Sunday, December 18, 2016

Under the Big Top # 49: “Who Dunnit: 100 Who Anecdotes”

(Personal reflections inspired by Who songs)

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:

                                                        Musical Highlights
                                (20 individual standout moments in Who History)

Ok, despite what I said above, I couldn’t help myself from tackling this topic, albeit in abbreviated form (20 vs 100).  I’ll make it a little easy on myself, discussing the band members on first name basis:

1. John’s rapid-fire bass playing to close “Dreaming From the Waist” (Pete Townshend is not too shabby on lead guitar during this stretch either).  I mess around with the bass guitar myself on occasion, but I will not go anywhere near attempting this tune, which would risk total dejection in my abilities.

2. John’s pulverizing bass lines in the first instrumental interlude of “Substitute”.  I tend to crank the volume up every time this moment in the song comes around.  It is all so enveloping; and even more so live.

3. Roger’s lead vocals in “Guitar and Pen” (which is about the way Pete Townshend writes music), particularly when he imitates the Mom deflating her son’s (Pete’s) enthusiasm as he plays her his new song: “And she says that she’d like it…. with more of a tune”.

4. Keith and John’s roller coaster drum/bass attack to close “The Song is Over”.  These two stay lock-step in time with one another: A seminal moment in song.

5. Keith’s mesmerizing drum beat during the instrumental middle portion of “Happy Jack”.  He propels the song forward in masterful fashion.

6. Keith’s drumming to close “Love, Reign O’er Me”.  Pete Townshend surrounded Keith Moon with every percussion instrument he could find in the studio, and Keith managed to beat on all of it.

7.  John’s high-note bass lines to open “You Better You Bet”.  It’s almost hard to accept that these are notes being played by a bass guitar.

8. Roger’s exclamation of “War!” as “I’ve Known No War” breaks out of its droning instrumental interlude.  Almost as good as his famous howl in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

9. Pete’s lead vocals in “Cut My Hair”.  Critics say Townshend did not find his voice until Empty Glass.  I beg to differ.  The Who seemed to always know the right balance on their albums to include a Townshend lead vocal or two, which to me is quite a unique set of pipes in the Rock universe; almost angelic sounding (vs. Roger’s Rock-swagger style).  Because of Pete’s vocal, “Cut My Hair” slows the Quadrophenia story down just enough near the onset for all of us to jump on board.

10. The John/Pete/Roger vocal harmonization during the mid-riff of “Who Are You”, interspersed with keyboard.  It all evokes for me a young couple strolling along a beach; a moment of peaceful solitude in a song that comes at you a lot harder otherwise.

11.  Pete’s acoustic guitar solo at the end of “Sister Disco”.  I believe the attempt here is to showcase that Rock and Roll endures because it has soul (vs. the more ‘plastic’ foundation of Disco).  Pete Townshend pulls it off here; and then some.

12.  John’s bass guitar solo on “My Generation”.  This may have been the first time a bass solo was ever attempted on a Rock recording.  It did not set a trend however, because no one could replicate how you could pull it off.

13. Pete’s lead guitar at the end of “Bargain”.  The Who actually sound more traditional here, with the bass and drums more in the mix than is usual for this unconventional band.  The reason is that Townshend simply takes over.

14.  Keith’s lead vocals (interspersed with Roger) in “Bellboy”.  Moon’s exaggerated cockney accent (to mock the bellboy character he is acting out) is the perfect way to get the disgusted sentiment of the lead Jimmy character across here.

15. Roger’s vocals in “Amazing Journey”.  Tommy was where Daltrey began to morph into a new sensation, which is epitomized here.

16. Keith’s drumming during the instrumental interlude of the long version of “The Kids Are Alright”:  A first not-so-subtle foray for Who fans into what was to come.

17. Pete’s guitar feedback in “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”.  How the hell he pulled this off (in the studio and live) in terms of making it sound like it was part of the melody, and bringing it home at the end of the instrumental interlude is beyond my comprehension.

