Monday, July 28, 2008

Who 2: Happy Jack

The Who spent much of 1966 releasing the odd single, playing in public and honing their next album. Based around a “mini-opera” Pete had concocted, A Quick One was rejigged for American release as Happy Jack, which was a good idea since its title song had become something of a hit.
“Run Run Run” starts the proceedings off and works as a mid-‘60s pop tune, even if it doesn’t fit the band. It’s followed by their next big classic and their first really stupid song, John’s immortal “Boris The Spider”. Supposedly written by Keith, “I Need You” sounds like John helped out with most of it. It also sounds too much like the Monkees, and suffers from lousy production. “Whiskey Man” isn’t quite up to “Boris”, and is one of John’s lesser tracks. “Cobwebs And Strange” is also credited to Keith, featuring a lot of out-of-tune horns, and Pete straining as his chords go up the neck. The title track, added for good reason, is still another incredibly stupid song that somehow manages to cause a smile.
“Don’t Look Away” is a country-flavored number that doesn’t go anywhere; neither does “See My Way”, one of exactly two Daltrey songs in fifteen years. “So Sad About Us” was originally passed on to another band to do first, which is odd since the Who’s version is so good. It’s a quick setup for the magnum opus. “A Quick One While He’s Away” took up a good chunk of the album, as well as much of the attention at the time. This version suffers from bad recording techniques and Roger’s nasal voice. Luckily, this arrangement would improve in time.
As a pop artifact, Happy Jack was a pleasant trifle, but not quite a classic. The eventual reissue added tracks, but made some truly glaring omissions in the process. Case in point: the Ready Steady Who! EP is included here save a decent re-recording of “Circles”. The songs are in a novelty vein, like the theme from “Batman” and two surf songs sung by Keith. “Bucket T” is incredibly stupid, and the horn breaks are hysterical. “Barbara Ann” is a little better, but the appeal of “Disguises” escapes us. Meanwhile, many of John’s songs made for great B-sides even if they didn’t make deserve to be on albums. “I’ve Been Away” is a slight change of pace, and “In The City” sounds like it was written in about ten minutes. But “Doctor Doctor”, with its high-pitched vocal and driving bass line, was recorded well after the album’s release and doesn’t belong here. “Man With Money” was an Everly Brothers tune played a lot in this era, and would have worked pretty well on an album. The medley of “My Generation” and “Land Of Hope And Glory” might have worked on the EP, but is just a failed experiment that doesn’t translate to wax. The reissue closes with an early, more acoustic version of “Happy Jack” that sounds very close to Pete’s demo, which begs the question: where’s the single track that was the cornerstone of the US LP? And what about “Circles” and the long version of “I’m A Boy”, both originally intended for the album? Even more confusing, only one track was in stereo on the reissue, and some years later when the correct tape was finally used, none of these omissions were addressed. Despite its strides, this remains a sloppy catalog item.

The Who Happy Jack (1967)—3
1995 A Quick One remaster: same as 1967, plus 11 extra tracks (and minus 1 original track)

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