Richard’s Forty Years of Who

This is a long post that serves two purposes: one to recount my personal love affair for my favorite band, and two to provide “liner notes” for my 4-disc 40 year retrospective of The Who’s music. You can skip to the liner notes, skip to the Youtube playlist or continue reading for my story.

The Who has always been my favorite band. When I bought my first vinyl LP record at the age of 13, it was Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy, a collection of singles from the early part of The Who’s career. I have a distinct memory of my mom taking me shopping and selecting that album from the bin at the Almart at Kirkwood Plaza (now Kirkwood Mall). I bought it because I wanted to have the song “Magic Bus”. I played that record over and over; for me it was one of those records that you physically exhausted. I played it so much that I wore out the vinyl and needed to buy a replacement a few years later.

Around this time I called into a radio station in Philadelphia (either WMMR or WYSP, I can’t remember which) to request “Magic Bus”. It was difficult to get through on the phone; the line was always busy and this was in the days of rotary phones without a redial button, but this one time I managed to get through and the DJ accepted my request. However, instead of the studio version to which I’d become accustomed, the DJ played the lengthy live version from Live At Leeds. I was floored. This was a whole new dimension to their music that I had been missing completely by listening only to studio recordings. I got a glimpse into the stage presence and performances of The Who through the movie The Kids Are Alright, released in 1979. The pure power and loosely corralled insanity contained within these four highly intense individuals came across in that movie. I’d already fallen in love with the music and now I was in love with the people behind it: Daltrey’s flash and tough boy image, Moon’s dynamism and zany antics, Entwistle’s solidity and dry acerbic wit, Townshend’s windmilling and acrobatic hijinx combined with his deep intellectual passion for the art.

In high school, I was “the Who freak”. In my circle of friends, we were all into The Who more or less, but I was the one that was the most vocal about them. I had accumulated all the studio albums by that point and was even a member of a (now defunct) US fan club. Keith Moon had died just as I was immersing myself within the band. They chose a new drummer, Kenney Jones, and released their first post-Moon album, Face Dances. Yeah, it wasn’t the best album they ever made, but it was my album. There was a US tour, but I was still too young to drive, much less get myself to another city (Philadelphia or Baltimore/DC) to see them play. Before I graduated high school, they came out with a second album, It’s Hard and kicked off a US tour which they called their “Farewell Tour”. Pete Townshend was burnt out and just didn’t have the motivation to continue anymore. It’s Hard was a return to harder sound than Face Dances and billing the tour as your last chance to see this musical powerhouse perform live certainly didn’t hurt ticket sales.

My friends and I all waited in line at TicketBastard in order to get tickets to the show at JFK Stadium in Philly. We camped out at the TicketBastard office to make sure we were first in line the next day for tickets. My friend Andy Meakin woke everyone up at dawn by blasting Jimi Hendrix’s version of Star Spangled Banner from his car :-). JFK Stadium was a gigantic venue for a rock concert. Absolutely huge. We all got tickets on the lawn for the concert. I was so excited! This was going to be my first (and seemingly last) chance to see my favorite band perform live. Unfortunately the mega concert experience wasn’t going to turn out the way I had hoped.

The concert was at the end of summer on September 25th and for anyone who has lived through muggy summer afternoons in the mid Atlantic states knows, this is uncomfortable weather for just sitting on the porch, never mind crammed into a general seating crowd at a rock concert. While we were killing time in the parking lot, I just wasn’t getting the right vibe from this concert crowd. I was more like Townshend in that I could see the deep intellectural underpinnings that were present in his writing, even if the end result was flawed in Townshend’s eyes. (All true art is never finished, only abandoned.) Guys wandering around the parking lot chanting their sales mantra of “acid, opium, hash” wasn’t exactly the kind of experience I had in mind. People were way too drunk before the concert even started. One of my friends didn’t even make it from the car to the concert because he was too drunk.

Once we got into the venue, you could see that the mood of this crowd was just plain surly. Several other bands were on the bill besides The Who, including a last-minute addition of The Clash, another of my favorite bands both then and now. The Clash had been invited to join the bill because they were already in town playing a concert in Philly on their own tour and Pete Townshend liked The Clash and extended a personal invitation to them. Unfortunately because The Clash had played their own concert, which all the Clash fans had attended, the audience was lacking in proper enthusiasm for their music. Instead of new punks wanting to hear the scathing commentary of Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, we had people for whom Budweiser and Led Zeppelin represented the pinnacles of cultural achievement. (I’m not knocking Led Zeppelin, but they just never made an attempt to make some kind of cerebral impact with their music as Townshend attempted, nor the kind of political insight the Clash attempted.) Instead of The Clash being welcomed for the excellence they had achieved in their own right, Joe Strummer was pelted with orange peels by people who mindlessly chanted for The Who to come on stage.

Even today, rigging a gigantic football stadium for good concert sound is an iffy proposition. I don’t know how much knowledge of such things was to be had in 1982, but from my vantage point in general admission seating, the sound was pretty shitty unless you could get somewhat close to the stage. This wasn’t too difficult for the opening acts–in addition to The Clash, Santana and The Hooters were on the bill–but by the time The Who came on stage at 3:55 PM in front of 91,451 people the crowd pressed forward. I was near enough to the stage that I could see the band clearly, but not near enough to receive merciful splashes of water from a hose sprayed by roadies on those nearest the stage. Those at the back wanting to be closer, but who hadn’t bothered to stake out a position earlier, simply pushed harder against those in front of them. Those people right at the barrier were in danger of being crushed and at several points during the concert, Townshend stopped the show to admonish the crowd and tell them to step back or they wouldn’t be continuing with the music. You know its not a good crowd when the band they came to see is taking them to task for their behavior. Eventually I relinquished my closer spot to the thugs and moved back farther on the lawn for the rest of the show. To be honest, I can’t remember anything at all about The Who’s performance that day; my only memories are of the surly crowd.

