Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Who - A Quick One (1966)

I feel bad for thirteen days of no reviews. It's been a bit hectic for me finding an apartment in a new town, enjoying some time with my better half before her own apartment hunt, and (to some extent) coping with the fact that I apparently now have a solid reader base, beyond m@ (my part-time mentor from my hometown) and my cheerleading fiance. Why, people might outwardly disagree with something I say!

It sounds stupid, I'm sure of it: man writes blog, people read blog, man panics. The fact is that I write for my own enjoyment, to sort out how I appreciate music, to critically assess what I love and give a re-examination to artists I've placed on a high pedestal in my youth to see how they've stood up in the time that has passed. Beyond that, I also don't think anything I write is all that good.

Of course, I've said the exact same things about an essay on the Bohumil Hrabal novel Closely Watched Trains and its filmic interpretation that my Czech professor insisted be submitted to an international writing contest sponsored by the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences. I've said the exact same thing about my mini-thesis on The Kinks. I definitely think my feeble attempts at fiction are just that: feeble attempts.

And I will say the same thing about my Master's thesis, whatever it may be. I'm leaning towards Zappa, my father is practically begging me to write about Les Paul (a bit unfair for me, as I am currently not a guitar player - I quip that my being a drummer "barely qualifies me as a musician"), while I myself am thinking Zappa's cultural relations might be too easy, yet at the same time a musicological breakdown of his work is...labyrinthine. That's being polite about it. Maybe the answer rests elsewhere. Oh, well, who gives a fart, I'm breaking my own cardinal rule about not getting autobiographical. I felt I needed to explain my absence.

One quick final thing: I will also admit I am my own harshest critic, and while I reserve the option to not publish a comment on this site I find rude or unflattering*, I didn't have to. Either you guys are starved for decent album reviews or I really do have some skills to speak of as a writer. I would like to thank all of you for leaving comments. It was very touching - thanks to Dave Emlen and his fabulous dedication to The Kinks - and I realized that Kinks fans come in all shapes, sizes, and tastes, but we're all united under the umbrella of Ray Davies' genius. I wish I could say the same for Zappa fans...everyone from leftists like me to classicists to guitar hero rockists to cynical Ron Paul libertarian assholes want to claim him for their own. His widow isn't helping things at all, unless of course dividing the fan base even more sharply than before is considered helpful in some esoteric circle of which I am not aware.

The Hell with it, let's get this started before I lay down on the couch while you read on in an overstuffed leather chair.

I've got lots of issues with The Who, almost to the same extent as The Rolling Stones, though not as dramatically. With The Rolling Stones, I feel like they barely achieved their potential to do great things in their time. That slew of albums from Aftermath to Goat's Head Soup (yes, I'm a Stones fan who loves that album, one of those...) is a great run. I think Some Girls was excellent, though those two interim albums are God-awful. Their longevity is to their detriment. Anthony DeCurtis, citing Glenn Gass in a documentary on Bob Dylan (I know this because Glenn proudly showed this in the Dylan class, saying, "How cool is this! I'm the guy Anthony DeCurtis is talking about! I'm quotable!") said something to the effect that his pre-Love And Theft albums were so not up to par that the quality of his earlier works can begin to come into question.

I love The Rolling Stones when they're at their peak. Unfortunately, this is only a slice of a very inconsistent cake. This is the same band that did Dirty Work. Every album since then is praised upon release as "their best since Some Girls" or, in more daring circles, "their best since Exile On Main Street." Then a couple years go by and we all realize we were just creaming our collective jeans because The Rolling Stones once again set out and proved to us that they're not dead yet, with a leading single that is some rewrite of "Brown Sugar" to make it certain.

With time marching forward, as it tends to do, The Who are digging a similar grave. A lot of people checked out when they lost Keith Moon in 1978. And yet enough time has passed that there are people out their who are completely fine with Face Dances and It's Hard and appreciate them for what they are. Kind of like the rare Three Stooges fan who defends Shemp Howard and in some rare cases prefers him over Curly. And that's fine...but then John Entwistle died the night before the start of their tour, and they carried on.

I won't judge that decision, for Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend to carry on and even release an album in 2006, Endless Wire. Just don't call yourselves The Who!

Going back to the Three Stooges, The Who were sort of a comedy troupe, The Four Stooges of rock and roll. Sure, The Beatles had charm and those cute Liverpudlian accents, The Monkees were cuddly and safe for prepubescent consumption, and The Rolling Stones were ruffians with their defiant nature...but these guys were true hooligans in the sense of fun, contained destruction. (They didn't burn churches, for example.)

