The Sunday Dozen: The Who

I hate it when I’m asked to choose between The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, and Who as my favorite British Invasion band of the Sixties. It’s much easier for the Seventies. That’s when The Who reigned supreme.

My first Who album was Tommy. I liked it so much that I wrote a school essay about it. I got an A but oddly enough I’m not crazy about the album itself anymore. It’s not the songs or theme, it’s the recording. The drums sound hollow and punchless. Keith Moon’s drumming was never hollow or punchless. I think Tommy works much better live and am more likely to listen to a live recording than the original album.

Who’s Next took a sonic leap. It remains one of my all-time favorite albums. It’s when The Who perfected their sound as it was simultaneously heavy and melodic. That’s a balancing act that’s difficult to pull off.

I saw the band live many times from 1972-1982. The most memorable show was also the worst. It was the opening night of the Quadrophenia tour. Some fucker dosed Keith Moon upon his arrival in the Bay Area. He collapsed on stage, and it wasn’t even a self-inflicted wound. They brought a volunteer drummer out of the crowd to finish the show. It was a better story than a concert.

I spent a lot of time in the UK in 1975 and 76. I followed the band around as they toured the kingdom or is that queendom? It was easier and less expensive back then to see your favorite artists. Now you have to take out a second mortgage to do so.

I recall being devastated when I heard that Keith Moon had died. I’m not as hard on Kenney Jones as most fans. He’s a good drummer who never made a pretext of replacing Moon. He said that he “followed” his friend Keith. Cut Kenney some slack, y’all. I agree, however, that Zak Starkey is a better fit for The Who than Kenney.

Unpopular opinion: I miss John Entwistle more than Moon. He was the solid, stolid base of the band on bass. What’s not to love about a guy with nicknames like the Ox or the Quiet One?

This list steers clears of hits and concert warhorses except for Substitute, Won’t Get Fooled Again and You Better You Bet. They’re perfect Who songs and can never be celebrated enough. I knew the post-Moon band was going to be okay when I heard You Better You Bet. Additionally, Face Dances is one of their finest albums with perhaps their best cover art. You better bet your life.

Since the Odds & Sods album title inspired my regular Saturday post, it was only fitting to use the cover as the featured image.

As always, the list is arranged in chronological order and reflects my own taste such as it is.

More than any other band, The Who were the soundtrack of my misspent youth. This was a tough list to winnow down from 30 candidates but editing is the essence of the Sunday Dozen. It’s time to rock.

A Quick One was Pete Townshend’s first mini-rock opera. What’s not to love about a song in which they sing “cello, cello, cello” instead of paying cellists, cellists, cellists. This version comes from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. It was proof positive that The Who were one of the big boys.

The Who were more album artists than makers of hit singles. Substitute is an exception to that rule.

Sensation is my favorite tune from Tommy. It just beat out Sally Simpson. It’s a sensational sensation.

John Entwistle’s Heaven and Hell was the band’s concert opener for many years. It was a helluva heavenly way to kick off a show.

The first few times I saw The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again was not the automatic closing number. Looking back on it, it was weird. It was a hit song that showed off The Who’s strong suits. By 1975, it became the standard closer. Only an encore can follow it.

Relay was part of Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse project. It’s one of the rare Who songs that Roger Daltrey likes more than Pete. I’m with Roger.

If I were the cheating kind, this slot would be filled by the first three songs of side 3 of the original Quadrophenia LP. Sea and Sand is sandwiched in between 5:15 and Drowned. It’s vital to the Quadrophenic narrative and flat-out rocks.

Oops, I just cheated. I’ll do penance by playing the best song on The Who By Numbers.

Slip Kid is one of the few songs I’ve ever built an entire post around: No Easy Way To Be Free. Thanks, Pete.

New Song gets all autobiographical about how Pete Townshend was sick of writing predictable songs for the fans. This stanza says it all:

“I write the same old song with a few new lines and everybody wants to cheer it. I write the same old song you heard a good few times. Admit you really want to hear it.”

Tell us how you really feel, Pete.

You Better You Bet is the perfect album opener for one of the band’s finest records, “You better bet your life.”

Another Tricky Day is the bookend to the previous song. It closes Face Dances with a bang.

I’m one of the few people who really likes It’s Hard. Why Did I Fall For That is my favorite track from that LP. The song still resonates today.

It’s lagniappe time. We begin with the token 21st Century song in this post. It’s a great song that only hardcore fans have heard. That’s why it qualifies as lagniappe.

Real Good Looking Boy is a tribute to Elvis Presley, which is especially meaningful to Roger Daltrey. He’s often said hearing Elvis changed his life. Thanks, Elvis.

The Who covered this Rolling Stones song after their peers were busted in a trumped-up raid by British police. The charges were later dropped.

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs have recorded three brilliant covers albums. Volume 1 covers the Sixties, an era when the kids were alright.

Here’s a previous Sunday Dozen honoree with their version of The Seeker:

Let’s circle back to The Who’s body of work with a sub-list of my half-dozen favorite Who albums ranked in order of preference. Chronology be damned.

  1.   Who’s Next
  2.   Quadrophenia
  3.   Face Dances
  4.   The Who By Numbers
  5.   Tommy
  6.   The Who Sell Out

I meant to do that for the other artists in the series but ain’t it funny how time slips away.

4 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: The Who

  1. My introduction to The Who was “My Generation” in 1965. The aggressive stutter hit with a completely in-your-face insolence I hadn’t found in any other song before. “I hope I die before I get old” line was as confrontational as a punch in the face to a class of elder authorities, and flung aside patronizing, insincere concerns for our health. I remember sitting in the back of a paddy wagon after an antiwar demonstration, the cops telling us we were being arrested because we didn’t know what was good for us — and all I could hear was

    “Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
    Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ’bout my generation).”

  2. Slip Kids has been since I last hitch-hiked out of LA a runaway fifty-odd years ago a bit of a personal anthem not unlike Refugee. Won’t Get Fooled Again too, but it got so much airplay I find it distasteful these days. It could be said they were amongst the most influential to my worldview.

    Kinda’ funny now ~ keep away old man …

  3. I have been known, in the wee, small hours of the morning, to play The Kids Are Alright on the juke and stand in the middle of the bar and sing along at top volume. Usually comes out better than my speeches.

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