16.4.14

A BARGAIN - THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part 8

This is the final part of the piece I wrote for Crawdaddy! about compiling 30 Years Of Maximum R&B. Because it also deals with the ongoing Who re-issue series it was necessary to amend it to a much greater extent than parts 1-7. 

Disc 4, inevitably perhaps, was the most difficult to sequence insofar as whichever way you look at it there isn’t the depth of classic Who material to choose from after 1973. So we abandoned the strict chronology of Discs 1-3, and as well as the obvious tracks threw in some unexpected live material and recordings of Keith as raconteur. We kicked off with a flyer, ‘Long Live Rock’, and after Keith’s first monologue inserted a live take of ‘Naked Eye’ from one of the closed concerts at London’s Young Vic Theatre in early 1971. ‘Naked Eye’ was always a live Who highlight, one of those songs that developed from jamming on stage, with Pete adding words later, and here Pete and Roger share the vocals on some of Pete’s most powerful lyrical imagery ever. Between oblique references to drugs and guns is a deep sense of frustration and failure, of not knowing where next to turn, yet at the same time realising that to stand still is suicidal, matters uppermost in Pete’s mind as he sought to justify his continued role in The Who and The Who’s continued role at the cutting edge of rock. Meanwhile the band strains at the leash, while a strange nagging riff holds the song together. Like ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘Naked Eye’ is an essential Who song that, although often played on stage, never appeared on record until Odds And Sods, The Who’s 1974 collection of largely unreleased material. ‘Long Live Rock’ was also released for the first time on Odds & Sods, as was ‘Pure And Easy’ and other good Lifehouse outtakes. Few bands would have been prepared to let material of this quality sit on the shelf indefinitely, as The Who might have done had John not killed time between albums compiling this unusual retrospective.
         The Who’s next album, The Who By Numbers in 1975, was largely informed by Pete’s concern over growing old in the band that once sang about hoping to die first. At this point in their career The Who on record and The Who live became two different entities. Only two of the By Numbers songs, ‘Squeeze Box’ and ‘Dreaming From The Waist’ were played with any regularity in a live set that from 1975 onwards became a celebratory and vigorously performed parade of former glories, though two others ‘Slip Kid’ and ‘However Much I Booze’ were tried on stage and soon discarded. ‘Dreaming From The Waist’, which follows the studio ‘Slip Kid’ on Disc 4, is far and away the best performance of any By Numbers song we are ever likely to encounter; a difficult song – Pete once told me he hated it because the chords were so tricky – with complex vocal harmonies, and included here as a showcase for John’s amazing bass solo in the closing minute. Also from Who By Numbers are ‘Blue Red And Grey’, virtually a Pete solo (John scored the silver band arrangement), as poignant as anything anywhere in the entire Who catalogue, and the slightly silly ‘Squeeze Box’ for which Pete dusted off his banjo. Even sillier are Keith’s monologues.
         Next up on Disc 4 are four tracks from Who Are You, including the spiralling title track which is based on a true story, though Pete still isn’t sure whether he woke up in a doorway or a skip. The difficult circumstances under which Who Are You was recorded are recounted in the extraordinarily forthright sleeve notes by Matt Resnicoff on the remastered edition of Keith’s last Who album, and I would commend them to anyone seeking an understanding of the problems faced by The Who at this stage of their career. (When Pete first read them he grew misty eyed, or so he told me.) Finally, there’s a few post-Keith entries of which the two previously unreleased live tracks, ‘Twist And Shout' and 'I'm A Man', show just how much the band had changed without a white tornado behind them. I included Pete’s dialogue about the 1969 Fillmore fire incident (again from a bootleg) as it’s part of Who folklore and closed Disc 4 with The Who’s take on Elton John’s ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ on which Roger sang the verses and Pete inserted lines from Elton’s ‘Border Song’, his voice contrasting with his partner as on so many of his own songs. Incidentally, Jon Astley, our co-producer on the box, played drums on this track. And that was that though to be honest I still had nagging doubts about not including the studio ‘Substitute’ and thought about sticking it on the end, just for the hell of it, but was persuaded against it by others.
         While the music was being remastered I found myself liaising with Richard Evans on the design of the packaging and the accompanying booklet. I decided that since The Who’s career followed different trajectories in the UK and US we needed two essays, and commissioned Keith Altham, who has written about them in the UK music press since ‘Explain’ was released and subsequently become their PR, to do a UK piece, and Dave Marsh, who wrote about them extensively in Creem and Rolling Stone and is the author of the biography Before I Get Old, to write about The Who in the US. Pete agreed to write a foreword for the booklet, and pretty forthright it turned out to be. I put together a chronology and asked my Who collector pal Ed Hanel to compile the discography. Richard and I had some rather fanciful ideas about the cover, at one point looking for a photograph of an exploding block of flats, but in the end settled on a stage shot by Neal Preston after our first choice, by Annie Leibowitz, proved unaffordable – she wanted $15,000! A bit of jiggery-pokery was necessary to get it right: “Neal’s shot had Pete, Roger and Keith in it but no John,” remembers Richard. “Around this time, Bill Curbishley had lunch with John and told him about the box set and how good it was looking and that the lid had a live shot on it. John said ‘Hmm, I suppose I'm on the fucking spine again.’ Bill phoned me and said ‘Quick, can you strip a shot of John into the picture?’”
         And that’s it, as close a definitive Who career retrospective as we could assemble and most reviewers agreed, though it’s impossible to please everyone all the time as the letters I received from fans demonstrated.

Which just about brings me to the end of my rant on why The Who were the greatest British rock band ever to climb on stage and plug-in, but there’s a second reason for calling this essay A Bargain and it’s this...
         After the box set came out, it occurred to Jon Astley and I that we’d remastered and, where necessary, remixed about a third of The Who’s total catalogue of around 200 songs, and it would be more than worthwhile to give the same treatment to the remaining two-thirds. In so doing we would renovate their entire back-catalogue on CD which, quite frankly, was a mess (low-fi, no track information, inadequate packaging, very short for the CD era). And so we did, with up to 10 bonus tracks on each and a different configuration for Odds & Sods which became a double CD that scooped up all the leftovers. Full colour 24-page booklets with sleeve notes by knowledgeable writers (including Pete on Who’s Next) and comprehensive track details were included on all those CDs featuring Keith Moon, and we also issued a new Best Of featuring remastered tracks. Designed like the box by Richard, all these re-issues contained contemporaneous photographs and illustrations, all intended to draw attention to the rich imagery that underscores The Who’s long career. The only album we were unable to renovate in this way was the first, My Generation (in the US The Who Sings My Generation), because Shel Talmy, ever a thorn in the band’s side, still wouldn’t let us use the original master tapes in his possession.*
         The bonus tracks offered a mixture of previously unreleased outtakes and live recordings, hard to get B-sides and what we thought were interesting bits and pieces, like the extra commercials from the Sell Out sessions and a ‘My Generation’ that degenerates into The Who’s anarchic bash at Elgar’s ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’, conducted by Kit Lambert. Among other highlights were the acoustic ‘Happy Jack’ on A Quick One (featuring Pete on cello), all the extra Leeds tracks, ‘Pure And Easy’ and the alternate ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ from Who’s Next, the live ‘Blue Eyes’ on Who By Numbers and all the extras on Who Are You. These tracks, of course, come from a similar well as those that The Beatles offered on their Anthology series. The big difference, though, is that The Who gave away the contents of their tape-files while The Beatles charged full price. A bargain…

