Who’s Next – The Who

WHO’S NEXT IS widely regarded as the finest studio LP The Who ever recorded and one of the best rock records ever. Certainly, it’s far and away their most consistent in terms of quality songs — there isn’t a duffer among them — and it introduces an important new element, the synthesiser, into the group’s overall sound. More importantly, The Who were now at their creative peak, both as individual musicians and as a band: on stage they regularly performed with breathtaking panache, their confidence was at an all-time high, and their status as one of the world’s greatest rock bands was secured for eternity.

Who’s Next started life as another of Pete Townshend’s concepts, this one a movie/musical called Lifehouse, which contained enough songs for a double LP. The project became bogged down in its futuristic, philosophical complexities, however, and was eventually reduced to a single LP and no movie. 

The concept of Lifehouse is long and bewildering, and the random nature of the songs on Who’s Next gives little clue as to its storyline, such as it was. In view of what Who’s Next became, there is little point in trying to explain it here, but among its many ideals was Townshend’s design for The Who to somehow become one with their audience, to break down totally the barrier that exists between audience and performer. 

What makes Who’s Next different from any of its predecessors is the clarity of sound achieved by associate producer Glyn Johns, who took over from Kit Lambert midway through the project. Lambert was the perfect foil for Townshend to bounce ideas o, and his creative influence on The Who cannot be over-emphasized. Yet he was no technician, and as hi- equipment and recording studios became more and more sophisticated during the Seventies, far greater attention was being paid to the way records actually sounded.

The second great leap forward on Who’s Next was Townshend’s introduction of the Arp, an early synthesiser, into The Who’s sound, most notably on ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, the songs that open and close this album. Unlike so many of his less- imaginative peers Townshend didn’t use his synthesiser simply as a solo keyboard that could make funny noises, but as a rotating musical loop that underpinned the melody and added a sharp bite to the rhythm track. 

In this respect, he and Stevie Wonder were the first musicians of their generation to make proper creative use of this new and subsequently much-abused electronic toy. Townshend’s synthesiser style on Who’s Next, in fact, is the first appearance on a rock record of the repetitive electronic sequencing that became predominant in pop and dance music in the Nineties.

There were other leaps forward here, too. Townshend’s songwriting showed a sustained level of brilliance he would never again achieve (although he came close on Quadrophenia), John Entwistle’s bass lines were more melodic but as fluid as ever, and Keith Moon managed to rein in his wilder antics while maintaining his usual key expressive role. But perhaps the greatest musical triumph belonged to Roger Daltrey: the Tommy experience, on record and on stage, had improved his confidence as a vocalist immeasurably and it shows, whether on the melodies of the beautiful ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘The Song Is Over’, or, at the other extreme, the defiant scream that climaxes ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’.

Many of the songs that appeared on Who’s Next, together with other Lifehouse material that later appeared on singles and on The Who out-takes compilation Odds & Sods, were originally recorded in New York with Kit Lambert as producer, but the band weren’t satisfied with the results and returned to London to re-record them at Olympic Studios in Barnes with Glyn Johns.

Who’s Next became the only Who album to make number one in the UK charts. It peaked at number four in the US, but songs from the album are played continually on US “classic rock” radio stations to this day.

Two upgraded CD versions have been released. The first followed the format of including a number of bonus tracks on a single disc, while the second, the Deluxe Edition, dropped four of the bonus tracks but included additional tracks from the New York Record Plant sessions, some of which feature Leslie West on guitar and Al Kooper on organ and had previously been heavily bootlegged. The real treat is a second disc that features one of the 1971 shows at London’s Young Vic Theatre, where Townshend was trying to bring Lifehouse into being. 

For some reason, younger fans apparently found the roughness a little disconcerting, based on the comments found on Amazon.com. Considering the brief period between the times Townshend wrote the songs and when they were performed, the Young Vic show is staggering, every bit as worthwhile as the group’s classic Live At Leeds album, and it catches The Who at a special time when their live performances made them the greatest rock band in the world.

The Original Release

This version consisted of nine tracks.

