The Shout

"It ain't true rock and roll unless I'm hanging on to you and when I hold it next time, I won't let go the coat"

Four years after the first popular collection, Pete and his compiler (known only as 'Spike') rummaged through his endless collection of tape boxes again for a second volume of demos. Better even than the first volume, this 27 song set features a full 11 as recorded by The Who (plus a handful more intended for the band) and many of these are amongst the most popular songs in The Who pantheon such as hit singles 'The Kids Are Alright' 'Substitute' 'Pictures Of Lily' 'Happy Jack' 'Pinball Wizard' and 'You Better You Bet'. All sound different enough from the finished versions to be interesting (and all feature Pete's sweeter style compared to Roger's sneer) with a laidback cackling 'Pinball' (written in a hurry though you wouldn't know that from the demo) and an emotional 'You Better You Bet' particularly good. However it's the lesser known Who recordings that are the highlights of this set: the earliest demo so far released is a primitive but fascinating version of primitive but fascinating flop 1968 single 'Call Me Lightning', Tommy's 'Christmas' is a sadder, more heartbroken lament over spiritual impurity performed by Pete solo on piano and 'Don't Let Go The Coat' - not much cop when finalised for release on 'Face Dances' - is a fun ska song about hope and drive in the demo version.

Almost as good are some of the Townshend songs totally discarded along the way: the-football-chant-with-strings Baba parable 'Football Fugue' where life is a game of football tactics, the beautiful 'Street In The City' style string ballad 'Brooklyn Kids' about two lovers pining for each other who can never be together and 'Lifehouse' demo 'Girl In A Suitcase', a lovely sweet song of mutual support. Not everything is great - 'The Ferryman' is just the sound of a man reading aloud over a synth doing weird things and 'Driftin' Blues' is proof that bouncy Tigger Pete is not a natural Howlin' Wolf. But overall it's the consistency of this double set that impresses the most as this is a terrifically good album in its own right even if you'd never heard of The Who and - as with the other two volumes - Pete's already putting such heart, soul and commitment into these demos that they sound a cut above your average demo collection. But then again that makes sense - more than ever these 'Scoops' sets reveal that Pete was not your average writer and The Who were not your average band. An almost embarrassment of riches. 

"Who's Better, Who's Best"

(MCA, April 1988)

My Generation/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/The Kids Are Alright/Substitute/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Who Are You?/Won't Get Fooled Again/Magic Bus/I Can't Explain/Pinball Wizard/I'm Free/Listening To You (See Me Feel Me)/Squeeze Box/Join Together/You Better You Bet

CD Bonus Track: Baba O'Riley

"I don't mind how much you love me, a little really is alright"

A popular and for years pretty much standard Who compilation, this wittily titled set was the pioneer of The Who's catalogue in the CD age and was released in tandem with a set of music videos using the same name (but not quite the same track listing). The track listing contains much of what you'd expect to be here (every hit single) but doesn't really get to the heart of The Who as a band with 'The Kids Are Alright' the only album track featured, plus 'Baba' on the CD version (not even a 'Boris The Spider'!) The running order is an odd jumble, starting off in relative order and ending there too with the title track-ish, but going crazy in the middle. Watch out too for a few 'alternate' versions: 'Won't Get Fooled Again' is the American single mix cut to smithereens (and losing about 90% of the impact, although thankfully sense prevailed in the CD era where the track was kept intact), 'See Me Feel Me' aka 'Listening To You' is rather sharply edited from the start of 'We're Not Gonna Take It' while 'Join Together' is a unique edit that cuts off the coda. All that means that there are better Who compilations out there nowadays - 'My Generation' being the best of an altogether rum collection of Who best-ofs - but if this is all you can get your hands on then it will probably do the job all the same and pique your interest enough to buy the 'proper' stuff.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" (EP)

(Polydor, August 1988)

Won't Get Fooled Again/Bony Maronie/Dancing In The Street/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand

"They decide and the shotgun sings the song"

Well, this was a surprise. A UK only CD EP compromising one recording everybody knows (the title track), one recording only fans really know ('Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands' and two otherwise unreleased live recordings. 'Bony Maronie' is on stuttering form when played at the 'Lifehouse' shows at London's Young Vic Theatre in 1971 and perhaps a rehearsal away from greatness, although it's a valiant attempt despite Roger seemingly battling a cold (this recording was later re-issued as part of the deluxe 'Who's Next' CD). 'Dancing In The Streets' is a weirder choice: it was performed by the Kenney Jones-era Who in Philadelphia in 1979 and features that period's kind of lumpy 'arena sound' and The Who don't sound as if they know it that well, which is odd because they'd been performing it live off and on since at least 1966. Frankly one of their earlier live recordings of it would have been better as The Who sound lost on this one and as bad as they ever do live, although at least the ending is worth listening to as a clearly annoyed Pete starts improvising his own lyrics over the song's riff, turning it into a political rant named by fans as 'Dance It Away' ('Young people being born today, we can tell them what to do or say, until they dance it away!') To date this track has never appeared on any other LP or CD. My guess for this weird release is that the usually apolitical Who may have been having fun at then-UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's expense here, with the 'bony' 'Mary Ann' perhaps Thatcher herself alongside The Who's most famous song of civil unrest and political ill humour. A lot of rock bands were doing something similar in this era, although in typical Who form if they were they never brought attention to the fact.
Pete Townshend "The Iron Man"

(Atlantic, June 1989)

I Won't Run Anymore/Over The Top/Man Machines/Dig/A Friend Is A Friend/I Eat Heavy Metal/All Shall Be Well/Was There Life?/Fast Food/A Fool Says.../Fire/New Life (Reprise)

"You can bet you'll forget when the rock starts to roll!"