Please, do yourself a favor and watch The Kids Are Alright. I'll do my best to describe the band, but the film does it better. These four distinct personalities meshed so badly together that it worked. They were notorious for not getting along, at least back in the day. In present time, Roger and Pete probably lean on each other like Siamese twins. Pete was the serious singer/songwriter of the group, seeking spiritual enlightenment, a mix of the best of Ray Davies and George Harrison. Roger Daltrey was the street smart, pretty face of the group (I don't ever think he was a particularly good-looking man myself) and not a bad singer when he wasn't overdoing it, looking just as likely a dockworker as he was a rock singer. John Entwistle was the token dark, quiet one of the band...yet also the one with the sharpest, driest wit. A snappy dresser, the proverbial anchor as both the bassist and the only one not keen on destroying his gear on stage. (In the hotel rooms, he was just as bad as the next guy. Literally, the next guy I'll be discussing!)

And then there was Keith Moon, the reason I wanted to be a drummer. He was all the great comedic madmen combined, as destructive as Curly Howard, lovable as Harpo Marx, angst-ridden and apt to play dress up as Peter Sellers...and yet also a great drummer. Don't expect him to ever play a straight rhythm & blues-friendly pocket beat, no way...he seemed in perpetual motion, all over his drum kit, and yet with the layout of the band, with a bass pretty much playing lead and the guitar providing rhythm, it worked. I read somewhere his drumming was much like a keyboard arrangement. A bit of a stretch, maybe, but I can say he was able to take what could have been a chorus of chaos on his drum kit and make it work into being both elegant and perfectly rhythmic.

Before the band's invention of bawdy arena rock on Who's Next, before that terrible bucket of overindulgent rectal mucous that is Ken Russell's film version of Tommy, before the countless farewell tours that boast to be the last time - FOR REAL THIS TIME! - only to be disproven a year or so later, before "Eminence Front," before "You Better, You Bet," before Rock Band made them known to an array of 13 year olds who can afford a gaming console but can't afford a low-end guitar so they can play for real, and before CSI cannibalized not just one but three of their songs into cut-and-paste "we're using this for no real reason" theme songs...

...before all that, there was The Who, four guys from Shepherd's Bush in Northern London, who loved R&B and soul, but were terrible at it, their saving grace being one of the great defiant anthems of their time, let alone all time, "My Generation." I'm quite harsh on their first album, in the same way I was with Please Please Me. There's some great songs, precursors to punk (Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and Mick Jones of The Clash - no relation - have both said that early Who was the music they learned guitar to) like "Out In The Street" and "The Good's Gone." Even when they're whimsical, as on "It's Not True," the song is quite solid musically and on a lyrical level funny.

When the time came for their second album, it was decided that in order to make more money off of their new LP, they would all write at least two songs a piece. Roger wound up doing one, John and Keith each turned in two, and Pete did the rest except for their cover of "Heatwave" by Martha & The Vandellas. The results are surprisingly creative, though there was no doubt some sort of pressure due to the changing current of pop music.

Between Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Rubber Soul in 1965, the bar was raised for the British bands. I'll go ahead and throw The Beach Boys into this mix as well, because alongside Dylan, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye they were the only true innovating artists in America (though much respect goes out to the men behind the consoles, the Phil Spectors and Berry Gordys and Jim Stewarts who took American pop music beyond the realm of Fabian) at that time, though I don't think Gaye and Robinson saw The Beatles as "competition." The scenes on the West Coast were just opening up, because of this fusion of The Beatles and Dylan.

It was up to The Beatles' fellow countrymen (plus The Beach Boys) to keep up with the ante raised by those three albums. A standard was established, and whether or not you could overcome that hurdle was a litmus test. Are you willing to go out of your comfort zone? The Rolling Stones did it with Aftermath, an album of all-original tunes without a single cover to be found. Taking more of a cue from Dylan, Ray Davies did "A Well Respected Man," "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion," and "Sunny Afternoon" before ending 1966 with the one-two punch of Face To Face and "Dead End Street," firmly establishing The Kinks as an individual, trend-bucking ensemble. (Right in time for them to get banned from the United States, but them's the breaks.) The Beach Boys did Pet Sounds, which is a producer's album through and through.

Other British groups thankfully (Herman's Hermits) and regrettably (The Yardbirds, Them, The Animals) didn't quite make it. As much as I love the Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds, producer Mickie Most took them out of their sonically experimental territory heard on Roger The Engineer and into psychedelic pop. With The Animals is was a combination of their lack of a strong central songwriter (though that was the case with Them and The Yardbirds as well) and the fact that half the band drank too much and the other half smoked too much, and I'm not talking about ciggies.

Though they were late bloomers, in this weird turf between The Kinks' emergence and latter-day British Invasion acts like The Creation, The Pretty Things, and The Small Faces, The Who responded to this radical shift with flying colors. I don't rank A Quick One as one of the all-time greats, there were still some kinks (sorry!) to be worked out, but when they were on you'd better buckle the Hell up. What weighed their first album down so badly was their attempts at James Brown numbers. They're so bad...well, they're not quite good (though my father ranks The Who Sing My Generation as one of the funniest albums ever, alongside Elvis Presley's Christmas record). They're pretty crummy, actually.

