15.8.16

WHO'S NEXT - Track By Track






Prompted by the occasion of the 45th Anniversary of Who’s Next I have been urged by those who run The Who’s Fan Page on Facebook to post the following track by track run down of the songs on the album from my book The Complete Guide to The Music of The Who, updated in 2004 with help from my pal and fellow Who Archivist Ed Hanel. This relates to the De Luxe edition, released in 2003, on which I’m credited as ‘Executive Producer’ because I played a part in selecting the bonus tracks, arranging the packaging and persuading Pete to write his liner notes. Most of what follows was written by me for the original 1995 edition of the book (Ed chipped in with info about the upgraded editions) and Who scholarship may have advanced in the succeeding 21 years, not least by Pete himself in his book Who I Am.

The original Who’s Next consisted of nine tracks. All songs by Townshend unless otherwise noted.

1. Baba O’Riley
Thirty seconds of a spiralling loop, played on a Lowrey organ and fed through a synthesizer, opens the album with one of its most memorable tracks. ‘Baba’, of course, is Meher Baba, Pete’s spiritual pal, and O’Riley, is Terry Riley, the electronic composer whose work A Rainbow In Curved Air inspired Pete’s use of looping synthesizer riffs. Piano, voice, drums, bass and eventually guitar join in but it’s the cut and thrust between Daltrey’s leonine roar and Pete’s tuneful pleading that gives the song its tension and best moments, though the free-form climax, a souped-up Irish jig featuring Dave Arbus (of the group East Of Eden) on violin and Keith playing as fast as he’s ever played, is quite mesmerising.
          “Teenage Wasteland”, the starting point for Pete’s imaginary generation in their search to find nirvana, became a timeless Who entity in Roger’s hands, and the downright disgust at the way things had turned out (post-Woodstock) was never better expressed in rock.
          Pete: “This was a number I wrote while I was doing these experiments with tapes on the synthesizer. Among my plans was to take a person out of the audience and feed information – height, weight, autobiographical details – about the person into the synthesizer. The synthesizer would then select notes from the pattern of that person. It would be like translating a person into music. On this particular track I programmed details about the life of Meher Baba and that provided the backing for the number.”
          The synthesizer track that dominates ‘Baba O’Riley’ is part of a longer synthesizer piece that Pete released privately on a Meher Baba tribute LP I Am in 1972. Further sections featured on his Psychoderelict solo LP in 1993.

2. Bargain
Most songs addressed to ‘you’ are sentimental love songs but the you Pete addressed in ‘Bargain’ is his avatar, Meher Baba. ‘Bargain’, which stands alongside any of the best tracks on Who’s Next, is about the search for personal identity amid a sea of conformity, with lyrics such as “I know I’m worth nothing without you” giving the Baba slant away, especially when sung by Pete in a keening counterpoint to Roger’s harsher lines.
          Although there’s a low-key synthesizer track in the background, ‘Bargain’ shows off The Who’s ensemble playing at its very best. Block chords abound, there’s a terrific guitar solo, bass lines pop and crackle and Keith’s drumming gives the song a rhythmic foundation that lifts The Who clean out of your speaker cabinets. A terrific live version of ‘Bargain’ can be found on Who’s Missing (see below).

3. Love Ain’t For Keeping
Seriously upfront acoustic guitars feature strongly throughout one of the slighter (and shortest) songs on Who’s Next, but the bouncy tempo, relatively simple compared with the album’s other songs, and understated synthesizer hold this together well, as Roger sings about the difficulty of sustaining relationships in the modern world. This track is sequenced to run almost directly into...

4. My Wife
(Entwistle)
John’s song of marital discontent gets many fans’ vote for the best he ever wrote for The Who and it provided the group with a terrific stage rocker, complete with the kind of block chords that Pete loved to play while spinning his arm windmill-style. Although this version is no slouch, John was dissatisfied with the sound and re-recorded it himself on his third solo album, Rigor Mortis Sets In (1973). On live versions, Pete would stretch out during the song’s solo and end, duelling with John to mesmerising effect. ‘My Wife’ is possibly the most ‘Who-like’ song John ever wrote, certainly the closest to Pete’s style of writing, and the lyrics, evidently about his first wife Alison, are generally hilarious. 