I’d already reconciled myself to the fact that mortality had robbed me of any chance to see a Keith Moon era Who play live, so I had immersed myself in the many bootleg live recordings of the band. The sound wasn’t always the best, but I didn’t have to put up with drunken thugs crushing me against a barrier, either. Given the prolific live performance history of the band, there were plenty of performances to absorb. For the rest of the 80s, I would occasionally get new solo material from Townshend which I enjoyed and there were new concerts to mine from The Who’s rich performance past, but I just didn’t think I’d ever get to see The Who (in any incarnation) live, up-close and personal. The 1990s would change everything.

I’d already been living day-in, day-out with the internet for about 10 years, but in the 90s it wasn’t just people from the software industry anymore. Increasingly, everyone was on the ‘net. Mailing lists and discussion groups started springing up everywhere for people with interests in almost any topic. Naturally, Who fans aggregated themselves together using these same mechanisms. As a subscriber to a mailing list in the 90s, I learned a few things: first I wasn’t alone in my seeming religious adoration for this band and second, there were bigger Who freaks than me! Some of them took things farther than I felt was appropriate (don’t be a stalker, dude!), but generally they were a great bunch of folks.

In 1996, Townshend was playing two gigs in California to promote his album The Best of Pete Townshend: Coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking: one at the LA House of Blues and one at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Lauren, a woman I had never had any contact with before, posted a brief message to the mailing list. In effect, it said that she had a ticket for the House of Blues show available and if you wanted to claim it, write her an email message where you describe why you should be worthy of the ticket. I figured “wow, compared to all these folks I might not seem particularly special”, but I gave it a shot anyway. I believe I told her about the jacket I wore in high school that was completely encrusted with Who pins and that was the clincher. I had a ticket!

I couldn’t think of a concert experience that was more of an exact polar opposite from my JFK Stadium experience. First, the House of Blues is an intimate venue. They simply cannot by law admit enough people to constitute even one-fifth the crowd that was on the lawn at JFK. Second, this was very much a Pete Townshend solo experience. There was no band, just Pete “alone, unaccompanied on his guitar”. For one or two songs, Jon Carin provided some additional keyboard and vocal support, but mostly it was Pete alone either on his guitar or at the piano. The Fillmore concert from the following evening would eventually be released as a live CD by Townshend. This was a very intimate concert experience, with Pete often talking to us between songs as if we were just having a chat in his living room over a cup of coffee. No pushing, no shoving, everyone was on their best behavior–honey, we have guests! Lauren was a wonderful woman who I still count as a friend to this day. We would talk about this or that song or performance and I could see the gleam in her eye that told me “dude, I’m one of you!”. During the concert, a shared look between us was all it took for us to communicate our musical joy. It wasn’t The Who, but for both of us Townshend is the one person in the band that most deeply resonates with us.

Now the wisdom of crowds was working to feed my Who habit. First, scoring a ticket through the wonderful Lauren to a solo Pete Townshend show. A show I would never have heard about if it weren’t for that mailing list. Even in their heyday it was hard to hear information about The Who in the news and since their “Who’s Last” tour in 1982, I think people had just filed them away in their mental history books never to be heard from again. From the mailing I heard about the remaster and reissue campaign during the 1990s for The Who’s CD catalog. It turns out the 1980s CDs were pressed from vinyl masters and weren’t remixed to take advantage of the larger dynamic range of CDs and the different sound response of the media.

Something else very special happened in 1996. Pete Townshend had been performing charity benefits to help them raise money. In 1996 he was invited to perform for the Prince’s Trust, a charity in the United Kingdom founded in 1976 by The Prince of Wales to help young people. According to The Who Concert File,

[Pete] chose to perform Quadrophenia in its entirety with a large band of guest musicians, including Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle with Ringo Starr‘s son Zak Starkey on drums. The Who bandwagon was rolling again—even though, initially, they weren’t billed as The Who—and the Hyde Park show was followed by five similar Quadrophenia shows in New York.

The New York shows would take place at Madison Square Garden on July 16–18 and 20–22, 1996. My new mailing list friends changed the rules of the game for me. For the first time, I had a group of people as passionate as myself about this band sharing information with their fellow addicts. We shared strategies and information on obtaining tickets to the Madison Square Garden shows in the summer.

Again with Lauren’s help I was able to get 4 tickets near the soundboard on the floor, in the mid 30s row from the front, if I recall correctly. Why did I get 4 tickets? My plan was for myself and three of my fellow high school Who fans to attend the show together. Unfortunately, one of my friends was suffering from a Lyme disease reaction and wasn’t able to make it to the concert. The three of us, however, were in Who heaven that night. None of us imagined we’d see them perform live again after 1982, so it was all gravy at that point. On top of that, Quadrophenia was what we jointly considered to be the apex of studio Who recordings. The Who had attempted to perform Quadrophenia when it was originally released in 1973, but they soon abandoned the idea of performing the entire concept album and retreated to performing just a few songs. To hear the entire concept double album in its entirety live made us giddy with excitement. The large group of guest musicians for the Quadrophenia shows included additional musicians to help balance out Townshend’s desire not to play loud electric guitar as well as supply the supporting characters in the story of Quadrophenia: Billy Idol was “The Ace Face”, Gary Glitter was “The Godfather” and the role of Jimmy was reprised by Phil Daniels, who had played Jimmy in the Quadrophenia film released in 1979.