18.  Roger’s vocals in “The Seeker”.  Daltrey sneers his lead lines in classic pre-punk fashion here (I also love the 3-seconds of anticipation silence after the line “I’m a seeker, I’m a really desperate man”…. as does Brother Fred).

19. John’s bass playing in “Relay”.  If you want to understand why it has been often stated that The Ox played the bass like a lead instrument, all you need do is listen to the instrumental interlude in this song.

20.  Pete’s guitar playing in the instrumental bridge of “Slip Kid”.  Townshend passionately evokes to us here a cautionary tell-tale message; in a way that words could only hope to achieve (he also includes a nice touch of feedback).

“Big Top” Honorable Mentions
(10 songs that could have gotten their own “Big Top” entry)

1. “Daily Records” (off of Face Dances).  This up-tempo Pete Townshend ditty is about the absurdity of being a middle age Rock Star with a family.  My thinking was to write some about being a middleaged rock fan.

2. “Pinball Wizard” (off of Tommy).  A great tune but I simply could not figure a way to fit it in.  I’m reminded of my Junior High School days and the last years of Newbury’s Department Store in downtown Franklin.  They had a couple of very cool pinball machines.  But mostly I would have reflected on that snapshot in time of a quaint Franklin that predated rampant development and the invasion of big-time chains.

3. “Had Enough” (off Who Are You).  This is John Entwistle’s best Who song.  It reaches “Townshendian” proportions as far as I am concerned.  I believe The Ox had finally reached the same passion level for the Who as the rest of the band which is reflected in the magnificence of this song.  Soon, Keith Moon’s death would put an end to this Entwistle momentum.

4. “Mike Post Theme” (off of Endless Wire).  My son Peter and I got into this song when the album came out.  I coached both Charlotte and Peter in soccer for 10 seasons.  Those memories surface to the top because of a fun memory of listening to this song and singing with Peter on the way back from one of his games.  Anyhow, it’s a solid tune that helps justify the release of a Who studio album with just 2 of its original members remaining in the fold.

5. “Another Tricky Day” (off of Face Dances).  Haven’t we all had them?  Face Daces is top heavy with four very solid songs and the remainder a mediocre menagerie as Who standards go.  This is one of the four.

6. “Real Me” (off of Quadrophenia).  This is another song that showcases John Entwistle’s incredible talents as a bass player.  The Ox enjoyed playing this song so much that he would often perform it in his solo shows, despite it being a Pete Townshend composition.  This song introduces the protagonist, Jimmy, in Quadrophenia as a troubled soul in search of more meaning in his life.  I would have written more on that topic.

7. “Our Love Was” (off of The Who Sell Out).  Pete Townshend composed very few true love songs in his 60s punk/pop years with The Who.  This was one of them, and it’s a gem.  I would have likely written about my thoughts on young love.

8. “However Much I Booze” (off of The Who By Numbers).  This is an intensely personal Pete Townshend composition, so much so that Roger Daltrey refused to sing it.  I would likely have written about how difficult it must be to open up yourself to the world this way; which is what is necessary if you want to be successful at your art.

9. “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere (a single).  I tagged this one on to the “I Can’t Explain” entry, but it could easily have gotten its own full write up.  This song is a treat to hear live because of all that feedback, so I think I would have written about experimentation in music and experimentation in life.  Side Note: I believe this is the only Who composition to be credited to both Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.

10. “Let’s See Action” (a single).  The Who were sitting on a mound of songs in-between 1971’s Who’s Next and 73’s Quadrophenia, some of which were released as singles in that timeframe.  This is one great example.  I would likely have written about a ‘what if’ scenario:  An original studio album with all that music somewhere in that ’71-’73 timespan, or a what if Who’s Next was a double album, or what if Lifehouse was successful. 

A Handful of Personal Rankings
(A fun foray into 10 of my preferences related to the Who’s music)

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

The Entourage
(10 individuals who have made a significant contribution to Who History)

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). 