The Who have never been easy to pin down. Interviewing Roger Daltrey for the sleeves notes for a ‘Best Of’ solo album not long after the box was released, he told me: “Listen... can you ever fathom The Who out? No-one can predict what’s going to happen with The Who. I can’t and I’m the bloody singer!” The Who were still out there, of course, at that time touring their Quadrophenia stage show with a crew of extra musicians. Perceived wisdom had always suggested that Roger and John would be happy to tour indefinitely but Pete’s restless psyche made him unwilling to crank out golden oldies for a living. On top of that there was his precarious health after a lifetime of self-destructive appetites, his hearing problems and the fact that as the writer of all the band’s hits he’s rich enough to spend the rest of his life sailing the seas off Cornwall, his preferred method of relaxation. Nevertheless, the word from Who Central seemed to be that Pete thoroughly enjoyed touring Quadrophenia and if he and the others could come up with another idea for a stage show that went beyond cranking out the hits, then maybe he’d be up for it.
         When I saw the Quadrophenia show at Earls Court in December 1996 Pete played acoustic guitar – brilliantly too – for most of the show. Not until the very end did he strap on a Fender Stratocaster and slash down hard and loud across ringing open strings, raising his right arm in the air and looking rather pleased with himself. At that precise moment everyone in that crowd, all 18,000 of us, stood up and cheered, not because he’d played anything particularly outstanding, just because it was so fucking great to see and hear Pete Townshend, the thinking man’s guitar hero, raise that right arm of his in the air, bring it down hard and make a thundering great din on an electric guitar once again. The best you ever had...

(Some parts of this essay, the odd sentence here and there and the occasional idea, may have previously appeared in letters from me to Who fans over the years or appeared in my little book The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Who [Omnibus, 1994]. Thanks again to John Atkins, Ed Hanel and Richard Evans.)




* As far as the ownership of the tapes is concerned, Talmy and The Who have settled their differences since I wrote this essay and in 2002 My Generation was re-issued as a DeLuxe Edition 2-CD package. Since then Live At Leeds, Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia have also been repackaged as DeLuxe Editions while Tommy, Leeds and Quadrophenia have also appeared as Super DeLuxe Editions with multiple discs and ephemera.

15.4.14

A BARGAIN – THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part 7

And so we come to the era and the album that many regard as the apotheosis of The Who, and also the time when I got to know them. Confidence was certainly running high at Who Central at the beginning of the Seventies. Pete was writing songs of a quality and consistency he would never top. The band was playing on stage with breath-taking panache and, despite the penance they still paid (and would always pay) to Shel Talmy, there was no longer the financial pressure to tour with the regularity of times past. With the balance sheet finally in the black, all of them now had big houses and posh cars and young families. Roger was a classical rock God, replete with bare chest and golden curls, Pete a deeply enlightened rock sage, perhaps the most sought-after interviewee the genre had thrown up after Dylan and Lennon, and John was the archetype bassist, superbly proficient, much respected in the trade. Their drummer was, well, Moon the Loon, the prototype carefree rock star whose hobby was driving cars into swimming pools. They were individuals and they were a band, for a while the most popular and respected group in Britain.
         To follow Tommy Pete created something called Lifehouse. Intended as a multi-media project, in the end it boiled down to Who’s Next, the album that most Who fans – including me – regard as their finest sustained work. The next six songs on Disc 3 of the box set – ’Baba O’Riley’, ‘Bargain’, ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘The Song Is Over’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – were all written for Lifehouse and all of them bar ‘Pure And Easy’ appeared on Who’s Next. Quite why a song of the stature of ‘Pure And Easy’ was left off Who’s Next has always escaped me, but this complaint aside, Who’s Next has always been the album I would choose for my desert island disc, and for this reason we included a hitherto officially unreleased version of ‘Pure And Easy’ among the bonus tracks on the re-issued edition.
         On stage The Who had blazed a trail with their state-of-the-art amplification but as home stereos became more sophisticated in the early seventies their records somehow lacked the clarity of their rivals. To remedy this, for the Who’s Next sessions they bypassed Kit Lambert in favour of the technically more accomplished Glyn Johns, who produced nine tracks of such sparkling clarity that The Who sounded like a new band. Who’s Next also introduced another important innovation into The Who’s music: the synthesiser, most notably on ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, the songs that open and close the original album. Pete didn’t use his synthesiser simply as a keyboard that could make funny noises, but as a rotating musical loop that underpinned the melody and added a sharp bite to the rhythm track. His synthesiser style on Who’s Next, in fact, was probably the first appearance on a rock record of the repetitive electronic sequencing that became so predominant on nineties pop and dance music.
         As if these innovations weren’t enough, John turned in his best ever Who song ‘My Wife’, a commanding live version of which appears on Disc 4, and Roger, energised by the experience of singing Tommy night after night, had never sung so well. ‘Baba O’Riley’ might even have been a better opening track for Disc 3 than ‘Shakin’ All Over’, so effective is its lengthy spiralling synthesiser intro. (They knew how to make an entrance.) And then we’re into the most satisfying Who block chords yet as piano, bass, drums and finally guitar set up Roger’s wonderful opening line... ‘Out here in the streets’. To my mind, the choice part of ‘Baba O’Riley’ (and ‘Bargain’ which follows) is how Roger’s fearless, angry roar contrasts with Pete’s more melodic, less abrasive vocal lines. The Who were unusually well endowed in the vocal department with two such contrasting vocalists, as well as John whose range extended from the ‘cello, cello, cello’ falsetto climax of ‘A Quick One’ to the deep bass of ‘Boris The Spider’ and the vote-hungry Congressman in ‘Summertime Blues’.
