Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE WHO - Total Rock Power

Lordy, I am getting old and pathetic as time goes on. I am literally getting older and patheticer. The past 12 months has seen me in the thick of a Who phase. That's not too surprising: along w/ the Kinks and the Beatles, I rate 'em possibly the best of the Brit Invasion bands of the 1960s. I'll be generous and even throw the Stones in there, too. The Move should be there, too, but they're more a second-gen Brit band who made their moves (fnar) in the early '70s, even though much of what they did was a '60s throwback. Plus, I've been a massive fan of the Who-produced Quadrophenia film since I was but a wee lad: I still view it annually, and it stands up as one of the greatest UK youth-cult pics of all time, a terrific movie about the pre-hippie '60s made with a real punk energy. And The Who - at least their main songwriter and brain's trust, Pete Townshend, did like punk a lot, even though he was initially jealous of it stealing his thunder (and his thunder was getting creaky by the mid '70s, anyway). He wanted John Lydon in the film's lead role, but Mr. Rotten reneged. A friend of mine saw Townshend play on a CND bill in a small venue in 1979 with the Undertones and The Pop Group supporting. Huh...
As with most of their contemporaries, The Who blew their artistic wad by the early '70s and it was all downhill after then. They still cut it as an ace live unit, but most of the recordings thereafter aren't items you should spend your free time listening to. I like the Quadrophenia LP set from 1973 a lot - another pompous thematic epic from Townshend telling a grand story - though my sentimental attachment for it may be born from my love of the movie. But play it I do. I've slogged through the entire Tommy set a handful of times, and it remains exactly that: a slog. It's one of those albums which clueless types hail as the band's best release, their meisterwerk, much like Sgt. Pepper's (the Beatles' worst album by far), Exile On Main Street (solid, but it's no Beggar's/Let It Bleed) and Pet Sounds (again, it's good, but Holland and Surf's Up are better). They figure they're supposed to make such a claim without even thinking about it. I'm not here to debate The Who's best album (The Who Sell Out probably gets my vote), but certainly the most untamed is their Live At Leeds recording from 1970. By then they'd let their hair grow out and adopted a 'heavier' musical approach which wasn't a thousand miles removed from the likes of Cream or Led Zep - both of whom they'd undoubtedly influenced - and whilst I used to be of the opinion that this era in the band sucked (epic blues clunkers, Roger Daltrey with that denim and that fucking hair), for a couple of years this incarnation of the band absolutely blew the roof off. There was no greater rhythm section than Entwhistle and Moon. No more smart mod suits and three-minute ditties about East End life: it was about Total Rock Power. Well, before they started to blow, the band was always about TRP, but the loose and expansive nature of the band ca. 1969 - 1971 was indeed something to behold, and beholding it is what I've been doing.
I even found myself reading Townshend's rather epic autobiography, Who I Am, from start to finish. By midway through I was starting to feel the conviction that the guy was an utter fucking creep and jerkoff, but by story's end - when he'd acknowledged what a creep and jerkoff he'd been - he had redeemed himself in my eyes. Well, above is a clip of the band covering Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" from their Isle Of Wight concert. It's rippin', scorchin' and other good things. You can see why the likes of the MC5 and the Dictators - and myself - held/hold 'em up in such high esteem. The Who's candle of greatness blew out pretty quick, as did many of those making their mark in 1960s Britain, but people made a bunch of noise about them for good reason.


Pig State Recon said...

It's very hard for me to think positive thoughts about THE WHO from any era, but I agree: lots of amazing pre-punk bands looked to these guys as primary inspiration. For a few months recently, I was spinning nothing but the PINK FAIRIES Kings of Oblivion LP, and I couldn't shake the belief that Larry Wallis based his entire approach on this turn-of-the-decade WHO thing. Total rock power indeed.

Cass Hughes said...

It's funny, I've never heard Tommy described as overblown compared to Quadrophenia

aycorn said...

With you almost all the way here, Dave. I posted about them on my blog, too. They're such a big rock act it's easy to shunt them aside. Actually, they not only inspired the pre-punk bands - technically they did it better. For my money their masterpiece is the first one, My Generation. Total rock power as PSR says - but also played with real commanding chops. "Who I Am" did make me reconsider ol' bignose, too - I guy I once idolized, then disliked, and now see as very human.

Love the blog. Keep writing!