Friday, September 26, 2008

Who 7: Who’s Next

The Who premiered a handful of new songs on stage all through 1970, which were to be the basis of the next album, then just an EP to tide the fans over once a theme started to emerge. Then, once Pete decided he didn’t like the EP songs on stage either, they waited for the next batch of songs to materialize. And they did, though they didn’t exactly arrive as originally planned.
Considering that it came out of the bunt that was Pete’s long-gestating Lifehouse epic (a dystopian foretelling of the Internet), Who’s Next shouldn’t be as good as it is. But having failed at a big concept, the band took the best of what they had for a single album. The economic approach is to be commended, as they ended up with an amazing record.
The otherworldly tones of “Baba O’Riley” start us off and it’s ages before other instruments come in. When they do, they crackle, right up to the violin solo (which Roger would eventually emulate on the harmonica in years to come). “Bargain” sneaks in, with another powerful vocal from Roger, interrupted by Pete’s midsection. All the car ads can’t take this song away. “Love Ain’t For Keeping” mixes it up with two minutes of acoustic rock, slapped away by the humor of “My Wife”. (This is the only song that had nothing to do with Lifehouse, and it’s not even one of John Entwistle’s best songs, but it’s still so tough.) “The Song Is Over” was originally the Lifehouse finale; here it’s driven by the great Nicky Hopkins on piano and more traded verses, with the final couplet coming from “Pure And Easy”. (Its slightly Leslied guitar brings to mind early-‘70s TV ads depicting rainy afternoons in Central Park.)
“Getting In Tune” is a beautiful song that also works very well outside the Lifehouse concept. “Goin’ Mobile” is also better than it deserves, with great synth effects pushing it along. It’s a good song for driving fast in any weather. “Behind Blue Eyes” gives us a rest for a few minutes before picking up and shutting down again. Some great dynamics on this one. Then, like “Baba O’Riley”, the finale starts on one chord, with those rippling lines taking us to another place. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a tour de force for everyone here, and this album couldn’t end any other way. (Listen right before the synth solo and you can hear the last few strums of the acoustic guitar from Pete’s demo.) Keith’s drums come exploding back, Roger screams, and they proceed to beat the end senseless.
The eventual remastered CD included some extra tracks from the early New York sessions for the album—with Leslie West on a lot of lead guitar, plus Al Kooper on some organ—that didn’t detract from the original nine-song set. As that was satisfactory, the Deluxe Edition eight years later smacked of exploitation but turned out to be a grand slam, and a very pleasant surprise. Those of us looking for Lifehouse (or at least cleaner versions of the contemporary B-sides “Here For More”, “When I Was A Boy”, and the live “Baby Don’t You Do It”) remained disappointed, but we got loaded up with plenty else instead. The nine album tracks were remastered from the original tapes for the first alleged time, followed by some longer edits of the New York session tracks. The second disc consisted of 74 minutes from one of the band’s experimental concerts at London’s Young Vic Theater when the Lifehouse concept was still a dim possibility. Neither bonus section attempted to improve on the original album; they simply give a larger picture of how it came about.
If you were really hungry, Pete had released a limited edition box set in 2000 that included two full CDs of his original one-man-band demos for the project. But it wasn’t until two years after the album’s fiftieth anniversary that a package attempted to entirely encompass the original concept as well as the finished album—and then some. The Who’s Next/Life House Super Deluxe Edition offered ten discs, starting with the yet-again remastered album on one. Then, two discs of Pete’s demos included most but not all that had been on Pete’s box (including the ones already on the original Who Came First and Scoop), plus “There’s A Fortune In These Hills”, a few alternate mixes and longer edits—the instrumental “Baba O’Riley” turns out to have topped 13 minutes—and one completely new track, a slow piano-based one called “Finally Over” not far removed from “Getting In Tune”.
That is the only “new” song in the whole set, as there are no previously unheard Who arrangements of a Pete song throughout the studio sessions, which took up three discs. The first contained even longer edits of the New York sessions, so we can now hear more chatter between takes, plus a second run through “Behind Blue Eyes”. Things immediately improve on the next disc, which delved into the London sessions under the expert ears of Glyn Johns. Among the extended takes and alternate vocals, there’s an alternate take of “Naked Eye”, a restored “Time Is Passing”, a jam on “Getting In Tune”, and the backing track for “The Song Is Over”, the latter in particular putting the spotlight on Nicky Hopkins. Two mixes of “When I Was A Boy” are nicely included, one on the third studio disc, which focused on extra tracks from before and after the album sessions proper. Here are the single mixes of both “The Seeker” and “Here For More” (the unedited version of “The Seeker” finally shows up too), as well as a handful of songs that ended up on B-sides and Odds & Sods. Perhaps to build more of a bridge to Quadrophenia, the 1972 singles mop up some Lifehouse leftovers, along with “Long Live Rock” and, as a favor to nobody, “Wasp Man”.
The band was terrific on stage at this period, so the set did everyone a favor by devoting two discs each to two fabled concerts from 1971: the Young Vic show previously condensed on the 2003 set, and the San Francisco show from December that spawned the “Baby Don’t You Do It” B-side and other things that had trickled out over the years. Both were presented complete for the first time on an official release, with terrific sound. On top of that, a Blu-ray disc had the requisite hi-res and surround mixes of the album and some B-sides, plus the original mix of the album. Along with such ephemera as reproductions of posters and concert programs, a hardcover book of sleeve notes was accompanied by another hardcover, this one a newly commissioned graphic novel of Pete’s original story; this was also sold separately. (We always thought Life House could only become a film in animated form, so once again we were right. By now readers should have noticed that Life House is two words instead of one, a variation that carried over to the box itself, along with initial-capping “Next” on the cover. These are things Who freaks like to pick apart.) All in all, an expensive set, retailing at $300 list price, but chock full of great music.

The Who Who’s Next (1971)—5
1995 remaster: same as 1971, plus 7 extra tracks
2003 Deluxe Edition: same as 1971, plus 20 extra tracks
2023 Super Deluxe Edition: same as 2003, plus 60 extra tracks (plus Blu-ray)

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