         And so we move into the live version of ‘Bargain’, recorded in San Francisco in December 1971, which just about gets my vote as the best reflection of The Who at their finest on this whole box set; hence my reason for the title of this long appreciation of The Who. It’s a great song, though not their very best, but this is a truly stupendous performance, fluent, confident, full of highs, a perfect example of a band at the peak of their ability, reckless yet somehow still in control, flowing with their music, relishing their skills. During the opening chords Pete gleefully shouts something off mike that I can’t quite make out, but it sounds like a call to arms and this just enhances the anticipation. Roger leaps in over Pete’s rumbling guitar and, again, there’s the emotional contrast between Roger and Pete’s vocals. I especially love the way Pete’s keening vocal refrain is counterbalanced by John’s lovely bass melody and how Pete yells ‘pick me up’ at the top of his voice after his final line. Keith and John take up the challenge in a thrilling bass and drum rumble that launches Pete into a magnificent solo. In some ways it’s possible to mistake ‘Bargain’ for a love song, but when you get your head around the idea that it really is a hymn (presumably to Meher Baba, Pete’s spiritual guru), then it becomes all the more impressive. Then there’s that extended coda, one of The Who’s on-stage trademarks, in which you think the song is over until Pete launches into a series of fragile chords before finding his way into another riff, taking the others if not by surprise then at least by the lead as he pounds on, carried along by the momentum, confident that the band are on such good form at this moment that it would be a crime to stop just because the song is at an end. Wonderful. Just for the record, I should note that this ‘Bargain’ was made available before, cruelly buried on MCA’s Who’s Missing album in 1985.
         ‘Pure And Easy’, which follows, is another of my favourite Who songs. Written for Lifehouse and played live only a handful of times in the summer of 1971, it is Pete’s reflection on the age-old myth of the Lost Chord, the loss of which symbolises mankind’s decaying relationship with the universe. A song of regret, almost a tearful lament, albeit fashioned over Who-style torrents, this was probably left off Who’s Next because the band weren’t 100% satisfied with this version which originally appeared in 1974 on Odds And Sods. Neither, for that matter, were they satisfied with the shorter, slightly faster version, which they recorded with Kit Lambert in New York before Glyn Johns took over and which appears on the reissued Who’s Next, and which I now prefer. Unfortunately I was never present at a show when ‘Pure And Easy’ was performed live, but I am reliably informed that on August 2, 1971 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center at Saratoga Springs in New York, 30,000 fans witnessed the definitive performance of the song. My friend John Swenson subsequently reported: “That night ‘Pure And Easy’ emerged as one of the keys to the magic Townshend had been reaching for, uniting audience and performers in the search for that one perfect note.” Oh for a board-tape from that night!
         Such was Pete’s fondness for ‘Pure And Easy’ that it appeared in demo form on his first solo album and its chorus became the coda to ‘Song Is Over’, which is why we chose to sequence the two songs together on Disc 3. There has been much speculation about Pete’s intentions as far as the sequencing of Lifehouse material is concerned and no-one knows for sure how it would have panned out, but logic dictates that ‘Song Is Over’ must follow ‘Pure And Easy’ back-to-back as it does here. ‘Song Is Over’, the complex, luscious, highly-produced ballad at the heart of Who’s Next, was never played live, doubtless because of the crucial piano and synthesiser lines that weave their way in and out of the verses. Like ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Bargain’, the contrast between Roger and Pete’s voices brings out the beauty of the words, while the almost subliminal top-of-the-scale synthesiser line that traces the melody with an undulating counterpoint is just captivating, especially on cans.
         The final two Who’s Next songs on Disc 3, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ are probably the best known Who songs of the era, enduring FM staples that even the most casual Who fan knows by heart. ‘Blue Eyes’ is also Pete Townshend’s best known ballad, in which the gorgeously melodic verses, ringing arpeggios and velvet harmonies lead into the ferocious, angry central passage. ‘Blue Eyes’, like so much of Who’s Next, was a triumph for Roger whose singing developed more textures with each new Who album. Many consider ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ to be his best moment ever, such is the power of his scream after the long synthesiser solo. Once written, ‘Fooled Again’ became The Who’s standard show closer, a monster of a song, both in length and intent. Based around a clattering synthesiser riff that locks the group into a tight, rhythmic performance, it features Pete’s block chords firmly in place, John swooping up and down his bass, Roger singing his heart out and Keith an almighty presence, albeit slightly more disciplined than usual in view of the song’s inflexible structure. Roger’s vocal scream before the final verse is one of the most volatile vocal eruptions ever recorded. I have yet to encounter a definitive live version of ‘Fooled Again’.
         Four of the next five songs on Disc 3 were probably also intended for Lifehouse, ‘Join Together’ expressing a central Lifehouse theme, unity between band and audience. ‘The Seeker’ is the closest The Who ever got to heavy metal, not that the lyrics offer any of the escapism generally associated with this tired genre. ‘Let’s See Action’ and ‘Relay’ were also non-album singles from this era, while I stuck ‘Bonie Maronie’ on the album, despite Pete’s wishes to the contrary, simply because of Roger’s vocal performance which, as ever on material of this vintage, is just outstanding. John’s bass holds a rather shaky Who together here.
         Disc 3 closes with four tracks from Quadrophenia, ‘The Real Me’, ‘5.15’, ‘Bell Boy’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. Many fans thought this wasn’t a big enough representation of The Who’s 1973 album but we were faced with a dilemma because the songs from Quadrophenia sound vastly different to the rest of The Who’s catalogue. Like Tommy, this album was intended as a unified whole so to cut it up was hard, far more so than Tommy because Quadrophenia sustained a synthesiser-heavy style throughout, and the all or nothing option just wasn’t viable. So we chose a take of ‘The Real Me’ from a Who rehearsal, the first with Kenney Jones on drums as it happened, and used the single version of ‘5.15’ which is probably the best known track on the album and certainly its fiercest rocker. The other two Quad tracks came straight from the album. ‘Bell Boy’ I chose because it became Keith’s vocal spotlight and brought out his personality wonderfully, and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ because it offered a splendid climax to Disc 3. I was disappointed that we didn’t have room for ‘The Punk Meets The Godfather’ which, on reflection and having listened again and again to the newly-issued remastered Quadrophenia, is probably the best song on the whole album. As a live vehicle for The Who, Quadrophenia suffered because the band was obliged to rely too heavily on backing tapes of synthesiser parts, and there was no suitable live Quadrophenia material available to offer as an alternative to these tracks. In the event, of course, The Who abandoned Quadrophenia within a year of its release after performing it in its entirety just 33 times. By contrast, Tommy was performed just over 160 times in 1969 and 1970.