Classic Comments
(10 of my favorite Who-related quotes)

1. Eddie Vedder: “What disturbs me about the Who is the way they smashed through every door of rock & roll, leaving rubble and not much else for the rest of us to lay claim to”

2. Pete Townshend:  The day you open your mind to music you are halfway to opening your mind to life”.

3: Ken Russell (the Tommy film director): "This country is in a weird, feeble, grotesque state, and I think it’s about time that we break out of it.  And the way to break out of it is Rock Music!  And I think that Townshend, The Who, Roger Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon could rise this country out of its decadent ambient state better than Wilson or any of those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!" I memorized this quote, which friend Kurt and his Winchester pals would have me oft repeat.  Side Note: (Harold) “Wilson” was prime minister in Great Britain from 1964 to 1970 and again from ’74 to ’76.

4. Chris Charlesworth (about Pete Townshend): “He has to be careful not to preach, but there is a lot that can be learned from this man”.

5. Pete Townshend: "If it screams for truth rather than help, if it commits itself with a courage it can't be sure it really has, if it stands up and admits that something is wrong but doesn't insist on blood, then its rock and roll."

6. One of the best album summaries I’ve ever read is rock critic Matt Resnicoff’s liner notes in the reissue release of Who Are You.  It’s an extremely insightful write-up and may single handedly have shined an appropriate new light on this oft overlooked album.  One of my favorite lines is near the end:  The Who knew that rock can’t peddle easy answers, but it can share the burdens of its listeners; remember, there is no question mark in the title of this recording.” In other words, Who are You and You are Who!  Beautiful, succinct, and spot on!

7.  There are endless stories of both Keith Moon and Pete Townshend connecting with the average guy on their tours.  Personally I heard a story one night before a show in Boston about Townshend going out with a bunch of fans (including the guy I was talking to) after a show and pulling an all-nighter with them.  From what I have read, this was not unusual.  As for Moon, Pete Townshend himself tells a very touching story in the liner notes of the 1994 boxed set The Who: Thirty Years of Maximum Rhythm and Blues.  It’s too perfect of a story to paraphrase here, but I will include Townshend’s closing comments:  So to my detractors, to detractors of The Who, to critics of Moon and his diabolical certain-death style of rock’n’roll nihilism, I say “Fuck You”.  And not for the first time.  I’m still briefly alive.  Be kind, be real, ….or get out of my face.”

8.  Pete Townshend: “When I look at people five or ten years younger than me, I wouldn’t say I’m jealous of them, but I do admire the way they started to break with the old traditions, which I do feel very imbedded in me.  You know, I still feel the best thing that could have happened to me was that I’d of been called up, put in the army, and sent out to some battlefield.  I know people might think that’s sick, but I was brought up to do that, trained to do that, and I respected people who did that. My father did it, my grandfather did it…. and I had to do it….in Rock and Roll.

9. Keith Moon responding to Tommy Smothers, who is asking Keith to introduce himself to the audience: “My friends call me Keith, you can call me John” (and Smother’s quick-witted response: “I’d just assume call you Roger”). 

10. John Entwistle: “We became rich a lot later than expected.  Now I’m too old to enjoy my money

Innovation and Originality
(10 groundbreaking ways the Who will be remembered)

1. The Who were the first band to use synthesizer as a major instrument in their music.  Strangely, this pre-recorded electronic music only made them better.  Did it help keep them in time, particularly Keith Moon?  Most of Townshend’s synthesizer recordings were designed to emulate the musical sub-consciousness in us all (how he did this is well documented in stories about his Lifehouse project).  Pretty cool, which may explain how the synthesizer fit into the Who’s music so seamlessly.

2. The Who were also the first of bands to use guitar feedback in their songs, first revealed in 1965’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”.  When I listen to this song, it’s incredible to me that the distortion almost sounds musical, and how it actually comes back around just in time to put a natural end to the refrain.  This feat was also astoundingly pulled off in live performances (one of the many reasons I call this series “Under the Big Top”).

