Saturday, November 6, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 204: The Who

The next disc is one of the greatest albums ever made. Period. If you don't agree with me then clearly you are an idiot. If you don't like being called an idiot, then you should reconsider your opinion about this album.

Disc 204 is...Who's Next
Artist: The Who

Year of Release: 1971

What’s Up With The Cover?: For years I've thought very little of this cover. I mean, it is the four band members standing near a concrete block. Then a couple of years ago I had an epiphany about what was happening. The band members are in various stages of doing up their pants, and if you'll look at the concrete block you'll see telltale...moisture trails. That's right - this is a picture of the Who immediately after they have all stood together and peed on a concrete block. This is now one of my favourite album covers of all time.

How I Came To Know It: I have known these songs most of my life, but I bought this on CD sometime back in the mid-nineties, I think. I don't recall the catalyst for me doing so - probably just looking for a good Who studio album, since all we had at the time was the "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy" compilation.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Who studio albums, plus the aforementioned compilation. "Who's Next" is the best of all of them - including the best of.

Rating: 5 stars, because my rating system only goes to 5.

One of my sidebar columns on "A Creative Maelstrom" is " far." When I'm finished this review, I'll be adding "Who's Next" to that column and I feel very confident when the Odyssey is over, it will still be there.

Musically, lyrically, and in terms of overall production, I can't find anything wrong with "Who's Next?" I've owned it for a long time, and I still put it on all the time. It features at least three of the greatest songs ever written, "Baba O'Riley", "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again".

The synthesizer sequences in "Baba O'Riley" are so groundbreaking for 1971, it is ridiculous. If you ever get a chance to watch Pete Townsend show how he put these sequences together by basically connecting a simple computer to a series of plug-ins do so. It was so complex, that in concert they had to resort to just playing a tape of that part, and coming in live on queue as best they could (hint: they usually did just fine).

"Behind Blue Eyes" is a song that gets you inside the head of the bad man, and feel sympathy for him. It adds personal angst knowing that this song is a deeply personal expression of Pete Townsend's own tortured soul. The fact that Roger Daltry then takes that song and makes it all about him is exactly why he is one of the greatest front men in rock and roll.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" finds that perfect balance between a call to revolution, and a cynical expression that nothing will change anyway. The only conclusion it eventually comes to is:

"I pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again."

The song also showcases each bandmembers formidable music talent for over eight and half glorious minutes. My only regret - the song isn't longer.

The original record has only nine tracks, ending with "Won't Get Fooled Again" but my version is the remastered/extra tracks version. There are seven extra tracks, which ordinarily would have me complaining of excess, but not here.

First, these songs are from the same period, not simple add-ons. Most are recorded in 1971 as well, and I suspect hit the floor of the cutting room only because of the limitations of vinyl.

Secondly, they fit musically and thematically with the rest of the record, so the transition into them is relatively seemless. They sound like they belong, and they are good enough to hold their own against what has come before.

Third, these songs are better than what most bands can do for their main effort. I particularly like "Naked Eye" and "Too Much of Anything" but they all have their charm. I might've left off the 'original version' of "Behind Blue Eyes", since I prefer the one that made the record, but having to listen to another version of is hardly torture.

"Who's Next" was originally going to be a concept album from Pete Townsend called "The Lifehouse Project". In Townsend's words, the Lifehouse Project was to be "a portentous science-fiction film with Utopian spiritual messages into which were to be grafted uplifting scenes from a real Who concert."

That actually sounds pretty good to me, but you can see why the producer (and I suspect the other band members) preferred to have an album with some regular rock songs, rather than a dense and hard-to-understand rock opera. Besides, they had just done "Tommy" two years earlier.

The result is that "Who's Next" has a tension between Lifehouse tracks, and more straightforward rock songs, and this tension makes a great album even greater.

This reminds me of one of my favourite Blue Oyster Cult albums, 1974s "Secret Treaties", which keyboardist/rhythym guitarist Allen Lanier wanted to make into a bizarre Lovecraftian concept album. Other band members wanted a more straightforward rock album and the result was a compromise between the two that was better than the sum of its parts - just like "Who's Next"

I've heard a lot of music in my life - I'd say more than most. I've rarely heard a record as good as "Who's Next" and I don't think I've heard any clearly better. This is must-have music - idiots excepted, of course.

Best tracks: All tracks, but standouts for me are: Baba O'Riley, Getting in Tune, Behind Blue Eyes, Won't Get Fooled Again, and from the bonus tracks: Naked Eye and Too Much of Anything

1 comment:

Sheila said...

I first owned this on tape in about 1986 - I saw "Baba O'Riley" (which I thought was called "Teenage Wasteland") done in an airband contest and I was transfixed by the song. "Behind Blue Eyes" is an awesome song.

When I was a kid, we owned "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy" on vinyl and it got a LOT of play.