14.4.14

A BARGAIN – THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part 6

Tommy arrived at just the right moment, not just for The Who but for the times in general. Packed to the gills in a mystical, wonderfully non-specific aura, packaged beautifully, and with heaps of terrific rock music, The Who’s major opus was an absolute cracker, especially on stage where it and the band came alive as no rock group had ever done before. Repeated musical themes, the riffs and choral motifs that echoed across its 75 minutes and interconnected so as to create a seamless whole, implanted itself on the brain and confirmed that The Who were at the forefront of rock’s pioneering travellers. The grandeur of those Tommy tours in 1969 and ‘70 sealed their reputation as all-time greats, and this was why I wanted a complete live Tommy in the box set. It was, and remains, their finest moment. But Pete wasn’t so keen and there was a question of whether a complete live Tommy that met the exacting standards of The Who and this box actually existed on tape anywhere. I actually don’t think it does. The Isle Of Wight Tommy issued in 1996 cannot compare with the Leeds Tommy, and Pete thought the Leeds Tommy lost momentum after the first half hour, which was only true on a relative level. Then there was Polydor’s parsimoniousness, so to my everlasting regret we were unable to include within 30 Years… the very best set that The Who ever performed on stage, the music that turned them into superstars.
         The original double album itself was under-produced and sounds flat, as did early CDs (this was put right on the 1996 reissue), but we remixed ‘Overture’, ‘Acid Queen’, ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘I’m Free’, included the ‘Sparks’/’Underture’ from Woodstock and ‘See Me Feel Me’ from the Leeds concert, and much to my delight resurrected what we called the ‘Abbie Hoffman Incident’ from Woodstock, the iconic moment when Hoffman, the radical Yippie, jumped on stage during The Who’s set to offer his opinion on MC5 manager John Sinclair’s bust and imprisonment, only to be booted into the front row by Pete. As I said earlier, I’m always overwhelmed by the ‘Sparks’/’Underture’ instrumental, on which Pete, John and Keith pile on climax after climax, spiralling higher into the kind of freeform, heavy duty rhythmic slabs of pure adrenaline that characterised the live Who at their very best. The version on the box had been heard before – on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack – and is pretty hot, but I’d still recommend the slightly cleaner version on the new look Leeds more (and, as has come to light more recently, the version from Ottawa, 15/10/69). ‘Pinball’, the studio album version here (the single was speeded up slightly), remains the very best example anywhere of Pete’s ability as a rhythm guitarist, a master strummer. That opening riff, descending down four notches of his fretboard and enhanced by John’s fedback bass, has set hearts pounding for almost 30 years; playing the guitar like he was a-ringing a bell, in fact. The closing ‘See Me Feel Me’, the Tommy hymn, just had to be live because of the atmosphere it created at those 1969/70 concerts, and this version came from Leeds. I’ve always felt the studio version should have been cranked up to climax Tommy more robustly.
         Disc 2 closes with John’s ‘Heaven And Hell’, his best song after ‘My Wife’, and two cuts from the original Leeds album, the knockout punch of ‘Young Man Blues’ and ‘Summertime Blues’. I’d wanted a live ‘Heaven And Hell’ because it was used to open Who shows circa 1969/70, and it generally became a pacey free-form work-out on which the band could warm-up for the evening’s set. Unfortunately the sound-crew were also warming up, and live versions suffered through poor sound balance. The ‘Heaven And Hell’ on the new edition of Leeds was enhanced by John for this reason. ‘Young Man Blues’ was an even more frenetic work-out, perhaps the most exhilarating display of truly Maximum R&B that The Who ever offered. Though well known, the Leeds ‘Young Man’ is simply a sensational display by a band at the very top of their game (but the best version I’ve ever heard was played at that ’69 Ottawa show). The free-form improvisation of this era (most notable on the Leeds ‘My Generation’, which wasn’t on the box because it was just too long) is a forgotten art nowadays and, as John Atkins wrote, Townshend often seemed to be playing without any prior consideration or rehearsal. “They seemed to be instant expressions of his musical thoughts as they were occurring,” wrote John in a letter to me. What made it even more remarkable was the ability of John and Keith, and sometimes even Roger, to cotton on to Pete’s ideas almost instantly and play along. This combination of the live Tommy and their unique ability to compose on the spot made The Who the world’s hottest live ticket in 1969 and 1970. And, of course, they looked great too, what with Pete careering around the stage, windmilling and jumping all over the place, and Roger chucking the mike everywhere, and Keith animated like 10,000 volts was charging through his arms, legs and eye-sockets, and John po-faced and cool as hell while his fingers did the dancing, but this essay must confine itself to the music and not stray into this other great reason why I and so many other fans just adored watching The Who live.
         Finally on Disc 2 there’s ‘Summertime Blues’ and, to keep up continuity, we opened Disc 3 with what has become its companion piece, ‘Shakin’ All Over’. Both are fifties rock’n’roll songs that The Who had been playing since they were The Detours, and they seem to me to emphasise that for all Pete Townshend’s worthy ideals and the artistic heights to which he aspired in his own writing, deep down The Who were still quite simply a great rock’n’roll band. In their hands both these songs are stripped down, reconstructed and turned into ball-crunching rawk. Eddie Cochran’s bouncy, rhythmic guitar style was a huge influence on Pete, but The Who’s take on the song is vastly more rugged than Cochran’s light, springy version, and one reason why they reintroduced ‘Summertime Blues’ into their set around this time was to emphasise their rock’n’roll roots. What was once almost a novelty song is turned into a demolition job as Pete and John rumble from E to A to B and back down to E again. With the possible exception of Cliff Richard’s first two singles, ‘Shakin’ All Over’ is the only truly wonderful pre-Beatles British rock’n’roll song, and Roger, eternally a rocker at heart, always sings his heart out on material of this vintage. John, too, had his roots in fifties rock’n’roll and this shows in his dazzling bass lines, especially in the way he improvises around the basic ‘Shakin All Over’ riff. The inclusion of these two old favourites on the original Leeds was intended to take the emphasis off Tommy, and their inclusion on the box – between Tommy and the Lifehouse material – served a similar function.

13.4.14

A BARGAIN – THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part 5

The meat of this box set is on Discs 2 and 3. Disc 2 is largely given over to The Who Sell Out, Tommy and Live At Leeds, and we decided to play around with the Sell Out running order because there was no way that we could sustain the pirate radio/commercial jingle concept of the original LP. So after the spoof ad for John’s bass strings – ‘Hold your group together... with Rotosound Strings!’ – we opened the disc with my favourite track from that album, ‘I Can See For Miles’, which many fans regard as the best Who single ever. It’s easy to understand why. More so than any other Who song from any era ‘… Miles’ crackles with electricity from the opening chord slash to the faultless drum-led fade four minutes later. It’s as fine a performance as The Who ever gave and sees them not so much embracing psychedelia but adopting it and twisting it around for their own ends. Keith’s lightweight ‘Girl’s Eyes’, the obscure outtake we put on Disc 1 for its curiosity value, might have sounded like a compromise brought about by the urge to espouse flower-power, but there’s not a hint of compromise in ‘I Can See For Miles’. Psychedelic without being trippy, it strains at the leash, held together by Pete’s taut, sustained guitar phrases, Keith’s immaculate drumming, particularly under the melody, and that crackling electric buzz, like sparks from a broken power cable blowing in the storm. The solo is a revelation: buzzing feedback, choppy shreds of chords and Keith at his very best. No wonder Pete was pissed when it wasn’t the hit it deserved to be.
         ‘Armenia City In The Sky’ might just be the second grunge record ever made (after ‘Disguises’), but the swirling organ and phased backwards guitar solo places it in London 1967, not Seattle 1992. ‘Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand’ is another of those juicy little oddities in The Who’s catalogue and Pete’s second great song about masturbation. Lovely acoustic chords ring out behind Roger’s carefully sung verses about the girls who fail to match Mary Anne’s skills in this department. Much the same thing applies to the lyrics of ‘Tattoo’ which I’ve always loved, mainly for those subtle little alliterations and internal rhymes that flow throughout its verses. Count ‘em... ‘Me... my.. mother’, ‘brother’ rhymes with ‘other’ (and ‘mother’), ‘brain... brawn... brother’, ‘brawn’ rhymes with ‘born’, ‘man’ with ‘understand’, ‘money... mother’ (again), ‘to do’ (and ‘you’) rhymes with ‘tattoo’, ‘nude’ with ‘rude’, ‘regret you’ with ‘get you’, ‘older’ with ‘all over’ and, in the despairing climax, ‘tattooed too’ with a string of ‘rooty too toos’. Roger sings all of these complex lines against haunting descending arpeggio chords, the final one of which, so the sheet music tells me, is BF sus2 (add#4), but you know that this is Pete playing around intuitively on his guitar, making up chords as he goes along and sticking with them if they sound striking. On stage in the late Sixties The Who more often that not segued from their chunky R&B cover of ‘Fortune Teller’ into the relative delicacy of ‘Tattoo’ – not the easiest of musical juxtapositions – as can be heard on the upgraded edition of Live At Leeds.
         It was suggested by some reviewers that we overdid things by including seven Sell Out tracks but I found it hard to omit ‘Our Love Was’, with its refined power pop mood and freaky solo, or ‘Sunrise’, Pete’s romantic solo piece, while the closing track, ‘Rael’, was far and away the most sophisticated extended piece of music that Townshend had written thus far, as well as a blue print for Tommy. Sell Out never made the US charts and it struck me that the wonderful music on this record (described by Dave Marsh in his liner notes on the re-issued, upgraded CD as The Who’s consummate masterpiece) might therefore have been overlooked by some of The Who’s American fans, so in this respect I felt it was more important to include this great (relatively) early music on the box than to concentrate on better known material from Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia, all of which sold very well in the US and was therefore much better known. ‘Rael’, Pete’s second extended piece, surely bears this out, soaring where ‘A Quick One’ lurched, its luscious vocal harmonies and sudden octave drops anticipating the spiritual charm that made Tommy so attractive 18 months later. Whatever you choose to call it – ‘Rael’, ‘Sparks’ or ‘Underture’ – the instrumental theme that closes ‘Rael’ is one of The Who’s greatest set-pieces. On a good night its layered dynamics and multiple rising crescendos always brought audiences to their feet, though of all the versions now available I’m bound to recommend the one that follows ‘Amazing Journey’ on the re-issued Leeds. Crank that one up on cans for sheer Who magic!
         I’m getting ahead again. Before we reach Tommy, there’s a few more oddities: ‘Jaguar’, a seriously heavy-duty instrumental, son of ‘The Ox’; the moody, uncharacteristic ‘Melancholia’; and a studio bash at ‘Fortune Teller’. Then there’s ‘Magic Bus’, the stage favourite on which Pete’s flair for rhythm is given full reign; the anti-smoking ad ‘Little Billy’, about as hypocritical as The Who ever got because at that time all four of them smoked like chimneys; and their rather strange but oh-so-London ode to greyhound racing, ‘Dogs’. In truth, at this stage in their career The Who seemed to be floundering in the studio, disheartened by their inability to continue making hit singles and, as ever, almost bankrupt through equipment destruction and living well beyond their means. Fortunately word of mouth about their live act was drawing in more and more US fans which just about kept them afloat, and Pete had an ace up his sleeve which would turn this situation around in dramatic style. Indeed, within 12 months The Who, much to their surprise and delight, had sprinted past the pack and become one of the biggest bands in the world.