3.  In 1976 the Who set the Guinness Book of World Records for loudest rock concert at a show at ‘The Valley’ in London, which has me recalling the story I told earlier in this blog series about Roger Daltrey insisting that John Entwistle turn his volume down on his bass at a show because he could not hear himself sing.  After Entwistle refused, Daltrey looked for a sympathetic ear in Pete Townshend.  Townshend’s response was classic and went something like “if we were a normal band, I would understand.  But unfortunately we are not a normal band.”

4. One of the first thoughts that come to mind for many when the Who are brought up is equipment smashing.  It’s never been high on my list when I reflect on this band though. Of all the Who shows I have seen, the closest I came to witnessing stage destruction was Townshend swinging his guitar (axe) from its neck against his microphone.  I could be wrong, but I don’t feel as if I missed much.  Still I continue to get floored every time I watch Keith Moon’s drums explode on the Smothers Brothers Show.  You could never get away with that today, which makes it all the more stunning.  If you watch closely, Pete Townshend came one wrong turn in the direction of Moon’s exploding drum - while smashing his guitar - from serious injury or worse:  A rock musician’s dream death I suppose, if it were to have happened. 

5.  Pete Townshend’s windmills did impress me though.  His timing was always impeccable, hitting all the right notes at all the right times, despite having his arm held high above the guitar just split seconds earlier.  Slamming a hand against guitar strings does have consequences though, which for Townshend often resulted in torn-off fingernails and once had him impaling his hand through the tremolo (whammy) bar.

6. With all the amazing feats happening around him on stage, particularly those performed by Townshend and Moon, Roger Daltrey had to raise his game to get attention back on him in the early 70s.  His answer was an increasingly longer and longer extension of his microphone twirling, a gimmick that ultimately turned into an unusual talent.  I love listening to Keith Moon embellishing about this in The Kids Are Alright movie, where he says Daltrey would save him from tomato and egg pelting by slicing the food hurled at the stage as his mic twirled.  Moon would then gather the remnants together on a spare drum stand to make a salad.   Ha ha

7.  Both John Entwistle and Keith Moon get ranked at or near the top when there is a Rock and roll poll of the best musicians at their respective instruments (bass and drums).  Their legend only gets more impressive with time, as where others often slip on these lists, Entwistle’s and Moon’s status only improves.  What are the odds that the best players at these two instruments could be in the same band?  This has me harkening back to earlier comments I have made about how people can raise their game collectively, and has me concluding that there is more to the Who’s story that still needs to be told, likely by some future visionary researching the power of group dynamics. 

8.  I still find it fascinating that the Who were able to make the transition from clubs to opera houses after the release of Tommy.  Think about it…. this band was primarily known beforehand for demolishing their equipment!  Their manager Kit Lambert has to take some of this credit, but I believe it ultimately comes down to just how amazingly the Who had raised their stage game for that deaf, dumb and blind concept album.  We remain in the baby-boomer moment and so it is difficult to look at this from a historical perspective.  But make no mistake, this will one day be recognized as a seminal achievement, accomplished because the performance of Tommy was extraordinary!

9. The Punks had an effect on just about every big 70s band.  Most of this played out in defensive, reactionary ways, but not so for the Who.  The punks loved the Who, and Pete Townshend hated this.  He wanted the Who to be rejected just as much as everyone else, hoping this would help evolve the new music in similar fashion to when a son or daughter sets off on their own from their parents.  There are two take home messages here:  1) The Who were respected by the Punk movement for a reason, that being because this new wave saw their own attitude personified in a 15 year old band that probably started it all and 2) Townshend’s willingness to fall on his own sword is a lesson for all of us that there is a time to remove yourself from turf battles and allow the new in anything to make a case for itself.

10. The Who are one of the most charitable Rock bands of all time.  I tracked this link which helps summarize their considerable achievements in this regard:

Other Odds and Ends
(30 other thoughts to chew on)

1. “Behind Blue Eyes” ( ) was written from the bad guys point of view in Pete Townshend’s aborted Lifehouse movie.  It’s about the sadness that often accompanies power.  Mystique and multi-meaning is a part of the story of this song too, considering both Townshend and Roger Daltrey have blue eyes.  Townshend wrote and composed much of his music from home in demo form before presenting it to the Who and this was one of the few songs where his wife Karen Astley commented that she was moved while listening from the other room.

