My holy trinity plus two of Who albums are Who’s Next, Live At Leeds, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, Quadrophenia and Tommy. For me and for many other people The Who By Numbers remains an afterthought in their catalog.
Pete Townshend seems to have been undergoing a crisis of aging and fame. He and The Who had just produced a series of critically acclaimed and very popular albums. They now ranked as one of the premier rock bands in the world. Townshend, who had issued a call to a generation, was now growing older himself. In this state of mind he would be responsible for producing a mature, thoughtful, depressing and moody group of songs. He would also strip the group’s sound back to basics similar to their early days prior to Tommy.
In many ways it’s like being on the receiving end in a confessional. Songs such as “However Much I Booze”, “In A Hand Or A Face”, “How Many Friends” and “Blue, Red and Grey” all show Townshend’s state of mind. I have always found it interesting that despite the personal lyrics, the melodies were some of the best he would produce.
On a lighter note, “Squeeze Box” was released as a single despite the focus on breasts and the joys of sex. This tongue in cheek song certainly forms a nice pair when matched with “Pictures Of Lily”. “Slip Kid” was also less serious despite trying to hang on to a rebellious attitude. Also “Dreaming From The Waist” contains a terrific vocal by Roger Daltrey which is cloaked in some classic rock.
John Entwistle contributed one of his better creations. “Success Story" is an autobiographical story and a defense of rock ‘n’ roll itself and forms a nice counterpoint to Townshend’s depressive statements.
The Who By Numbers may be a difficult album to listen too on a regular basis but it still contains some fine music. It may not come to mind very often, but it remains an important stop in the Who's history.