Baba O’Riley

Thirty seconds of spiraling solo synthesiser, excessively long for any intro, opens the album and one of its most memorable tracks. ‘Baba’, of course, is Meher Baba, Townshend’s spiritual pal, and O’Riley, is Terry Riley, the electronic composer whose work ‘A Rainbow In Curved Air’ inspired Townshend’s use of looping synthesiser riffs. 

Piano, voice, drums, bass, and eventually guitar join in, but it’s the cut and thrust between Daltrey’s leonine roar and Townshend’s tuneful pleading that gives the song its tension and best moments, though the free-form climax, a souped-up Irish jig featuring Dave Arbus on violin and Keith Moon playing as fast as he’s ever played, is quite mesmerizing.

“Teenage Wasteland”, the starting point for Townshend’s imaginary generation in their search to and nirvana, became a timeless Who entity in Daltrey’s hands, and the downright disgust at the way things had turned out (post-Woodstock) was never better expressed in rock.

Pete Townshend: “This was a number I wrote while I was doing these experiments with tapes on the synthesiser. Among my plans was to take a person out of the audience and feed information — height, weight, autobiographical details – about the person into the synthesiser. The synthesiser would then select notes from the pattern of that person. It would be like translating a person into music. On this particular track I programmed details about the life of Meher Baba and that provided the backing for the number.”

The synthesiser track that dominates ‘Baba O’Riley’ is part of a longer synthesiser piece that Townshend released privately on his Meher Baba tribute LP, I Am, in 1972. Further sections featured on his Psychoderelict solo album in 1993. 

Bargain

Most songs addressed to “you” are sentimental love songs but Townshend’s “you’s” are almost always addressed to Meher Baba. Although used in songs that are often full-tilt rockers, like the ‘See Me Feel Me’ climax to Tommy, they are actually not-so-cunningly disguised prayers soliciting forgiveness for the writer’s earthly foibles and unworthiness, seeking advice on spiritual advancement or simply offering thanks for his avatar’s bountiful virtue. ‘Bargain’, which stands alongside any of the best tracks on Who’s Next, is about the search for personal identity amid a sea of conformity, with lyrics such as, “I know I’m worth nothing without you”, giving the Baba slant away, especially when sung by Townshend in a keening center-piece counterpoint to Daltrey’s harsher lines.

‘Bargain’ shows o The Who’s ensemble playing at its very best. Block chords abound, there’s a terrific guitar solo, bass lines pop and crackle, and Moon’s drumming gives the song a rhythmic foundation that lifts The Who clean out of your speaker cabinets. A knock-out live version of ‘Bargain’ from San Francisco in December 1971 can be found elsewhere in The Who’s catalog.

Love Ain’t For Keeping

Seriously upfront acoustic guitars feature strongly throughout one of the slighter (and shortest) songs on Who’s Next, but the bouncy tempo, relatively simple compared with the album’s other songs, and understated synthesiser hold this together well, as Daltrey sings about the difficulty of sustaining relationships in the modern world. This track is sequenced to run almost directly into…

My Wife

(John Entwistle)

John’s song of marital discontent is arguably the best he ever wrote for The Who and it provided them with a terrific stage rocker, complete with the kind of block chords that Townshend loved to play while spinning his arm windmill-style. Although this version is no slouch, Entwistle was dissatisfied with the sound and re-recorded it himself for his third solo album. On live versions, Townshend would stretch out the end, dueling with Entwistle to mesmerizing effect. ‘My Wife’ is possibly the most “Who-like” song Entwistle ever wrote, certainly the closest to Townshend’s style of writing, and the lyrics are quite hilarious.

The Song Is Over

Among the most gorgeous ballads Townshend has ever written, ‘The Song Is Over’ again highlights the contrasting vocals of he and Daltrey, as well as some inspired synthesiser work, lovely piano playing by session man Nicky Hopkins, and Johns’ sumptuous production. Because of its complexity, it was never played live. Doubtless intended as the climax to Lifehouse, it features as a coda the motif from ‘Pure And Easy’, another key Lifehouse song that was inexplicably left o this album. The closing passages are enhanced by an almost subliminal top-of-the-scale synthesiser harmonic line that traces the melody with a marvellous, undulating counterpoint.

It is only by listening to this song, in conjunction with others such as ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘Baba O’Riley’, ‘Naked Eye’, ‘Time Is Passing’ (which was included on Townshend’s first solo album, 1972’s Who Came First) and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ that the real potential of Lifehouse, at least from a purely musical point of view, can be truly appreciated. A rock opera, or at least a song cycle, based around material as strong as this would surely have been the rock masterpiece to end all rock masterpieces. When it failed to materialise in the way he envisaged, Townshend’s disillusionment led to his first nervous breakdown and almost broke up The Who.

Getting In Tune

Using the time-honoured tradition of tuning up before a show as an allegory for creating harmony between disparate societies, ‘Getting In Tune’ is another fearless rocker, perhaps not quite so breathtaking as others from the album, but certainly no slouch. Like ‘The Song Is Over’, this is a showcase for Daltrey at his absolute best.

Going Mobile

With its rolling, appropriately “mobile” rhythm and absence of harsh chords, ‘Going Mobile’ lacks the grandeur of many of the other tracks on Who’s Next, but it’s a witty and worthy contender nevertheless, a “travelogue” sung by Townshend about the joys of driving around, gypsy-style, in his newly acquired holiday home. Lines about “hippy gypsies” seem particularly apt in the current era of New Age travellers.

Apart from its tricky little acoustic rhythm signature, it’s also notable for the guitar solo, in which Townshend wired his electric through a device similar to a wah-wah called an envelope follower, with the result that it sounds like he’s playing underwater.

Behind Blue Eyes

Opening with one of the prettiest melodies Townshend has ever written, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ rightly became a Who classic almost immediately. Crystal-clear acoustic guitar, Daltrey at his melodic best and a fluid bass line take the first verse, velvet three-part harmonies join in for the second, then, finally, in lurches Moon to give ‘Blue Eyes’ its third and final dimension.

The faster central passage, a plea to the creator for confidence and succor, contains the most moving lyrics on the whole album, before ‘Blue Eyes’ reverts back to its gentle opening lines at the close. The choir-like closing vocal harmony, drenched in reverb, is deliberately — and brilliantly — sequenced to contrast sharply with the shrill electronic synthesiser riff that heralds ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’.

Won’t Get Fooled Again.

If there is a key song on Who’s Next, it is this lengthy call to arms that eventually became the traditional show closer at most Who concerts. Based on a clattering synthesizer riff that locks the group into a tight, rhythmic performance, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is classic mid-period Who, Townshend’s block chords firmly in place, Entwistle swooping up and down his bass, Daltrey singing his heart out and Moon an almighty presence, albeit slightly more disciplined than usual in view of the song’s inflexible structure.

With lyrics that address the futility of revolution when the conqueror is likely to become as corrupt as the conquered, the song inspired many a clenched st, especially when Daltrey came careering in at the end of the lengthy instrumental passage, declaiming the “bosses” and inciting the kind of scenes that in 1789 left the Bastille in ruins. His scream before the final verse is one of the most volatile vocal eruptions ever recorded.

Pete Townshend: “It’s really a bit of a weird song. The first verse sounds like a revolution song and the second like somebody getting tired of it. It’s an angry anti-establishment song. It’s anti-people who are negative. A song against the revolution because the revolution is only a revolution, and a revolution is not going to change anything at all in the long run, and a lot of people are going to get hurt.”

Edited down for a single from its original eight minutes and thirty seconds, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ reached number nine in the UK charts and 10 in the US.

Remixed and Remastered CD Version

This version kept the single disc format, adding the following bonus tracks.

Pure And Easy

This is the original version of ‘Pure And Easy’ recorded at the Record Plant, New York, on March 17-18, 1971. A later version was recorded at Olympic Studios, London, but not released until the Odds & Sods LP in 1974 (although, confusingly, John Entwistle recollected the recording stemmed from the preparatory sessions made at Mick Jagger’s mansion, Stargroves, on the Rolling Stones Mobile).