With an intimate Pete Townshend solo concert and the entirety of Quadrophenia under my belt in 1996, it just seemed like there wasn’t anything else that was going to top those experiences. I mean, these guys were in their 50s and they didn’t exactly lead sedate lives as rock stars. They could keel over at any minute. However, the 1990s would sneak in one more special surprise for me, just before the end of the decade.

By 1999, so many people had been awoken to the possibilities afforded them by communication through the internet that it seemed that all you needed to do in order to raise a few million dollars in seed capital was blurt out some buzzwords. Its the new economy! Just don’t ask us how we’re going to make money at it. A new “dot com” company, Pixelon, was going to blow the doors off streaming video over the internet. Yes, its something we take for granted now with YouTube, but there was a time when doing this stuff was actually challenging. :-) Pixelon was going to start things off with a bang and hosted a huge launch party in Vegas, featuring The Who among others. Apparently The Who were offered quite a bit of money to perform that night, but it certainly didn’t show up in the ticket prices: every ticket was $10 and could be purchased online or over the phone. Good seats, bad seats, all were $10. With the show taking place in Vegas, it was a reasonable drive from Salt Lake City, so I purchased a couple tickets and a friend and I drove down there to see the show.

What a show it was. Unlike 1989 and 1996, when The Who were accompanied by a large ensemble of musicians, this was a stripped down 5 piece configuration: Daltrey, Entwistle, Townshend, Starkey and Bundrick. For the first time in a long while, Pete was playing electric without holding back. Townshend had been suffering from tinnitis for quite some time, beginning with an oversized stage effect explosion from Keith Moon’s drum kit on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. Apparently Pete had been treated for his tinnitis and had found a way to play his guitar in such a way as to not aggravate his condition. The end result was electrifying, both literally and figuratively. Townshend’s reluctance to be a part of The Who in the early 1980s had clearly vanished and he was just plain having fun. The members of the band were working closer together than ever before, in particular Townshend and Daltrey no longer seemed to be at odds with each other. The Pixelon iBash show from October 29th, 1999 would eventually be released on DVD as The Vegas Job. The following day they played an all acoustic set at Neil Young‘s Bridge School Benefit. Wow. Solo Townshend and Quadrophenia few years earlier and now a stripped down electrified Who that returned to its original core sound. Could it get any better? Yes, it could.

After the success of the October shows for The Who, Pete Townshend was once again invited to play a benefit concert. For a number of year’s, he had been playing benefit concerts for the Maryville Academy in Illinois. The benefit concert was scheduled for just a few weeks after the Vegas gig and Pete asked The Who if they would like to join him for that show. They said yes. My biggest Who dream that I could never imagine happening was about to come true.

On November 12th and 13th, 1999, The Who played two shows at the House of Blues in Chicago as a benefit for the Maryville Academy. Eddie Vedder‘s garage band “C-Average” would be the opening act. Tickets carried a face value of $300, but with no assigned seating at the House of Blues, tickets quickly hit the brokers. Again, my friend Lauren helped me obtain tickets to the shows. We waited in line together outside the House of Blues all day on Friday in order to make sure we were in the best location inside when the doors opened. We ended up just left of center right in front of the stage. Well, my friend Lauren was at the stage and I was behind her :-). It turns out that being just left of center is the perfect vantage spot for watching The Who in its Entwistle/Townshend incarnation. With two musicians that have been playing together as long as they have, they learn the cues of their body language to communicate transitions. So if you want the best view of Townshend’s guitar plucking, its best to be slightly to the left of stage center because he will turn to face Entwistle as they work through the jammy bits. When he turns, he’ll be facing your direction if you’re on the Entwistle side and The Who’s stage layout has always had Entwistle on the left and Townshend on the right.

So this was it. It couldn’t get any more intimate with The Who unless you hired them to play your birthday party in your living room. The House of Blues is not a large venue to begin with and if you’re right up against the stage, you’re right up against the act. Having seen them play Vegas just a few weeks earlier, I knew what we were going to get. Other fans who hadn’t seen the Vegas gig (the DVD wouldn’t come out for another 4 years) were somewhat skeptical, given the “big band” format that had been adopted previously. I was trying to shake them out of their skepticism by telling them “its 1979, not 1989!”. Zak Starkey also deserves a big chunk of credit for the success of the new stripped down sound. Ringo and Keith Moon were good friends and I’ve been told that Zak even received a few impromptu drum lessons from Keith as a child. Zak is his own man when it comes to drumming, but he definately enjoys having and using his tom-toms and that certainly helps to create a sound more fitting with the classic Who sound.

The Vegas show was a little rough in spots; you could tell that they hadn’t spent a huge amount of time practicing. The rough spots were most noticable on material that they hadn’t played for quite some time, such as Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere. By the time they hit Chicago, it was clear they had spent some of the intervening period rehearsing the songs. The arrangements were tight. The lyrics came without any hiccups. The segues into and out of jammyness happened without strain or awkwardness. Rabbit was at the right level in the mix and the sound mix was balanced. The shows in Chicago were not only the most intimate I could expect as an ordinary ticketholder, but the quality of the performance (always variable for The Who, even when at their best) was also quite excellent. There was an attempt to play A Legal Matter during the encore, but Pete just couldn’t keep himself from cracking up as he sang the lyrics and contemplated their utter naievete.