12.4.14

A BARGAIN – THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part 4

Shel Talmy is ousted by Kit Lambert as The Who's record producer… 

We included four other Shel Talmy produced tracks on the box set, one an early B-side, the other three tracks from The Who’s d├ębut album My Generation which was retitled The Who Sings My Generation for the US market. ‘Daddy Rolling Stone’, the B-side of ‘Anyway’, is a fine rocked-up blues; ‘The Kids Are Alright’ is just great power pop, with another of those terrific chiming chord solos in which Pete and Keith raise the stakes even higher than they did in ‘Anyway’ (in a move that beggar’s belief, some oaf at MCA chopped this solo from the original US release); ‘The Ox’ is The Who’s over-the-top take on surf instrumentals with John and Pete trading leads against Keith’s relentless pace; and ‘A Legal Matter’, with Pete on lead vocals and no sign of Roger, is just there because it’s catchy and probably the first ever British pop song about divorce. These four songs display The Who’s varied influences, inventiveness and eclecticism, from Roger’s blues and R&B leanings to Keith’s peculiar penchant for surf music, from John’s love of Duane Eddy to the baroque dynamics that Pete was soaking up from Kit Lambert’s classical collection.
         Behind the scenes Kit Lambert and The Who had decided to ditch Shel Talmy, so Lambert took the group’s next single, ‘Substitute’, to his friend Robert Stigwood who put it out on his Reaction label (marketed by Polydor). Talmy sued and, in an out of court settlement to his enormous benefit, was granted a 5% royalty on all The Who’s records for the next six years, up to and including Who’s Next in 1971. (He would thus earn considerably more in royalties from The Who’s record sales than the individual members of the band ever did... without so much as lifting a finger. Even today, five decades later, Talmy still collects royalties on every track The Who recorded up to 1971.*)
         Pete Townshend now cites ‘Substitute’, my own personal favourite Who single (a line from it gave me the name for my blog), as the first ever record he produced. Not a bad start: I still melt when I hear that riff with its ringing open D string, and way the song pounds along, driven by John’s bass, and the three way-vocal on the word “substitute” in the chorus. From the outset, I wanted this box set to emphasise how good The Who were on stage and thus far there was nothing live, so I made a conscious and probably controversial decision to include the version of ‘Substitute’ from Leeds, which is just so fluent, even though it omits the bass/chord solo and final chorus. This didn’t go down well with some fans, and might have been a mistake since the acoustic guitar-driven single is also an ace, but there was no early live material around and unless I introduced a live track here the first CD would be almost entirely bereft of live material. (One problem we had was that for reasons I could never fathom the BBC refused to allow us to use Who recordings in their archive which included stupendous live versions of ‘Anyway’ and ‘Happy Jack’, both of which I played to Polydor execs at a meeting in their offices. No doubt the BBC was saving them for their own eventual release but had these been available to me, I’d have used them both, and included the studio rather than live ‘Substitute’, but it was not to be.)
         The rest of Disc 1 is dominated by three great early singles and A Quick One, all early Kit Lambert productions. Kit was a theorist, a musicologist and great at creating the right atmosphere, but he was no technician and his recordings were far from sonic masterpieces but this didn’t matter because when Jon and Andy cleaned up the tapes they sounded wonderful. The three singles – ‘I’m A Boy’, ‘Happy Jack’ and ‘Pictures Of Lily’ – are all polished little gems, especially ‘Happy Jack’ on which the dynamics (Moon again) just explode all over the place. It’s no exaggeration to say that Moon effectively leads the band on this one, controlling the pace, filling in with lead runs normally played by the guitar and somehow even helping the melody along via his toms. Apart from its strange lyrics, ‘I’m A Boy’ offers another of those great guitar/drum build-ups, again at the end of the solo before Roger wails in with a line that only British fans could understand – ‘I wanna play cricket on the beach’ – while the third in this trio, ‘Pictures Of Lily’, is quite probably the first pop song ever to deal quite so overtly with masturbation. Which brings us back to the originality of Pete’s lyrics: who else was writing about transvestism (‘I’m A Boy’), simple-mindedness (‘Happy Jack’) or masturbation (‘Lily’)? What sort of mind did this man have? It all served to build up anticipation for what this fellow with the big conk, evidently a chap whose literary aspirations went somewhat beyond the norm, might come up with next...
         The answer was the first rock opera, or mini-opera, or at least a cycle of short songs segued together and designed to tell a story. I have to confess that I missed A Quick One the first time around and only discovered it after Sell Out which as an album was infinitely better than A Quick One (which was renamed Happy Jack in the US in case it offended someone or other and because ‘Happy Jack’ became a minor US hit for the band). From A Quick One we have two individual songs, John’s comic ‘Boris The Spider’, soon to become a stage favourite (and which after ‘Batman’ is my five-year-old daughter’s fave Who song), and the superb ‘So Sad About Us’, power-pop at its finest with a feast of ringing power chords and harmony vocals fired off at a terrific pace over one of Pete’s catchiest early melodies. Listen out for the lovely counterpoint guitar lines that thread their way into the chorus, and the staccato guitar solo around the basic melody riff. Then there’s ‘A Quick One’ itself, the blue-print for greater things to come. OK, it’s tad clumsy and the melodies don’t gel that well, but half way through we move from the studio to the live version recorded at the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus TV show in December 1969 and the mini-opera breaks out into another Who tour-de-force, John’s extraordinary falsetto vocals leading the band towards one of their stupendous climaxes. Nevertheless, I can’t pretend that ‘A Quick One’ is my favourite Who piece, and a better, far more fluent rendition can now be found on the newly reissued Live At Leeds album which trumps this version and the rather tentative Monterey showing that would be heard (and seen) on the forthcoming 30 Years Of Maximum R&B Live video.
         Before we leave Disc 1, let’s just mention ‘Disguises’, which might just be the first grunge record ever, so dense is the guitar track, and those explosive verbals which open the disc, courtesy of an angry Townshend who was attempting to quell a disturbance in the crowd at Long Beach Arena on December 10, 1971. They came courtesy of a bootleg, suggested by my friend the photographer Ross Halfin, an avid Who collector, and I just loved the aggression in Pete’s voice. But the real reason why I included this rant was that when The Who arrived on stage they ARRIVED. At their peak they ran on stage, Pete and John often plugging in and playing something, anything, as loud as hell, Keith grabbing his sticks and bashing his kit equally loud, and Roger pacing around in circles like a caged lion, while the crowd roared their welcome. Then, at the crack of Pete’s whip, this huge raucous undisciplined 15-second din subsided into silence as suddenly as it had erupted, to be replaced, in a matter of nanoseconds, by the precision-tooled in-yer-face opening chords of ‘Explain’ or ‘Substitute’. Jeeezzus... something was happening up there. This band was serious. No question about it, The Who knew how to make an entrance, how to grab your attention from the get-go, so I tried to open the box likewise, to make an entrance. When I told Pete I wanted to open the box with this, he complained: “But it makes me sound like a real loud-mouth.” Exactly, Mr Townshend, exactly!
  



