Friday, January 15, 2010

Discography: The Who

I always come up with some ambitious idea and never really keep up with it, but while new albums trickle in, I will be going back to my favorite artists and picking out key moments on record in a new series called Discography. I know, boring name, right? Don't have the creative juice to jazz that up just now.

What better way to start then with my all-time favorite group, The Who. Each album will get a short write up and a rating of some sort. Think of this as a rip off/watered down version off A.V. Club's Primer. This won't include every single release, but at least for The Who it will include all studio records AND one live record, integral to the listening experience of the band.

My Generation - (1965) - The Who's debut is an explosive piece of 60's mod rock. The album sprawls and shows a band in it's early phase. This record is the definition of Maximum R&B. Moon and Entwistle carry this record, which was the moniker of The Who's early career. The fuzz and distortion all over this record and the power the band has is obviously best described through easily their one song everyone knows, "My Generation."
Other great take-aways are "The Kids Are Alright" and "A Legal Matter." The sense of Pete Townshend's British wit and his sense of the mod scene is prevalent in these lyrics as they are all for the rebellious youth of the mod culture.

Key Tracks: "My Generation", "The Kids Are Alright", "A Legal Matter", "The Ox"

A Quick One - (1966) - After only a year between debut and sophomore release, A Quick One showed signs of progression. It would be the first Who record to have songs written by each member, it includes a delicious cover of "Heat Wave" and has the very first rock opera of Townshend's career in "A Quick One, While He's Away." The best tracks include lead off rocker "Run Run Run" and Entwistle's growly kids tale, "Boris the Spider." The progression shown was in the varying depths of songwriting from the cutesy love songs like "Don't Look Away" or the powerful instrumental mayhem of "Cobwebs and Strange." It's easily one of The Who's most underrated albums, although it still lacks the magic that would come in just another year.

Key Tracks: "Run Run Run", "So Sad About Us", "A Quick One, While He's Away"

The Who Sell Out - (1966) Where A Quick One is an underrated Who record, The Who Sell Out is one of the most underrated albums of all time. Period. What this record does may very well be the pinnacle of rock and roll in the 60's. It epitomized an era and has some of the most unique Who songs you'll ever hear. Shaped around the concept of pirate radio, Townshend whipped up some of his best love songs ("Sunrise", "Our Love Was") and easily his best rock song in "I Can See For Miles." There isn't a dull moment. Between the catchy jingles, the varying approaches to rock or the brilliant and bombastic nod to the future in "Rael" this easily could be The Who's best record. It's tough to admit it when there are 3 more studio albums of equal but different importance coming up.

Key Tracks: "I Can See For Miles", "Sunrise", "Tattoo", "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand" "Rael"

Tommy - (1969) - A long gestation period and loads of touring occurred in between Sell Out and Tommy lead to speculation of The Who breaking up and plenty of other controversy, but luckily instead Tommy drops and everything changed. A bonafide classic rock center piece, there is nothing wrong with Tommy except its ambition. Even with tons of takeaway tracks, Tommy is still a record that demands attention for 74 minutes. From "The Overture" to "Where Not Gonna Take It", there really is no time to put the thing down. This was groundbreaking and insanely ahead of its time at this point and it was the end of the 60's for The Who. 40 years later, Tommy still sounds fantastic. It's really a no brainer, but anyone not owning a copy of Tommy is doing themselves a huge injustice.

Key Tracks: The entire album? But especially "Overture", "Amazing Journey/Sparks", "Underture", "I'm Free", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

Live At Leeds - 1970 - Although it's a live concert, there is no way Live at Leeds can be left off this discography. It is one of few live albums that are must own material. It's also a must own Deluxe Edition. The stripped down LP and early CD releases are an abomination compared to the Deluxe Edition which has the entire concert, including the live version of Tommy. That disc is good and all but it's the blistering covers of Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" that proves why The Who is the greatest live Rock and Roll band of all time. "Heaven and Hell" kicks it off in usual Entwistle dark comedy, but this version trumps any studio copy of the same song. The real kick in the pants is the insanely fantastic live version of "A Quick One, While He's Away." After hearing this first and not knowing it was live only to here the audience kick in was mind blowing. It's a ride that every fan of The Who must take and even the casual listener would enjoy.

Key Tracks: "Young Man Blues", "A Quick One, While He's Away", "Summertime Blues" "Shakin' All Over"

Who's Next - 1971 - After Woodstock and Live at Leeds, The Who entered the 70's and changed their act massively. Using tons of studio technology to lay down tons of tracks, Who's Next is a remarkable record that sounds pristine and authentic to this day. "Baba O'Rielly" still packs a massive punch to the heart strings, "Bargain" is an underrated rocker, "The Song is Over" is some of Pete Townshend's finest songwriting and "Won't Get Fooled Again" never fails to blow it's listener out of the water. With the added sound of synthesizers to the mix, The Who embarked on a fantastic journey with Who's Next which is easily their most appealing album. Not a single song on the record is weak. It's hard for a band to release something this good.