During 5:15, something utterly amazing happened. The band yielded over to Entwistle for an extended bass solo as Roger exclaims “Then I heard the thunder!”. (Watch it here.) Now, we’d all known that Entwistle was a distinguished bass guitar player. Hell, put on your headphones while listening to Quadrophenia and you’ll just find yourself thinking “how’s he doing that?” over and over again. Still, this was one of those performance that just leaves you with goose bumps at the end. There are several easily reproducible goosebump moments for me from Who music and I thought I’d discovered them all, but here I was adding new ones from only 10 feet away! Both Entwistle and Townshend have clearly not let “the end” of The Who in 1982 stop them from continuing to hone their musical craftsmanship to new levels. Magic Bus (it was my first Who song, remember?) was also quite powerful—Roger really wailed away on the harmonica, or as Pete put it at the time: “That was shit hot harmonica.” How very appropriate for a blues town like Chicago!

So far, this show remains my best musical memory of a Who performance. I say “so far” because if there’s one thing the 1990s taught me with respect to The Who: don’t count out the impossible! After playing the shows in Chicago during November, The Who returned to England and played two shows on December 22nd and 23rd at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London. From these four shows a series of live tracks were selected, mixed and released as the Blues to the Bush CD.

After these “experimental” performances in 1999, The Who decided to tour the US in 2000 with the same stripped-down lineup. This tour would feature quite a bit of material from Who’s Next and other material from the ill-fated Lifehouse project that didn’t make it onto Who’s Next. One of these songs was called “The Relay”, originally released as a single and subsequently packaged on some greatest hits collections. This was a particularly obscure Who song for most casual fans, but one that I always listened to and wondered “why the hell are they burying this thing?!?”. In the 2000 tour it became a staple of the setlist and led to some lovely jams. I saw three shows on the 2000 US tour: The Gorge in George, WA outside Seattle, WA, The Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA and at the stadium in downtown Denver, CO. I had originally purchased a ticket for Arizona, but that show was cancelled. The shows on this tour were well received and well attended, even if not sold out every show. Again, were it not for my new “Who family” I made over the internet I wouldn’t have heard about these shows; many potentially interested people I’ve talked to since had no idea these shows were taking place. A sad day for America was about to change that.

After 9/11, Paul McCartney organized The Concert for New York City to take place on October 20th, 2001. As he had done previously with The Concert for Kampuchea, McCartney invited The Who onto the bill and they accepted. The Who’s four song set would be remarked upon as one of the most emotionally powerful portions of the concert and it is included in its entirety on the The Concert for New York City DVD. The closest seats were reserved for surviving firefighters, police and first responders and the families of those killed responding to the attack. When I first watched this DVD only a few months after 9/11, the emotional impact of seeing those families holding up the pictures of their fallen loved ones while The Who played through the somber opening moments of Behind Blue Eyes was overwhelmingly sad and I’m not ashamed to say I wept in sympathy with them. The Who were clearly humbled and simultaneously fueled by the palpable emotion of the crowd. Their set concluded with a version of Won’t Get Fooled Again, where Townshend physically assaulted his guitar over and over again making it squeal for mercy, of which there was none. As sad a time as this was for America, Who fans were to receive another jolt just 9 months later.

With the financial success and critical acclaim of the 2000 tour and the success of the Concert for New York appearance, The Who engaged in another US tour in 2002. The momentum of the 2000 shows was carrying them forward into a new direction and most importantly they were enjoying themselves again. Sure, some of their motivation was for the money. We all have to make a living, right? Even rock stars, it turns out. On June 27th, the night before The Who were to open the tour in Las Vegas, John Entwistle was found dead of a heart attack during the night. I had made my “Who family” over the internet during good times and now we were all in mourning together. Shock. Disbelief. Acceptance. We worked through it at a distance while the members of the band worked through the same overwhelming emotions up-close and more personal than we could know. A major cross-country US tour for The Who represents a huge financial obligation on behalf of the artist and the venues and promoters. This isn’t just one gig we’re talking about cancelling, its many. The Who decided to cancel two shows, but continue on with the rest of the tour, starting with a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. They would use Pino Paladino to take over the bass guitar duties for the tour. I would make it to shows in Mountain View, CA, Sacramento, CA and Denver, CO. These shows were great shows, even considering the absence of Entwistle having left a huge hole in The Who’s sound. Pino is an excellent bass guitar player and in 2006 he would bring more of his own style to the performances, but I can only imagine the pressure he must have felt while trying to fill those very big shoes. The remainder of the 2000s saw The Who do more touring in 2004, but they still had a few more tricks up their sleeve to surprise us with.

In 2006, The Who released Endless Wire, their first new studio album in 24 years. Pino Paladino, John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick and Zak Starkey would play on the studio tracks, making them part of The Who family. Quickly following the release of this new studio album, The Who would tour the US in 2006 and I attended a show in San Jose, CA and finally got to attend a show in my (now) hometown of Salt Lake City, UT. By 2006, Pino had clearly gotten into his own comfortable groove with the band and I could hear his style coming through in some of the jammy bits where he doesn’t have as much pressure to “make it sound like Entwistle did it”. There’s a bit of irony there as Entwistle had commented about having only a single prominent bass solo in the setlist (My Generation), but that because the solo had become such a signature of the song he felt that he had to play it note-for-note. I enjoyed these concerts quite a bit, with highlights for me being a live condensed version of Tommy in the encore—Sparks always gives me goosebumps—and the combined jam of My Generation and Cry If You Want, a song from the 1982 album It’s Hard. I enjoyed the new material from Endless Wire as well; in particular the song Tea and Theatre had Roger’s voice going from soft dulcet tones to bellowing out across the entire concert hall within the time span of a heartbeat. When he’s got it, he’s got it.

In 2008, I had been talking with a friend about The Who and he said that he wasn’t much familiar with their live performances. I offered to edit together a CD or two of live tracks that I thought he would enjoy. I began mentally collecting together what songs I thought should be included. Even with a 24-year hiatus in their career, The Who have still racked up quite a bit of material and almost all of it is available in a live performance somewhere. Sure, I could just give the guy a copy of Live at Leeds or the Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 double CD, but that would miss out on material from later in The Who’s career. So the track selection began, with an attempt to have a representative sampling from all phases of The Who’s career. As I started selecting tracks and assembling the discs it became quite clear that this wasn’t going to fit on one or even two CDs. And hell, by the time you’re at three CDs, you might as well make it four, right? Considering their career spans 40 years of time, that feels about right. And that is the tale of how I come to share with you the following track list.

The Tracks

The general organization of the discs is an attempt to follow the catalog chronoligically, rather than chronologically by performance date. Disc 1 begins in 1964, the year I was born. That’s why this set is called “Richard’s Forty Years of Who”; not because I have been listening to them for forty years, but because they’ve been making music for forty years. Many of these tracks are available on Youtube if you’d like to give them a listen.

Disc 1
  1. Pretty Thing (1964) [1]
  2. Green Onions (1964) [1]
  3. Dance To Keep From Crying (1964) [1]
  4. Shout and Shimmy (1965) [2]
  5. I Can’t Explain (1968) [3]
  6. Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere (1965)[4]
  7. My Generation (1968) [3]
  8. Substitute (1970) [5]
  9. Fortune Teller (1968) [3]
  10. My Way (1968) [3]
  11. Relax (1968) [3]
  12. Shakin’ All Over (1970) [5]
  13. Summertime Blues (1970) [5]
  14. Magic Bus (1970) [5]
  15. Young Man Blues (1969) [4]
  16. Heaven and Hell (1970) [6]
  17. Amazing Journey (1970) [6]
  18. Sparks (1970) [6]

In 1964, The Who weren’t even The Who yet; they were called The Detours (they also flirted briefly with the name The High Numbers), and catered to the mod subculture in 1960s England. They would change their name to The Who in 1965 and issue their first original composition by Townshend in the single “I Can’t Explain”. A typical show for them consisted of blues and R&B covers. While this aspect of their concerts would recede into the background as their catalog of original material expanded, it would remain an element of their live performances throughout their career.

Disc 1 covers this early period of The Who, characterized by covers and isolated singles such as “I Can’t Explain”, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, “My Generation”, “Substitute” and “Magic Bus”. Both of these aspects of early Who songs invoked an element of rebellion. Why, young white boys in 1960s England just didn’t play that black music, you see. No, its not proper. While other bands of the periods were writing throwaway sappy lovesongs, “I Can’t Explain” ends up expressing the romantic confusion you feel when your heart inexplicably goes pitter-patter in a way it never did before. “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” explodes out of your speakers with a shocking dose of feedback and toggling the pickup on the guitar in such a way as to bang out Morse code. When first submitted for mastering, the studio engineer returned the tape, certain that the feedback was a mistake and not intended. Feedback? A good performer just doesn’t let his guitar do that sort of thing you know. No, its not proper. While many consider the refrain of “hope I die before I get old” in “My Generation” to be shocking, many don’t realize the intentional stuttering in the song is meant to be evocative of the tendency of mods to get hopped up on amphetamines for all-night partying. All night XTC raves? Feh, those mod guys were doing that scene in the early 1960s England and they were much better dressers. Wolfgang’s Vault streams the April 6, 1968 Who concert at the Fillmore East for free. It is an excellent show from which several of the tracks on Disc 1 were selected.

During this time, The Who had done the typical thing for bands of that era. They released LP records as a collection of songs, just a jumble in a bag, really. Townshend had been writing singles to keep The Who in the charts and in the public mind. Just as he started to feel like he was hitting a dead end in this approach he and the band’s manager came up with idea of telling a longer story, but they bumped up into reluctance to take seriously the idea of a “ten minute song”, so they broke the story up into little pop song sized bites and called it “A Quick One (While He’s Away)“, or the “mini-opera” as it became known. A scorching hot performance of this mini-opera was recorded in 1968 for the defunct TV special called The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus can be seen in The Kids Are Alright DVD or on the The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus DVD released in 1996. When performed live, “A Quick One” certainly delivered on the excitement that had become a hallmark of a Who performance. On the studio LP, however, it came across quite flat and lacked a certain vigor. When I first saw them perform it live in The Kids Are Alright, I almost didn’t recognize the song at first, the differences are so striking. “A Quick One” turned out to be a good dry run experiment for what Townshend would create next: a true “rock opera”—Tommy. Rock Opera? No, you just don’t do that sort of thing, my boy. No, its not proper!

Disc 1 concludes with a chunk of material from 1970, a period many consider to be The Who at the peak of their live performances. The performances at Leeds University and the Isle of Wight festival fill out the remainder of Disc 1. The Leeds University show was released as Live At Leeds, a live performance album that set the gold standard at the time for live rock recordings, and a standard that is still used to this day. The initial vinyl release was a single LP and omitted the Tommy portion of the concert. The deluxe edition double CD released in 2001 included the entire concert. The final three tracks on Disc 1 are from Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 CD soundtrack. The performance of “Heaven and Hell” is so blistering and crisp in its arrangement, its hard to believe its the first thing that they played when they took the stage. The message was clear to anyone near the stage: we take no prisoners! “Sparks” has always been a goosebump moment for me, so it would have to be included in any Tommy condensation. While I think I prefer the Woodstock version slightly more than the Isle of Wight performance, the two are comparable and representative of the period. Its pretty hard to splice in “Sparks” without including “Amazing Journey” since the end of one song simply blends into the beginning of the next in a matter of milliseconds with no explicitly discernable gap. Wolfgang’s Vault recently added the July 7, 1970 Who show at Tanglewood, MA for free streaming along with video clips for selected tracks. This is an excellent show and considered by some to be superior to the Isle of Wight show that would take place shortly after Tanglewood. You can also get the Isle of Wight Festival performance on DVD or Blu-ray.

