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DVD Review: Classic Albums Series – The Who: Who’s Next

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When you get right down to it, the story told on this one hour DVD documentary about the making of the Who's classic Who's Next is not so much about the album they eventually released in 1972, as it is about the one they didn't.

In 1971, the question for Pete Townshend was how do you follow up a record like Tommy?

At a time when rock bands were competing madly to top one another's artistic triumphs, Tommy represented The Who's breakthrough both artistically and commercially. As the first rock opera, Tommy, at least to this point, was The Who's answer to records like The Beatles Sgt. Pepper and the Beach Boys Pet Sounds.

In an era where rock bands were constantly trying to one-up each other artistically, Tommy was the record that signaled The Who were for real. So the question for Pete Townshend and The Who was, how do you follow a record like that? In other words, it was not so much "Who" as "What's Next?"

For Pete Townshend and The Who, the answer was to be the band's most ambitious undertaking to date. Described by Pete Townshend himself on this DVD as "the one that got away," Lifehouse was initially envisioned as a multi-media event that would encompass not only an album, but everything from a film to a massive live event.

The best parts of this massive undertaking — songs like "Wont Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O' Riley" — eventually made it to Who's Next, a record most will agree was a classic in its own right.

And that is what this DVD is largely about. In often painstaking detail, the story is told here of how Townshend's rather massive vision for Lifehouse was eventually pared down to the record which finally became Who's Next.

Recounted in often fascinating detail by everyone from journalists like Dave Marsh, to manager Kit Lambert, to producer Glyn Johns, the story is a fascinating one. Surviving members Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and the late John Entwhistle also add their recollections of the album that eventually became Who's Next.

For tech-heads, there're some particularly fascinating tidbits. For starters, there's the fact that the infamous synthesized bits on "Wont Get Fooled Again" were not looped after all (as widely believed), but played live by Townshend himself. Roger Daltrey's glee at re-listening to "Wont Get Fooled Again" with just his vocal and Keith Moon's drum parts is also a joy to watch. For all of Moon's tendencies to overplay his parts, he was never an inch off-beat here, and the shit-eating grin on Daltrey's face is most revealing.

In one of many of the moments that make this DVD so essential to a hardcore Who fan, Pete Townshend also recalls his disappointment that "Pure And Easy" — the song where "it started" as he puts it — never made it to the final cut of the album which eventually became Who's Next. The lyrics, which speak of a "note so pure and easy," are wrapped around a melody strikingly similar to the one behind the lyrics "there's a doctor I've found could cure the boy" on Tommy.

In another interview which precedes a great acoustic performance of "Won't Get Fooled Again," Townshend reveals the true intent of a song interpreted by many as a call to revolution. The oft-quoted lines, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," as it turns out are meant simply to mean that you are in charge.

I could go into more detail here, but I don't want to spoil it for Who fans. Needless to say, if you are anywhere near the Who fan I am, this is just an essential look into the making of what turned out, even if somewhat by accident, to be a classic album.

It is also part of what looks to be a very good series of in-depth DVDs from Eagle Vision which look at the making of a number of classic rock albums. The official stamp of The Who is here not just in the form of the very revealing interviews included, but with some great previously unseen live footage.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Vern Halen

    Who’s Next – undoubtedly one of the 10 greatest rock albums of all time – arguably one of the top 5. Maybe pared down from the ambitious Lifehouse project, but I prefer to think of it as a distillation of all that was good about the WH0> at that point in time.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Vern. Although my own tastes in Who music run more to the sprawling epics like Tommy and Quadrophenia, Who’s Next turned out to be one tight little piece of work that I can’t imagine being improved on.

    Thanx again for the comment,

    -Glen

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    This article has been placed at the Advance.net websites, a site affiliated with about 12 newspapers.

    One such site is here.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Wow! thanx Connie! I seem to be having just a banner today –when it rains, it pours. Many, many thanx!

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    “banner day” today meant to say. I’m typing faster than I can think today…LOL…

    -Glen