We now continue with my favourite songs by the Who, from the 1969 Tommy rock opera 2-Lp set to their 2006 album Endless Wire.
Tommy: This rock opera is greater as a whole than for individual tracks, as many of the songs are used to advance the story of a "deaf, dumb and blind" boy who achieves transcendence. Of course, the furiously strummed Pinball Wizard is a classic and was a big hit, but my favourite songs are the instrumentals (or near-instrumentals) Overture, Underture and Sparks. These songs demonstrate that The Who were at the height of their instrumental powers in the studio. The songs grew even more intense when performed live in 1969 and 1970, which brings us to...
Live at Leeds: This album demonstrated that The Who was at the height of their instrumental powers live. Their version of Young Man Blues, which opens the album, is especially ferocious, and the elongated My Generation, with numerous instrumental passages, is riff heaven. The deluxe versions of the album feature the Who's performance of nearly the entire Tommy album.
Singles interlude: There was a bit of a lull studio wise between Tommy and 1971's Who's Next, but the band did record songs for a planned Extended Play record (which we deal with on Odds and Sods) and some non-LP singles. The biggest of these, The Seeker, I find to be clunky, but John Entwistle's Heaven and Hell (only available in mono for some reason) is the musical equivalent of an all-out barrage. It's not for nothing that their early 1970 concerts kicked off with this song.
Who's Next: The album as a whole is pretty flawless (except for one flaw I will discuss in regards to Odds and Sods), and I've mentioned Won't Get Fooled Again in part 1. Suffice it to say every song is a must listen.
Quadrophenia: And the same pretty much goes for this second rock opera, which spotlights The Who at their most mature instrumentally. If I had to pick one favourite, it's Bell Boy, which has one of the best backing tracks I ever heard The Who play, as well as a hilarious and poignant vocal by drummer Keith Moon.
Odds and Sods: This is probably the first authorized rarities/outtakes album by any major band, and it's full of gems. My favourites — the pounding travelogue Postcard (from the EP The Who was planning to release in 1970); the gorgeous and heart-opening 1968 outtake Faith in Something Bigger, which writer Pete Townshend inexplicably dislikes; and Pure and Easy, one of the most beautiful songs ever written by anybody, and with exquisite playing by the band. This song is the only flaw Who's Next has, the fact it was left off the LP except for a brief sequence at the end of The Song is Over.
The Who By Numbers: This is Pete Townehend's "depression-period", and in that regard, How Many Friends is the most hard-hitting track; Blue, Red and Grey is the nicest; and Slip Kid is just a great rock song.
Who Are You: This album has a ting of sadness, because it's the last studio album Moon played on before his death. The album is spotty, but the title track is the best Who anthem since Won't Get Fooled Again, and the lush Love is Coming Down is very touching.
The Kids Are Alright: The sort-of soundtrack to the best rock movie of all time. The best songs are the live performances of A Quick One from December 1968, and the 1978 performances of Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again, but all of these have to be seen to be fully appreciated. Some might emerge confused in term of Won't Get Fooled Again, as the climactic drumming on the LP was re-recorded not long before Moon's death and is different from what is seen on the screen.
Quadrophenia soundtrack: This includes some of the songs from the original album with extra bass parts, some oldies and some songs that didn't make the original album. Of the latter, Joker James is the most fun, and features explosive drumming by Kenney Jones.
Face Dances: This album irritates me as a whole for its blandness, and the constant thought it would have made a much better Pete Townshend solo album. On the other hand, the final track Another Tricky Day has a nice, stylish sound that could have been a prime example of what Townshend was seeking with a "new Who" post-Moon.
It's Hard: Who fans are still reeling from the fact Rolling Stone magazine gave this album a five-star review, as even the band members don't find it nearly as worthy. I personally love Athena, which has a poppy, fat sound with great vocals traded between Roger Daltrey and Townshend; and Eminence Front is great, but it really belonged on a Townshend solo album.
Wire and Glass: An interesting departure from the traditional Who sound. The one song that comes closest to sounding like classic Who is Black Widow's Eyes.
Next time: Andy Williams and more.