2. John Entwistle once stated that the Who were at their live best in ’76, Keith Moon’s last tour.  Although I’ve seen little footage from that tour, I believe him.  I also believe Entwistle was more excited about the band at this time than he had ever been beforehand (his excellent three song contribution to Who Are You is proof enough), and that Moon’s death took the collaborative wind out of his sails more than anyone else.

3. One thing I love about the Who is that, although Pete Townshend was far and away the primary songwriter and creative force, the band on stage and on record were equals in every respect.  Somehow, they all stand out.  Put anyone of them in another band, performing in the same manner, and they would have stuck out like a sore thumb.  Why I love this truism is that you get to see how people can raise the game of others around them when trying to achieve a common objective.  And when it’s done as good as the Who were able to pull off, you get to see that the sky is the limit in terms of how far you can push it.

4. Pete Townshend has claimed that he loses track of reality at times when he’s on stage, which can be dangerous if anyone but the band invades his territory.  This played out pretty rough for 60s activist Abbie Hoffman, who tried to make a speech during the Who’s set at Woodstock.  Not a good idea, which ended up with Hoffman getting kicked (literally) off the high stage.  The same thing happened to a cop when he tried to report a fire next door to the Fillmore West (where the band was playing) in the mid-70s (that one got Townshend arrested).  If you watch Pete Townshend at Woodstock, he does indeed look like a man possessed.  Regardless of his mindset, his stage presence was often awe inspiring, which I guess is some consolation.  

5. What to make of hotel destruction?  Well, if you are going to do it, it has to be creative, which was Keith Moon’s forte.  Waterbeds bursting in elevators?  Sudden holes in walls to greet the neighbors? A car at the bottom of a hotel swimming pool?  Bellhop disguises? Champagne bottles sticking out of TV screens?  Moon’s extremely unique persona had him actually get away with it all, where anyone else would have been in serious jeopardy.

6. Pete Townshend’s has always had a fascination for the Rolling Stones, stating it’s the one band he wishes he were a member.  He did a classic two page “Happy Birthday Mick” spread in Rolling Stone Magazine when Jagger turned 40 (the words painted on his bare chest).  He inducted the Stones into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with great reflections on each member (including revealing to at least this reader that Charlie Watts had a serious drug problem in the mid-80s).  And when the Stones toured a few years ago, their show opened with a film clip, which included comments from a number of famous people talking about the band.  Pete Townshend’s was my favorite, offering in deadpan fashion the very succinct “Keith Richards tried to kill me once”.

7.  One of the Who’s most famous lines is “I hope I die before I get old” in “My Generation”.  I grappled with this anthem early on in my fandom, but ultimately came to the conclusion that what is meant here is not getting old in number of years per se.  It’s getting old mentally.  Pete Townshend later confirmed this for me in an interview with Musician Magazine.

8.  Certainly the biggest tragedy in the Who’s history was the Cincinnati concert in 1979, when 11 kids were trampled to death trying to get in the general admission show (these types of shows were later banned by many cities at big arena concerts).  The band took this tragedy very seriously, with Pete Townshend talking about it near-incessantly for years, usually in remorseful tones.  I personally think it was a big reason for the band dissolving for almost a decade not long after. 

9.  As I have stated before, one of the most underappreciated aspect of the Who was the backing vocal tandem of Entwistle and Townshend.  I had the opportunity to see it a handful of times.  It was one of the things I looked forward to the most when attending a Who show.  If you listen to Live At Leeds, you can get a sense of what I am talking about, particularly in songs like “I’m a Boy”, “Happy Jack” and especially “Substitute”. 

10.  Pete Townshend has never done a major solo tour.  The two mini tours of the States that he did do luckily included Boston venues though (I’ve written about both, since I was in attendance each time).  These shows were phenomenal, and since they were so good I can only wonder why he did not do more (and lengthier) solo tours?  I can only conclude that Townshend either 1) likes playing with the Who better or 2) is happier to have Roger Daltrey singing lead for most of a set.