5. THE Song Is Over
Among the most gorgeous ballads Pete has ever written, ‘The Song Is Over’ again highlights the contrasting vocals of Roger and Pete, as well as some inspired synthesizer work, tasteful piano playing by Nicky Hopkins, and a sumptuous production. Because of its complexity, it was never played live. Doubtless intended as the climax to Lifehouse, it features as a coda the motif from ‘Pure And Easy’ (see Odds & Sods below), another key Lifehouse song that was inexplicably left off the album. The closing passages are enhanced by an almost subliminal top-of-the-scale synthesizer harmonic line that traces the melody with a marvellous undulating counterpoint.
          It is only by listening to this song, in conjunction with others like ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘Baba O’Riley’, ‘Bargain’, ‘Time Is Passing’ (which The Who never released) and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ that the real potential of Lifehouse, at least from a purely musical point of view, can be truly appreciated. A rock opera, or at least a song cycle, based around material as strong as this would surely have been the rock masterpiece to end all rock masterpieces. When it failed to materialise in the way he envisaged, Pete’s disillusionment led to his first nervous breakdown and almost broke up The Who.

6. Getting In Tune
Using the time honoured tradition of tuning up before a show as an allegory for creating harmony between disparate societies, ‘Getting In Tune’ is another fearless rocker, perhaps not quite so breathtaking as others from the album, but certainly no slouch. Like ‘The Song Is Over’, this is a showcase for Roger at his absolute best.

7. Going Mobile
With its rolling, appropriately ‘mobile’ rhythm and absence of harsh chords,Going Mobile’ lacks the grandeur of many of the other tracks on Who’s Next, but it’s a witty and worthy contender nevertheless, a ‘travelogue’ sung by Pete about the joys of driving around gypsy-style in his newly acquired holiday home. Lines about ‘hippy gypsies’ seem particularly apt in the modern era of New Age travellers.
          Apart from its tricky little acoustic rhythm signature, it’s also notable for the guitar solo in which Pete wired his electric through a device similar to a wah-wah called an ‘envelope follower’, with the result that it sounds like he’s playing underwater.



8.  Behind Blue Eyes
Opening with one of the prettiest melodies Pete has ever written, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ rightly became a Who classic almost immediately. Crystal clear acoustic guitar, Roger at his melodic best and a fluid bass line take the first verse, velvet three-part harmonies join in for the second, then, finally, in lurches Keith to give ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ its third and final dimension.
          The faster central passage, a plea to the creator for confidence and succour, contains the most moving lyrics on the whole album, before the song reverts back to its gentle opening lines at the close. The choir-like closing vocal harmony, drenched in reverb, is deliberately – and brilliantly – sequenced to contrast sharply with the shrill electronic synthesizer riff that heralds ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’.

9.  Won’t Get Fooled Again
If there is a key song on Who’s Next, it is this lengthy call to arms that became the traditional show closer at Who concerts from this point onwards. Based on a clattering synthesizer riff that locks the group into a tight, rhythmic performance, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is classic mid-period Who at their very best, 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.
          With lyrics that address the futility of revolution when the conqueror is likely to become as corrupt as the conquered, the song inspired many a clenched fist, especially when Roger came careering in at the end of the lengthy instrumental passage, declaiming the ‘bosses’ and inciting the kind of scenes that left the Bastille in ruins. His scream before the final verse is one of the most volatile vocal eruptions ever recorded.
          Pete: “It’s really a bit of a weird song. The first verse sounds like a revolution song and the second like somebody getting tired of it. It’s an angry anti-establishment song. It’s anti people who are negative. A song against the revolution because the revolution is only a revolution and a revolution is not going to change anything at all in the long run, and a lot of people are going to get hurt.”
          Edited down from its original eight minutes and thirty seconds, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ as a single reached Number 9 in the UK charts and 10 in the US.

