Home > Uncategorized > The Who By Numbers

The Who By Numbers

Of course “Tommy/Live at Leeds/Who’s Next/Quadrophenia” is/are the greatest album(s) the boys ever made, but I didn’t discover this band chronologically. I found them all at once as a young teen….rifling through my sister’s album collection. It was the visuals first. The pissing-on-whatever-that-thing-was cover and that huge booklet explaining what a mod was and the one that looked like a paper bag and the bizarre blue thing with birds flying out of it. And then there was the one with the connect-the-dots drawing that may have been the best of them all. I so wanted to try my hand at finishing it but my sister would have killed me. I did try it with a pencil once but had to erase the results before she got home.

(I love that John said the cover cost 32 pounds, compared to Townshend’s Quadrophenia cover that cost “16,000 pounds, the same as a small house back then”.)

I devoured all these records of course, but at the time I had no idea who came first, as it were.

That “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8” that kicked off “Slip Kid” (by who I could never tell?)……I was hooked. That syncopated rhythm. That thing that sounds like a saw as Pete comes out of the solo. I still have no idea what the song means, and if you ask me why I think it’s one of their greatest I can’t really tell you, except that it is. No easy way to be free and all that, but armed with a song like this you just know freedom is gonna be worth it.

This was heavy shit to be laying on the head of a 13 year old kid. And that was before Moon did about 8 trips around his kit to kick-start “However Much I Booze”, a depressing little ditty with a great riff that sounded like something cooked up in Chet Atkins’s parlor. Unlike “Slip Kid”, there was no mistaking what this one was about. I kinda glosssed over the 70s confessional singer-songwriter thing, but I was pretty sure those dudes never lacerated themselves quite like this. But the song rocked. This was one of the songs that convinced me that this band wasn’t quite like the rest. The Stones didn’t sing songs like this. Probably a good thing, but still.

And on and on it went. Probably the less said about “Squeeze Box” the better (the “Wagon Wheel” of its day), but “Dreaming From the Waist” was every bit as good a song as “5:15” (which it kinda resembles?). Why it didn’t become a live staple I have no idea. Entwistle’s playing is just sick here…..the sort of performance that inspires embarrassed face-palms from bassists everywhere.

(And speaking of Thunder Fingers…..his “Success Story” is as good as “My Wife”. If you don’t believe me you’re wrong. Townshend wishes he wrote this song.)

“Imagine a Man” made a sort of comeback on their most recent tour. I heard a hilarious interview with Townshend in which he claims to have gotten hundreds of enraged letters from Who fans pissed off that a BALLAD was on the record. At least Moon restored some order and blew up “Behind Blue Eyes”, right?

“They Are All In Love” you say?

hey goodbye all you punks / stay young and stay high / hand me my checkbook and I’ll crawl off to die / like a woman in childbirth grown ugly in a flash / I seen magic and pain / now I’m recycling trash

One of the most savage lyrics in the history of rock and roll. This song, with its gorgeous melody carried by Nicky Hopkins’s piano, still makes the Sex Pistols sound like Tom Jones. As a songwriter, it’s songs like this that place Townshend head and shoulders over his contemporaries. Nobody else had to balls to write this song. This is how you gob on the band.

“Blue Red and Grey” gave Eddie Vedder another career. How’s that for power?

“How Many Friends” is Townshend’s dark night of the soul, the morning after “However Much I Booze”. Probably the one and only time a major songwriter has admitted to getting “the willies”.

And “In a Hand or Face” is the sound of a collective Townshend snarl, almost a reminder, if one was needed, that a nervous breakdown could be accompanied by power chords.

This was not Tommy. This was not Lifehouse. This was not Quadrophenia. This was Empty Glass before Empty Glass. This was a band at the absolute peak of its powers, creating, by accident, one of their most coherent “concept” albums. There was no mistaking the gist of this story. And in retrospect it wasn’t that difficult to surmise that there would not be a happy ending.

As I said….heavy shit. This music got into a teenager’s head and it’s still there bouncing around, after literally hundreds of listens.

I’ve met a few of my “heroes” over the years, and I’m nearly always disappointed because they turned out to be….well….distinctly non-heroic. Assholes, in other words.

I would never want to meet Townshend. Too risky. But if I did, this is the record I’d want to talk to him about.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Pete Steeves
    October 4, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    Well, that was passionate and beautiful. thank you

  2. Bryan Fishkind
    October 6, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful writing of Pete’s same.

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