It was "My Generation" that put them on the map, and their follow-up single, "Substitute," carried on this message of angst and a surprisingly honest message of "I look pretty tall / But my heels are high." The song isn't the same aural assault that "My Generation" was, but just as strong in every respect. Producer Shel Talmy**, apparently in an act of spite over the release of the self-produced "Substitute," put out the song "A Legal Matter" as a single. A step backwards in the short-term, yes...but thank God history has ignored this slight blunder.

Their next single was "I'm A Boy," a beautifully arranged and funny story of a song. It was part of a larger sequence of songs Pete had in mind, to be called "Quads." I can't find much else on it, other than that they would be thematically related songs. A couple has quadruplets, expecting four little girls...but they get three girls and a boy, who they subsequently raise as though he were a girl. Groundbreaking for its time, still a bit shocking today (maybe more since everyone seems to be too politically correct for their own good), "I'm A Boy" was another step further in showing the band had morphed beyond their Mod origins, venturing into pop art, albeit musically, in the same way that I consider The Residents to be the musical embodiment of Dada.

A few stray singles from their first album, "The Kids Are Alright" (another excellent tune) and "La-La-La Lies" (eh...not so good) and the EP Ready, Steady, Who! were floated out to keep the band in the public eye.

Then came "Happy Jack." It was a #3 hit in the UK, but more importantly it got The Who into the US charts, peaking at #24. It's a great song to hear, even today...it sounds like it's on the verge of exploding during the verses, and when the chorus comes along the band takes the idea of tension-and-release to the maximum. The word "assault" keeps coming up in these descriptions. I know in this day and age of death metal, speed metal, hardcore punk, etc., "Happy Jack" and its chorus probably sounds like a walk in the park when compared to Napalm Death or Minor Threat. Once again, just put it in the context of 1966. No record bounced along the way it did, not even "Paperback Writer."

"Happy Jack" was recorded after A Quick One, but released before it as a single. A Quick One has a spirit to it, of a band with a newfound sense of freedom, the eccentric (but eager to push the envelope) Kit Lambert behind the console, and ready to pull out the stops and establish themselves as their own band. It took The Kinks' string of sardonic folk-rock singles and Face To Face to show their chops beyond the (delightfully sublime) proto-metal of "You Really Got Me." In a very similar manner, A Quick One was The Who's first proper album in their own realm without relying on cover tunes or trying to emulate someone else's sound or style.

And away we go. Buckle your seatbelts...at least for side A.

01. Run, Run, Run [10]
As far as album openers go, and there are many, many great ones out there, this is like the running of the bulls captured by a four-piece band. They pound this one out like their lives depend on it. Lyrically, it's quite an inversion of the somewhat scornful take on women in "The Good's Gone," "A Legal Matter," and "It's Not True." On those three tunes from their first album, the girl in question is the source of strife, in the latter examples attempting to ruin the narrator's life. Mean, moody, and magnificent. But on "Run, Run, Run," the song's subject is an object of sympathy, a hapless chick encountering nothing but horrible luck and encountering symbols of foreboding superstition.

Beyond the whimsical lyrics, sung with the same brooding voice of "The Good's Gone," the song is a musical bombardment. Keith is pounding out four beats a measure on the snare, bass, and his cymbals, Pete and John do their things quite aptly - I love the way John brings the band back into the final verse with those solid triplets out of the solo - and Roger's double-tracked lead sounds like two equally strong performances, of which they could not pick a favorite, at least to my ears. Great song, and proof that The Who were a Hell of a hard rock band...a good three years before Led Zeppelin.

For shits and giggles, and further proof that I love the Internet, here's the song in mono. Being a slightly different mix, keep your ears open for some feedback around 1:45 in the song.

02. Boris The Spider [10]
One of John's two songs, this one being his songwriting debut on a Who album (his "In The City" was the b-side to "I'm A Boy"). He hits the ground running with a Who classic, though not a single, greeted by fans like an old friend at concerts. During the verses, John demonstrates what a strong singing voice he has, before the un-human basso chorus and the falsetto "creeeeepy, craaaaawlie" bridge show off what a dynamic set of pipes he has. Again, there's a sense of lyrical humor in this song, with the music's heaviness throwing things off-kilter in a good way, in that the song's hero sees a spider and kills it with a book. That's it, but it's turned into a 2:30 pop song. Terrific!

03. I Need You [10]
Here's something you don't see often: a drummer writing a song. Not only that, but a Hell of a good song with a good melody and a rollicking performance to boot. The song's original title was "I Need You (Like I Need A Hole In The Head)." Lyrically, it's a bit choppy. I'm led to understand it was a bit of a snap at The Beatles, as Mr. Moon felt that they talked behind his back in a code - I should probably mention that the members of the band at this point were probably still popping amphetamines which can induce paranoia, make you a better musician, and lead to the creation of Blonde On Blonde - and the voice at 1:12 is Keith doing his imitation of John Lennon.

