The Who

I don’t remember where I first heard the Who. It was probably on one of the two big Pirate radio stations(London or Caroline)but I think it was on Ready Steady Go one Friday night in the Sixties that they really made my head explode.

The Who took over the show and renamed it “Ready Steady Who”. Moon looked like a Bruce Johnston clone, with a white Levi’s suit and Hush Puppy suede shoes. The Surf influence was evident in their choice of covers too, “Barbara Ann” as popularised by the Beach Boys, and “Bucket T” and ” Batman” both Jan and Dean covers. Pete Townsend has always expressed his admiration for Brian Wilson, citing him as his biggest influence after Bob Dylan. If you listen to the harmonies on their early singles, the Beach Boys layered vocal style is very evident, with both Pete and John being able to sing falsetto a la Brian.

It was Pete Townsend’s guitar that first turned me on to the band. Massive, monstrous, super aggressive slashing frenzied powerchords, a term surely invented to describe Pete’s guitar sound.

If God played guitar he’d be stood astride the Atlas mountains, with an amp as big as a Space Shuttle factory, wound up to 10, beating on a giant Rickenbacker or a Les Paul, causing cracks and ripples in the Earth’s crust. That would be a bit like Pete Townsend’s playing. Nearly.
I once heard Dick Dale say he approached playing the guitar like chopping down a tree, wonderfully put Uncle Dick. But for Pete it would be raising the whole forest, then some! Having had the privilege of seeing the Who several times(once with Moon at Charlton in 1974) I can tell you his guitar sound live is monolithic.

Another major blast for me was when the Who came on at CFC John Entwistle hit the top three strings on his bass. It nearly blew my head off! It easily dwarfed what I thought was very loud music deejay’d by Nicky Horne. Entwhistle was/is the bass player. In the 1970’s he ran 6 HiWatt amps together, a sound once described by some unknown poet as “having a bloody great 747 land on your head!” Entwistle walked it like he talked it, had the most phenomenal technique and style and undoubtedly he is one of the greatest muso’s to ever grace God’s good Earth. God bless you Sir.

And as for Keith Moon, well what can I say that hasn’t already been said? I read “Dear Boy” the Moon bio last year.It seems like he was equal part genius and monster and had an appetite for drugs and alcohol unmatched by any other. But his drumming was the most amazing racket ever. Unhinged, erratic, sloppy. He’d never put a simple single drum roll in a break when he could probably squeeze in ten. With an attitude to playing his drums so utterly unique and dynamic NO-ONE could ever match him.Nuff said!

Charton in May 1974 was a fantastic gig, and not just for the Who. There was still a wonderful cameradie at big gigs then, a flashback to the Hippy culture of the sixties. People shared their spliff and booze, and I’ve certainly had many a great conversation on the merits of an array of different types of Rock’n’Roll at this sort of event. These were the days before going to festival was a fashion statement. Well except for the loon pant and the greatcoat!
The band that kicked off the day at Charlton were Montrose, Sammy Hagar’s first successful band featuring the guitar talents of one Ronnie Montrose. I was familiar with their single “Bad motor scooter” and loved it for the tune and great fuzzy slide guitar. And the lyrics reflected my current girlfriend who lived on her “Daddy’s farm” and rode a moped, a “Bad motor scooter” Step forward Diane Bailey!
Next up were Bad Company who I’d seen at their first London gig at the Rainbow theatre earlier that year, but I can’t recall their set being exceptional. After the obligatory Lindisfarne who I’d seen at several such gigs before(and a jolly good knees up band they were too, I loved “Fog on the Tyne”) a hero of mine at the time, Lou Reed, took to the stage.

At this point  David Gowlett had already turned me on to the delights of the Velvet Underground. They soundtracked our “O” levels and I loved “The Velvet Underground and Nico” and “The Velvet Underground live ’69”
Lou looked incredible, a pre Punk Punk look, bleached blonde hair(with Iron crosses, which looked like they been branded on either side of his head)black leather jacket, black drainpipe trousers and biker boots. Every other word he said was “F**K”! He looked like and came across as a Nazi delinquent Punk, and with the twin guitar assault of Hunter/Wagner(a la “Rock’n’Roll Animal)he totally rocked. And as he literally goose-stepped on, some wag threw a can of beer at him. With absolutely no effort he booted the can toward one of the cameras filming the gig, which hit the poor fellow on the head! “You’re so f**king vicious!”.