I don't often allow my prejudices to get in the way of my reviews, dear readers - after all that's why I stick to reviewing the people I actually like - but every so often I have to make a confession. I hate Ted Hughes with a passion. Every poem, every book, every novella all read the same and are all deeply depressing: they're all about death, essentially, and nearly all feature crows. They werre my running joke throughout my university English and Creative Writing classes where, when in doubt about what a metaphor meant or how to finish a story, we'd just bung in a crow and said 'Ted Hughes got away with it!' My antipathy runs so deep I still don't know 'The Iron Man' story properly, even though people with more tolerance for banal metaphors than me tell me it's one of Hughes' better ideas (just my luck, I must have been continually been given the worst!) You can see why it would have appealed to Pete Townshend though: it's the Tommy-like tale of a robot giant who starts off wounded and lonely and ends up saving the very people who've been persecuting him ('listening to you the world!') There are hints of 'Lifehouse' in the work too, with details of technology and electronic equipment that lure the Iron Man to his new resting place on Earth. Pete was so involved in this work he even worked on a  'musical' version (written back to back with 'Tommy' in 1993 so the links would have been even more obvious to him), although this work ended up being performed not on Broadway but at London's Young Vic Theatre, last home to The Who in 1971 and thus a sort of coming home.
The work is patchy at best, boring at worst and lacks Pete's usual eye for detail, ulti-layered brain and big emotional heart and is arguably his weakest solo album (although, like I said, a work based on a Ted Hughes composition was never going to be, you know, a favourite or anything).It also comes over like the orchestral theatrical guest-star version of 'Tommy' - this is an album that should be small and simple, not handed over to a raft of camera-eyeing speaker-melting extras. The work is of most interest to fans for a Who reunion, a 'thankyou' of sorts from Roger and John for agreeing to their 'Tommy' tour in 1989, on two tracks 'Dig' and fellow Track records star 'The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown's 'Fire' (which is an odd decision - water is The Who's metaphor of choice, although I'm just grateful it wasn't another sodding crow again!) Most Townshend compilations (and there are a lot of Townshend compilations!) tend to ignore it completely, which will tell you everything you need to know. Dig? Erm, not exactly!

Deborah Conway guests on 'I Won't Run Anymore', a synth-orchestral song that has shades of 'Baba O'Riley' in it's swirling scales and crunching windmilling guitars. It sounds great, but the more you analyse it the more you realise Pete is writing generic everyman (everyGiant?) words about being small and scared and lonely. This song doesn't compare to the genuine confessions of 'Who By Numbers' or 'I Am An Animal'.

John Lee Hooker ramble through 'Over The Top' a cheery song about getting on with it which seems a very un-Townshend philosophy of life. Hooker plays the song more like a favourite uncle than an Uncle Ernie.

'Man Machines' features the vocal debut of Pete's younger brother Simon, longstanding member of The Who touring band and he's rather good, outsinging all the guest stars on this project (even Daltrey!) He sounds much like Pete only deeper and higher all at the same time! The lyrics debate the difference between organis life and battery-operated utensils and whether robots can think or feel, though not to any great philosophical measure.

'Dig' suggests what a late 1980s Who album might have sounded like - a cross between Roger's electronic nonsense and Pete's sillier, simpler songs is the answer. Sounding not unlike 'Mirror Door' from the future 'Endless Wire' album, this song about digging deep uses perhaps too many gardening metaphors for it's own good but it's ok as a song - actually it was one of the few highlights of The Who's 1989 reunion tour.

'A Friend Is A Friend' is the first of only three Townshend vocal cameos on his own work and it's a rather sugary Dinesyfied song about being nice to people and they might just be nice back to you. The sort of song that feels as if a children's chir is going to start up any minute (though thankfully none ever do), this is the one song here that seems overly kiddie-friendly, as if Pete suddenly realised what audience liked the original book. I say being friendly is a good motto to everyone despite being a reviewer, but there's something about the false grin and over-friendliness of this track that just makes me want to smash up a drumkit or something (maybe it's the Ted Hughes link?)

'I Eat Heavy Metal' is the return of John Lee Hooker as he - unconvincingly - pretends to be the title giant enjoying a nuts and bolts breakfast. The backing sounds a little like 'Eyesight To The Blind' but without the raw passion (Eyesight To The Bland?)