Key Tracks: Start to finish perfect.

Quadrophenia - 1974- Another really long break between albums, due in part to the Tommy movie, Pete Townshend had time to write one of the most daring and ultimately would become their greatest achievement, Quadrophenia. It may not have the easy access that Who's Next does, but Quadrophenia is a challenging album. It definitely marks the high water mark of musical ability in the group. John Entwistle shines brightest here especially on tracks like "The Real Me" and "Sea and Sand." Pete's lyrics are at their most introspective and his guitar work stands as a testament of sheer power. Moon's drumming on songs like "I've Had Enough" and "Bell Boy." It definitely has some of the groups darker moments with tracks like "Doctor Jimmy" showing the dark side of boozing. All in all, it is a beautiful record filled with intensity and the best musicianship The Who ever showed.

Key Tracks: "The Real Me", "Cut My Hair", "I've Had Enough", "Sea & Sand", "Love Reign O'er Me"

The Who by Numbers (1975) - Over ambition will usually lead to some sort of slump, and although The Who by Numbers is a stellar album, it still pales in comparison to four home runs in a row. The biggest beef fans and critics had with By Numbers was it's dark and cynical tone, but it is easily one of the most daunting lyrically in The Who catalog. Songs like "However Much I Booze" or "Imagine A Man" sound less like Who songs and more like Pete Townshend tracks, but nevertheless still rock. It's in this split that makes the album a tad bit weaker than most. Rock tracks like "Slip Kid" and "Success Story" sound more like what the band would bring to the table collectively and they are shining moments. However, something is lacking in coherency throughout that makes this record a weak follow up. It lacks the intensity of Who's Next and lacks the overarching ideas of Tommy and Quadrophenia. It works well as a collection of songs, but not as an album.

Key Tracks: "Slip Kid", "However Much I Booze", "Dreaming From the Waist", "Success Story"

Who Are You (1978) - The final Who record with the full line-up, Who Are You is an intriguing mess. It has dull moments when the songs just fail to do much such as "905" and "New Song," but it also showed that The Who still had lots of power. The titular track is still one of the best songs The Who have ever produced and the intriguingly sparse "Music Must Change" are two tracks that have tons of capacity. "Sister Disco" is also a favorite with it's intriguing swirling guitar and synth effects. Sadly, Keith Moon passed on shortly after the album was released and The Who would never be the same.

Key Tracks: "Who Are You", "Sister Disco", "Music Must Change"

Face Dances (1981) - Even though The Who was changed forever with Keith Moon's death, they soldiered on for a few more albums. Some may say that the late era Who discs are more like Pete Townshend solo records would be somewhat true. Pete's better songs landed on his 1980 standout solo record Empty Glass. Still, there were enough tracks that were deemed worthy of The Who moniker and they are lasting as well. "You Better, You Bet", a tongue-twister lyrically, is easily one of the Who's finer late period songs. "Don't Let Go The Coat" sounds more like a Pete song, but Daltry's kinda screwy vocal performance makes the track magical. John Entwistle also brought his A-Game with "The Quiet One" which is a fantastic rocker. Other than that, Face Dances fails to deliver much more.

Key Tracks: "You Better You Bet", "The Quiet One"

It's Hard (1982) Just one year later, It's Hard was released and left much to be desired. It is by far the weakest of all Who records. Again, most material was sub par to what Pete Townshend was releasing by himself, but there are still glimpses of genius. Maybe just one. "Eminence Front" is The Who's best 80's track filled with a droning and constant synth back bone, Pete's furious guitar jamming and John Entwistle kicking in here and there. Absent is Roger Daltry on this track, making it and odd choice as a Who track when I'm sure on a Pete Townshend album it would have worked just fine. "Athena" is a catchy enough track, but it fails to really be too lasting of a track. It's Hard proved that The Who, although still fantastic live, had a hard time creating magic in the studio. Somehow Rolling Stone gave It's Hard five stars. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Key Track: "Eminence Front"

Endless Wire (2006) - Oddly enough, the best tracks from Endless Wire, a better album then It's Hard or Face Dances as a whole, are the tracks where the two surviving members of The Who are all you can hear. Tracks like "Man in a Purple Dress" lambasting religious figures who feel the need to wear ridiculous vestments to give them credibility, or the beautiful, poetic and poignant "God Speaks of Marty Robbins." The final track, "Tea and Theater" became a fan favorite as it sadly represents what could easily by the final track on the final Who record. The only rocker on the disc to really captivate is part of the Wire and Glass EP called "Soiund Round." It's a quicky rocker reminiscent of early era Who that really makes you remember the greatness of the band. Overall, the disc feels a bit stale at moments, but when the two Who members left come together, something whistful and beautiful was created.

Key Tracks: "A Man in a Purple Dress", "God Speaks of Marty Robbins", "You Stand By Me", "Sound Round"

No comments: