Life at 33 1/3: The masters of pop art

0
4593

The Who: The Brunswick Singles 1965-1966 (Brunswick/Universal)

Released: April 2015

This attractive little box, the first in a Who-series, contains all the six original singles the band released on the Brunswick label in the UK, plus one single that was postponed and their one-off release on Fontana back in 1964 when they temporarily called themselves The High Numbers.  Each single housed in a Brunswick factory sleeve (and one Fontana), just as the original releases were.

I am aware of the fact that these records play at 45 r.p.m., not 33 1/3, but I am old enough to remember that the 45 was the real deal for most mid 60’s artists unless they called themselves The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan who focused on both formats.  The pop album was an expensive beast that few teenagers could afford.  Singles were instant art.  Cheap enough to be within reach if not on the day they were released, at least a week or two later.

The Who released a string of fantastic singles throughout the 60’s and well into the 70’s, all of them pop art-classics.  This box represents phase 1.  A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

“I Can’t Explain” / “Bald Headed Woman” (January 1965).

Puberty is like a bottle whose contents seethe and bubble and threaten to blow the cork through the ceiling.  Fermentation in body and mind.  It’s next to impossible to put into words what’s going on.  But “I Can’t Explain” nails it:

Got a feeling inside (Can’t explain)

It’s a certain kind (Can’t explain)

I feel hot and cold (Can’t explain)

Yeah, down in my soul, yeah (Can’t explain)

The Who had arrived. Cheeky as hell.  They stole the riff from The Kinks.  The playing is sharp and focused, a slight use of feedback hints at things to come.  It’s a great song (a “shuffle-shaker”, to quote New Musical Express) that captures puberty, this feeling of being locked in transit, the uncertainty and restlessness and ever-changing moods, spot on.

The B-side is credited to producer Shel Talmy who had forced the same tune on The Kinks (it’s on their first album).  The Who don’t add much to it, though you might like to know that it features Daltrey on harmonica and Jimmy Page on fuzz guitar.

“Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” / “Daddy Rolling Stone” (May 1965)

A joyous celebration of youth, testosterone boiling, freedom calling.

I can go anyway, way I choose

I can live anyhow, win or lose

I can go anywhere, for something new

Anyway, anyhow, anywhere I choose

“I Can’t Explain” had the more powerful riff, but “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” has a much tougher sound.  It’s a classic call-and-response song and Daltrey dances through the lyrics, fired up by the other guys’ enthusiastic response-lines.  It all explodes in pure savagery, The Who try to squeeze an entire stage show into the last 30 seconds.  A free-for-all in a flood of feedback.  Awesome!

The B-side is a nod to the old days of the band when their playlist consisted of r&b and soul-covers.  “Daddy Rolling Stones” is an Otis Blackwell tune.  OK performance, but lacks the fresh excitement of the top side.

“My Generation” / “Shout And Shimmy” (October 1965)

Pop singles were getting tougher and more hard-hitting in 1965.  Them, Rolling Stones, Animals, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, yes even The Beatles, delivered brutal ditties that would provide the American garage rock with highly effective ammunition.  But none of the Americans could touch The Who’s “My Generation” without burning their fingers.  I’ve never heard a successful cover-version of this explosive and uncompromising anthem.  It’s a definitive declaration of war, foaming at the mouth.

The ultra-brutal, pounding guitar chords, the massive, thunderous percussion, the bass runs going so deep down they make the magma rumble as the loudspeakers crack and your parents go ballistic trying to break down the door.  The Who punch you right in your face.  They are beyond control, on the verge of exploding.  Out of the noise comes Roger Daltrey, fists flying:

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)

Just because we get around (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)

I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation

The stuttering was inspired antics made up on the spot by Daltrey (Townshend didn’t write the lyrics that way).  It made the song even more threatening, and triggered howls of protests in British media claiming The Who were making fun of people suffering from speech disorder.  All nonsense of course.

The song’s finale is unforgettable: A chaotic inferno of guitars, drums, backing vocals and feedback.  This is where the generation gap turned into a revolution.  The famous line “hope I die before I get old” has haunted Townshend ever since.

The B-side is another cover, and another glimpse from their past.  A James Brown-classic this time.  Not essential.

“Circles” / “Instant Party Mixture” (March 1966 – postponed)

Planned as the follow-up to “My Generation”, but then The Who fell out with their producer Shel Talmy, jumped ship for Robert Stigwood’s Reaction-label, and recorded “Substitute”, putting a new version of “Circles” on its B-side.  Talmy claimed ownership to “Circles” and blocked the release.  He didn’t fall for Townshend’s cunning trick, renaming the tune “Instant Party”, either.  So The Who had to get a new B-side, and as they had nothing in the can a substitute was found in an instrumental performed by The Graham Bond Organization under the alias The Who Orchestra. They called it “Waltz For A Pig” (the pig of course being Talmy).

