Wednesday, August 17, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 902: The Who

I’ve had an exhausting five days full of a combination of work and life commitments, and frankly I’m knackered. However, with the worst of it behind me, I'm glad to finally be able to spare an hour to review another record.

Disc 902 is….Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy
Artist: The Who

Year of Release: 1971, but featuring music from 1965-1970

What’s up with the Cover? Four malcontented youths loaf about on a stoop, looking tired after a long day of puncturing tires and setting off car alarms. The actual band looks on from the safety of a window, no doubt fearful for their wallets.

How I Came To Know It: I believe Sheila had this album when I met her. If not, we got it very shortly thereafter (likely on her recommendation). Anyway, it is a good one.

How It Stacks Up:  This is a compilation album, so it doesn’t stack up. Them’s the rules.

Ratings: No rating for compilation albums!

I’m not a big fan of compilation albums generally but with a band like The Who, where half the songs they released early in their career were just 45s, if you don’t get a compilation you don’t get a lot of their best music. “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” is definitely a collection of The Who’s best, at least from the early part of their career.

The Who are giants in the early history of rock and roll, and have earned the right to be mentioned alongside other great sixties British bands including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and an edge that reminded me particularly of the Kinks. It is a new approach to rock and roll that was somehow divorced from the American blues that inspired so much sixties music. The songs have an anthemic quality, no doubt inspired by the grandiose singing style of Roger Daltrey, who never met a camera he didn’t want to make love to.

The real inspiration of the band, however, is guitarist and principle songwriter Pete Townshend. Townshend is a troubled genius, who channels a nerdy restlessness into powerful guitar riffs that are married to innovative song structures that still sound fresh decades later.

The album covers the very early part of the band’s career from 1964 to 1970 (covering four albums and a half dozen or so single releases. Early on Townsend is clearly interested in themes of youth, including rebellion, confusion and early sexual experience (sometimes expressed through humorous anecdote).

Songs like “The Kids are Alright” and “My Generation” cover off the rebellion. Sexual discovery is featured in two lighthearted tracks, the masturbatory “Pictures of Lily” (seriously, it is about masturbation) and the involuntary gender-bending “I’m a Boy.”

My favourite song on the album has always been “The Seeker” which captures youthful confusion with a sense of purpose, as though if just seeking the truth is enough, even if you never find it. It is a great, and maybe only equaled in delivery by Alice Cooper’s classic “I’m Eighteen.” Hearing Roger Daltry’s voice climb into falsetto as he sings “I’ve been searching low and high-eee!” is one of rock’s great vocal moments. The guitar riffs from Townsend are also inspiring.

There are a few tracks that fail to impress, most notably “Boris the Spider” which is written and sung by bassist John Entwistle. Entwistle is the third best vocalist in the band (behind Daltry and Townsend) and it shows. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if drummer Keith Moon would have done it better. “Happy Jack” is also a song that descends into pointless kitsch, and not even Daltry’s vocals can save it.

The album also suffers from a bad transfer to CD, which was pretty common around this time (my copy was released in 1990). CD technology was still pretty new then and record labels were still struggling with making the sound as thick and rich as vinyl. Or maybe they just didn’t care, and the Soulless Record Execs were just in a hurry to cash in on the new format. Probably it was a bit of both.

Despite the production, “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” is a solid record of 14 tracks that never seems to drag. It is such a fine compilation it almost feels like a studio record unto itself. It also has, hands down, the best title for a ‘best of’ record in the history of music. I declare every adjective in the title as advertised, and heartily recommend this album as a worthy introduction to The Who’s music.

Best tracks:  I Can’t Explain, I Can See For Miles, Pictures of Lily, The Seeker, Pinball Wizard, I’m a Boy

1 comment:

Sheila said...

We got this record on vinyl a few years after it came out, maybe 1975-6? I think it might have been in a clearance bin at K-Mart! My brother and I loved "Boris the Spider" and "Pictures of Lilly" (although we didn't know what it was about). It's still a favourite.