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The Friday Morning Listen: The Who – Endless Wire

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Being the emotional sort I am, there's some memory baggage associated with each and every item in my record collection. Not all albums are equal in this regard. Some records have as little as where they were purchased (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road — King's Department Store, Middletown, Connnecticut). Others have one or two associated incidents (Think Pink — The Fabulous Poodles: I came back to the dorm one afternoon to find my roommate and a friend dancing on the beds to this record. They had decided to reach into my album crate and play the first disc encountered. Hilarity ensued).

But then there's The Who. For whatever reason, the music of The Who has attached itself to a crazy number of life events:

  • First Who record: Tommy, the original Decca LP. Swiped from my sister's record collection.
  • Hearing "Won't Get Fooled Again" on late night radio, falling out of bed to see if the song was on the one Who record I owned. Obviously, it wasn't.
  • Stocking the bins at LaVerdiere's Drug Store with fresh copies of Who Are You.
  • Seeing my friend Tyler arrive at school dressed in black the day after Keith Moon died.
  • Me buying a copy of Who Are You the next day.
  • The party up at Tyler's house that involved too much beer, the abuse of a poor guitar and amp, and a brutal version of "My Generation."
  • A romantic encounter, soundtrack provided by Pete Townshend's Empty Glass.
  • The "Maximum R&B" poster (from the much-coveted import version of Live at Leeds) taped to the cinderblock wall of Tyler's dorm room.
  • Roger Daltry's "There Is Love" being sung at my (first) wedding. (Apparently, there wasn't quite enough love.)
  • Attending one of those crazy "Farewell" shows at the UMaine field house, concert shown on closed circuit TV.
  • Seeing The Who play an outdoor show in Foxboro, Mass. Lousy seats, great show.
  • Attending a tour date of "Roger Daltry Plays The Music of Pete Townshend." Linda Perry singing "Doctor Jimmy": Amazing.
  • Listening to Quadrophenia in its entirety the night before Ty moved from Vermont to California.

There are more. A lot more. Still, despite the memories, it's the power of the music that matters. Pete Townshend's song constructions, not to mention fabulous guitar playing, have always resonated with me. When I get a chance to sit back and listen to records like Quadrophenia, the thought surfaces that if I had managed to compose such an amazing suite of music, well… shoot, that'd be enough, wouldn't it?

Now, nearly 30 years after my first late-night encounter with "Won't Get Fooled Again," comes Endless Wire. Is this really a Who record? Despite Townshend being the mastermind behind most of their musical history, both Moon and Entwistle are gone. Is this another case of "They would have wanted us to go on?" Honestly, I don't know. Calling this group "Daltry/Townshend" would have worked for me.

Naming semantics aside, this is a glorious record. Beginning with the "Baba O'Riley-meets-Philip Glass" synthesizer of "Fragments," Endless Wire shows the old Daltry/Townshend alchemy is still in full effect. From the beautiful-while-sneering "A Man In A Purple Dress" to the jaunty "Mike Post Theme" to the singalong of "Endless Wire" to the pretty "God Speaks of Marty Robbins," this record underscores why the music of The Who has remained with me. Townshend plays a pile of instruments both stringed and not, and Daltry sounds far better than he has a right to for a guy his age. He's definitely a counter-example to the stereotype of the rock star who has let himself go.

"I Hope I Die Before I Get Old." Pete, I'm so glad that didn't happen.

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Before this discussion degenerates into the left field Steely Dan border war that I unwittingly set off on another Endless Wire review, I just want to offer my props for yet another great write up. The personal connections who make to the records you cover always make for a good read. And even though I’ve listened to this album only once so far, I tend to agree with your take on it.

    Oh, and I won’t hold anyone’s dislike of SD against them, either, even though they’re all dead wrong ;&)

    -P

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    Pete Townshend’s song constructions . . . have always resonated with me.

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. He hit upon something around the time of Sell Out (for me) that made for some perfect songs. And so many of them. And he just kept up at it. An amazing catalog of music, some if just unfortunately marred by production decisions dictated by what seemed fashionable at the time . . .