A key song from Lifehouse, ‘Pure And Easy’ is a beautiful Townshend composition that should have appeared on Who’s Next but was left o, probably because The Who weren’t 100 percent satisfied with the versions they’d recorded during the Lifehouse/Who’s Next sessions. It is hard to nd anything wrong with the version included here.

‘Pure And Easy’ is Townshend’s rewrite on the myth of the “Lost Chord”, a deeply felt song about the ultimate musical note, the loss of which symbolizes mankind’s decaying relationship with the universe. It is a song of yearning, almost a tearful lament, albeit fashioned over Who-style torrents. The guitar solo builds to a tremendous climax, rather like Jimmy Page’s memorable solo in ‘Stairway To Heaven’.

Townshend thought very highly of ‘Pure And Easy’ when he wrote it — so much so that its chorus forms a coda to ‘The Song Is Over’ on Who’s Next, and he included it in demo form on his first solo album, Who Came First.

In the accompanying notes, he wrote for Odds & Sods, the album on which this song first appeared in 1974, Townshend wrote: “This you might know from my solo album. This is the group’s version. Not all of the group’s versions of my songs are as faithful to the original demo as this one, but as usual the ‘Oo make their terrible mark. Another track from the aborted Lifehouse story. It’s strange, really, that this never appeared on Who’s Next, because in the context of stuff like ‘Song Is Over’, ‘Getting In Tune’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’ it explains more about the general concept behind the Lifehouse idea than any amount of rap. Not released because we wanted a single album at the time.”

It’s remarkable to think that at this stage in his evolution as a songwriter, Townshend was able to discard material as strong as this.

The Who performed ‘Pure And Easy’ on stage briefly during 1971, on stage at the Young Vic and occasionally thereafter.

Baby Don’t You Do It

(Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Edward Holland Jr.)

A stage favourite of The Who’s from the 1964-66 era, this revived Motown classic by Marvin Gaye was perhaps an unusual choice for Lifehouse. Played at the Young Vic and in the band’s concert act for the remainder of 1971, this version was recorded at the Record Plant, New York on March 16, 1971. Leslie West guested on lead guitar.

Naked Eye

This version was recorded live at the Young Vic on April 26, 1971. It was first released as part of the 1994 30 Years Of Maximum R&B box set, while a version recorded at Townshend’s Eel Pie Sound home studio in 1970 appeared on the Odds & Sods LP in 1974.

A superb live song, ‘Naked Eye’ was developed on stage as part of the improvisation during extended versions of ‘My Generation’ (as heard on Live At Leeds) and, once fully formed, played at virtually every Who concert in the early Seventies. It took on enormous power as Townshend and Daltrey shared verses that contained some of the former’s most powerful lyrical imagery ever.

Between oblique references to drugs and guns is a deep sense of frustration and failure, of not knowing where next to run to, yet at the same time realising that to stand still is suicidal, matters uppermost in Townshend’s mind as he sought to justify his continued role in The Who and The Who’s continued existence. Meanwhile, the band strains at the leash, while a strange, nagging riff holds the song together. This is the riff that made its first appearance at concerts during 1969 when the band were jamming at the climax to their shows, and only later did Townshend add lyrics to harness it into ‘Naked Eye’.

Like ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘Naked Eye’ is an essential Who song, far more important than many found elsewhere in their catalog.

Water

Also recorded live at the same Young Vic show as above.

An overlong, rather heavy-handed rocker, ‘Water’ is another Lifehouse reject, this one mixing a rather lascivious hook line (“water” rhymes with “daughter” throughout) into a song in which “water” becomes an allegory for quenching spiritual thirst. Considering the role it played on stage, it seemed destined for inclusion on whatever album that would follow Tommy. Eventually, Townshend came up with several far better songs, and despite several stage comments at various shows and concerts during 1970/71 introducing it as a possible Who single, ‘Water’ was consigned to the scrap heap, only to resurface as the UK B-side of ‘5.15’ in October 1973.

