And with this month's band of the month, we are back on schedule. I mean, back to my rough autobiographical chronology. Though truth to tell, it was not easy deciding when to slot The Who into this story. I've been writing about bands I really started to embrace in college - Springsteen, U2 - I liked the Who in high school, when I was listening to all AOR. I liked them very much - maybe not up to The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, but not far off. I bought Who records when I did not have money to buy records with - they war one of my favorites before I went to college.
But I'm putting them here, because it was in college that I understood the full majesty of the Who at their best. That was when I heard Live at Leeds. My roommate had it on tape: I listened to it (along with the White Album and The River) over and over and over. I never actually bought it, though - I taped the tape and listened to that until it wore out. Then (around the end of the 80s) I broke down and bought the CD. And then, when the deluxe edition of the CD came out, I bought that. And, you know...
It was the perfect record for what I wanted to hear in college - it shaped what I liked. My appreciation of the Who grew in tandem with my deeper love of Springsteen, my discovery of U2, my general embrace of more contemporary bands. The Zep got shaded out (and the Doors, and Black Sabbath, and a good deal of the hard rock I liked in high school) - the Beatles grew, and The Who grew. The Beatles, though, were the Beatles - they were in their own world - the Who was the model of what I loved.
Live at Leeds. Even then, I can't say I was much of a fan of the later who - though I did buy a copy of It's Hard when it came out - just about the only record I bought that in college, before War. And that was not a coincidence - what I liked most about U2 is that they seemed to me to be the 80s version of the Who. What I wished the Who sounded like in 1983 - worthy successors. It's Hard? I don't remember much of it - Eminence Front is the only song I really remember from that record (and a pretty good song at that - Pete could craft a tune, even when things were not going so well); digging around on the internet for this, I am reminded of some of the others - Cry if You Want - sheesh! I forgot that existed! and I think I loved that song, when the record came out... Still - that wasn't going to hold up, not to bands like U2, and certainly not to classic Who - and never to Live at Leeds.
If they had a problem, it's that everything else they did faded next to that live record. (And to the other live recordings they made in that period - 69 to early 70s - not sure when it stopped, 73 or so maybe...) The later stuff declines - maybe Pete Townsend got too caught up in his elaborate ideas - maybe the drugs cut them down - maybe - something else was wrong... but though there is plenty to like about their 70s records, they were distinctly less convincing after Who's Next - and when Keith Moon died, they were just another mince band trying to adapt to the times. (Look at the woful clothes in that Cry if you Want video - oh god: the 80s...) And the earlier stuff - is superb, but they were a band that needed the technology. Those great songs they did in the 60s sound thin, weak, compared to their mature sound (and I mean, sound.) They always had the attitude, the approach - those crunchy guitars and hammering drums and Entwhistle's bass sound, keeping the beat and carrying the melody - but until they got the equipment to make the noise they made in the late 60s, it never quite makes it. Or - hearing it now - it feels like it is striving for the sound of Live at Leeds and not getting there. But still - the albums get better and better, until Tommy and Who's Next sound fantastic - and they could make a dreadful noise live.
And so: this is the other thing - that after college, as I embraced punk and underground music far more - The Who stayed right where they were, more or less at the center of it all. Live at Leeds did: Pete beating the hell out of his guitar, his solos were always rooted in his rhythm playing, and the rhythm, everything (this is clearly a big part of why I loved U2 as well); the bass, on the beat and the melody; Daltry's voice - if you are going to bellow, that's the way to do it. And Moonie. That fantastic, fast, sputtery drum sound he had, always moving, moving, moving, always changing... they could drift, they could sink into noodling, solos and making stuff up and wandering all over the place - but they never lost their momentum. Something like that massive jam on My Generation on Live at Leeds works because Townsend never runs out of riffs, never stops coming up with more, and Moonie keeps driving the songs on. That is pretty much what hard rock is supposed to do - no one does it better than they did at their height, and more or less every hard rock band I have liked since have done some kind of variation on it. Maybe not all of them - I sort of re-embraced the virtues of Black Sabbath and Ac/DC through the years, and straight punk... but still. At their best - they are the coolest thing on earth.
And so - the songs:
1. A Quick One While He's Away - which is among the great songs ever
2. I Can See for Miles - which ain't far off the great songs ever...
3. Baba O'Reilly
4. My Generation
6. Won't Get Fooled Again
7. Pinball Wizard
8. Who Are You?
10. I'm A Boy
Since the version from Rock and Roll Circus doesn't seem to be available, here's The Who live, doing A Quick One - with a lot of comic business on the way in... (Ivor, being an engine driver, doesn't come on time...)
And at Monterey:
Out here in the fields...
Very early live My Generation:
And at their height, 1969 - same show as the first, stretching out, the coolest thing on earth...