  • Mark Saleski

    ah, i knew i liked this pico person! thanks!

    tom, it is an amazing body of work, eh? just listening to the demos and other oddities that were served up on Scoop, you can see the endless ideas that Pete comes up with.

  • Mark Saleski

    unfortunately marred by production decisions dictated by what seemed fashionable at the time . . .

    care to expand on that a little? just curious.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    just curious.

    Me, too. I’d love to follow the discussion even though I don’t really have a horse in the race.

  • Mark Saleski

    that’s because i haven’t send you copies of Empty Glass and All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes…both of which you MUST OWN!

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    If you send them, I’ll listen to them.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    Empty Glass is wonderful. Chinese Eyes has great songs mired in Pete’s love of synth, but I forgive it for those great songs (and, actually, I’ve come to just love it as-is.) White City bears the mark of all artists in the 80s, it seems – they spent too much time listening to what was on the radio and wanted to sound like that, rather than just recording the music raw and rocky like the usually did. Production got in the way of songs, just like it did with Costello (and many others) in the mid-80s. Too many songs from that era are tied to that era because of fashionable production, rather than production that worked for the song, where I don’t hear that so much for any other era of music.

  • Jeff Turner

    I am thankful for The Who channel on Sirius. It’s giving me a nice preview of the new record. I have lived in/near Middletown for 40 years. Where was Kings?

  • Vern Halen

    I came late to the Who – but when I did they were my fave band. I bought everything I could by them – Brit & Euro vinyl imports, boots, whatever. And I came to realise that my interest in them is actually pretty narrow – Leeds, Odds & Sods, Who’s Next, and stray bits from around that time – really – I don’t listen to much of the other stuff. Pete’s beeen pursuing something musically that sounds awkward to me lyrically, harmonically & um, rock-ically. Will he ever make a great rock album again and/or is this it? I dunno. But I remember McCartney releasing Run Devil Run a few years back with Ian Paice, David Gilmour etc., and they could still kick hard. There’s always hope, I suppose, to hear one more great Who album before I get old.

  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I hate that my foremost memory is convincing kids coming into the record store I worked at that “no, the song is not entitled “‘Teenage Wasteland.'” Loved “See For Miles,” “Leeds”, “Next,” most of “Quadrophenia”…

    …”Why should I care, why should I care?”: toward the end I got the impression that Townshend was saving his best for those glorious solo albums (“Romance, romance, why aren’t we thinking ’bout romance?”)

  • Dave

    Nice review, this album grows on you. It’s hard to put into words my love for The Who, and I think most Who fans would feel the same way. You end up becoming too wordy and grandiose, much like some of Pete’s lesser efforts. Articulating one’s love for The Who is best done in the same brief way that Pete did in one of his great songs that didn’t strive too hard: “I Can’t Explain.”

    P.S. — For a true lover for The Who, couldn’t you at least have spelled Roger DALTREY’S name right!!?!?!?

  • Steve Roden

    Thanks Mark for an insighful piece.

    I remember living in North Bay, Ontario Canada, in the mid to late 1970’s. I was a huge “‘Oo” fan and was absolutely addicted to all the band’s music. They had just released ” Who by Numbers”, the same time I started dating a local girl. You must remember that this was a small city, 350 miles north of Toronto. Disco was huge at the time and anyone who listened to anything other than “Abba” or “KC and the Sunshine Band” was considered a freak. Anyway, I remember playing the record for my girlfreind, only to have her announce that she wanted to break up.

    I have forgotten her full name, but the album is still in my collection. How fitting. One of my favourite bands is still around and still producing great music. Thank the Gods.

  • http://bonamassablog.us Joan Hunt

    Like you, I’m a music-memory savant. All of my favorites are tied to some event or moment in my life. What I remember of The Who’s Final World Tour (which turned out to be “part I”), is a bad date, great opening acts, and wishing I could go home about halfway through The Who’s second song. Sad, isn’t it?

    Their music, though, remains a favorite for certain occasions too few to do the band justice.

    I may have to give this one a listen.