* A longer and more detailed essay on the recordings The Who made during 1965 and their relationship with Shel Talmy can be found elsewhere in my Who posts on Just Backdated, under the title My Generation – A Strange Tale, in three parts.

11.4.14

A BARGAIN – THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part 3

In this part of my essay on 30 Years Of Maximum R&B we move into the Shel Talmy era. More about this period tomorrow.

It’s no secret that by the end of 1964 The Who were desperate. Pete was smashing guitars which he could ill afford, and new managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp had to beg, borrow and steal to keep the ship afloat. So when Fontana passed on a follow-up to ‘I’m The Face’ and every other label in town turned them down, they grabbed the first chance that came their way, a production contract with London-based American producer Shel Talmy who had just taken The Kinks to number one in the UK charts with ‘You Really Got Me’ (and number two with ‘All Day And All Of The Night’).  
         It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the catastrophic economic consequences of this deal would effectively govern the way The Who’s entire career developed, and an understanding of it is crucial to a proper understanding of The Who and their career. In a nutshell, Talmy signed the group to a six-year production deal, giving them a 2.5% (soon raised to 4%) royalty, and could place their records with whichever label he chose. He was therefore ideally placed to play both ends against the middle, securing for himself a royalty from a record company far in excess of what he paid The Who. He took their tapes to American Decca who released them in the UK on the Brunswick label, and in the US on Decca. Unfortunately, within a year the relationship between Talmy and Kit Lambert, and to a lesser extent The Who, was in terminal decline.
         As far as I was concerned the Talmy deal, and the ongoing hostility which still existed, meant that Jon and I didn’t have access to the master tapes of the stuff they recorded with him, which included their next three singles, the whole of their first album and several relatively unimportant but nevertheless interesting outtakes, all of them covers, some of which had turned up on the MCA albums Who Missing and Two’s Missing. Consequently we had to work from copy tapes and as a result the next seven tracks on Disc 1 of the box set – ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’, ‘Daddy Rolling Stone’, ‘My Generation’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’, ‘The Ox’ and ‘A Legal Matter’ – do not sound as crisp as those that follow, or even as sharp as the four High Numbers’ songs that precede them for that matter. Also, unlike most of the rest of the box, these songs are in mono. We must therefore ignore the technical imperfections when judging this music.
         First, let’s remember that ‘Explain’, ‘Anyway’ and ‘Generation’ were intended as singles, and recorded accordingly (and magnificently) by Talmy. The original 45 rpm black-and-silver-labelled singles, cut deep into the grooves of sturdy 7” black vinyl, thundered out of juke-boxes, transistor radios (pirate radio loved The Who) and cheap Dansette multiple change record players and sounded all the better for it. Nothing can replace that sound, the sound by which The Who first staked their claim on my consciousness. ‘I Can’t Explain’, their opening salvo, was a shot across The Kinks’ bows, and in what would become the norm in so many of their early records, it’s the drums – those rifle-shot drums – that lift the song beyond anything the Davies brothers’ rhythm section was doing. Listening to Keith’s rapid-fire ricochet after the words “I know what I mean but...” it’s clear that something big and new and sparkling is happening here, a different dynamic in which the drums, hitherto used for keeping time at the back, are the lead instrument, while the guitar and bass keep time. This is The Who’s first great musical innovation. Then there’s the words: frustation, anger, mortification. At a time when all pop songs (including those by The Beatles, Stones & Kinks) seemed to be about love, either falling in or unrequited, and were written largely as romantic escapism, The Who present us with a different kind of pop song, with lyrics that are couched in reality, that deal with unpleasant truths with which real teenage boys, not just those lucky enough to have a girlfriend, can identify. Moreover, it’s a song about the frustration of being unable to express yourself, not just to the girl of your dreams but, in a broader sense, to the grown-up world as a whole. 
         ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’, their next single, takes the same direct lyrical route, except that the singer has by now overcome his earlier handicap and adopted an aura of blind invincibility. Musically, we’re introduced here to the second great Who innovation: the chiming bell-like open-stringed power-chord, cross cut against pounding drums and bass and allowed to feedback on itself and drone into a wall of electronic discord. These two ground-breakers lead naturally to the third in The Who’s great opening trilogy, ‘My Generation’, in which Pete’s churning two chord riff sets the stage for Roger’s ‘controversial’ stuttering vocals, John’s thunderous bass solo and another of Keith’s ferocious drum assaults. As if the first two raging minutes aren’t enough, The Who pile on the pressure with an upward key change and climax with a brutal wipe-out of distorted feedback. In Roger’s hands the lyrics become the perfect war cry for anyone under 20 – i.e. most of us – who felt that the adult world just wasn’t for them. From here there was no turning back – hope I die before I get old indeed.
         These three songs, the most obvious Talmy-produced tracks to include on the box, seem to me to emphasise just how much the four guys in The Who needed each other to survive. The sound they made was unique because these guys played their instruments differently from all the other boys in England who’d taken up guitars and drums in the wake of The Beatles’ emergence. (Not that The Who had done that... they been at it for almost three years. The timing of their arrival just made it seem that way.) Townshend invented a different – noisier, more rhythmic, far less theoretical – way of playing the guitar which would not have suited any other band, while Entwistle had invented a different style of playing bass, turning a deep toned rhythm instrument into something that picked out mid-range lead lines. As for Moon, as his name implied he was from outer space, light years ahead of his rivals, a complete original, while only a hard nut like Daltrey, far and away the toughest, most hard-headed member of this little gang, would have the strength of character to hang on in there and make himself heard above the din. All of them were odd, unconventional, extreme, inventive, original, contrary, and somehow they found each other. In any other band they would have been fired for insubordination; in The Who they simply egged each other on to greater heights.
         