Too Much Of Anything

Another Lifehouse out-take, produced by The Who and associate producer Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios, London, on April 12, 1971. It was first released in 1974, with Daltrey’s re-recorded vocal, on Odds & Sods.

‘Too Much Of Anything’ is a rather pedestrian rock ballad, with Nicky Hopkins on piano, that deals with greed and its consequences. It meanders along indifferently without the punch of other Lifehouse tracks. The Who occasionally played it on stage in 1971 but soon dropped it.

I Don’t Even Know Myself

This is a 1970 Eel Pie recording that was part of a planned EP project. Instead, it appeared as the B-side of the ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ single. A Lifehouse rejects that wasn’t quite up to the standard of the other songs Townshend was writing in 1970, ‘Don’t Know Myself’ blends a fierce verse and chorus with a strange, country and western style middle eight, which features Moon tapping a wooden block. Often played live around the early Seventies, but dropped when Who’s Next provided the band with better stage material.

Behind Blue Eyes

This original version of ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ was recorded at the Record Plant on March 17-18, 1971, and features Al Kooper on organ.

Deluxe Edition Disc 1

This double CD version begins with the original nine tracks and finishes on the first disc with the following bonus tracks from the March, 1971 New York Record Plant sessions.

Baby Don’t You Do It

(Holland/Dozier/Holland)

This is the same track as on the remixed and remastered CD.

Getting In Tune

An alternative version from the Record Plant sessions, recorded March 18, 1971. Previously unreleased.

Pure And Easy

This is the same track as on the remixed and remastered CD.

Love Ain’t For Keeping

Originally produced by Kit Lambert, this version of ‘Love Ain’t For Keeping’ was recorded on March 17, 1971. It features a live vocal from Townshend, and Leslie West on the second guitar. Previously released on the revamped Odds & Sods CD in 1998.

The Who’s Next version was recorded with Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London two months later.

Behind Blue Eyes

This is the same track as on the remixed and remastered CD.

Won’t Get Fooled Again

An early version from the Record Plant sessions, recorded March 16, 1971, featuring a different synthesiser pattern from the released version, with the famous lyric, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” occurring before the final synthesizer break and drum pattern, and lacking Daltrey’s distinctive scream.

Pete Townshend: “No tape was used. What we did was play an organ through a VCS3 live with the session. So we had to keep in time with the square wave, but the shape was moveable. It was an experiment initiated by Roger and was fairly successful.”

Deluxe Edition Disc 2

Townshend had anticipated using live material from a number of small concerts before a specially invited audience to develop his Lifehouse project. The Young Vic Theatre, a South London venue with a reputation for the avant-garde, appreciated the rental and was set aside with the Rolling Stones Mobile for Townshend’s efforts. 

By all accounts, the results were physically and mentally harrowing for Townshend, and the tapes were quietly put away as he failed to bring the concept into a format his fellow band members and the audience could understand. The tracks on the Deluxe Edition’s second disc were all recorded live on April 26, 1971.

Love Ain’t For Keeping

As intimate an introduction a Who concert could ever produce, this is as close as a fan can get to having the band drop by for an afternoon and play a session for the neighbors. Considering that these are working versions of what were then-unreleased songs, The Who clearly show that they are masters of their musical craft, even if mystified at what Townshend was trying to create

Pure And Easy

A very good version with Townshend’s guitar work not quite as developed as that recorded on Odds & Sods, giving it the definitive title. The transition to ‘The Song Is Over’ is well developed in the latter part of this version, so it is now somewhat of a surprise to hear Townshend lead the band into…

Young Man Blues

(Allison)

The band begins aggressively enough, if not with quite the air as on Live At Leeds, but Townshend’s guitar goes dead at 1:40; and we can only imagine the o-stage demonstration in anger management that Townshend is not exercising. Entwistle and Moon carry on regardless with almost half a minute of interplay, brewing up a storm without the slightest need for a lead guitarist or vocalist. Townshend kicks back in and vents his frustration in a great guitar run, until he peels o into a very beautiful blues-orientated solo.

