Song: “Behind Blue Eyes”
Album: Who’s Next
Release Date: August, 1971
Back in my 2012 “Stepping Stones” series (centered on the music of the Rolling Stones), I compiled a list of “100 Musical Highlights in Stones History” for entry # 45. I had been jotting notes all that year as I listened to the Rolling Stones music, and the summary was primarily made up of a bulleted list of individual highlights of the band members (for example this entry: “Bill Wyman’s dive-bombing bass lines at the end of “19th Nervous Breakdown: Mr. Wyman was trying to replicate what a nervous breakdown must sound like… pretty convincing”) as well as a fair number from their supporting cast over the years (for example “Nicky Hopkins piano playing in She’s a Rainbow: One of the rare moments when a non-core-member of the Rolling Stones just about stole the show”).
I had thought of doing the same for this Who “Under the Big Top” series, but concluded early on that it simply would not be as much fun. Let me explain. First off, the Who never leaned on a supporting cast of musicians to anywhere near the same degree the Stones have (although the aforementioned Nicky Hopkins played a lovely piano for the Who on “They’re All in Love”). And although the best period for both bands was in the first 15 years, that stretch for the Stones was made up of three very distinct phases hinging on the contributions of the 2nd guitarist (Brian Jones followed by Mick Taylor followed by Ronnie Wood). In short, when you add it all together for the Stones - contributions from others and the changing membership - there was a lot of diversity for me to chew on when contemplating the best individual moments in song. For the Who, we are talking about the four core band members only, and therefore not nearly as many flavors to choose from. Also, there were so many highlights with the Who’s music in that 15 year stretch it became very difficult to tease out best bits (I suppose you could say the Stones had peaks in their output where the Who maintained at a high level plateau). For example, when I think of Quadrophenia, I think that Keith Moon’s drumming was phenomenal from beginning to end; same for John Entwistle’s bass guitar playing and Roger Daltrey’s vocals. Extracting tidbits here and there would be too demeaning to everything else they offered on that album.
Then I thought, well how about some general anecdotes? As with the Rolling Stones (and Neil Young), I’ve spent an entire year listening to the Who now, which puts me in a unique position to quantify and qualify their place in history. Of equal importance, this year of intense listening was not isolated: It was built on top of many other periods in my life of enjoying the Who’s music, as well as reading a significant amount of material about them (I have read more about the Who than any other band or musician and that is saying something). With all that listening and reading, a virtual smorgasbord of Who thoughts have crossed my mind this year.
And so without further ado, below are 100 Who factoids and other odds and ends; a virtual repository of Who Dunnits (Note: A good number are repeating - in succinct form - what I have already discussed in earlier entries). Anyhow, here goes:
“Big Top” Honorable Mentions
A Handful of Personal Rankings
1. Studio albums: 1) Who Are You; 2) Quadrophenia; 3) The Who By Numbers; 4) Who’s Next; 5) The Who Sell Out; 6) Face Dances; 7) Tommy; 8) Endless Wire; 9) A Quick One; 10) My Generation; 11) It’s Hard
2. Opening tracks on the 11 Who studio albums: 1) “Slip Kids” (Who by Numbers); 2) “New Song” (Who Are You); 3) “Baba O’Riley” (Who’s Next); 4) “Real Me” (Quadrophenia); 5) “You Better You Bet” (Face Dances); 6) “Overture” (Tommy); 7) “Run Run Run” (A Quick One); 8) “Out In the Street” (My Generation) 9) “Fragments” (Endless Wire); 10) “Armenia City in the Sky” (The Who Sell Out); 11) “Athena” (It’s Hard)
3. Closing tracks on the 11 Who studio albums (which is quite a bit stronger of a set of songs than the opening tracks): 1) “Love, Reign O’er Me” (Quadrophenia); 2) “Who Are You” (Who Are You); 3) “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (Who’s Next); 4) “A Quick One, While He’s Away” (A Quick One); 5) “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (Tommy); 6 ) “Another Tricky Day” (Face Dances); 7) “Rael” (The Who Sell Out); 8) “In A Hand Or A Face” (Who By Numbers); 9) “Cry If You Want” (It’s Hard); 10) “Tea & Theatre” (Endless Wire); 11) “The Ox” (My Generation)
4. Top 5 Who album covers: 1) Who Are You; 2) Who’s Next; 3) Who By Numbers; 4) The Who Sell Out and 5) Face Dances (I also like the cover of the Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy compilation album). The Who Are You cover is perfect: The band surrounded by their high-voltage touring equipment; a synergy of sorts between surging currents of electricity in both tension-wire-conduit and human form. The Who’s Next cover is another synergy of a sort; a last minute eureka moment that ends up serendipitously linking the album-cover photo with the original abandoned Lifehouse concept (note: It was Keith Moon’s turn to choose album covers for both Who Are You and Who’s Next; both ideas were stumbled upon, somewhat by accident, after moving on from other inferior ideas). I love the Who By Numbers cover, because it shows off the simplistic, creative and artistic side of John Entwistle, who designed it. The Who Sell Out cover is both fun and serious; an illumination on the jingle advertising the Who schemed up in between songs on the album to promote offshore Pirate Radios, which were then in their newly enforced British law death throes. The Face Dances cover is more personal, connecting me to a period in my life when I was spreading my wings and discovering beauty in unorthodox places.
