By the time ‘The Who’ unleashed their new album to the
public, it had been over two years since the release of their previous studio
work, the double album of the rock opera ‘Tommy’ (1969). During these
intervening two years ‘The Who’ had released a stunning live album called
‘Live At Leeds’, which was to set the benchmark for all live albums that
were to follow. They toured almost continuously - with headlining appearances -
at such major events like ‘The Isle of Wight Festival’ (twice) and
Woodstock. The latter gave the band immortality on the silver screen when the
movie of the 3-day event was released to cinemas worldwide with the centerpiece
of the music being ‘The Who’s’ finale of the opera.
After two years (a long time in rock and roll) the band was
desperate to get something recorded in the studio that was more representative
of what the band was like at the time live on stage.
The young Vic Theatre was rented, the Rolling Stones mobile
recording studio was moved in, and old mate Glyn Johns was brought in to help
with the production. Each week the band would give free concerts for an
invitational fan club only audience to try out the new material they were
recording. The results were simply devastating, from the opening ARP Synthesizer
of ‘Baba O’Riley’ to the final crashing chords of ‘Won’t Get Fooled
Again’. This is rock music that was hard-edged, brazen faced, steeped in East
‘Who’s Next’ was without doubt a triumph for ‘The
Who-le’ band. Roger Daltrey’s singing was uniformly superb with vocals
ranging from the raw power and screams of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’
(anybody who has ever seen this song performed live will never forget the bellow
of celebration that Roger Daltrey lets fly as the band breaks back in for the
final verse), the moving delicacy of ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, to the altogether
more demanding material such as ‘The Song Is Over’, ‘Getting In Tune’,
and ‘Goin’ Mobile’. Across the full scope of this material Daltrey’s
range and power are tested to the limit, resulting in one of the most commanding
vocal performances in rock history.
As well as his fine song ‘My Wife’ (still my favorite
song on the album, the opening lyrics always brings a wry smile to this dog’s
“My wife is after me, murdered in cold blood is what I’m
I ain’t been home since Friday, and now she’s after me.
Give me police protection, I need a bodyguard,
I’m against a judo expert with a machine gun.”
John Entwistle brought his usual stunning bass playing to the
sessions, enhancing the songs immeasurably with not only a solid foundation, but
with effortless melodic frills.
Keith Moon’s drumming was as supercharged as ever, but more
disciplined and precise. The full expansive range of Moon’s drum kit was
recorded with depth, clarity, and power. Almost making him the star of the show.
Peter Townshend confirmed his status as one of rock’s
master guitarists, providing rich acoustic textures, inspired lead work and his
unrivalled use of power chords. He sang often and well, too. The contrast
between Daltrey’s up-front power and Peter’s mellower refrains gave ‘The
Who’ a unique vocal attack that invested songs like ‘Baba O’Riley’,
‘Bargain’, and ‘The Song Is Over’ with a more thoughtful cerebral slant.
‘The Who’ functioned not only as a creative
experimentalist, but as a visceral guitar-driven rock and roll band. (Listen to
‘Bargain’ for instance, to hear one of the most dynamic ensemble rock
performances ever recorded.) ‘Who’s Next’ offers prime evidence that the
real power behind ‘The Who’ was the cohesive unity of all four of its
members in equal parts.
With the new Deluxe Edition of ‘Who’s Next’ you get six
of the tracks from the aborted New York recordings (I am sorry boys, but the
version of ‘Love Ain’t for Keeping’ was better the first time round), plus
on the second CD a complete concert from the young Vic. The band plays all the
new songs (with only the odd nod to the past) at full pelt and with more verve
and freshness than a Ferrari. You also get a 40-page booklet with all the facts
and figures, packed full of color photographs, and two reviews of the album from
Peter Townshend and John Atkins. Certainly a superior re-release of one of rock
music’s finest moments.