This song also features my favorite presentation of the drums on any song recorded, ever, on those choruses, where the cymbals almost wash out the entire rest of the band. It kind of sounds like that when you're playing with a band, so I won't deny its accuracy, never mind the resulting effect just sounds cool. By the way, that's Keith on lead vocal, not Pete, though I can see how one could get the two confused.

04. Whiskey Man [11]
My favorite song on the album, by far, which is saying plenty given the last three songs. John sings lead again as he did on "Boris The Spider" (sounding an awful lot like Roger), turning in another great performance. There's also a French horn solo, played by Mr. Entwistle. And it's perfect. The song is about an alcoholic who is joined by the "whiskey man" whenever he drinks. As we learn, it's a figment of his imagination, induced by the alcoholism. With the final reprise of the song's opening lines, John sings it like a looney rocking back and forth in his "little padded cell," reminding himself why he's there in the first place. Woefully overlooked, I feel, in favor of its arachnid cousin track, this is the better of the two, and one of The Who's finest moments as a band.

05. Heatwave [5.5]
This is where it stops being iconic. To its merit, the song is driven by the bass. After ripping it up on the first four tracks, this one totters along rather clumsily. The original by Martha & The Vandellas was catchy, at a stomping, clap-along tempo. But here, it seems like it doesn't quite pick up momentum, I feel at the wrong tempo, but at the same time it sounds like an outtake for what could have been a really good Motown cover (see their amazing version of "Dancing In The Street," also by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, from The Who BBC Sessions and you'll know what I'm talking about). A good touch of wasted potential, I'm afraid.

To make matters worse/better (depending on who you ask), the American release of this album removed this song in favor of their latest single, "Happy Jack," which also became the title of the LP. For once, the US version of the album is in fact BETTER. God, I cringe saying that...but it's true.

06. Cobwebs And Strange [10]
Thankfully, "Heatwave" is a mere 117 awkward, unsure seconds long, meaning we aren't in the "they could have done better" territory for an extended period. This is Keith's other song, and, um...it's out there. For any other band, this would arguably be about as weird as they got. But over the next few years, Keith contributed some real oddities as single b-sides ("Dogs Part Two," "Waspman") that are at least just as odd and unique as this one.

It's a march, it's a series of bitchin' drum solos...and that's it, but it's maniacal good fun. Hopefully you're watching the video attached for this song. It's the promo film for "Call Me Lightning" intercut with footage and photographs depicting Keith's wild side, from The Kids Are Alright. He may have only lived 31 years, but it seems he had a lot of fun. A lot. However much of it he remembered at the end of the day is highly speculative.

07. Don't Look Away [9]
The band opens the second half of the record with one of Pete's. "Run, Run, Run" this is not, but it shows Pete had as much capability to write a Beatlesque pop song (I can picture McCartney singing this on Help! or Rubber Soul, right down to the slightly countrified solo that could have come out of George's Gretsch hollowbody, the one he had on The Ed Sullivan Show) as he could do an anthemic "WHY DON'T YOU ALL F-F-F-FADE AWAY" declaration of independence set to a no-holds-barred musical backdrop. I'm docking a point for this one being maybe a hair too derivative, but a 9 is still a good score. Like Aftermath, I used to piss on side B of this record with contempt, if only because these songs didn't have the hyperbolic dynamics of, say, "Run, Run, Run" or "Cobwebs And Strange." Now in my advanced age of 22 (having first consciously heard this album at age three, later buying the CD at age 12), I am once again eating my words. Pass the ketchup, please.

08. See My Way [4]
On second thought, hold the ketchup. This song is pretty dull. The liner notes for BBC Sessions described this as being fairly tentative compared to the version they did for Auntie Beeb (which I can't find on the YouTube, proving once again why I hate the Internet). This just sounds unfinished, again, like they could have done a significantly better take. Whatever instrument that is playing the solo (sort of a weird organ or a flute-voiced organ?) sounds stupid to me. John's bassline saves this song from being a lo-fi heap of parrot droppings, to crib a Python quote.

Did I mention this song was written by Roger?

09. So Sad About Us [10]
Mod-rock's last stand, at least until British punk shook hands with New Wave and gave us The Jam, The Buzzcocks, et al. This is a great song, and its cover by The Jam (and others) has given this song a legacy as a shimmering example of Mod rock, the first Britpop song for my money. (So they didn't just invent punk music!) A step up from "Don't Look Away" in all the right ways, a pop song unique to Mr. Townshend's pen, very much in the vein of The Who's own style and sound. One of hundreds of semi-obscure album tracks (like "Picture Book" by The Kinks, "Not A Second Time" by The Beatles, or "Take It Or Leave It" by The Rolling Stones) out there that would/should/could have been smash singles in a perfect world, had they been released as such. It's also one of the best breakup songs of all time, period.

