Who’s Next

Do you remember your first love? That tingling sensation. Your pulse rate quickens, you smile as if your facial muscles are out of control. I only just remember that. It was a long time ago. I was young, confused and immature. It wasn’t really my first love though. That happened when I was 8. Before you contact the authorities hear me out. If we’re honest most of us become obsessed or fixated with toys, games or a friend when young. I had super flight deck (pretty damn good), armies of toy soldiers (also good) and my school friends Mark and Lee. We were thick as for several primary school years.
The turning point came in the form of an LP. Well to be fair my second LP. I had reached the grand old age of 9. My friends were listening to Gary Glitter and Sweet. I on the other hand was bought Who’s Next. At the time I had a record player built out of an old valve Garrard radiogram. My dad built the cabinet and assembled a fully functioning humming record player. I had two singles Born to Be With You by Dave Edmunds and Squeeze Me Pleeze Me by Slade. For my 8th birthday I was bought the album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy by The Who. This was a compilation released on Track Records that covered from their first single Can’t Explain to Pinball Wizard off Tommy. I played it, treasured it and learned all the words. I puzzled at the meaning of Pictures of Lily. I wondered why Roger wanted to die before he got old? Did Happy Jack really live in the sand on the Isle of Man?

Who’s Next came along. It was not like the tracks on my other Who album. It was loud, angry and full of growling passion. The album was released in August 1971. Pete Townsend had worked on a successor to the 1969 sensation Tommy; another ambitious rock opera called Lifehouse. The Who’s new producer Glyn Johns steered him towards producing an album of individual songs with their roots of the Lifehouse project instead.  

The result was an album of nine masterpieces (My Wife written by John Entwistle). The opening track Baba O’Riley is for me the best opening track in rock. Townsend was introducing the use of synthesizer and this features from the start. The song builds up by introducing the rhythm section behind Daltrey’s astonishing vocal lead. I have listened to this song for 41 years and I never cease to not get goosebumps every time the guitar lead joins in. I want to smash down doors, kick furniture and shout. There are many heavy rock bands that are loud but no one and I mean no one is harder in rock than The Who on Who’s Next. The band at the time of recording were at breaking point over the attempts to get the Lifehouse project off the ground. Townsend had fallen out with original producer Kit Lambert and was near a suicidal breakdown. Given the backdrop of all this the end result is frankly amazing. I believe The Who are at their best when angry. Baba O’Riley included Dave Arbus on the violin in its midst (at the suggestion of Keith Moon).

Bargain is a classic Townsend rant with energy and
anger brimming over. Love Ain’t for Keeping, a long time favourite of mine, which shows off his acoustic skills beautifully. It always feels the most upbeat song on the album of which it never seems there are many.
My Wife is a strong contribution by Entwistle incorporating his brass instrumentation. It has the same energy, anger and drive and fits perfectly. The Song Is Over is a nod to the abandoned rock opera as well as the demise of Pete Townsend spiritual guru Meher Baba.
Side two of the album kicks off with Getting in Tune a gentle beginning with snarling undertones. This song shows off the flexibility of Roger Daltrey’s vocals. He is so much more than a powerful rock singer. He does subtlety and expression wonderfully.
Going Mobile cranks up the energy with an almost folky acoustic song. The lead vocal is taken by Townsend to great effect.
Behind Blue Eyes one of the three singles released from the original album is a true star. It starts with a very quiet, melancholy acoustic tune. It gradually builds up to a crescendo of rage and thunder. It sounds like Townsend smashing his guitar and everything in the room as well. Limp Bizkit did a creditable copy of the song but failed to add the electric crescendo. This ruins the whole purpose of the song. Never mess with a Who track.

The finale is probably the finest ending in rock. Won’t Get Fooled Again is 8 minutes and 33 seconds of the most astonishing rock music ever written. It starts with Townsend on the organ building up the anticipation. The band explode in after about a minute and drive it through with consummate grandeur. I learned to play all the songs off this album. I would play it through my amp and play along on my Les Paul copy. No track gave me more pleasure playing than Won’t Get Fooled Again. I particularly like the way it drops off into a quiet menacing organ section before returning with what has to be the best scream in rock music. By the end you feel exhausted, drained and a spent force.

The love of music is not up for argument. You may feel London Calling by the Clash or Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin IV are all the greatest rock albums ever made. You may be right but I will never agree with you. The difference is I know that Who’s Next is number one. It has been remastered, re released but the original is still the best. It stands the test of time. Snooty purists point to the questionable guitar skills of Townsend and the drumming of Moon. No one would doubt Daltrey or Entwistle. Me? I worship Pete Townsend. He’s the guitarist I’ve always wanted to be. Keith Moon is one of the top five rock drummers of all time no argument I hope. I remember the crushing sadness when I heard of his death. Others never understood how much this band meant to me and to lose its court jester was devastating. Kenney Jones was an able replacement but he wasn’t Keith Moon. Townsend didn’t always rate  Moon as a drummer and found him erratic and impossible at times. He was however charming, funny and immensely talented.
The Who argued and fought their way through the sixties and seventies producing great albums notably Quadrophenia, Who By Numbers, Who Live at Leeds and Tommy. None however come close to Who’s Next. If you have never listened to it then go out today and get a copy. Play it as loud as you can bear. Experience that feeling. It is almost better than sex and certainly the best sound you will be subjected to for a long time to come. I mentioned on twitter the other day that as I played Baba O’Riley on my car stereo very loudly, I pitied others in their cars or listening to music players whilst walking along. None of them would be listening to anything half as good as this track.

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