Before the Who came on, Maggie Bell(late of Stone the Crows)attempted to woo the crowd, but had terrible problems with her sound. But prior to her, will you welcome the World’s finest, alwright mate, gor bleshya, it’s a bit like Old Holborn ain’t it mate, my bad Uncle and yours Mr Stevie Marriot and Humble Pie! They’d just released “Thunderbox”, a good album in places, but dreadfully produced. Tho’ hearing the key tracks live, it really worked for me, as did all the old faves “I don’t need no Doctor”, “30 Days in the hole” “C’mon Everybody” and the like. Stevie was loud, proud, and on serious form, and probably blew the Who off stage if us veterans are honest with one another. Looking back it’s kindof cool, two of the biggest Ace faces of the 1960’s sharing the same bill.

Steve was at the top of his game, and sang like Aretha Franklin’s lovechild. And the band were as tight as a mouse’s earhole. The previous time I’d seen them was up close and personal in Southend. I said to Steve when I met him many years later how wonderful the band were at the Kursaal, and how wasted and cool Greg Ridley (bass player, ex Spooky Tooth/VIP’s) looked. Steve was incredible, he came on and hit his guitar with a ferocity akin to a kick in the bollox.

And a word about the Kursaal’s dance floor. It was sprung, which meant that when the crowd started bopping and moving whether you liked it or not you moved, involuntarily! And I had a similar experience at Joe Robbie stadium in Miami, when I went to see Macca there in 1990. It’s a huge cast concrete structure and it must have been totally sold out, God knows how many tens of thousands of people were there. And when most of the crowd were up and dancing the whole stadium shook and wobbled, it was scary! I went to that gig with Kat Young, she’d seen the Beatles at Shea stadium in New York in 1965 (Cyril Jordan was there too!) and after the gig managed to get to the dressing room exit only to see George waiting to get into a car. She said she ran over and grabbed his bum!

I saw the Who at Joe Robbie too, in 1989. It was reported prior to the gig that Townsend would be playing in a plexi-glass booth because of his dreadful Tinnitus. I have it too, and fortunately have had successful therapy, but I understand how freaked out people get about it. Before my treatment the noise was like having a washing machine on “final spin” in the room, all the time, 24/7. Dreadful, and I do hope Pete no longer suffers with it.
Kenny Jones played the drums with them at the time, another connection to Steve, Kenny originally being the Small Faces drummer.He was/is an excellent drummer but sadly no replacement for Moon.

The first Who album I bought was “Live at Leeds”. It was the most heavy music I’d heard at that point. I bought it from a mail order catalogue that my sister Helen ran, in I think 1971. The vinyl was lovely and had a poster and various repro ephemera.

From the 1st track, “Young man blues” the effect was life changing. Jimi Hendrix had totally turned my head around(the album I’d bought previous was Jimi Hendrix Smash hits from Mid Essex television), but Townsend’s guitar was shattering. And Moon and Entwistle’s harder than the rest rhythm section drove the whole album along so much more aggressively than their studio recordings. Pete’s riffs, Daltrey’s neo Plant style screams and soul-isms, the sum effect was decimating. And jacked up loud through the Linear I was in power chord heaven!

I read an interview on the net with Paul Sullivan who said he learned how to play guitar listening to “Live at Leeds”. Cool……

The version I’ve been listening to recently is the 25th anniversary edition, but in the early 90’s I bought the first cd version, which was awful. And of course I bought the deluxe edition, so that’s a vinyl and 3 cd versions I’ve bought. And now they tell me a super duper 40th anniversary edition is coming out in 2011! Wonder if I’ll be about for the 50th anniversary ……?