Here's a clip of them doing it live, which I'd never seen before. It's always neat to see these once-rare clips that were unavailable when Jeff Stein was assembling The Kids Are Alright.

10. A Quick One, While He's Away [8.5]
I've been spoiled on this song. Its vastly superior live rendition from The Rolling Stones' unreleased-until-1996 Rock & Roll Circus TV special, featured in The Kids Are Alright, is as far as I'm concerned the greatest real-time performance ever captured, and The Who's best moment as a band pre-Tommy. It is also a tour de force^ if you're a drummer.

But this version? Let me play like the politicians do and dodge that question. The story behind its inception is that the band had about ten minutes to fill on the record. Kit Lambert suggested to Pete that he do a ten-minute song. He initially balked, saying a ten minute song was unheard of, and that "British pop songs are two minute fifty, by tradition!" as Pete explained to Melvyn Bragg in 1974. The agreement struck was that Pete write a ten-minute story, with each segment of the story being a song in its own right.

Here's the breakdown of it:
[0:00-1:59] Her Man's Been Gone / Crying Town, then after a really bad edit...
[2:00-3:31] We Have A Remedy
[3:32-5:13] Ivor The Engine Driver
[5:14-6:40] Soon Be Home
[6:40-9:10] You Are Forgiven

It isn't as bad as I remembered, listening to it again, once I get the blistering stage treatment out of my head...pretending it doesn't exist. What sounds like white noise during "Ivor The Engine Driver" is in fact the crash cymbals sped up and compressed, to emulate a train engine. It doesn't work out as such, but still creates an interesting effect. The performance on the whole is a bit rough-shod, though the production on "We Have A Remedy" and "You Are Forgiven" is phenomenally done. Its polish makes it obvious the band had heard Pet Sounds.

This blows "Going Home" out of the water, that's for sure; the boys here don't seem keen on wasting your time. It's an interestingly done recording, I'd love to hear the early takes of it. Even though it sounds brittle in parts, the melodies throughout are exceptional. For this to have just been from one songwriter's pen is the telltale sign of Mr. Townshend's genius. There are bits I'm not crazy about: the vocal interlude between "We Have A Remedy" and "Ivor The Engine Driver," with the heavy echoes, sounds thin...I don't like it. It sticks out to me for some reason.

For what it is, a pressing of the boundaries for what pop music could/should be, in this case an extended story made up of several short songs, this is a successful experiment. If only more progressive rock acts had followed suit instead of pursuing the pompous classically-oriented avenues that abound with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and Yes...ugh...

For this tune, which I once hated (for real!), I'm giving The Who an A+ for effort, B- for the final product, averaging out for the score it's earned. Pete would return to the idea of a larger work of music telling stories or at least featuring a concept, but I'll save those for later.

Subtotal: 88% B+

Replayability Factor: 1
I can hear side A anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Side B, which I do enjoy aside from "See My Way," is pretty good...but there's too many nuances in "A Quick One, While He's Away" that dictate careful listening. Careful listening, as in, headphones are almost mandatory to enjoy it all.

Consistency Factor: 1
For them, this was groundbreaking. I can't emphasize enough that they really came into their own with this album. The final track was the first venture into conceptual work, which Pete would actively pursue for the next seven years on the band's albums. Much of their "classic" career is given its grounding here. However, the format of Pete having all of four (!) of the album's ten songs is unheard of elsewhere. On all future albums, there's a song or three by John (at the least, zero on Quadrophenia, at most three on Who Are You and It's Hard) and aside from "Tommy's Holiday Camp," credited to Keith (but written by Pete, who gave Keith credit for the idea of a holiday camp) and a few rare cover tunes, THAT'S IT. This was Pete's game, much like Ray Davies' role as the dominant songwriter in The Kinks, with the occasional contribution from brother Dave. It's a great album, this one, but hardly representative of The Who and each member's roles within the band.

External Factors: 2
Inventing punk music wasn't good enough for them, so they had to go and invent progressive rock with "A Quick One, While He's Away," with its segments and tempo changes, which they in turn streamlined into an amazing live workout. Beyond that, nowhere else can you hear the band working collectively and creatively. As I said above under "Consistency Factor," this is the only album where you'll hear songs by Keith Moon. Or Roger, though in this case I say that's fine with me. 1966 was the year the rest of the hip world responded to electric Dylan and the matured Beatles, and though they were still freshmen in the grand scheme of the British Invasion, they passed the test.

TOTAL: 92% A-

Singles:
(There's a LOT, so get comfy!)

01. Substitute [10]
Iconic Who, a more honest approach of examining youth culture by way of identity crises and putting on fronts. It is nowhere near as madhouse as "My Generation," with its acoustic guitar riff, but John and Keith cover the sonic low end of the song quite well. At this stage, Roger sounds like he's still singing a bit higher than he should, but given the lyrical themes of insecurity throughout this song it works. A great single by a band on their way to greater things.