Time Is Passing

This version highlights the great mix on the Deluxe Edition’s second disc, best heard in the contrast here between Townshend and Daltrey’s vocals. This song was first widely heard on the former’s solo album Who Came First. Originally recorded during the Olympic Who’s Next sessions, a remastered studio version from a damaged master tape was released on the upgraded edition of Odds & Sods in 1998.

Behind Blue Eyes

Introduced as “probably a single”, Townshend first takes on a fan who dared to stand up and dance during the previous song. He explains that he normally wouldn’t care, but it is distracting as The Who are playing “a whole new show”. That, of course, doesn’t stop him from leading into the second of two well-used songs from Who history that appears in the six songs played so far.

I Don’t Even Know Myself

Excellent version, as was to be expected with a song The Who had played live for some time.

Too Much Of Anything

Daltrey doesn’t start o in a key that is comfortable for his range. Not so obvious at first, but as the song progresses he strains to get through. A great try, though, and fascinating to hear what worked as well as what didn’t work for the band in developing Who’s Next. The first official version of this song appeared on Odds & Sods in a version completed at Olympic on April 12, 1971, with Nicky Hopkins on piano.

Getting In Tune

Although this version sounds faster than the album version, it lasts for over six and a half minutes. Entwistle’s bass line doesn’t sound fully developed yet, and there is that rare experience of Moon playing without bass or guitar at 4:10. Still not a drum solo, as his band mates sing rounds of the title line over and over.

Bargain

Pete apologizes that the new songs are “a wee bit lame, but they’ll come together”. For anyone interested in hearing The Who in this period, the apology is totally unnecessary. This version is played a little slower than fans have come to expect (and Moon initially has some problems with the time signatures), but it is primarily noteworthy for the lack of synthesiser that dominates the album version.

Water

No longer claiming it to be the next single, the band managed to work this version out to an eight-minute plus opus. While it is debatable that the song merits such an addressing, it is denitely good to have it in the collection considering the role it played in Who shows throughout 1970 and 1971.

My Generation

“Not trying to cause a bloody big sensation,” as Daltrey sings. This straightforward treatment of the 1965 Who classic ends at about three minutes to segue into the next song.

Road Runner

(Elias McDaniel, aka Bo Diddley)

Originally written and recorded by blues master Elias McDaniel in 1959, the song has subsequently been covered by many artists, including Jr. Walker & The All-Stars’ hit instrumental version in 1966. During the British R&B boom of the early to mid-Sixties, many groups covered the song, including The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Pretty Things, The Zombies, and The Who. (In fact, it was this very song that The Who played during Keith Moon’s drum-damaging audition at The Oldeld Hotel, Greenford, in April 1964.) During tours in the Seventies The Who often lurched into this medium-paced rocker during lengthy jams within the ‘My Generation’ framework.

Pete Townshend: “It was an afterthought to play this, probably not a good idea. It was a chaotic evening and I think that during this song some young boys started to fiddle around with some older women who were present, one of whom was Roger’s ex, Cleo. We lost concentration as there were no bouncers.”

Naked Eye

Probably noticeable to many fans on hearing this version is that the song (and certainly the middle break) had its genesis in parts of Pete’s guitar work from the Leeds version of ‘My Generation’.

A long-standing concert favourite from mid-1970, a studio version was recorded at Eel Pie Sound (completed at Olympic on June 7, 1971), and released on Odds & Sods.

Won’t Get Fooled Again

The Who’s second epic single (after ‘I Can See For Miles’) is pretty well worked out at this stage. There are some interesting guitar runs played over the synthesiser that will disappear, and the album version has a little added drive and aggression. This is worthwhile for hearing the verse-chorus sequence and hearing Daltrey’s next step in developing, what is for many, the definitive rock’n’roll scream at the conclusion of the album version. All in all, put in the context of what Townshend was trying to do and what the band was trying to understand, this show is an exciting look into a work in progress. For Who fans wanting a CD of Who’s Next, the Deluxe Edition is a must for the Young Vic show alone.

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