10.4.14

A BARGAIN – THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part 2

I soon learned that Polydor had submitted a proposed box set track selection to the band which Pete had rejected out of hand. This was news to me, but not that big a surprise. After all, I was amazed that no-one had had a go at doing this before. I was sent four 60-minute cassettes from Polydor and knew immediately, simply by glancing at the track listing, why Pete had kicked this one into touch... not much imagination, not much previously unissued stuff, too many post-Keith tracks, nothing to get excited about. Thus, the first thing I had to get straight was a ratio between new (or previously unreleased) and well-known material.
         It was essential to me that The Who’s box set wasn’t just going to be another extended Best Of, of which there had already been far too many. Unfortunately the record companies felt otherwise and there followed a long ideological battle between myself and the marketing departments at MCA and Polydor. And after a while I came to understand, if not exactly sympathise with, their attitude. To an extent. Box sets, it was pointed out to me, are bought largely by those fans who wish to replace their existing collection of an artist’s albums in one go. They therefore require the artist’s better known repertoire. How could a Who career anthology not contain their best-known songs? I could dig that. Then it was explained to me that those anthologies which concentrate on unreleased material of interest only to hard-core cultists sell only to collectors, or rabid fans, a relatively small market, and if this was where I and The Who were coming from the record companies weren’t interested. At least not interested enough to shell out for the four or five CD package and 76 page booklet I had in mind for my favourite band.
         So I had to keep everybody happy here: the fans, many of whom wrote to me with suggestions, the band, the record companies and myself. This was not easy but a compromise was eventually reached which boiled down to 13 previously unreleased tracks (but not necessarily unreleased songs) among the total of 80, together with 17 bits of dialogue or spoof ads sprinkled liberally throughout to vary the pace. I’d have liked more but I’d also have liked a bonus fifth CD containing a complete live Tommy (from Leeds, 14/2/70). Pete scotched this because, he said, he was “Tommied out” as a result of the then concurrent Broadway show, and he felt the energy level in this performance slipped a bit half-way through, which is true, but it’s still the best live Tommy we had (far better in my opinion than the one played at the 1970 Isle Of Wight show which was released in 1996 in a deal in which I had no involvement). Also, Polydor didn’t seem keen on five CDs for financial reasons - so you can imagine how I felt three years down the line when they released Modernism – A New Decade, a five CD box set of The Jam. Now I’ve nothing against Paul Weller’s mob but their accomplishments hardly measure up to The Who, especially on a global level.
         I’m getting ahead here. Next I met with Bill Curbishley, The Who’s manager, to sort out the terms of engagement, and with Jon Astley, the record producer who just happened to be Pete’s brother-in-law, who had the keys to Aladdin’s Cave – Pete’s tape archive – and who would oversee the technical studio work done by engineer Andy Macpherson. Fortunately Pete’s a hoarder, and for me the first real eye-opening moment of the whole project occurred when Jon presented me with a computerised print-out of everything stored in that library, like two dozen ‘My Generations’, twenty-odd ‘Pinball’s and so on. This wasn’t like work, this was going to be sheer unadulterated joy.
         I naturally started at the beginning with The High Numbers, the name The Who used on their first ever recordings. Let’s not forget that by 1964, the year their earliest songs were recorded, the band (as The Detours) had been playing the West London pub circuit for two years, probably averaging three nights a week, with a different drummer. Keith Moon arrived just before, and just in time for, the High Numbers’ sessions in June 1964. (No Detours’ recordings seemed to exist by the way... more’s the pity.) ‘I’m The Face’ and ‘Zoot Suit, the A- and B-sides of their first single, are well known to fans and had been available (on Odds & Sods and the Quadrophenia soundtrack respectively, and as a re-issued single) for ages, as had ‘Leaving Here’ which turned up on Who’s Missing in 1985. I wanted more and, fortunately, the original four-track tape, recorded in June 1965, was in Pete’s library. It contained four songs, all the above plus ‘Here ‘Tis’, the HN’s previously unreleased shot at a Bo Diddley song. The tape was in good condition and after Jon had cleaned it up, The High Numbers sounded like they’d been recorded yesterday, leaping out of the traps like the young greyhounds they were.
         Now no-one’s going to suggest that these four songs are masterpieces, or even anywhere near as menacing as the Stones’ early R&B covers that same year, but The Who/High Numbers had all the right ingredients, all present and correct: an imaginative guitarist, a cool bass player, a confident singer and a drummer who kept time. Listening to these recordings, I get the feeling that the band were being kept on a rein, that they want to push forward but are constrained by a producer who cannot imagine the music that Pete, and probably Keith, are imagining in their heads. So Keith, who’s mixed too low, sounds like every other drummer on these first outings, which makes the contrast all the more exciting when we move forward to ‘I Can’t Explain’. But before we do, let me add that since the box set was released a rough demo of ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’, probably recorded in September or October 1964 at Pye Studios in London, has come to light which shows that Keith had by now – two or three months later – thrown off the shackles and come into his own, as had the rest of them really. Amazingly, this shot at ‘Baby, Don’t You Do It’ sounds not unlike the way they played it in 1970/71... cruder, less skilful, questionable dynamics, not quite so confident perhaps... but marvellously anarchic and we hope to include it on some future anthology, probably a new edition of Odds And Sods, if Jon Astley can clean it up to an acceptable level.
         So, after the opening Pete dialogue which I’ll get to later, we decided that side one would open with the only four High Numbers tracks that were available to us. 

9.4.14

A BARGAIN – THE BEST YOU EVER HAD, Part I

The first part of the piece I wrote for Crawdaddy! about my involvement in 30 Years of Maximum R'n'B

I set the wheels in motion for the production of The Who’s box-set on 24 February 1993 by writing a long and rather ballsy letter to Pete Townshend, the important bits of which read as follows:
        
         Dear Pete,
         Enough is enough.
         Each month I read in Q Magazine of yet another artist or group whose boxed set of three, four or five remastered CDs is now in the shops, complete with laudatory 12 page booklet, all packaged in the best possible taste to reflect and exaggerate the particular genius of the performer. Each month I walk through the Virgin Megastore and see them piled high, box sets galore, from Led Zeppelin to the most obscure R&B performer, you name them: King Crimson, The Monkees, the bloody Bee Gees, Kate bleeding Bush, even Journey for Chrissakes! There’s dozens more and none of them worthy to lick the boots of The Who.
         So how come?
         How come no-one at Polydor or Phonogram or Polygram or whatever their corporate identity is this week hasn’t proposed and organised a decent Who boxed set? How come you haven’t, or someone at Trinifold? Does nobody care anymore? It’s a fucking travesty.
         There surely exists the most wonderful opportunity to put The Who’s legacy in proper perspective, to finally release a worthy package of retrospective material in a proper chronological setting that isn’t simply yet another ‘Best Of’ album to add to the embarrassingly long list of virtually identical cash-in Who Greatest Hits albums. (With the possible exception of Hendrix, no-one’s catalogue has been exploited so callously as The Who in my opinion.)
         Because I care, I hereby put myself forward as the co-ordinator of such a project.
         I realise this would be a long term project; that I would have to meet and liaise with all manner of people; that I (and you and the others) would have to propose a track listing (which I would hope would include at least 25% hitherto unissued material in order to appeal to real Who fans); that someone would have to remaster these tracks if necessary; that I would have to organise the booklet (my speciality that – I've been commissioning text, buying pictures and organising artwork for years); that I would have to liaise with the record company re the budget; that there'd be loose ends galore to tie up; and that I'd probably piss everyone off in the course of doing it because I promise you I won't cut corners (as everyone else who's ever co-ordinated a Who compilation album in the past – with the possible exception of 'Meaty Beaty' – seems to have has done).
         I write to you because without your backing a project such as this would never get off the starting blocks. If you turn me down, at least tell me why. Of course, for all I know someone might already be doing this. If they are, I'm delighted to hear it but I pray they're doing it right.
         [There followed a paragraph or two of personal stuff before I ended with…]
         Best regards, yours sincerely
         Chris C