02. Circles [9]
Make no bones about it, The Who's single discography is a confusing mess of only-available-on-rarities-compilations-from-the-1980's, a song being the b-side in the UK but not in the US, only to be put out as a US b-side the following year (but in a different mix) - it is infinitely frustrating.

Take this song, for instance. This version is entitled "Circles," though it was erroneously labeled "Instant Party" on some other issues. THEN, they re-record the song (see below), entitle it "Instant Party," and it's the next single's b-side. Do they WANT to give us completists headaches?

This song is a great example of The Who's early sound, fast but not overly aggressive, a nice touch of brass from John, a good guitar line on the brink of melting down into feedback, and some unique vocal interplay between Pete and Roger on the bridge. They're on fire here.

01. A Legal Matter - to be discussed when I cover the band's debut album, where it makes its premiere.

02. Instant Party [6]
The original version (recorded first, but released later) of "Circles." Now that you're that much acquainted, here comes a curve-ball: this version was originally intended to be the band's next single, their final production with Shel Talmy. It was to have a song entitled "Instant Party Mixture" (can't find it on the YouTube, but as far as I'm concerned you're not missing much) as its b-side. Still with me?

So anyway, Mr. Talmy put out the "A Legal Matter" / "Instant Party" single, ironically becoming a bit of a legal matter for the band. As with The Kinks, Talmy played no insignificant role in the band's early development, but once he'd overstayed his welcome he couldn't have made himself scarce fast enough. That's at least how I feel.

How is this original version here? The trouble is, the song is just okay. It sort of drones along, not as good. It seems like Talmy had begun phoning it in, as they say, with The Who.

01. The Kids Are Alright
02. The Ox (UK single)
02. A Legal Matter (US single)
Again, all album tracks.

01. I'm A Boy [11]
I talked a little bit about this one earlier, so forgive me if it gets redundant. I love this song, and quite frankly I'm shocked it doesn't get any sort of respect for being four years ahead of "Lola" and six years ahead of Lou Reed's "Take A Walk On The Wild Side." I mean, the idea of parents forcing their little boy to dress and behave like a girl? It's sick, twisted, but it's also hilarious! The arrangement is beautiful, with the harmonies on the tail end of the bridge coming straight out of the Brian Wilson playbook. Fantastic!

There's a slower, different version, released on the 1971 compilation Meaty, Beaty, Big, And Bouncy. Equally enjoyable, with a more prominent brass part (which gets a solo in the songs middle), an extra verse, and the tempo somewhere in the maestoso range. Really cool, now somewhat rare since the label will probably never remaster Meaty, Beaty, Big, And Bouncy. Thanks for nothing, jerks!

02. In The City [10]
This John Entwistle tune was all he and Keith, with some guitar overdubs done later by Pete. So the harmonies in the verses are between John and Keith, who sounds quite a bit like Roger here. I've always found this to be a very fun song, very much influenced by surf music (it should be obvious by now Pete was into The Beach Boys, but Keith adored surf music, citing his favorite song ever as "Don't Worry, Baby" by The Beach Boys). A perfect example of the hidden treasures that can be found on the flipsides of singles every once in a blue moon. Mercifully, this song was a bonus track on the 1995 CD reissue of A Quick One.

01. Happy Jack [11]
If you wanted to take 1966 Who and encapsulate them in one song, it's this one. Sheer perfection. The song about a misfit named Jack was a big hit in the UK, but it also broke The Who into the United States. Though they would still have a ways to go before they became a household name, it was a Hell of a start.

In late 1967/early 1968, The Who came really close to starring in their own television series, a British version of The Monkees. Thankfully - or not? - nothing came of it, beyond the promo clip for "Call Me Lightning" posted above as well as this one, featured in The Kids Are Alright. The film does a pretty good job interpreting the song's kinetic energy. (But then I grew up watching it.) It also sums up the band: three complete lunatics, two of whom (Keith and Pete) keep one-upping each other with who can get more cake on their face, John the quiet but equally mad enabler, and Roger, the too-cool-for-school accomplice. Great fun.

02. I've Been Away [9] (UK single)
John Entwistle's b-side is a dark piano-driven waltz about getting locked away for a crime he didn't commit by his own brother. He then vows to murder his brother upon his release. A truly upbeat, commercial-friendly tune, for sure. I love it.

02. Whiskey Man (US single) - see above; album track.

Whew, I didn't think I'd get through all these damned singles!

WHAT?! There's MORE?! DAMMIT!

Ready, Steady, Who! (EP)
01. Disguises [9]
Rather an odd, moody number. Love the oboe solo. The lyrics sound like it could have been from the first album, though its musical arrangement is off-kilter, with swishing effected cymbals springing up throughout the recording, a droning guitar arrangement (in a good way), and some added percussion - claves, I believe. As the only...I hate saying this..."real" song on this collection, this might have fared better as a single. Then again, I don't know much about how EP's fared in their time. They seemed to have been important at some point in time, dying out somewhere in the late 1960's. Still, good song, not as memorable as their singles of this era, but a good bit of studio experimentation.