Disc 2
  1. The Acid Queen (1976) [7]
  2. Pinball Wizard (1969) [4]
  3. I’m Free (1976) [7]
  4. See Me, Feel Me (1969) [4]
  5. Baba O’Riley (1978) [4]
  6. Bargain (1971) [8]
  7. Pure and Easy (1999) [9]
  8. Gettin’ In Tune (1999) [9]
  9. Behind Blue Eyes (1976) [7]
  10. Relay (2000) [11]
  11. Won’t Get Fooled Again (1978) [4]
  12. My Wife (1999) [9]
  13. Baby Don’t Ya Do It (1971) [8]
  14. Goin’ Down (1972) [12]

Disc 2 kicks off with the remainder of a condensation of Tommy, following the form used in the 1976 tour, where Tommy was condensed down to a few songs to leverage the release of the Ken Russell film of Tommy. I bounce back and forth here between tracks from “Live at Swansea”, a bootleg recording of a concert at the Swansea football stadium that was FM broadcast, and tracks from the Woodstock performance of Tommy from the Kids Are Alright soundtrack.

Following straight on the heels of Tommy is the material for Who’s Next, considered by many to be the best studio Who album, with Quadrophenia either a close second or swapping places with Who’s Next. So many of those songs are just absolutely wonderful, so it makes sense to devote almost an entire disc to these performances. Its a fairly even mix between Moon performances (1971, 1976, 1978) and Starkey performances (1999, 2000). The version of “Relay” included here, from the Shoreline Amphitheatre show in 2000, is particularly full of jammy goodness. Like a writer of a suspense novel, Townshend knows how to bring the mood up and down with his guitar playing without it ever seeming forced. The echoes of his pop song origins show on the more jammy songs because there’s often a 2:50 pop song hiding in the front before he travels off into a jazz-like jamming session. You’re lulled into a sense of eery calm in the middle before the freight train jumps the tracks and comes barreling through the wall of your house into your living room.

While “Won’t Get Fooled Again” wraps up the Lifehouse elements of Who’s Next, its easy to forget that John Entwistle’s “My Wife” was also included on Who’s Next. There have been several Moon era live versions of this song released here and there over the years, but I particularly enjoy this Starkey era version from the Shepherds Bush Empire concerts in 1999. Finally, we fill out the remainder of Disc 2 with a couple more blues covers performed in The Who’s own style. Keep an ear tuned for some mad crazy double bass drum action by Keith Moon on “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “Bargain”.

Disc 3
  1. Water (1970) [6]
  2. Naked Eye (2000) [11]
  3. The Real Me (1999) [9]
  4. I’m One (2000) [11]
  5. Drowned (1981) [13]
  6. 5:15 (1999) [9]
  7. Squeeze Box (1976) [7]
  8. However Much I Booze (1975) [18]
  9. Dreaming From the Waist (1976) [7]
  10. Sister Disco (1979) [14]
  11. Music Must Change (1979) [19]
  12. Trick of the Light (1979) [19]
  13. Who Are You (1999) [9]

Disc 3 brings us through the remainder of The Who’s 1970s studio catalog covering the albums Quadrophenia, Odds and Sods, The Who by Numbers and Who Are You. “Water”, from the Isle of Wight, is a bit of an odd duck. It was written after Tommy and before Lifehouse (Who’s Next), but wasn’t released until after Who’s Next, and initially only as a single. The extended edition CD remaster of Who’s Next would add Water to the track list. Given that the song “Naked Eye” evolved from an extended jam at the end of “My Generation” (elements can be heard in the Leeds performance, for instance), it isn’t any surprise that “Naked Eye” as a song in its own right contains jammy goodness, this version being from Shoreline Amphitheatre in 2000. Once again, we see the structure of a “pop song” sized chunk of verses on the front with a segue into jazz-like jams, along with a little Townshend inspired wisdom:

It ain’t what you see,
it ain’t what you say,
its what you do.
It ain’t where you go,
it ain’t where you’ve been,
its where you stay.

Quadrophenia gets a four-track reprise and what may surprise you is that I didn’t select any Keith Moon tracks for it. While I love Keith’s drumming on the studio version of this album, there aren’t many sources for live versions of these tracks with Keith. The aborted Quadrophenia tour efforts led to a shelving of most of the material until after Keith’s death. Drowned did become a semi-regular in the Moon era set lists, but I thought the Kenney Jones era version was simply better than the ones available to me with Keith Moon. Wolfgang’s Vault has two 1973 tour shows with Keith (December 4th, Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA and December 6th, Capitol Center, Largo, MD) that you can stream for free. During the 1979 tour, “Drowned” became a staple in the setlist and the performances by Townshend were often quite passionate, this example from the 1981 Rockpalast show being no exception. Entwistle’s bass is fluid and bouncy throughout and Daltrey’s harmonica throughout brings his own sound nicely into the mix without being overpowering or feeling out of place. “5:15” is from Blues To The Bush and is simply flabbergasting by the time you get to Entwistle’s showcasing of bass mastery. When we do finally come back, reeling from the effects of Entwistle’s bass, Townshend comes back on his guitar and puts the final stake through our hearts like we were bloodsucking vampires, leaving us gasping for air at the end. Elements of his playing style were evocative of Eddie Van Halen (at 7:00), but Townshend combines the power chord, the whammy bar and raw feedback to get a sound that soars and roars in arcs above your head before fluttering down to the ground like a feather. Why should I care? I can give you a million reasons!