The postponed “Circles”-single is finally released in this boxed set, almost 50 years later.  It’s a nice little tune with hints of Eastern flavours and psychedelia.  We also get to hear John Entwistle blow his French horn.  However, it’s a good thing the single was postponed as it would have been a real downer after the mighty “My Generation”.

The B-side is sheer Who fun.  An American doo-wop pastiche spliced with some humorous and very English one-liners.

“A Legal Matter”/ “Instant Party” (March 1966)

As his relationship with The Who was turning into a real life legal matter, Shel Talmy switched plans and released this cut from The Who’s “My Generation”-album just as the band’s real new single “Substitute” was released on Reaction.  He had no other intention than to create confusion, and maybe hurt the sales of the competition.  A nice revenge.

But “A Legal Matter” was not a bad choice for a single.  It’s highly commercial, and has a politically incorrect sting in its tail that would be close to a career suicide in 2015.  Meet the boy who’s made his girlfriend pregnant, but has no intention to do what was expected and common at the time: Get married.  He runs off with a snarl:

You ain’t the first and you ain’t the last

I gain and lose my women fast

I never want to make them cry

I just get bored, don’t ask me why

Just wanna keep doing all the dirty little things I do

And not work all day in an office just to bring my money back to you

Sorry, baby

Pete Townshend is the singer as Roger Daltrey refused to touch it.  He found the lyrics embarrassingly unethical.  Can’t blame him.

The B-side is actually the infamous «Circles» under another name.

“The Kids Are Alright”/ “The Ox” (August 1966)

Yet another slap from Shel Talmy, also taken from the “My Generation” -LP.  This time released to interfere with the official new The Who-single “I’m A Boy”.  “The Kids Are Alright” is poorly produced, but it’s a fantastic song.  A timeless teenage hymn that will be relevant and sung as long as human beings are walking this Earth.

“The Ox”, also lifted from “My Generation”, is a slightly chaotic instrumental with some surf pop elements incorporated to make Keith Moon happy.

“La-la-la-Lies” / “The Good’s Gone” (November 1966)

The final piece of revenge from Talmy, this time meant to inflict some damage on the sales of The Who’s two official 45 r.p.m. releases for the festive season: the single “Happy Jack” and the EP “Ready Steady Who”.

Not their strongest moments.  The A-side is a stop-start love song that’s kept alive by Keith Moon’s spasmodic drumming and those la-la-la-la-la-la-lies harmony-vocals.  B-side takes Daltrey back to his r&b-growling, but the song doesn’t really go anywhere.

The High Numbers: “Zoot Suit” / “I’m The Face” (July 1964)

Pete Meaden met The Who in spring 1964, became their manager, turned them into Mods and changed their name to The High Numbers.  Their first and only single under that name was Meaden’s sole creation.  He stole the tunes and rewrote the lyrics to grab the Mods’ attention.  It was all about dressing sharp and playing the right music.  “Zoot Suit” is the more undistinguished of the two tracks, but then again, “I’m The Face” is such a blatant rip-off of “Got Love If You Want It” that they should’ve been put behind bars.

How to get these 15 recordings on a vinyl album?  You can’t.  Not all of them.  “I Can’t Explain”, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, “My Generation”, “A Legal Matter” and “The Kids Are Alright” can be found on “Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy” (1971).  “La-la-la-Lies”, “The Good’s Gone” and “The Ox” are on the original “My Generation”-LP (1965), still available.  “Circles” (version 1) aka “Instant Party” is included on the American version of “My Generation”, called “The Who Sings My Generation” (1966).  “I’m The Face” is on “Odds & Sods” (1974).  “Zoot Suit” is on the soundtrack of “Quadrophenia” (1979).

I haven’t found any official album releases of the remaining four.  But “Shout And Shimmy” is included on CD-compilation “Who’s Missing” (1984), whereas “Bald Headed Woman” and “Daddy Rolling Stone” is on the sequel, “Two’s Missing” (1987).  “Instant Party Mixture” has never been released before.

What does this tell us?  That sometimes even old lovers of the classic 33 1/3 have to walk over to their beloved turntables and switch them to 45 r.p.m.  It’s quick, I promise, and doesn’t hurt at all.  The downside is that you hardly get time to sit down before you have to get back up and turn or even change the bloody record.  Just like in the old days when time wasn’t so precious, music not so accessible, no message alerts from you Facebook-page – and the phone was plugged into a wall socket.

Try it. I did.  Turn the volume up to 11 and let the neighbours have it.