Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Who Who?


The Who had already produced four albums prior to 1971, and had achieved significant acclaim as an up and coming young English band with a penchant for ambitious projects. Their previous album, “Tommy”, released in 1969, was a stunning achievement of high-concept ambition. The primary creative force of all this was legendary guitarist Pete Townshend - although he had three other band members full of energy, spunk, and character in the likes of drummer Keith Moon, singer Roger Daltry, and bassist John Entwistle.

The album had its roots in “The Lifehouse Project”, in which Townshend intended to be a futuristic rock opera. This project caused significant stress within the band and record label, and eventually created a falling out with their then producer Kit Lambert. In early 1971, recording sessions were started for the Lifehouse project, but eventually abandoned due to the inability of Townshend to translate his conceptual ideas to his band mates and those around him. This eventually led a severely frustrated Townshend to have a nervous breakdown, and the project was described as a ‘disaster”.

In May of 1971, the band did decide to regroup with new producer Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London to move forward with a new album, still utilizing much of the musical material they had accumulated from the Lifehouse period. What the band found out was that by abandoning the overall “concept theme”, they gained a new freedom to focus on maximizing the strength of each track. What they produced has gone down as one of the greatest rock albums in history.

The creation of the album also coincided with new recording techniques and musical technologies. Present throughout much of “Who’s Next” is the introduction of synthesizers, which were just becoming available.  The album opens to the syncopated synth refrain of “Baba O’Riley”, and the unique sound has become an iconic symbol of “The Who” ever since.  Keith Moon suggested that they have a violin solo in the song, and yet another influence was melded into the band’s brand of rock.  The album became known for it’s “dynamic and unique sound”. Several songs from “Who’s Next” have become rock classics, including Baba O’Riley, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, and the epic closing song on the LP, Won’t Get Fooled Again.

The album was released in August of 1971, and it soon went to #1 in the UK, and #4 in the US.  The cover art for the album shows the four band members having appeared to have just urinated on a concrete monolith, with a striking cloudy sky. The cover was named by VHI as one of the top album covers of all time. Accolades for the album have grown over the years, however.  It was named the best album of the year in the Village Voice critic’s poll. Guitar World ranked it the #3 rock album of all time, and has been named one of the best albums of all time by VHI (#13), and Rolling Stone (#28). In 2007, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Interestingly, none of the singles from the album ever rose very high in the charts at the time.  The highest charting single was “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which had a peak position of #9 in the UK, and #8 in the Netherlands. The fact that the songs continued to endure, and actually become more popular over the years, is a testament to the strength of the material. Albums and songs that stand the “test of time” are the ones that become “Classics”. This is definitely the case with “Who’s Next”.

Eric Winger
The Winger Bros.