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Music Review: The Who – Who’s Next

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Who’s Next, released in 1971, followed close on the heels on Tommy (1969) and Live At Leeds (1970) to comprise one of the great three-album runs in rock history. If you add the compilation album, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (1971), as well as Quadrophenia (1973), you have a spectacular group of albums issued in a short span of time that pushed The Who toward the top of the rock pantheon. The respective quality and musical visions of each of these works maintain an important legacy.

Pete Townshend ultimately decided to abandon his Lifehouse project, which was his original narrative for what evolved into Who's Next. Still, out of failure sometimes comes genius and some of the Lifehouse songs were resurrected for inclusion on this traditional studio release, helping to form a truly memorable album.

Who’s Next finds The Who and specifically Pete Townshend moving in a new direction. The sound is a little slicker and more polished than the band's previous releases as Townshend adds keyboards, particularly the synthesizer, to his approach. He places this instrument's versatility in the midst of The Who’s elemental three-instrument attack and moves everything over to something fresh and exciting.

Songs such as “Baba O’ Riley,” “Bargain,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” have been radio staples for over 35 years. “Baba O’Riley” is some of the best hard rock of the era. “Behind Blue Eyes” is a rock anthem that shows the flexibility of Roger Daltrey’s voice.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is eight plus minutes of some of the best, most powerful music ever recorded.  As Pete Townshend’s guitar thunders and Daltrey’s voice soars, Keith Moon maintains a frenetic pace on drums. John Entwistle’s sedate and solid bass provides the foundation for the song. It is essential listening for any fan of rock music.

I think that this is The Who album that I have actually played the most during my lifetime. It finds them at the height of their creative powers as they leave behind a musical statement that not only rings, but roars through rock history.

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About David Bowling

  • JC Mosquito

    What? No comments about what many consider to be one of the best rock albums of all time? And I don’t mean Top 100 – I mean somewhere in the Top Five – no less than MAYBE JUST ABOUT THE BEST ROCK ALBUM of ALL TIME. And yet it really is a by product of Townsend’s fabled and failed Lifehouse project. Set against the background of the 60s turning into the 70s, is it a case of art imitating life, perhaps?

  • zingzing

    i got pulled over doing 90 in a 55 to this album, so i never listen to it while driving anymore. then again, i haven’t driven anywhere in about 4 years.

    was once my favorite who album, but they’ve got so many creative, creative lps that it’s pretty damn difficult to decide anymore.

  • Just for the record, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Who’s Next number 28 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

  • JC Mosquito

    In mine own humble opinion, I think RStone missed their mark about 25 places short with this one.

    I see it like this:

    A) Sgt.Pepper is considered one of the meisterworks of the whole studio as musical instrument phenom. So is Dark Side of the Moon. B) The Pistols’ Bollocks – rock as political statement – great stuff – CSNY’s single Ohio too. C) Lots of Lennon or Ian Hunter material as pertaining to the role of the rock star to his art and is audience.
    D)The fledgling Jefferson Starship’s Blows Against the Empire as leaving and starting over – as is the one hit wonder of Ride Captain Ride too.
    E) Any Dylan album you’d care to name as literacy meets a loaded question – where do we go from here?

    And a bunch other stuff I forgot ’cause I can’t type fast enough. But WHO’S NEXT COVERS ALL THESE BASES – not better necessarily, but what scope & depth – only a few come close to completing the whole package.

    Yeah, I like this album OK.

  • zingzing

    so… jc… what happened in the last 30 years? nuthin?

  • JC, yeah, I agree, could be the best album of all time. Top 5 for sure. Sgt. Peppers, Dark Side…
    I would say Who’s Next and Exile go up there…

    Zing Zing, the last 30 years? Yeah, nothing, pretty much. some good stuff has come out, but nothing great on a comprehensive level.

    Don’t forget the great John Entwistle’s writing of ‘My Wife’. Great song, blow away qualities. What a great, smooth muscle it gives the album. And she is pretty much an ultimate wife….gotta have a girl around like that…

    love is vengence,

  • Oh, the fifth spot of the top 5 mentioned above (#6) would be Electric Ladyland…

    Who’s Next
    Exile on Main Street
    Dark Side of the Moon
    Sgt. Peppers
    Electric Ladyland

    Anyway, subjective as it is, it is all very good company.

    btw, speaking of those wives, us guys tend to do anything for them and still call it a ‘Bargain’. hhhmmm…, just me being able to say that about an album sure shows what a comprehensive and linear thought the recording is…

    rock on,

  • zingzing

    douglas: “Zing Zing, the last 30 years? Yeah, nothing, pretty much. some good stuff has come out, but nothing great on a comprehensive level.”

    come on… that’s ridiculous. punk happened. more importantly, the post-punk fragmentation of rock music happened, and ideas from all over the musical map were suddenly flown in.

