The Music Box's #9 specialty package for 2003
First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2003, Volume 10, #7
Written by John Metzger
After decades of work, Pete Townshend independently released The Lifehouse Chronicles through his website in 1999. The package was a six-CD set that documented his efforts to craft a sci-fi rock opera that was intended to outshine Tommy. Over the years Townshend has revealed the amazing scope of this unwieldy project: It was to include a feature film, a concept album, and a concert performance — all tied together via a quadrophonic, audience immersion experience with the ultimate goal of showing how rock ’n‘ roll one day would save the world from ruin. (For more on this, see Who's Next's terrific liner notes by John Atkins, which explains the project in great detail).
There were many starts and stops along the way for Townshend, and he’s yet to realize fully his original objective. In the meantime, the songs were incorporated into several albums by The Who, most notably the classic Who’s Next. This legendary set proved to be one of the band’s better outings — some would argue that it’s the best — and as a testament to its endurance, the collection’s nine songs all continue to be staples of classic rock radio, an incredible 32 years after the fact. Since the advent of digital music, Who’s Next has been issued and reissued several times, but at long last, it has been given its proper treatment via a two-CD deluxe package that features the remastered album, selections from the original New York City recording sessions that were eventually scrapped, and a plethora of songs from a invitation-only concert held in April 1971.
The Original Album
Yes, Who’s Next has been remastered before, and that edition was a huge improvement over the original CD release of this legendary album. No matter which rendering of Who’s Next one happens to own, however, it just can’t compare to this latest outing. Unlike the previous versions, the deluxe package was remastered from the original master tapes, and the sound quality is absolutely stunning. Crisp and clean, yet rich and resonant, the album no longer sounds muddled, nor does it sound digitally sterile.
That’s a good thing, too, because Who’s Next is the studio album that best captures The Who’s concert sound. No, it’s not quite as rough and raw as it could be as there is quite a bit of studio polish contained herein. But the sheen tends to augment rather than diminish the potent assault that The Who was able to unleash in a live setting. That’s never been more clear than on this deluxe release. There’s Keith Moon crashing, bashing, and thrashing his drum kit to kingdom come; John Entwistle shooting off brightly bounding bass runs that take the lead rather than offer mere rhythmic support; Pete Townshend churning out windmill chords and blazing guitar licks with wild abandon; and Roger Daltrey singing far better than he ever did before.
For all its ambition, Tommy still found The Who toiling within a British Invasion blend of pop, blues, and psychedelia. Was it good? No doubt. But it was Who’s Next that found the band completely abandoning the styles of the ’60s to develop its own sound. At the time, Townshend had recently discovered synthesizers, and their groundbreaking usage forms the basis for many of the tracks on Who’s Next. Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again are the obvious examples, but the new technology also adorned other tunes such as Bargain and Goin’ Mobile. Add to this the ever-changing song dynamics — the subtleties of which are brought to bear full-force on the remastered deluxe edition — and Who’s Next suddenly springs to life after decades of the mind-numbing slow death bestowed upon it by classic rock radio.
The New York Record Plant Sessions
Tacked onto the end of the first CD in the deluxe edition of Who’s Next are six tracks taken from the original recording sessions held in New York City in mid-March 1971. Four of these were available as bonus tracks elsewhere, but each is given the same magnificent remastering treatment as the original album.
Getting in Tune — one of the two previously unreleased songs — is looser than the more familiar album version. The same is true of Won’t Get Fooled Again (the other previously unavailable track), which boasts a different synth loop. Both are terrific. Pure and Easy is one of those glorious songs penned by The Who that almost didn’t see the light of day. Excised from Who’s Next — one phrase is utilized in The Song Is Over — the tune first appeared on the Odds & Sods collection of outtakes. The version here is equally strong and fits in perfectly with the rest of Who’s Next, and damn, if it doesn’t sound as majestic as its title suggests it should. Baby Don’t You Do It is a monstrous jam on the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic, made famous by Marvin Gaye. Featuring Mountain’s Leslie West on lead guitar, this track positively smokes from start to finish. Love Ain’t for Keeping is the amped-up counterpart to the album version, and it winds up getting fairly raucous. Finally, Behind Blue Eyes finds Al Kooper sitting in on organ, adding a delicate underscoring to Townshend’s gentle acoustic strum and Daltrey’s vulnerably revealing vocals.
The Young Vic Concert
Live at Leeds was the first concert recording to be issued by The Who, and perhaps troubled by the inevitable comparisons — the collection is considered by many to be one of the finest live albums ever made — the band shied away from releasing documents of its performances. In recent years, however, that view has changed slightly: Live at Leeds has been expanded not once, but twice, and a nearly identical set list is featured on the equally strong Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. With its recent reissue, Who’s Next has been expanded to include a second disc of material — all of which was previously unavailable.
Taken from a show held on April 26, 1971 at London’s Young Vic Theatre before an audience that was specially invited to the event, the concert finds the band reveling in its new sound, roaming through country blues (Time Is Passing), introspective ballads (Behind Blue Eyes), and power chord anthems (Bargain). Indeed, the group focused heavily on the then-unfamiliar material, serving up five songs from Who’s Next as well as several that later appeared on the Odds & Sods set, though there were also a handful of already-classic concert staples included for good measure.
The sparks surely flew on Young Man Blues, but the first half of the set was primarily devoted towards building tension rather than releasing it. Song after song seemingly upped the ante, but during Getting in Tune, The Who took the title to heart, detonating a ferocious assault that continued for the duration of the show. Bargain was relentless, Water was savage and fierce, and My Generation was a three-minute meltdown of merciless mayhem. Just when one couldn’t imagine The Who having anything left to give, the group tore into Won’t Get Fooled Again with a vengeance.
In other words, fans seeking additional live material from The Who have reason to rejoice once again. Indeed, this isn’t simply the definitive collection of Who’s Next, it’s also an important document in the history of rock ’n‘ roll.
Who's Next [Original Album] —
Bonus Materials —
Who's Next [Deluxe Edition] —
Who's Next [Deluxe Edition] is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box