Next we’re into a chunk of The Who By Numbers. After the complex arrangements, and the ensuing difficulties recreating them in a live setting, of Quadrophenia, The Who settled back into the basics on The Who By Numbers. This is reflected in this little trio of tracks from the 1975-1976 tours. These were very hardworking tours for The Who, driving them to new levels of public acclaim for their live performances. The 1976 tracks were originally only to be found on the “Live at Swansea” bootleg, but were eventually included as bonus tracks on the reissue of The Who By Numbers. Not every song from a Who album made it into the live rotation; some songs were never performed live or performed only a small handfull of times. It was particularly pleasing to find a nice clean sounding bootleg of “However Much I Booze” to include in the set list, even if Pete does flub one of the lines. Another small joyful discovery brought to you by my Who family on the internet. Just because the arrangements of songs on Who By Numbers were simpler than Quadrophenia, that doesn’t mean that sheer craftsmanship won’t blow you away. “Dreaming From The Waist” showcases the nimble fingers of John Entwistle on the bass guitar, “thunderfingers” to his friends.

Finally, we round out Disc 3 with four tracks from Who Are You. As Keith Moon left us after the studio album was complete but before the touring to promote the album could begin, this marks the end of the Keith Moon era. “Sister Disco” is an excerpt from the Concerts for Kampuchea, a Who concert where John Bonham of Led Zeppelin is said to have remarked to his tour manager: “‘We have just seen the best band on the planet.” Most people feel that Kenney Jones was not a good fit for The Who as a drummer and I can understand that point of view; I think Starkey is a better fit myself. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that Jones couldn’t do the job or bring his own style to things. In the 1979 time frame, Kenney was clearly energized and it shows in this performance of “Sister Disco”.

“Music Must Change” and “Trick of the Light” are two audience recordings I included in the track listing. So there is the occasional crowd noise near the ends of the tracks, but its nothing too intolerable. If you can get your mind past that temporary distraction and drill down slightly into the soundstack to find the band’s performance, your ear will be most pleased indeed. True to the song’s title, Townshend does indeed change up his music in the structure of this song. Brief jazz-like jammy interludes appear earlier in the structure before the traditional 3 minute pop song is exhausted, a small horn section accents the crescendos, but by 3 minutes in we find out that not all the musical landmarks have been obliterated from the Townshend landscape as we descend into a jammy interlude. The guitar solo work here is more note driven and jazz-influenced, yet still alternates with the sonic walls of feedback that Townshend has perfected. “Trick of the Light” is an Entwistle composition, featuring the unique arrangement of dropping the electric guitar and having Townshend accompany Entwistle on a second bass guitar. Afterwards, Pete remarks: “That’s a difficult one. We only play that on special occasions.” Indeed. Finishing off the disc we get a nice crisp version of “Who Are You” from the Starkey era, this time back to November 12th, 1999 show at the House of Blues in Chicago.

Disc 4
  1. The Quiet One (1981) [13]
  2. How Can You Do It Alone (1981) [15]
  3. Don’t Let Go The Coat (1981) [13]
  4. Another Tricky Day (1981) [13]
  5. Twist and Shout (1981) [13]
  6. It’s Hard (1982) [16]
  7. Eminence Front (1982) [16]
  8. Dangerous (1982) [16]
  9. Cry If You Want (1982) [16]
  10. After the Fire (1999) [9]
  11. Fragments (2006) [17]
  12. Sound Round (2006) [17]
  13. Pick Up the Peace (2006) [17]
  14. Endless Wire (2006) [17]
  15. We Got A Hit (2006) [17]
  16. They Made My Dreams Come True (2006) [17]
  17. Mirror Door (2006) [17]
  18. My Generation / Cry If You Want (2006) [17]
  19. Tea and Theatre (2006) [17]

Disc 4 catches us up with the 80s for the last two studio albums, Face Dances and It’s Hard, before the big hiatus and afterwards material from Endless Wire. Most of the Face Dances tracks come from the 1981 Rockpalast concert, but the intriguingly different version of “How Can You Do It Alone” comes from the bonus tracks on the Face Dances remaster. The live version is quite a departure from the studio version that ended up on the album, with the live version evolving from the 1979 tour. John Entwistle sings the vocals on “Twist and Shout”, showing The Who still had a taste for covers when it suited their fancy. There are many versions of this song by many bands, but this one just feels so light and bouncy and the crowd is clearly enthused by it.

A tight four song set from Toronto Canada in 1982 samples the material from It’s Hard. Townshend drives home the point of “Eminence Front” at 4:30: “hiding behind an eminence front, put-on. Bullshit! Bullshit! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” and along the way gives us some tasty licks with his guitar. In “Dangerous”, we see a bit of a departure for an Entwistle composition that deals more with a serious subject matter (the dangers of alienation, isolation, loneliness, fear and despair) all served on top of a stoccato plectrum driven bass driving the song forward. “Cry If You Want” builds up slowly, until Townshend begins unleashing his arsenal of power chords at about 4:40. Before getting into post-hiatus material, we’re treated to a showcase of Daltrey’s ability to belt out a ballad in “After the Fire”. This is a song Townshend wrote with the intention of performing it at Live Aid in 1985, but it wasn’t finished in time. As a consequence, it wasn’t often performed by The Who, but I find this version from the House of Blues in Chicago from November 12th, 1999 to be particularly moving. Entwistle’s bass moves you in a way that feels somber and reserved without being sad.