    let’s see… disco, punk, post-punk, hardcore, synthpop, indie rock, dub reggae, hip hop, techno, noise, i could go on… all of these things made their most significant developments in the last 30 years. and these things have been mingling together all that time as well.

    let me guess, douglas… you’re at least 40, maybe even 45. just a guess.

    the late 60s/early 70s were certainly a heady time. lots of initial developments happened then. still, i guarantee that those ideas have been built upon since then. and new ideas have emerged. so, if anything is going to be comprehensive, it’s going to be albums that are playing with all of the ideas floating around today. and that wouldn’t be something put out in the late 60s.

    to say nothing of comprehensive importance has happened in “rock” music since the mid-70s is just ludicrous. in fact, it’s obviously wrong. one would have to assume ignorance.

  • JC Mosquito

    Oh, there’s been lots:

    Dream Syndicate – Days of Wine and Roses
    Ryan Adams – Jacksonville City Nights
    Jack Logan – Bulk
    Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway
    Jeff Buckley – Live at Sin E

    I make the case for rock ‘n’ roll only, zing – your tastes are broader than mine, and I defer to your sense of alternatives to the mainstream and pop culture as a whole entity. It’s just these newer albums haven’t become icons yet – one day, perhaps we can all diccuss the parallels between Utopia Parkway and Sgt. P, but they aren’t apparent yet – not to me anyways

    I think back in the day, rock music was essentially THE popular music, and therefore by definition it was also pop. But since the creation of multiple genres has balkanized the industry, you gotta pick an choose your battles. I’ll maintain that Who’s Next is still one of the best ROCK albums of all time, including any made within the last decade.

  • zingzing

    i’d make the point that the stooges’ “raw power” is the greatest pure rock album. but that’s just a matter of taste.

    but back in the day, i think your vastly discounting soul music if you say “rock music was essentially THE popular music.” just a thought.

    i do see your point about the passage of time and how that affects our perception of music. but the music still remains the same, even as our perception of it changes.

    i’d have to say, particularly in light of the last few years, that 1978-1982’s simultaneous rejection and embracing of 60s and 70s rock is more important to today’s music than what actually came out of rock’s ’66-’72(ish) peak. and much more interesting as well.

  • zingzing

    that said, one of the best, but sadly one of the most over-played, songs on who’s next–baba o’riley–is certainly a genius product.

    townsend named the track after some eastern mystic (the “baba” part) and terry riley, one of minimalist classical’s most forward-thinking artists. the synth/sequencer(?) line is certainly inspired and still blows minds after all this time. combine those esoteric references with the lyrical concerns and the amazing rhythm work and it’s a certifiable classic, still futuristic to this day.

  • JC Mosquito

    Raw Power………. yep, a great choice…. but I don’t think it aged well. Who’s Next concluded the new boss was the same as the old boss…. Raw Power did too, but didn’t want to admit it – the only choices were walk away from the boss or kill ‘im. Within the context of 30 plus years of perspective, I think both albums would have to answer to one final question – what if the new boss (same as the old boss) is YOU, or collectively, US? I’m not so sure Iggy would be so quick to finish himself off – Townsend could at least say, I hope we didn’t get fooled again.

    78-82 as more interesting than the era that influenced it? An interesting thought to digest….

  • zingzing

    “78-82 as more interesting than the era that influenced it? An interesting thought to digest….”

    well, make sure you add the “simultaneous rejection and embracing of” to your pondering.

    punk was a rejection of rock’s excesses during that time. post-punk took that rejection while also adding in some of the formal innovations of the era (see wire, television, talking heads, etc.) while bringing in new ideas from other forms (gang of four, on-u sound, new order, etc.) as well. ideas were cross-wired and mutated in new and vastly interesting ways.

    66-72 was a large step up (just as 54-57 and 63-65 were) among baby steps (approx 58-62, 73-75–times where ideas were more slow to develop). 1976-77 was a year of regression, but it was necessary for what was to come, that being 78-82.

    with the introduction of (affordable) fairlights and other sampling/sequencing machines in about 1983, technology took over and its harder to really pinpoint real man-made developments. after that, textures and forms were almost as technologically-influenced as they were by the human mind. that’s not discounting these advances, of course… they were still major advances (see warp records, armchair techno, 90s-00s noise, the further breakdown and fragmentation of genre, etc).

    but in looking at 78-82, punk had broken open the floodgates to both ideas and WHO could have those ideas. this revolution (and it was sudden, violent change,) was the largest step forward ever seen in rock, in my opinion.

    today, we’re on to another revolution, thanks to technology again. music is more democratic (some would say “free,” but that has other, monetary, definitions) today than ever before. with the internet and the ability to record at home on your computer–in an environment nearly as clear and precise as studio recordings (actually, today’s home recording offers better studio tech than 60s and 70s studios did), just about anyone can make music. and they can get it released. and they can get it heard.

    the more people there are, the more ideas there are; and people are going to pick up on those ideas, no matter where they originate from. and the world is a better place.