There's a different version on the BBC Sessions album, although I wish the oboe part had been left intact...that and Roger has that whiny brat vocal that lots of modern pop-punk bands have. Not as good as I remembered it, though the rest of the band gives a more alert performance. They sounded like they were ready to doze off on the Ready, Steady, Who! version, but I think that was the idea.

02. Circles [9]
Same as above, the b-side of "Substitute." It may be a different mix or something, but all this research has made my brain hurt. Given its running time, it's safe to assume it is the shorter, brassier version.

03. Batman [9]
Yes, the theme from the Batman television series, and it's awesome. The bass solo, chugging through the I-IV-V riff like it matters, is one of the coolest moments from 1966 Who. Is it a bit of a toss-off number? Yeah, sure, it is. But you know something? It's a blast!

04. Bucket "T" [9]
A Jan & Dean cover, with Keith Moon singing, this marks part two in a three-part series on the same EP where the band pays tribute to the West Coast sound. (Sure, the "Batman Theme" might have been written by Neal Hefti, a jazz composer, and I have encountered a recording where it's used as the head for a jazz piece, but given the right band it's a Hell of a groove.) In a bizarre, but fitting, twist of luck for The Who, this was a single - with "Run, Run, Run" AS THE B-SIDE - that went to the top of the charts...in Sweden. Even their chart success had a strange sense of humor.

Oh, and their only number one in the United States? The post-Moon piece of shit "You Better, You Bet," which sounds more like a Meat Loaf tune than The Who. Now if you'll pardon me, I need to go vomit. (Note the absence of a YouTube link for the song I just referenced. Look it up at your own risk. It's awful.)

05. Barbara Ann [9]
The Beach Boys made this song popular, and The Who gave it a treatment not unlike "Bucket T," with Keith on lead vocals again, the band flying through it like they popped a handful of Purple Hearts, and a slide whistle solo. Amazing!

BUT WAIT...THERE'S MORE!

I saw this on Wikipedia, and decided to tally this up for shits and giggles...

Jigsaw Puzzle, one of at least four "great lost Who albums," the other three being Who's For Tennis?, Five Foot Car, Four Foot Garage (EP), and Lifehouse. Its status is nowhere near as mythic as, say, Lifehouse, mainly because every song on it got released one way or another. The record is little more than a different presentation of the 1966 Who sound with a different title.

SIDE A
01. I'm A Boy (Slow Version) [10] - reduced to a ten
02. Run, Run, Run [10]
03. Don't Look Away [9]
04. Circles (Version 2) [9]
05. I Need You [10]
06. Showbiz Sonata (original title for "Cobwebs And Strange") [10]

SIDE B
07. In The City [10]
08. Boris The Spider [10]
09. Whiskey Man [11]
10. See My Way [4]
11. Heat Wave [5.5]
12. Barbara Ann [9]

TOTAL: 89.5% B+
(I won't fart around with tilting it, since it never got released...but with that running order I don't think the album starts or ends with fitting songs. And "See My Way" is somehow still intact, yet "So Sad About Us" is nowhere to be found. For shame!)


I'd like to end this trip to Who-land with a special comment on how frustrating it is to completely capture all their singles, in spite of the plethora of bonus cuts on these early albums' reissues. Even some a-sides ("Substitute," "I'm A Boy," "Happy Jack," "Pictures Of Lily") can only be found on compilations.

The best we can hope for from those money-grubbing jerkoffs at the label is one of those overpriced "singles box" deals with each CD holding just the tracks from the singles. (Oh, wait, it exists!) Let's say they had twelve singles...each song could probably fit quite cozily on one 70-odd-minute CD. Makes sense, right? Wrong. They'll just put the two tracks from each single on a separate, regular-sized CD.

Put on your lipstick, lube up, and bend over, because these guys are SCREWING US!

There's a guy running a Who fansite who I asked if he could do a fellow fan a favor and send me the incomparable Entwistle b-side "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde." (More on him in a second.) The song can be found on a 1968 compilation, the deceptively titled Magic Bus: The Who On Tour, which was released in the late 1980's on CD. It has since been discontinued by the manufacturer, meaning a remaster is probably not in the cards. In other words, it will sound like shit.

It can be found on a remaster of Magic Bus, imported from Japan, at the sensible price of $59.99 new, and (get ready) $162.85. Used.

It can ALSO be found on a compilation originally issued on vinyl by the band's label, considered an official rarities comp, now available on CD for only $52.99 new, $111.17 used.

And yet this jackass gave me a stern, condescending attitude of "You're not asking me to break the law, are you?" When I told him I figured so long as money wasn't changing hands, here's the analogy he gave me...try not to laugh:

"The artist loses money anytime music (which they sell for a profit) is distributed for free.