11. New York City comes through loud and clear as a sort of second home for the Who.  In all my readings about the band, it was New York that gave me the greatest sense of an aura in regards to their connections to the USA.  It was their gateway and their playground.  So many other bands can make the same claim, including Bob Dylan, The Band, the Allman Brothers, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, and the Grateful Dead.  This was originally a melting pot for immigrants, and much later it would become a melting pot for Rock and Roll.

12. I love the moment at the end of the Who’s performance of “A Quick One, While He’s Away” for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus when the unnamed midget dressed as clown states “That was marvelous!” (He did this while Brian Jones was whistling enthusiastically through fingers right next to him > you have to see it on film to appreciate it).

13. John Entwistle had an exceptional vocal range, covering Who musical moments on both the high end (i.e. background vocals for “Substitute”, “Listening To You” and the refrain in “The Punk and the Godfather”) and low end (i.e. “Boris the Spider”, the refrain in “Success Story”) of the spectrum.  Roger Daltrey once lamented when he came to the realization that the Ox had lost that high-end range in the mid-70s, (and in the process insinuated that it pretty much ruled out a suite of studio and stage options from then on without hired help).

14.  Meher Baba remains somewhat of an enigma to me, but he clearly has had a lifelong effect on Mr. Pete Townshend.  Baba’s most intentional act as far as I can tell was to stop speaking in his early-30s, which he maintained up to his death at the age of 75.  Along with his long periods of seclusion, it’s an act that can be tied to the kind of spirituality pursued by cloistered monks.  It turns out this was major inspiration for Tommy (read; the deaf, dumb and blind boy).  But these spiritual leanings of Townshend spur an interesting contrast: Baba as silent as possible vs the Who as loud as possible. 

15. Several aspects of the Who’s studio recordings that helped give them such a full and rich sound - despite the fact it was just the four of them on many of their records - were the additional instruments played by Pete Townshend (rhythm guitars, other strings, piano, keyboards and synthesizer) and John Entwistle (brass).  The Ox’s overdubbing of horns and other brass instruments were particularly impressive on albums like Quadrophenia and Who Are You.  At times all this overdubbing sounds like a symphony of sound.

16.  Several years ago, the Who proposed a competition to fans to see who could come up with the best video to celebrate the release of Quadrophenia: The Director’s Cut.  This winning entry blows my mind: (must be watched loudly).

17.  On the Deep End Live video of Pete Townshend’s 1985 mini tour, he plays the English Beat song “Save It For Later” and introduces it by challenging the crowd to ponder what it is about. I have always been intrigued by this, and believe “Save It For Later” drives to the core of the complexity of Townshend’s life in the late 70s and early 80s when he was extremely prolific both within the Who and on his own.   By 1985, he’s reached burnout, feels let down (by the Who?) and needs to move on: “just hold my hand while I come to a decision on it”. 

18.  Most of the time, John Entwistle was the only member of the band who appeared too shy from getting attention focused on himself at concerts.   One exception was the stretch in the mid-70s when he wore a tight-fit custom-made skeleton suit, perfectly in character with his morbid sense of humor.  To be a face in the crowd those years:  Twirling microphones, windmill guitar playing, leaps, banter… and a stoic skeleton, stage right, for a bass man.

19.  A big factor in the Who’s longevity, which should not be overlooked, was Roger Daltrey’s decision to scale back his tough guy approach to the rest of the band, which played  out in the late 60s.  Daltrey was the bluest collar of the Who and in the early years tried to get his way through bravado and bullying.  In the history of Rock and Roll, I don’t think there was a greater look in the mirror change than what Daltrey pulled off in order to keep his band together.  From Tommy onward, a more surreal and peaceful side of him percolated to the top.

20. Nancy and I went to see the off-Broadway performance of Tommy, which was excellent, but I am still not sure what to make of any of the other incarnations of Tommy, and this goes particularly for the Ken Russell-directed movie.  Roger Daltrey’s acting is not too shabby, but I’m not all that enamored by the rest of it.  Daltrey became somewhat of a superstar in the 70s, however he never let it all go to his head to the degree that he forgot Who it was that got him there.