The remainder of Disc 4 contains material from the 2006 tour concert in San Jose, CA. “Fragments” gets us going with the new material and gives Townshend a chance to sneak in a little solo and gives Pino Paladino a chance to show us his own style. Next follows the “mini opera” housed within Endless Wire (“Sound Round”, “Pick Up the Peace”, “Endless Wire”, “We Got A Hit”, “They Made My Dreams Come True”, and “Mirror Door”).

The Who have a jamminess to them that can lead to some interesting improvisation on stage, but its a constrained improvisation. It doesn’t happen in every song and more to the point, the best moments tend to happen in different performances of the same song. A song such as “My Generation” has long been a vehicle for such improvisation and experimentation, even having forking off the “Naked Eye” portion of a jam as a whole song in its own right. When attempting to share what I feel is the best of The Who’s live sound, choosing tracks can be difficult because there is always the temptation to include multiple performances of the same track.

In this one instance, I found it acceptable to repeat the track for two reasons: first, “My Generation” is a reasonable candidate for a signature track for the band and its a reasonable choice for a bookend track that sandwiches their entire career. Second, “My Generation” itself only hangs around for about 1:40 until we have dispensed with the scaffolding that was only needed to support the structure of the jam and then we’re off in fresh territory. Even though we meander and occasionally find our way back to the lyrics of “My Generation”, by 4:15 we’re definitely inside another song—“Cry If You Want”. Yet this version is substantially different from the 1982 version, so much so that it feels like a different song. Starkey’s frenetic drumming takes you to an entirely different place and gives the song an uplifting drive. The whole four disc set finishes off with “Tea and Theatre”, a song from Endless Wire that features Pete on acoustic guitar and Roger on vocals. This was their last song at the concert and the sheer dynamism and range that Daltrey achieved with his voice was simply amazing. Switching from soft spoken phrases, to pure chest pounding vocal power in the span of a single breath was truly spectacular.

Sources

[1] – 1964 “Remembering the High Numbers”
[2] – Umm… to be honest, I can’t remember right now! It was the live TV broadcast version, I think from Shindig.
[3] – Fillmore East
[4]The Kids Are Alright
[5]Live At Leeds [Deluxe Edition]
[6]Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970
[7] – Live at Swansea 1976
[8] – View From a Backstage Pass
[9]Blues to the Bush 1999
[11] – Shoreline Amphitheatre 2000
[12]Two’s Missing
[13] – Rockpalast 1981
[14]Concerts for the People of Kampuchea
[15] – Bonus tracks from Face Dances
[16] – Bonus tracks from It’s Hard
[17] – 2006 Encore Series, San Jose, CA
[18] – 20-Nov-1975
[19] – 01-Sep-1979

The Lineup

1964—1978 Pete Townshend: guitar, vocals
Jon Entwistle: bass guitar, vocals
Keith Moon: drums
Roger Daltrey: vocals, tambourine, harmonica
1979 Pete Townshend: guitar, vocals
Jon Entwistle: bass guitar, vocals
Kenney Jones: drums
Roger Daltrey: vocals, tambourine, harmonica
John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick: keyboards
Unknown horn section
1981 Pete Townshend: guitar, vocals
Jon Entwistle: bass guitar, vocals
Kenney Jones: drums
Roger Daltrey: vocals, tambourine, harmonica
John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick: keyboards
1982 Pete Townshend: guitar, vocals
Jon Entwistle: bass guitar, vocals
Kenney Jones: drums
Roger Daltrey: vocals, tambourine, harmonica
Tim Gorman: keyboards
1999—2001 Pete Townshend: guitar, vocals
Jon Entwistle: bass guitar, vocals
Zak Starkey: drums
Roger Daltrey: vocals, tambourine, harmonica
John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick: keyboards
2006 Pete Townshend: guitar, vocals
Pino Paladino: bass guitar, vocals
Zak Starkey: drums
Roger Daltrey: vocals, tambourine, harmonica
John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick: keyboards
Simon Townshend: guitar, mandolin, backup vocals
Unknown backup vocalists

YouTube Clips

Not all of the songs in my compilation could be found on Youtube. Some can’t be found at all and some can’t be found in the exact versions I used in my compilation. However, enough of them are there, either in the version I chose or something similar enough, that you can really get a good feel of this compilation by listening to these clips.

Pretty Thing
Green Onions
Dance To Keep From Crying
Shout and Shimmy
I Can’t Explain
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
My Generation
Substitute
Fortune Teller
My Way
Relax
Shakin’ All Over
Summertime Blues
Magic Bus
Young Man Blues
Heaven and Hell
Amazing Journey
Sparks
The Acid Queen
Pinball Wizard
I’m Free
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Bargain
Pure and Easy
Gettin’ In Tune
Behind Blue Eyes
Relay
Won’t Get Fooled Again
My Wife
Baby Don’t Ya Do It
Goin’ Down
Water
Naked Eye
The Real Me
I’m One
Drowned
5:15
Squeeze Box
However Much I Booze
Dreaming From The Waist
Sister Disco
Music Must Change
Trick Of The Light
Who Are You
The Quiet One
How Can You Do It Alone
Don’t Let Go The Coat
Another Tricky Day
Twist and Shout
It’s Hard
Eminence Front
Dangerous
Cry If You Want
After the Fire
Fragments
Sound Round
Pick Up the Peace
Endless Wire
We Got A Hit
They Made My Dreams Come True
Mirror Door
My Generation / Cry If You Want
Tea and Theatre

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