If some of the ides we fail to execute turned out half as good as one of Pete Townshend's failures, the music world would be a far better place.
On the heels of the success of Tommy, The Who's Townshend came up with a new idea. Called Lifehouse, it was to be a futuristic fantasy musical combining standard narrative film with film of live interactive performances. The problem was, no one else in or associated with the band understood the underlying concept or plot. Thus, Lifehouse was shelved and the band decided to at least record some of the songs Townshend wrote for the project. The result? Who's Next, considered by many (myself included) as The Who's best album and perhaps one of the better rock albums of all time.
Originally produced as part of a package for cable television in the late 1990s, Classic Albums – The Who: Who's Next gives viewers the story behind Who's Next. Because it was completed prior to the June 2002 death of bass player John Entwistle, there are interviews with all the band members except drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978. Together, they try and explain the atmosphere and concept that led to Who's Next. Yet they are not the only ones providing insight. Other interviews include Chris Stamp, one of the band's co-managers at the time the album was recorded; Glyn Johns, who produced the album with the band; Bob Prideen, The Who's sound man; and journalist Dave Marsh, who wrote a 1983 book detailing the band's history.
Yet it isn't the interviews alone that make this DVD. First, Townshend, Entwistle, singer Roger Daltrey and Johns are all interviewed at one point or another in the studio. They use the soundboard to highlight Moon's drums, Entwistle's bass, vocal or acoustic guitar backgrounds or some other aspect of the music that might otherwise escape attention in the overall mix. You can still see the excitement and glee it brings them as they listen to the original recordings. Prideen, in fact, can't help but move in time to the music while sitting at the board with Entwistle. It also certainly precludes anyone from calling Townshend egotistic when, in listening to the extemporaneous organ solo played during the recording of "Won't Get Fooled Again," he smiles as he describes the discipline and counterpoint involved.
In addition to a brief history of The Who and concert footage of some of the songs from the album, the DVD includes solo acoustic performances by Townshend of "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." In addition, Townshend shows how he created some of the synth sounds on the album, helped along by video of him working in the studio in 1971 on those aspects of the music.
The DVD is not a song-by-song recap of the original album. Some songs on the LP, such as "Love Ain't For Keeping," do not appear at all. Yet Entwistle's "My Wife," which was not part of Lifehouse, is performed and there is a very heavy emphasis on "Won't Get Fooled Again." Yet to truly explore the history and background of the album, simple reiteration is insufficient; it is critical to go beyond what was in its confines. Thus, the DVD not only brings us occasional demos, one of the first songs it features doesn't appear on the original album.
The song "Pure and Easy" was, according to Townshend "where the story of Lifehouse was told." Although recorded during the Who's Next sessions, it did not appear on the original LP. Instead, a version first appeared on Townshend's solo album Who Came First in 1972. Here, Townshend performs it on piano and explains why it was central to Lifehouse before the DVD audio segues into the band's recording of it. There is, however, no explanation of why it was left off Who's Next. Similarly, "Join Together" appears on the DVD, although it was part of an attempted rewrite of Lifehouse and recorded and appeared as a single after the release of Who's Next.
The DVD lacks bonus features and perhaps due in part to the material it is working with, comes only in PCM stereo, not surround sound. Still, there is no doubt it takes a big step toward accomplishing its goal of showing the background and creation of Who's Next. Inherent in the story is a glimpse of just what a creative genius Townshend was.
Yet even here, Townshend bemoans Lifehouse, saying, "It just felt like the one that got away." This DVD both helps viewers understand his disappointment and gain a greater appreciation for a true classic album in which few listeners have been disappointed.