That’s right, The Who. I thought about it for a long time and could never really decide on a favorite band or musical artist. One day it finally dawned on me – it was the The Who. Their music is simultaneously inaccessible and loved all over the world. Behind the hits are intricately crafted musical ideas. Their musicianship was unmatched. They make you feel good and make you think. They give you that hair-standing-on-end, endorphin-rush, pins-and-needles feeling from your brain to your feet. What more could you ask for in a favorite band?
Of the “big three” British Invasion bands, The Who is probably the least well known, behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The Who’s has had plenty of big hits, but the average person on the street likely doesn’t know The Who the way they probably know the Beatles or the Stones. Why? For me, The Who’s music is a bit less accessible than many other bands’. Instead of “she loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah”, The Who gave us “I’ve got a feeling inside I can’t explain”. There’s always been a bit more mystery to The Who; a more ethereal quality; a feeling of things on different levels within the music waiting to be discovered. Take Who’s Next, for example. Listen critically to the carefully crafted synthesizer parts – you’ll probably hear something new, even though you may have heard “Baba O’Reily” a hundred times. I could go on, but I just started this blog – let’s not get carried away!
And wow, could they play. John Entwistle and Keith Moon are probably the best rhythm section ever in terms of intensity, ability, and inventiveness. They both played lead, even though they were the “rhythm” section. Moon essentially reinvented the drums as an entirely different instrument, playing with the controlled chaos of a tornado contained inside a nuclear power plant. Entwistle was faster and more original than anyone else on the bass. (Oh yeah, and he played all the horn parts! And wrote some great Who songs! And sang lead and backup vocals!) Roger Daltrey started out as a good singer, and then became the best singer ever through his performance of Tommy. And of course, there’s Pete Townshend. The mastermind behind the vast majority of the songs. (Listen to any of Pete’s demo recordings – he plays all the instruments and mixes the songs himself. Before computers and MIDI and all the fancy stuff we have today.) Ridiculously good (and underrated) on the guitar. Not the fastest shredder, but he didn’t need to be. Both his rhythm and lead playing showcased the intense ferocity and subtle intricacies that bookended the spectrum of the Who’s music. Pete’s grand artistic visions were, at times, almost the end of the band but they gave us some of the greatest albums in history.
I’m still unable to listen to The Who at low volume. Their music demands to be turned up. Its energy jumps out of the speakers, forcing you to crank up the volume and immerse yourself in the majesty (and sometimes, the lunacy).
I just got Live at Hull, the concert recorded the day after Live at Leeds. I’m listening to it now, and, despite being very similar to Live at Leeds, I’m enjoying it immensely. Picking out the subtle differences between this performance and Leeds, and reveling in the full-throttle presentation of the great songs makes for a fantastic afternoon.
(In “I’m a Boy”, instead of “…the other was me, and I’m a boy”, Pete sings, “…the other was Rog, and he’s a boy”! On Leeds, he jokes, “We’d like to play three selected singles – the three easiest!” Pete’s rarely at a loss for a good quip – check out the box set 30 Years of Maximum R&B for a few more gems. Actually, that might have to be a whole blog entry!)
Seeing as how I just started this whole blog thing, I’m not going crazy with a long essay about The Who, the majority of which has likely been said before by writers much more capable than myself. Suffice it to say that The Who is my favorite band. To Pete, Roger, John, Keith, and all the other folks who made The Who who they are – thank you!