21.  I did like the Quadrophenia movie though: A very well done period piece on Mod culture.  My only complaint was that most of the album’s songs were not played out in their entirety.  There were a few good moments in this regard, however:  Jimmy on the cliffs to the sound of “I’ve Had Enough” and Jimmy on the train to the sound of “5:15”.

22. The caricature of the Who on the Simpson’s was pretty well portrayed (Pete’s brother Simon played Pete, who was not available.  John and Roger play themselves), which has me thinking: Maybe caricature is the only way to really get the Keith Moon story told.

23.  To get a sense of the Who in a nutshell, watch the official” Join Together” video:  (  Each member’s personality shines, and the sheer musicianship of the ensemble is beautifully illustrated.  I particularly love the contrast between John Entwistle’s casual laying-down of his mouth piece before launching into his bass parts vs Pete Townshend’s more manic transition of his instruments later in the video.

24. The Who had their share of feuds.  Perhaps the most infamous was during rehearsals for Quadrophenia, when Roger Daltrey knocked Pete Townshend out cold with a punch after putting up with a long rant of verbal abuse and guitar flailing.  Many famous bands have been known for similar spats, which has always had me curious if the tension is for better or worse.  Does it add to creativity or distract from it?

25. The strongest friendship in the Who was between Keith Moon and John Entwistle.  This seems natural for a traditional rhythm section, but although these two played the traditional rhythm instruments of a band, neither were in any way orthodox in the way they approached those respective instruments.  In the words of Eddie Vedder, each of them was a virtuoso musical oddity.  Perhaps this trait attracts?  We may never know, because there is nothing to compare it to.

26. I never did get around to writing an entry on the Who 7” EP Ready Steady Who, which sits on my bedroom bureau.  This is the only EP I have.  It was released in November, 1966.  The side one tracks are “Disguises” and “Circles”, both Pete Townshend compositions (“Disguises” has a kind of ahead-of-its-time underground sound to it),  Side two is made up of all covers, including “Batman”, “Bucket ‘T’” and “Barbara Ann”.  All three of these show the fun side of the Who.  Keith Moon sings lead in “Barbara Ann” (he was in a surf band called the Beachcombers before joining the Who). 

27.  Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey certainly appear to have been moved the night they were recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008, but when I watch the video, my eyes often shift to Barbra Streisand, in turn watching Bettye LaVette’s rendition of “Love Reign O’er Me”.   She appears quite captivated by it all; a nice crossover moment between Rock and Broadway royalty.

28. John Entwistle was working on a concept album himself in the late 70s about a futuristic world.  He ultimately scrapped the idea.  "905" and "Had Enough" are songs from that aborted effort.  Wouldn't it be nice if someone were to one day flesh that one out.

29. A favorite moment on the Deep End Live video was when Pete Townshend launches into “Pinball Wizard” with his staccato guitar strumming.  He glances stage right each time the John Entwistle TWANG is supposed to kick in, but of course the Ox is not there.  Townshend then gives a funny look to the crowd:  A nice Who-moment touch for the fans.

30. Pete Townshend sounds as good as he ever has on stage these days.  Considering all he has been through, he continues to show a miracle longevity (Eddie Vedder says he will outlive them all, including Keith Richards).

Whew!  Ok, well there you have it: My longest entry.  Please report any typos or offer any other review comments.  I’m cooked.


1 comment:

  1. Bravo again, Pete. You've outdone even your own lofty standards. Any deeper comments would be like providing feedback to the Gettysburg Address. Its feeble. Your ability to intertwine memory, research, passion and writing ability is an awesome thing to see displayed.
    All my love and appreciation for The Who (and thanks for the Seeker "pause" shout-out)is attributed to you. Your passion, never forced on me, has shaped my own music love (I am listening to Eric Clapton as I write this, FYI)and I am forever grateful.

    So goodnight to this chapter. I look forward to re-reading all this again down the line. It never gets old.



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