5. The 5 best John Entwistle Who songs: 1) “Had Enough” (off of Who Are You); 2) “Success Story” (off of The Who By Numbers); 3) “Dangerous” (off of It’s Hard); 4) “905” (off of Who Are You); 5) “Medac” (off of The Who Sell Out); 6) “My Wife” (off of Who’s Next); 7) “Boris the Spider” (off of A Quick One); 8) “Cousin Kevin” (off of Tommy); 9) “Heaven and Hell” (a single); 10) “Trick of the Light” (off of Who Are You)
6. Pete Townshend solo albums: 1) Empty Glass; 2) Rough Mix; 3) White City; 4) Psychoderelict; 5) All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese; 6) Iron Man. This Who blog year had me shuffling this deck a bit from my preferences in my younger years. Empty Glass was so refreshing to listen to again. It solidified even more for me this year. For whatever reason, Chinese Eyes slipped some, but this may be more due to my current state of mind than anything. I was never able to quite get back the exhilaration I felt listening to it in the years immediately after its release (which is atypical of this blog series for most music). I did make the connection for several individual songs, but not the entirety of the album.
7. Top 10 clips in “The Kids Are Alright” movie: 1) “A Quick One” (simply astounding); 2) the Woodstock clips (simply mind blowing); 3) “Cobwebs and Strange” (I laugh my ass off when I watch); 4) Long Live Rock (this is during the closing credits. I love to watch the pieces of clips of the Who leaving the stage at a number of their shows, especially the very last show they ever played together (done for the movie), when the cameraman follows the band to the dressing room. You get to see their goofy post-show camaraderie play out for the last time); 5) “My Generation” (we will never see anything like what happens on that Smothers Brothers show again); 6) “Success Story” (The Ox makes a nice individual statement here); 7) “Baba O’Riley” (excellent camera work); 8) “Happy Jack” (the Who doing their best Charlie Chaplin interpretation); 9) The Ken Russell rant followed by “Tommy Can You Hear Me” (a nice one-two punch of Who conviction) and 10) “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (Townshend capping it off perfectly with a knee slide across the stage).
8. The most underrated Who song from each studio album: (done in no particular order) 1) “The Song is Over” (from Who’s Next); 2) “Don’t Let Go the Coat” (from Face Dances); 3) “Guitar and Pen” (from Who Are You); 4) “However Much I Booze” (from The Who By Numbers); 5) Christmas (from Tommy); 6 “Medac” (from The Who Sell Out); 7) “Cut My Hair” (from Quadrophenia); 8) “Mike Post Theme” (from Endless Wire); 9) “A Legal Matter” (from My Generation); 10) “It’s Your Turn (from It’s Hard); 11) “So Sad About Us” (from A Quick One)
9. The 10 best Pete Townshend solo songs: 1) “Empty Glass” (off of Empty Glass); 2); “The Sea Refuses No River (off of All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes) 3) “A Little Is Enough” (off of Empty Glass); 4) “I Am An Animal” (off of Empty Glass); 5) “Keep Me Turning” (off of Rough Mix); 6) “A Friend is a Friend” (off of Iron Man); 7) “My Baby Gives It Away” (off of Rough Mix); 8) “Stop Hurting People” (off of All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes); 9) “Now and Then” (off of Psychoderelict); “Zelda” (off of Scoop)
10. The top 10 Who-related projects beyond their studio albums and concert tours: 1) the Kids Are Alright rockumentary; 2) the Live at Leeds album; 3) the Tommy Broadway show; 4) Pete Townshend’s Who I Am autobiography; 5) White City: the Music Movie; 6) the Quadrophenia movie; 7) the Odds and Sods album; 8) The Who: 30 Years of Maximum R&B boxed set; 9) the Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy compilation album; 10) the Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who documentary
Part of what makes it fun reading about the Who is learning about other people who have contributed to their story. What you learn in the process is that there is an incredible amount of passion surrounding this band. What follows is a very short ‘top’ list (with apologies to the many I do not flesh out here, including John “Rabbit” Bundrick, Chris Charlesworth, Richard Barnes, Godfrey Townsend, Eddie Vedder, Peter Hope Evans, Rachel Fuller, Kenny Jones, Bill Curbishley, Tony Butler, Simon Phillips, and Pino Palladino).