I showed this letter to Lisa when I got home that night and she thought I was crazy. The next morning, after I’d left for work, the phone rang. Lisa answered. It was Pete, which blew her mind because she’d never answered the phone to a real rock star before. She redirected him to my office. “Do it,” he said. We were on.
         When I went to bed that night I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Panic had set in. What had I done? I’d put myself on the line. Could I do The Who justice? Who was I to presume that I could produce a box set for the group I considered (at their 1968-73 peak) to have been the very best in the world at what they did?
          Let me backtrack. First and foremost, long before I ever wrote a word about The Who, I was a fan, which is crucially important. ALL BOX SETS SHOULD BE COMPILED BY FANS. Are you listening record companies? Twenty-five years in and around the music industry has taught me that fans know and care far more about the music they love than anyone else, often even the artists themselves. Music industry professionals who fail to realise this will rot in hell.
         Still backtracking... I first saw The Who on TV on Ready Steady Go! – ”The weekend starts here” – in 1965, when ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’, their second single, became the show’s theme tune. Then I went out and bought ‘My Generation’ which my parents hated, then I tried to teach myself to play ‘Substitute’ on the guitar, then I bought Who Sell Out with its strange cover, then I saw them live at the Queen’s Hall in Leeds, then I bought Tommy and saw them play it live at Plumpton and Dunstable Civic, the first defining moments in my Who life, then I bought and played the hell out of Live At Leeds, then I joined Melody Maker and saw them again at Dunstable where I reviewed them in glowing terms. Then, to my eternal amazement, Keith Moon rang me up at MM the following week and thanked me for the review. (No other musician had ever done this before and this gesture – utterly genuine, Keith was like that sometimes – was another defining moment.) “We must get together for a drink, dear boy,” said the greatest drummer in rock. A few weeks later we did just that, and Keith invited me along to their next London gig, at Hammersmith Palais, as his guest. I met the rest of them that night, and for the next seven years became, unofficially, Melody Maker’s ‘Who Correspondent’, which meant I saw them live around 40 times, wrote about them extensively, interviewed them, travelled with them, and shared so many highs and lows with them that they became an important part of my life, though I was never so foolish as to assume that I was important to them. My happiest moments ever have been at the birth of my children and at truly great Who concerts. Hand on heart, in their pomp they were the greatest live performance rock band that has ever existed, bar none, a better rush than sex or any drug.
         Then Keith died and I lost touch with them. I saw the Kenney Jones band only once, at the NEC in Birmingham in 1982, and came away a bit dispirited. Like all other serious fans I was appalled and brought down by their sloppy Live Aid showing and the Brit Awards farce at the Albert Hall in 1988. All I had was Live At Leeds, a few bootlegs and The Kids Are Alright video to remind me of the glory days. On and off I found myself defending The Who for apparently cashing in on the reunion tours but, unfortunately, after 1989, those tours seemed to have trashed their credibility beyond redemption (in the UK at any rate).
         This view, of course, was subjective. I understood and fully sympathised with the reasons for The Who’s ‘life-after-Keith’ because I knew about their slightly dodgy financial situation first-hand through my old relationship with them, but most people (especially in the media) didn’t understand or know or even care about the reasons and consequently didn’t sympathise at all. There was a great injustice going on here but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. The biggest irony was that their great rivals Led Zeppelin appeared to have done the ‘honourable’ thing by jacking it in when their drummer died while The Who – whom I believe were far more ‘honourable’ to the concept of rock as a force for good – appeared to have done the ‘dishonourable’ thing by continuing throughout the eighties and beyond with their eyes fixed firmly on the till despite losing a key member; a contradiction really, and difficult to explain away.
         Then I was given a ticket to see a show on the Kids Are Alright tour at Wembley Arena in October 1989. I was a bit late arriving and they were up there playing ‘Substitute’ as I found my seat, then they did ‘I Can’t Explain’. Of course, it wasn’t The Who up there, not The Who that I’d known and loved so much, but it had been a while and it brought all the great memories flooding back. It was very much a pre-planned show, as it had to be with so many additional musicians, and in this respect it was quite unlike the free-for-all Who concerts I’d enjoyed so much in the past. Then something unexpected happened. It had been clear that Roger’s voice was going when, half way through ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ in the second half, in what was obviously an unplanned gesture, he threw down the mike, apparently in disgust at himself, swore loudly and stormed off. Pete took over on vocals and finished the song, then sang throughout ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Up to this point I’d been watching, enjoying but not really getting off, but this incident set my adrenaline flowing just as it always used to flow at Who shows, because I knew it would put them on the back foot and they’d have to improvise. It was the old “anything can happen at a Who concert” scenario all over again. Pete was obviously not best pleased at this turn of events. Great! An angry Townshend is an exciting Townshend. During the keyboard bit in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ he whacked his red Schecter Stratocaster against the monitors at the front but it wouldn’t break, so he just tossed it aside in that wonderfully imperious way he has with guitars that displease him, and picked up another one. I’m pretty sure my heart wasn’t the only one that skipped a beat at this. When the band returned for an encore Pete apologised for Roger, explaining that he had the flu. Calm again, he made a witty and deeply self-depreciating speech about how they were only doing it for the money which was at least honest. Most big rock bands who reform try to kid fans it’s for ‘artistic’ reasons but The Who had never lied to their fans in the past and they didn’t start now. He paid tribute to Keith, partly because we were in Wembley, where Keith was born. “We’ve never been able to replace him,” he admitted to warm applause. “I asked Roger if he wanted to come on to do an encore and he told me to fuck off – not for the first time,” Pete added. Indeed not, I thought. They closed the show with John taking the vocals on a belting ‘Twist And Shout’.
         Perhaps because I was older and mellower, perhaps because I grew misty-eyed at hearing Who songs played very loud, as they were meant to be played, perhaps because of the Roger incident and how they dealt with it, perhaps because of Pete’s speech, most likely because of all these things, I enjoyed this show immensely, far more than I thought I would, and even found myself rendering a few Pete-style windmills on air guitar on the way home – the first time I’d done that in 15 years! Indeed, this night was the spark that rekindled my love for The Who and, although it was a slow process, set me on the path to what became 30 Years Of Maximum R&B.
         Another, equally important, factor was coming across a lovingly compiled UK Who fanzine called Generations which, it turned out, had been put together by Who fans far younger than myself. In the first issue co-editor John Atkins, whom I had never met, wrote that The Who were... “loud, brash, hard, noisy, fast and exciting, but also subtle, complex, intelligent, imaginative, and profound”. These words seemed to sum up exactly how I felt about The Who, so I got in touch with John and his co-editor Phil Hopkins and bought up all their back issues. Reading them was a delight and they brought home to me that many Who fans in the early nineties would have been too young to have seen the group with Keith on drums. This realisation dawned on me as I listened again to all my old bootlegs and it inspired the most crucial motive for me to renew contact with The Who.
         For the best part of ten years The Who had given me so much pleasure that it was only fair to give something back, to settle the score, to seal the best ‘bargain’ I’d ever had. All that I had to offer was my enthusiasm to try and help re-establish their reputation as one of the world’s all-time great rock acts, a reputation that seemed to have become tarnished for all the wrong reasons. A good box set, I decided, would go some way towards restoring them to their rightful place at rock’s high table and, if it did, would in some way repay my debt to them. It was a job well worth doing. I thought about this a lot and, eventually, took up my pen to write that letter to Pete.