The Who

TrackAlbum/Single
Behind Blue EyesWho’'s Next (CD bonus track)
Doctor JimmyQuadrophenia
I Can See For MilesThe Who Sell Out
My GenerationLive At Leeds
Pinball WizardTommy
Squeeze BoxThe Who By Numbers
Substitute1966 single (Reaction 591001)
Trick Of The LightWho Are You
We Got A HitEndless Wire
Won'’t Get Fooled AgainWho'’s Next

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

The Who. Maximum R&B, four very strong personalities and some great music. Formed in 1964 by Pete Townshend in the Hammersmith / Shepherd’s Bush area of London out of The Detours and then The High Numbers. Maligned by some for their lack of ballads but that doesn’t mean that their contribution should be denigrated. For a while they were only behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in importance to British rock music. They were also an integral part of the Mod scene.

It was at the Railway Tavern between Harrow-on-the-Hill and Wealdstone that Townshend first (and accidentally) broke his guitar when he misjudged how low the ceiling was. The crowd’s reaction made it a legendary feature of their sets. He once said that he could rebuild two guitars for use the following night from the three that he had destroyed. Keith Moon would join in by kicking over his drum kit.

One of my musical regrets is not having seen The Who at Charlton Athletic football ground in 1976, and indeed never having seen the classic line up of The Who play live.

My selection is bookended by choices from 1971’s Who’s Next. The CD re-release of the album contains an alternative and previously unreleased version of Behind Blue Eyes recorded in New York with Al Kooper on keyboards. Personally, I think the organ adds to the song which is why it this version that I suggest as opposed to the originally released version.

Quadrophenia from 1973 was an attempt to draw together the four personalities of the band into a single individual, and following the success of Tommy, uses the ‘rock opera’ format to tell the story of the fictitious Jimmy. The original album included a booklet containing the song lyrics, a text of Jimmy’s story and photographs to illustrate the story. Doctor Jimmy always struck me as a song that worked outside of the concept. Like all of the effects on the album, the wind and sea at the beginning of the song were recorded outside by Townshend on a reel-to-reel tape machine for use on the album.

I Can See For Miles was a single taken from The Who Sell Out in 1967, an album of unconnected songs that purported to be a broadcast from a pirate radio station connected by faux jingles. The album itself is of variable quality but this song sits well with any of the rest of The Who’s canon. The music magazine, Mojo, released a Who Covered cover mount CD that includes a version of I Can See For Miles by Lord Sitar.

Live At Leeds was recorded on 14th February 1970 at Leeds University. My Generation is The Who’s anthem, the words of which are said by Townshend to refer to not getting old spiritually rather than physically. The song leads into a montage from Tommy, including the thematic See Me, Feel Me and runs to nearly 16 minutes.

The Who released their original ‘rock opera’ Tommy in 1969, followed by Ken Russell’s movie starring Oliver Reed in 1975, and Lou Reizner’s production with the London Symphony Orchestra. Pinball Wizard was the single from the original album and was the logical choice for the selection to represent the album. The alternative was to argue that the whole album could be included as a single piece of music.

In 1975, The Who By Numbers was released with its cartoon cover of the band as a dot-to-dot puzzle drawn by John Entwistle. Once again I have selected the single from the album and, from memory, Squeeze Box seemed to be ubiquitous on the radio at the time.

Substitute was a hit single in 1966 and was on a compilation cassette that I played in the car when my daughter was small. I remember a friend of my mother asking my then 5 year old who her favourite bands were. The answer came back, “S Club 7 and … The Who”. One of her GCSE Graphic Art pieces was a visualisation of what if J.M.W. Turner and Andy Warhol had collaborated to create a cover for a ‘Who’s Best’ compilation.

The cover picture of Who Are You in 1978 features Keith Moon sitting backwards on a chair that bears the legend ‘not to be taken away’ which was rather ironic because not long after the album was released, Moon was dead, age 32. The album itself was Townshend’s reaction to the punks and the name is a take on the football chant. Trick Of The Light is an Entwistle-penned track that explores the eternal question of what is in the mind of the hooker when she’s working.

We Got A Hit from the mini-opera Wire And Glass was included on the 2006 album Endless Wire, itself a compilation of new material that had been recorded between 2002 and 2006. This song sits well with the older material and shows that Roger Daltrey’s voice had lost none of its bite.

Won’t Get Fooled Again from Who’s Next is simply a magnificent piece of music with a gritty message. The story is that Townshend had just taken delivery of a VCS3 synthesizer and the results of his first experiments are in the keyboard parts on this track.

I accept that my selections may well cause debate. I could reproduce my original shortlist but these are the ten that I have chosen to represent my perspective of The Who.

The Who website

The Who biography (iTunes)

Three of The Who had substantial solo recording careers so toppermosts for Pete, Roger and John would be welcome. Keith made just the one solo album, so maybe a mini-Moon topper!

TopperPost #106

1 Comment

  1. Peter Viney
    Oct 25, 2013

    The Who made some perfect singles, and I see our editor has leapt on the same track I was about to leap on as missing from the list, I Can’t Explain, and used it as the video. There are three early Who singles that have to be straight in: I Can’t Explain, Substitute, My Generation. I see Ian’s point about the “Live At Leeds” My Generation, but while I would choose that for the segue into See Me, Feel Me, I think the original single can’t be bettered as an interpretation of the song. And I think Mr Townsend’s claim that it’s about spiritual ageing, not physical ageing are wisdom long after the event and total bullshit. Actually, the one I’ve been listening too is last year’s release “Live at Hull 1970”, the alternative legendary concert a day later. “Live at Leeds” was the first album I ever heard on a good set of headphones, rare at the time of its release, and I recall the odd sensation that John Entwistle’s bass appeared to be curving under my chin. If I had to choose a track it would be Young Man Blues or Summertime Blues, and that’s because of my belief that their original singles can’t be improved. They also do a meaty cover of Baby Don’t Do It live (B-side of Join Together in 1972).

    I saw The Who twice, right at the start (possibly it was even before My Generation) and again in Hull around 1967/8 when they were between the singles success and “Tommy”. To me, they epitomise the “singles band”. I loved Ian’s link to the Lord Sitar version of I Can See For Miles … I have the Lord Sitar album which came out on CD a couple of years ago. From that era, Pictures of Lily would be my first addition, then Magic Bus my second. Then there’s I’m A Boy, Happy Jack and Dogs.

    Later, I’d want Who Are You. With “Tommy”, I prefer the film soundtrack with other singers and “Quadrophenia” never got through to me at all.

    I have to say I have an individual issue with The Who. Love the music. Loathe the players. I’ve personally witnessed acts of appalling violence, one off stage involving Keith Moon, two on stage involving Townsend and Daltrey. Both unforgiveable, though Townsend and Daltrey were in the heat of a performance. I don’t see Moon as a “diamond geezer” (read Ian McLagan’s biography for far worse), nor Townsend as a guru. I think that gets in the way for me on their later work.

    My ten, heavily weighted to mid-60s:

    I Can’t Explain
    My Generation (single)
    Substitute
    I’m A Boy
    Pictures Of Lily
    I Can See For Miles
    Magic Bus
    Pinball Wizard
    Won’t Get Fooled Again
    Who Are You

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