1. Let me start with Peter “Dougal” Butler, who was Keith Moon’s personal assistant for many years and wrote a book called Full Moon about this truly unique job (indeed, it took an entire book to write the job description). It’s an insane but empathetic look inside the life of this larger-than-life figure, Keith Moon, who will go down as one of the most enigmatic, fascinating personas in Rock history. Movies about Moon’s life have been rumored for years, but nothing has come out of it yet. Perhaps it’s because this is a very difficult story to tell, from both the acting and the act perspective. It will one day happen though, thanks in large part to the musings of Dougal Butler.
2. (A and B). I’ve written very little in this series on the Who’s dynamic first managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp (which says more about my focus on the music and musicians than it does on them). These two eccentric individuals scoured the London club scene in the early 60s to find just the right band to promote for a rock documentary (which was never completed). When they stumbled on the Who and their Mod following they knew right away they had found what they were looking for. For the remainder of the 60s these two entities (the Who and Lambert/Stamp) would benefit significantly from one another. It’s a great story inside a great story, and was recently put to film in the excellent Lambert and Stamp documentary.
3. Anyone who loves a long established Rock and Roll band imagines what it must have been like at the beginning, the early days when that band was playing at small clubs and trying to establish themselves. Beatles fans for example wish they were there in Hamburg in the early 60s. For Who fans, it’s the Goldhawk Club in the Shepherd’s Bush section of London in 1962. One fan who was there was “Irish” Jack Lyons, and he has been an insider spokesperson for the Who ever since. He knew a good thing when he saw it: An insightful Mod in the right place at the right time.
4. (A and B). I would be remiss not to mention the Who’s long time sound guy, Bobby Pridden and their longtime stage manager John “Wiggy” Wolff. These were the gents behind the scenes for the Who’s mega tours in ’71, ’73 and ’76. They worked out the synthesizer synchronization, the laser lights (i.e. for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) and other ‘props’ including a handful of shows where Keith Moon was dropped to his drum kit from high above via suspension cables. Pridden endured the wrath of Pete Townshend when the Quadrophenia backing tapes unraveled during a show (Townshend actually dragged him out on the stage to ridicule him – shame). Anyhow, these two men were faithful to the cause and weaved their magic behind the scenes.
5. Glyn Johns has to be recognized in this series as well. His production/engineering efforts (as well as his general ability to work with the diversity of talents and personalities that bands like the Who, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin threw at him) was on full display for Who’s Next and Who By Numbers. The latter was a borderline salvage effort considering the morose mood of the band at the time (particularly Pete Townshend), but he made it happen, taking a disparate collection of music and making it shine.
6. Another character in the Who story is Leo Sayer, this songwriter specifically related to the career of Roger Daltrey. The Who’s lead singer covered Sayer’s songs “Giving It All Away” and “One Man Band” and others in beautiful fashion on his solo albums. These songs show an angle to Daltrey’s vocals that you simply do not hear on Who albums, which proves to me that a great singer can reflect the soul of the writer he/she is singing for when in the moment.
7. Pete Townshend’s brother Simon has done well for himself as an accomplished musician in his own right (including a handful of solo albums), but he has been a key contributor to the Who as well. For example, several years ago he was part of Roger Daltrey’s band on a Daltrey solo tour. He had to do some of Pete’s vocal parts, and the resemblance was uncanny. Simon is 15 years younger than his big brother (who was an only child for that stretch of time) and it’s pretty cool to see how he has connected with Pete over the years, including as part of the 7-piece band in its current incarnation (as rhythm guitarist and backup singer).
8. Pete Townshend also developed a nice working relationship with his Father-in-Law Edwin (Ted) Astley, a very well know British composer who wrote the scores for several British television themes, including The Saint. Astley arranged for orchestration to several of Pete Townshend and the Who’s works, including “Street in the City” (off of Rough Mix) and “Love Is Coming Down” (off of Who Are You). He also remixed/remastered the 1996 re-release of Who Are You.
9. Hiring a fan, Jeff Stein, to direct The Kids Are Alright movie was a truly brilliant move. Stein was already in the process of documenting a story about the Who, but had no experience in filmmaking. Still, the band liked what they saw and financed him to finish it (they also allowed him to dig for nuggets in their archives). When he showed the Who the finished product at a pre-release screening, and the Smothers Brothers Show drum bombing played out before their eyes for the first time, the story goes that Pete Townshend turned to Keith Moon and began strangling him while declaring that Moon was the reason he himself was going deaf.
10. I believe the only other musician with an indelible effect on the Who (besides the core four) is Zak Starkey. I’ll never forget listening to his drumming for the first time that night at Madison Square Garden in ’96 as the Who launched into “Real Me” for a fresh set of Quadrophenia shows. I felt as if I were watching the real Who for the first time. Zak’s Dad is Ringo Starr, but he claims to have gotten his best drumming lessons (and thereby his style) from Keith Moon when he was a boy. No one sounds like Moon, but Zak Starkey comes awfully close (still, Pete Townshend claims the two are distinctly different drummers).
Innovation and Originality
Other Odds and Ends