It’s July, and here with The Future Is Past It’s Who month. If you like July and like the Who you are in for a great month !
Or perhaps not…
For me the Who are the most frustrating band ever with the possible exception of the Beach Boys, I love the band, I hate the band, it’s complicated.
In my early to mid teens the band were always there for me. My initial favourites, the Beatles were long gone, never to disappoint. The Stones , of course were still alive and kicking although Keith was challenging that definition. But the Stones were aloof, they were virtually American, also they were getting sloppy and a bit crap.
For a teenager from Norwich the Who were more accessible. They lived in Britain and might just pop up on Top of the Pops or The Old Grey Whistle test, the more charismatic members might turn up on a chat show here and there. Most importantly for me was a radio program where each member of the band was given the spotlight for (as far as I remember) a full hour. I would sit in front of the radio holding the mike to the family tape recorder and committing each show to tape. As well as clips of the featured member talking there was also exerts of music from the band’s career (so far).
In the days before I could afford LP’s I suddenly had a plethora of Who related material to listen to over and over again. The Who were a generous band giving us albums, TV appearances, radio shows and even a film, compare this to Led Zeppelin who zealously guarded their treasures. More fool them because it meant that impressionable youngsters like me formed an alliance to the more accessible band, Fuck you Led Zeppelin!
For most of the 70’s I was a big fan of the 60’s. Classic bands and classic singles, it was inevitable that I was going to like the Who just like the Kinks or the Small Faces. With the possible exception of the Stones the Who were the only one of the class of 66 who were still producing some passible material.
Thanks to Radio 1 I became familiar with Barbara O’Reilly, 5:15, Won’t get Fooled Again and Who are You although one of the first tracks I can remember hearing was Squeezebox off Who by Numbers which confused me no end. There was also a suspicion that, although I would never get to see them, they put on one hell of a live show.
Such was our general good will towards the band that my schoolfriend Phil and me decided to go halves on the sheet music to Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy their contemporary greatest hits album. Theoretically we had the means to play all the classic 60’s singles but anyone who has tried to play rock hits from sheet music will know it’s a disappointing experience. Despite this embryonic band get togethers would feature terrible versions of’ I can see for Miles’ or ‘The Kids are Alright’
The final attraction of the Who was that, like the Beatles or the Monkees, each band member had a distinct personality. It’s a cliché but here was a band with a lead singer, a lead guitarist, a lead bass player and a lead drummer. Ordinary members of the public knew their names, even the bass player.
For a few years the Who were with me every inch of the way in my life, wherever I was I was only a few meters from a Who track.
But the seeds for the destruction of that special relationship had been sown. One of my other musical chums Chris had the Tommy album which we would sit and listen to together. I found the ditties to paedophilia as amusing as any 14 year old would have and there was the mighty ‘Pinball Wizard’ of course but gradually it became apparent to me that Tommy was pretty much a crock of shite, a stupid story with far too much padding in the songs.
It had turned Townsend’s head though, no more did he want to make punchy 3-minute singles, Tommy was hailed as a work of genius and Townsend needed to spread his wings. Unfortunately for him he found himself saddled with some of the most distinctive musicians that ever lived. Townsend became sick of writing for Daltrey’s vocal range and having his masterpieces swamped by the most unique rhythm section ever to take to a stage. Instead of being happy to be part of the greatest rock band of the day Townsend just seemed to become increasingly unhappy with the constraints that that placed on him. Unfortunately, Townsend was capable of writing some utter stinkers and this seemed to increase the more self-important he became. Like most of the 60’s icons the well of inspiration has run dry, I’m fine with that, he’s only human but the couple of new tracks that have crept out in the last decade are terrible, please just stop Pete.
Townsend’s problem was partially resolved by the death of Keith Moon. Kenney Jones took over the drum seat on the assurance that a new era beckoned only to find that the band still had to churn out the old hits and Roger Daltrey hadn’t recovered from the fact that it wasn’t Keith on the drum stool. Having seen videos of the 80’s band I can confirm they are spectacularly terrible and it isn’t Jones’s fault as much as an insistence of Townsend wanting to play terrible guitar solos over disinterested backing.
There’s also the issue for me that the Who are still in existence despite the loss of two members, two members in fact who helped make the band unique, two members who it appears were irreplaceable but have been replaced and Townsend is sharing the stage with someone he appeared to despise in the 70’s. I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Daltrey whose reliability and solidarity has kept the band going when other members were decidedly flaky about the whole affair.
So I’m not sure if I have come to praise or bury the Who but I suppose it speaks volumes that to this day the number of Who albums I own is nil.
For some reason via the miracle of YouTube I have been revisiting what little we have of the band at their peak, for such a credible band they were pretty fond of miming but there’s enough surviving to suggest that the band were just absolutely awesome live.
Here they are at their last proper gig. Townsend is pissed off as ever, his amps are playing up, Keith Moon looks like widow twanky and is huffing and puffing behind the drums. Worst of all, as far is Townsend is concerned, is that wanker Daltrey is holding it all together with his usual professionalism.In theory this should be piss poor ,Townsend has already stated on mike there is no point in filming this but as soon as the music starts he is a man possessed.
Despite it all here is the greatest rock band..ever