  • JC Mosquito

    Well, I can attest to the home recording angle, but I’m starting to think the more I listen to small time operators (like myself – all over the net, really), the less music is a force made of sheer numbers – ever artist gets a handful of fans, and that’s it. A bad thing? Not necessarily, but most of us keep our day jobs since there’s no way to make a proper living at it.

  • zingzing

    bah–that’s not the point.

    something will come of everything.

  • Of course something will become of everything; and everything comes from something. But as Townsend himself said in Let’s see Action, itself one of the abandoned Lifehouse pieces, “Nothing is Everything/Everything is Nothing.” So I guess then that something is nothing too – which sounds like nonsense.

    But I got a flash of insight into this. Y’know, zing, next to someone like yourself my tastes can be described as fairly mainstream. Yet I can say with some certainty that most of my coworkers in my real life have never heard a Stooges’ album, much less care that Funhouse was reissued with bonus tracks. Those details are left to us. And likewise you know about artists that don’t impact me, and there’s some that have such a small sphere of influence they don’t impact you, til you get to the level where you find some guy at home recording himself and impacting no one. Sure, maybe something becomes of that – or maybe nothing. But you’ve got to see the action – or even BE the action……. hmmmm…… It’s not quite 6AM herend I’ve lost my train of thought. Whatever – it’s in the music somewhere – where the action is.

  • zingzing, re #8. Well, the word is ‘comprehensive’, as in ‘a complete thought’. Not much of that has happened for a while.

    Well, let me not forget Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ album. That is one that came out within the past 30 years that I consider an all time great.

    OK, you got me there…


  • zingzing

    douglas: “the word is ‘comprehensive’, as in ‘a complete thought’. Not much of that has happened for a while.”

    sure it has. you just missed it. you really think that every “complete thought” rock music ever produced came out within a five year span, about 10-15 years after rock was invented?

    admit it. you stopped listening to new music.

    but “closer” is a great album.

    jc–i see where you’re going with that train of thought. i don’t like it, but i understand it. and its true.

  • zing, no doubt good music comes out all the time.

    I guess when I say ‘comprehensive’ and all that shit..I am talking about the force of the movement socially/politically behind the sound and words.

    the punk movement was awesome. that is where my business activity in music kicked in. It was crucial and necessary. Beside the fact that the music industry needed a kick in the ass of substance, we had Raygun as Predident over here. God save the Queen in the UK. Anarchy all over. That was good stuff where a change in social policy stands to this day.

    The grunge thing was authentic, at least. That was almost an anti-movement movement. It did shake up mainstream music of the time. But that is about that. Created some sublime identity for a small portion of the world out there…

    I think New Order is a great band with the ‘powers, lies, corruption’ album from ’84, as another example.

    I am at that half century mark. I was there in the 60s. A time in the USA when desegregation was still legal, for example. So, the music took force and gave the common man access to the mass media…

    we could ramble on abot this one. Overall, genius pieces of music can come out at anytime. My criterean is beyond just a ‘piece’ of music. Therefore the word ‘comprehensive’ comes into the picture.

    blah, blah,

  • then again, a ‘piece’ of music can still be a one time player in a social movement.

    so, nothing wrong with that at all. Sometimes one song by a band can be the blasting cap to a movement. The band breaks up because they were not ready for that to happen. Couldn’t handle it…

    chat, chat…

  • Paul

    My top five albums of all time:
    1. Sgt. Pepper
    2. Revolver
    3. Who’s Next
    4. Abbey Road
    5. No Other (by Gene Clark)

    I might move Lifehouse up to #2 if it had been released with these tracks:
    1. Baba O’Riley
    2. Time Is Passing
    3. Love Ain’t for Keeping
    4. Going Mobile
    5. I Don’t Even Know Myself
    6. Put the Money Down
    7. Bargain
    8. Too Much of Anything
    9. Getting in Tune
    10. Pure and Easy
    11. Behind Blue Eyes
    12. Let’s See Action
    13. Relay
    14. Join Together
    15. Won’t Get Fooled Again
    16. The Song Is Over
    Another song called “Mary” was written for Lifehouse, but apparently not recorded by the Who. “Water” and “Naked Eye” were written by Townshend around the same time, but probably not meant for Lifehouse.

    Lifehouse was never released, but Townshend did release a terrific six disc box set containing solo demos, experiments, and an audio play, called Lifehouse Chronicles. He also released (CD & DVD) a live version of Lifehouse with the London Chamber Orchestra. Townshend’s demos are slightly tamer than the Who, and his live performance is even tamer (he plays acoustic guitar only).

  • Paul

    The deluxe edition includes a disc recorded live at the Young Vic which is terrific on its own.