Its really no different than someone breaking into your house, taking various items, selling them and saying, "did I do something wrong?"

in other words, it is theft. I don't participate in theft of any kind. Perhaps you need to think about that too."

Though I won't name names, his site is actually excellent. He's got an attention to detail akin to my own. Unfortunately, his attitude about sharing - the phrase tape-swapping ring any bells? - is shitty.

Pete Townshend is making nickels off any of the discontinued copies of Magic Bus sold. As for the imports, I have no idea. Probably about the same, possibly less if they're unauthorized. If I felt like Pete (and Roger) needed the money and I was fine paying waaaay too much for music, sure, no problem. A more appropriate analogy, should we even reduce the argument to them, is Pete Townshend opens his wallet and a shit-ton of money comes pouring out. A nickel rolls my way. I pick it up. I pocket it.

I'd like to think the only thing I would have in my house worth a nickel would be a nickel. Pretty sure everything else is of considerably higher value. Why, some items cost about as much as they're charging for those imports!

Who's the thief here again? A frustrated fan, or the shysters who refuse to be sensible about packaging rarities, a multi-billion dollar corporation? Yeah, Who site owner, I have thought about it as you suggested, and my conclusion was that you're a greedy dick, the people at the record label are (somehow) worse, and I still managed to acquire the song - on YouTube. I win.

Excuse my rant, it's frustrating to begin with, and even more frustrating that someone who actually HAS all the songs won't share. If you'd like to talk about copyright violations, I'm sure all those album covers he has posted on his site aren't exactly being paid for...

Yes, it's a tragedy that being a Who fan doesn't mean the same thing as being a Kinks fan, where it's a community of literate, friendly lads (and lasses).

But you know something? I'll bet Mr. Who Site Owner and I can agree that this clip is fucking brilliant:


* I guess I'm too used to all those dumb-shits who comment over at the YouTube, where several of my own videos have gotten harsh, anonymous sentences from people with zero videos to their own name. A hundred people can come up and say, "Good job!," but it only takes that one asshole who says, "It was stupid, and so are you!" that can ruin my week. With this forum, I've come to realize now those pig-ignorant Philistines who've nothing better to do than spread bad vibes under a phony handle probably don't have the patience to read. You may have noticed I tend to be a bit verbose.

But seriously, set aside an afternoon and troll YouTube comments. It says a lot about the nature of the Western world. In short, we're screwed.

** Shel Talmy also produced the early Kinks. While he did a great job shaping both The Who's and The Kinks' early sound, he also sounded like a detached egocentric, unable to tell the difference between his version of "Dead End Street" and the one Ray re-recorded the following day.

^ Yes, that's me...two and a half years younger than I am now. I'm quite embarrassed by it, so go easy on me. I just really think it's a Hell of a trip for a drummer and hope you can at least see that, my own little fuck-ups throughout and all.


Don't agree? Leave a comment!

New? Check out my entry on how I rate my records!

3 comments:

Shelley said...

I'm a little surprised you gave the album a lower score. Yeah side B is not as good as side A, but I think it's still a good album. And ending it the way they did was definitely the right choice.

And I'm quite surprised A Quick One While He's Away got only an 8.5. I mean, this is where I will TOTALLY disagree with you on this song, I think this version is WAY better than the live version. I'm sorry, but your dad is right. The song is definitely in the category of: "Now THAT'S a good song." You didn't mention though how the whole song sounds like a train (just the cymbals part). I think thats one of the coolest parts of the song (the way it slows down, speeds up, and even stops at one point).

That Happy Jack cartoon was so awesome.


Peace

Andrew said...

Great review as always. Can't think of anything I really disagreed with.

I really wish Universal would release a nice rarities collection for the Who. I want The Wasp Man, Dogs Part 2 and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde damn it!

bamajohn1 said...

Great review! I'm a Kinks man all the way myself! I just wanted to correct your statement that 'You Better, You Bet' was the Who's only #1 hit. I presume that you meant in the USA? If so, that was an inaccurate statement by a large mark. The Who only had 1 Top 10 single in America, 'I Can See For Miles', which reached #9 (You Better, You Bet' hit #18 I think). Funny thing, the Kinks first 3 US singles (not counting the first Beatles copy and the Long Tall Sally cover) went Top 10 in America. By the time the Who broke through in America, the Kinks had been banned.

I really like the Who, but what a tragedy for the Kinks that they got banned at the height of their powers in 1966. Of course, some folks have said that it was a blessing in disguise; that Ray just focused on his art and his Anglo-centric ways because of said ban. I kind of wish they hadn't been banned because they would have received the stature today they deserve here in the states.

Oh yea, I actually liked 'You Better, You Bet' because I was just starting to listen to the radio when that song was originally out; and I liked it! No accounting for taste, I guess ha ha.

I'll be reading your comments on Zappa as I want to get into his work with some decent knowledge base.


Keep up the great work!