Deborah Conway returns on singalong 'All Shall Be Well', another oddly optimistic song with a distinct gospel feel most memorable for Pete's ad libbed yelling in the background ('Get me a horse!') This is pure musical fodder though, the sort designed to stay in the ears of the audience rather than the minds.

'Was There Life?' is Pete singing a contemporary-edged jazz tune that's digital and dull and a little off-key. The title points towards some great 'Quadrophenia' debate over what it means to be alive, but no - the giant's discovered feelings and realises other 'people' have them to. That's the full plot right there. It's a sentence, not a song.

'Fast Food' has Nina Simone, of all people, as a 'space dragon' singing about the benefits of junk culture. Something tells me Pete came up with the part of the book that needed a song and wrote this one from one single line - it certainly sounds like it, with the track repeating ad infinitum. Nothing like as interesting as a song about a space dragon scoffing McDonalds and KFC buckets ought to be by rights.

'A Fool Says' is the album's clear highlight, a moody Townshend minor key acoustic guitar ballad that sounds as if it comes from the heart rather than mangled from a plot. As the narrator. it's Pete's job to tell us what his characters are thinking and feeling and he takes the listener aside here to explain that we can all see their foibles and faults and that things are going to go wrong, but the characters can't because they're only 'human' - even the giant!

Of all the songs I thought I'd hear The Who cover, Arthur Brown's 1968 mega-hit 'Fire' wasn't one of them - especially when re-cut as a strutting heavy metal song that doesn't sound like The Who at all. Roger sounds oddly at home digging out his inner Van Halen, but John's bass and guitar are just lost on this needlessly noisy and unexciting digital re-print of the original. I say instead of fire we need 'Water' about now (or failing that, somebody's daughter?)

'New Life' sounds like more excuse for needless shouting as the world is saved (hallelujah!) and the Iron Giant feels human. Or something. I fell asleep. It's one of those generic big finales where everyone comes on to do a turn (i.e. scream) without any evidence that anyone in this work has learnt anything.

Overall, then, 'The Iron Man' is a mess. The wrong singers sing the wrong songs and the plotting makes less sense than 'Tommy' and 'Lifehouse' combined. You do wonder if Pete's regard and friendship for Ted Hughes simply got in the way of his talent and it does seem odd that two of the moodiest, depressed, inward-looking writers of the 20th century should come up with such a curiously cheery, breezy affair. The kind of work where everyone should feel loved at the end but just walk out having a headache, 'The Iron Man' is the weakest link yet in Townshend's songwriting and you suspect that even without the irritating mis-cast guest stars even The Who couldn't have salvaged this album. 

"Join Together"

(Virgin, Recorded 1989, Released March 1990)

Disc One: Tommy (Complete)

Disc Two: Eminence Front/Face The Face/Dig/I Can See For Miles/A Little Is Enough/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Trick Of The Light/Rough Boys/Join Together/You Better You Bet/Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again

"We don't move in any particular direction but we do take lots of collections, won't you join together with the band?"

This is where it really starts going wrong. In 1989 The Who reconvened to celebrate their 25th anniversary and pay off some debts and the result was a surprisingly grumpy tour with the band still struggling to find a replacement for Moon (Simon Philips plays as well as anyone can but doesn't even have Kenney Jones' flair or attack) and rather resenting the fact that none of their three solo careers ever really took off. By the end of the tour even Pete was taken to telling reporters The Who as a band were really dead and they were only doing this tour for the money and alas it shows. While the DVD of the show works surprisingly well, once you’ve given up trying to work out who each band member is under all that big hair (it’s the first disc of the 3DVD ‘Tommy/Quadrophenia Live’ – why on earth wasn’t the band’s 1992 revival of ‘Quadrophenia’ released if they needed the money?!) this CD-only souvenir works rather less well, without the histrionics and stage set to keep you interested. Alas Roger's voice is worn with age, Pete is so rusty and embarrassed about his years away from the stage that he sticks to playing acoustic rhythm guitar throughout, John can barely be heard in the mix and worst of all the troupe of female backing singers take away even the last ounce of integrity from this touring show. 'Tommy' has never sounded worse, over-dressed with too many synths and singers and with no guest stars to alleviate the pain, not that the main oldies set sounds an awful lot better. The only good point is the many songs exclusive to this set (done by The Who anyway), including the OK ‘Dig’ from an abandoned Townshend solo project and a few songs from Pete’s superb ‘Empty Glass’ album which sound pretty good compared to everything else. Plus the revival of the title track of course, a semi-flop single and long neglected minor gem from 1972 that works well here even if the excuse to use the title seems, in retrospect, mockingly ironic. In truth The Who had never been further apart, even during the interim seven years they weren't working together. The irony is that this third officially sanctioned set is one that hurts The Who's reputation so - and yet it was released before the 'Isle Of Wight' 1970 set and we're still waiting for the one from Woodstock! 

A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

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

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

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

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

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

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

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

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

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?: