September 23, 2017
The Who – Who’s Next
In terms of record collecting then one of the few, if only, benefits of having little money are that you listen to what you buy and absorb any and every nuance. In 1971 my record buying activity was limited but no doubt buoyed by an epic album review in Melody Maker I bought this record. It was a wonderful experience and still is. A record where there are new discoveries and pleasures on every rendition.
The Who had migrated from being an important and creative singles band, as were all acts in the 1960’s, to become a phenomenal vehicle of Pete Townsend’s brilliant writing. The previous studio album Tommy itself was an ambitious Rock opera that spawned ‘Pinball Wizard’. The lyrical story led to translation onto the West End stage after a successful film/movie. However 1971’s Who’s Next was a harder Rock album that came from the opera workings of a project called Lifehouse.
Album opener ‘Baba O’Riley’ has an introduction that is incomparable as an exciting yet arresting repeated electric harpsichord sounding sequence. Eventually the piano arrives hitting loud chords and then Keith Moon arrives with large demanding blows. John Entwistle has by this stage started to anchor the rhythm with his bass whilst Townsend’s guitar plays chords. However as this delight is unfolding Roger Daltrey’s clear, but muscular, voice starts to deliver the vocal. Beyond compare, peerless. There is probably no superior 5 minutes worth of Rock music anywhere to improve on this.
The scene is set and the album crashes on. I say crash because the sound is so full and exciting. Many cite Moon as the ultimate Rock drummer. This album is a testament to his wondrous gift – but forget rhythm and ‘holding it all together’. Throughout he solos, fills and steps up to make bold and brash statements whilst guitar or keyboards just hover beneath his master class. ‘Bargain’ says it all and I can only hear the drums rather than any other instruments throughout.
‘My Wife’ sees Entwistle’s contribution, the only song not written by Townsend. Entwistle competently sings the lead and the horn arrangement adds some competition to Moon’s drums. ‘Song Is Over’ takes it down to start with and so the vocal comes up! Townsend picks around Daltrey’s vocal and Nicky Hopkins’ piano provides the rhythm. Eventually Entwistle and Moon join proceedings. Again listen to those drums! Daltrey tells us about a love being over and how as part of the process he has to ‘sing out’. It works for me Roger. Epic
‘Getting In Tune’ starts Side Two with piano and a bass line that provides an introduction for Daltrey to deliver the wistful melody about how he feels on his intuitive relationship with his lover. His voice is a unique instrument that is able to swoop, rage and caress with beautiful control. ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ is again Daltrey and a melody over an acoustic guitar with chorus harmonies. However it builds and gives way to a Townsend solo and the rumble of the bass and drums arrive.
For ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ the synthesiser hits a hypnotic sequence before a guitar riff accompanies the beat and in good time the vocal arrives and a loping rhythm emerges:
We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
I think you can see that something anthemic, bold and revolutionary is on the cards. Of all the tracks then this is one where Townsend imposes his scything guitar and takes the opportunity for exquisite flourishes. By this stage of the album Moon is beyond control and is doing what he likes.
As the band jam the synthesiser then reappears and the band depart. We wait for this hypnotic set of chords to play out before a flurry of drums and then the most amazing vocal moment of my life… Daltry unleashes a blood curdling scream. Oh, my teenage heart.
If you haven’t got this then you should be ashamed of yourself.