Saturday, September 27, 2008

John Entwistle 1: Smash Your Head Against The Wall

With the Who’s newfound success, the other members had more time on their hands and creativity to burn while Pete enjoyed the luxury of waiting until his next big concept came to him. Fans had already gotten a taste of John Entwistle’s brand of black humor with the occasional album track and B-side, and Smash Your Head Against The Wall served up nine original songs alternating between both wistful and heavy. Outside of Who roadie Cy Langston on guitar and Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley on drums, John played everything else, including keyboards, brass and, of course, all the basses.
The album’s title comes from the opening “My Size”, which boasts a terrific riff with a Neil Young influence (whose “Cinnamon Girl” was covered for the album, but not released until the ‘90s), and even ends with a quote from “Boris The Spider”. “Pick Me Up (Big Chicken)” condenses a night of binge drinking and the aftermath into a dense couple of minutes, while “What Are We Doing Here” is an insightful lament about Life On The Road way more convincing than cowboys riding steel horses a generation later. It’s elbowed aside by the car horn fanfare that opens “What Kind Of People Are They”, a kind of observational standup comedy routine about authority figures. Having been disappointed with the Who’s version, his own rendition of “Heaven And Hell” takes the place of honor at the bottom of side one. (We still think the Who version kicks butt.)
“Ted End” shows an awareness of mortality not often exhibited by rock stars, in this case the matter-of-fact summation of a friend’s death and the subsequent arrangements. Both “You’re Mine” and “Number 29 (External Youth)” approach the concept of Faustian bargains somewhat, the former with a pointedly dissonant bridge and the latter a more conventional rocker along the lines of “My Wife”. Finally, “I Believe In Everything” punctures a certain guitarist’s idea of a guru by embracing all things mystical, ending with a chorus of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, with Keith Moon high in the mix.
Throughout Smash Your Head Against The Wall we hear evidence of John’s skill at musical arrangement, with a gift for harmony and juxtaposition. The album is a good outlet for his creativity, as only a few of these songs might have found their way onto Who albums, where Roger gave voice to Pete’s more universal ideas.
The album has been reissued twice in the digital era, first by boutique reissue label Sundazed, which added an alternate mix of “What Are We Doing Here” and a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”, which fits John perfectly. That was also included on the next go-round, with an extra half-hour of music, including an early, drier mix of “My Size”, hideous-quality demos of four songs, and three other demos of songs that never made it to the studio. Of these, “It’s Hard To Write A Love Song” has the most promise, and would eventually lend a bridge to the closing track on a later solo album.

John Entwistle Smash Your Head Against The Wall (1971)—3
1997 Sundazed reissue: same as 1971, plus 2 extra tracks
2005 Sanctuary reissue: same as 1971, plus 9 extra tracks

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