But if I had to choose just one Who album to take to my desert island, it would have to be “The Who Sell Out”. I  heard it when it was first re-issued on cd in 1995, and shortly thereafter Roy Saywood taped his original vinyl mono version for me. For those who haven’t heard it the mono version has a lot of different bits and pieces on it, notably radically different guitar solos and mixes. Aside from its neo-psychedelic brilliance this album probably spawned almost as many imitators as “Revolver” by the Beatles. And perhaps John Entwistle’s contributions were plagiarised even more than Townsend’s. Pete’s contributions are beautifully melodic and his guitar equal parts slam and subtlety. And the vocal harmonies throughout reflect the Beach Boys influence I mentioned earlier. Kit Lambert’s attempts to sell ad space on the album failed, but the use of the Pirate radio ads(plus Keith and John’s pastiches)evoke a magic period in the 60’s, and one I’m most fond of. As a kid all those ads sank into my consciousness, “smooth sailing” and one I’m still wont to recite when I’m DJ’ing “going back in time on the sound of the nation!”.

I think “Sunrise” qualifies as my favourite Townsend track ever. The only  instrument on it is an acoustic guitar, and the overdubbed plucked style sounds remarkably like a harpsichord. It’s a very gentle track unlike the majority of Pete’s output, and somehow evokes the beauty of the rising sun. “Tattoo” I first heard at CFC, then on the Filmore ’67 boot, such a lovely plaintive “rites of passage” song, with heartbreaking harmonies. “Our love was” is melancholic and psychedelic, with John’s French horn giving it an extra sadness. “I can see for miles” surely qualifies as THE Who song of the sixties, with Moon’s deranged, tumbling rhythms driving Townsend’s neo-psyche powerchords, and the seemingly LSD/Speed inspired lyric. And “Orderono” is full of Pete’s almost Goon-esque humour and chopping resigned “so what?” chords. And the verses must qualify as one of the most restrained Moon performances ever.

I simply love Entwistle’s “Silas Stingy” full of his dark humour and wonderful bass runs and minor chord classical melody. His voice sounds folky and almost Elizabethan! It’s surely where Mandrake Paddle Steamer springboarded their “Strange Walking Man” from. John’s use of brass, particularly for me the French horn, is just amazing, so moodific on “Our love was” and actually it was the first instrument John learnt to play.

“Boris the Spider” was John’s signature tune, and that inspired many imitators. Bearing in mind Pete used the term “Powerpop” to describe the Who’s sound, here’s my top Who alikes which I think show Entwistle’s influence to be almost as strong as Townsend’s:

Tube Train – The Ivys: Just over 2 minutes of Happy Jack backing vocals, Happenings Ten years time ago/I need you sound effects and the classic Townsend slashing guitar, with that inherent Who humour that bled from A Quick one to Sell out, wunderbar!

Mrs Grundy – Plastic Penny – Entwistle’s Boris vocal and humour with an organ replacing his French horn, oooh missus! A bit prog round the edges. And an honorable mention for “Give me money” which is the Who being slammy, in Miami, with a surrogate Entwistle vocal and an “I can hear the grass grow” riff-a-rama!

Radio City – Loot:  Well forgive me for the Big Star nuance, but this is a cracker. A Reg Presley channeled vocal, Entwistle clipped bass riffing, Beach Boys style backing vocals, neo Moon drumming, the Who humour prevails, with lots of cymbal splash. I’m a boy and I want to get high…..

Father’s name is Dad – Fire: Depending on your bent another Entwistle rip, they can also see for miles…….and sadly despite what others might say aside from “Treacle Toffee world” the only thing they did of import.

Do I love you – Powder: I love this band, and aside from the Townsend guitar slams, the melody and vocals are pure Sell Out. In a perfect world these guys would reunite(and allow Pete Townsend to join in with his Ricky)and blow all of us away……

C’mon Everybody – Humble Pie: Steve tears into the Cochran classic via “Who’s next”. A bit like the Who with 2 Townsends, a f**king monster!!!

I don’t know what I want – The Raspberries:(as Sir Henry was given to say!) Eric Carmen channelling “Won’t get fooled again” sounding much like Daltrey in the bridges, which melody-wise sound like the bridge from “So sad about us”. Dispensing with any further pretence they just start playing “I’m a boy” at the end! Perfect plagiarism!

3 Responses to “The Who”

  1. enjoyed tel – well written, as always. soon have enough for an accidents section.

  2. Mid Essex Television. There’s a name to conjure with. What a sophisticated place Maldon High Street was in the 60s and 70s.

  3. David Nixon. Now there’s a name to conjure with

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