Remixed And Remastered CD version (1995)

This version kept the single disc format, adding the following bonus tracks:

10. PURE AND EASY
This is the original version of ‘Pure And Easy’ recorded at the Record Plant, New York, on March 17-18, 1971. A later version was recorded at Olympic Studios, London, but not released until the Odds & Sods LP in 1974 (although, confusingly, John Entwistle recollected the recording stemmed from the preparatory sessions made at Mick Jagger’s mansion, Stargroves on the Rolling Stones Mobile).
          A key song from Lifehouse, ‘Pure And Easy’ is a beautiful Townshend composition that should have appeared on Who’s Next but was left off, probably because The Who weren’t 100% satisfied with the versions they’d recorded during the Lifehouse/Who’s Next sessions.  It is hard to find anything wrong with the version included here.
          ‘Pure And Easy’ is Pete’s re-write on the myth of the ‘Lost Chord’, a deeply felt song about the ultimate musical note, the loss of which symbolises mankind’s decaying relationship with the universe. It is a song of yearning, almost a tearful lament, albeit fashioned over Who-style torrents. The guitar solo builds to a tremendous climax, rather like Jimmy Page’s memorable solo in ‘Stairway To Heaven’.
          Pete thought very highly of ‘Pure And Easy’ when he wrote it - so much so that its chorus forms a coda to ‘The Song Is Over’ on Who’s Next, and he included it in demo form on his first solo album Who Came First.
          In the accompanying notes he wrote for Odds And Sods, the album on which this song first appeared in 1974, Pete wrote: “This you might know from my solo album. This is the group’s version. Not all of the group’s versions of my songs are as faithful to the original demo as this one, but as usual The ‘Oo make their terrible mark. Another track from the aborted Lifehouse story.  It’s strange, really, that this never appeared on Who’s Next, because in the context of stuff like ‘Song Is Over’, ‘Getting In Tune’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’ it explains more about the general concept behind the Lifehouse idea than any amount of rap. Not released because we wanted a single album at the time.”
          It’s remarkable to think that at this stage in his evolution as a songwriter (1971) Pete Townshend was able to discard material as strong as this.
          The Who performed ‘Pure And Easy’ on stage briefly during 1971, on stage at the Young Vic and occasionally thereafter.

11. BABY DON’T YOU DO IT
(Holland/Dozier/Holland)
A stage favourite of The Who’s from the 1964-66 era, this Marvin Gaye Motown classic was perhaps an unusual choice for revival for Lifehouse. Played at the Young Vic and in the concert act for the remainder of 1971, this version was recorded at the Record Plant, New York on March 16, 1971. Leslie West guested on lead guitar.

12. NAKED EYE
This was recorded live at The Young Vic on April 26, 1971, and first released as part of the 1994 30 Years of Maximum R&B box set. A studio version, recorded at Pete’s Eel Pie Studio in 1970 appeared on the Odds & Sods LP in 1974.
          A superb stage song, ‘Naked Eye’ was developed on stage as part of the improvisation during extended versions of ‘My Generation’ (see Live At Leeds) and, once fully formed, played at virtually every Who concert in the early Seventies. It took on enormous power as Pete and Roger shared verses that contained 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 run to, 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 existence. Meanwhile the band strains at the leash, while a strange nagging riff holds the song together. This is the riff that made its first appearance at concerts during 1969 when the band were jamming at the climax to their shows, and only later did Pete add lyrics to harness it into ‘Naked Eye’.
          Like ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘Naked Eye’ is an essential Who song, far more important than many found elsewhere in the catalogue.

13. WATER
Also recorded at the same Young Vic show as above.
          An overlong, rather heavy-handed rocker, ‘Water’ is another Lifehouse reject, this one mixing a rather lascivious hook line (‘water’ rhymes with ‘daughter’ throughout) into a song in which ‘water’ becomes an allegory for quenching spiritual thirst. Considering the role it played on stage, it seemed destined for inclusion on whatever album that would follow Tommy. Eventually Pete came up with several far better songs, and despite several stage comments at various shows and concerts during 1970/71 introducing it as a possible Who single, ‘Water’ was consigned to the scrap heap, only to resurface as the UK B-side of ‘5.15’in October 1973.

14. TOO MUCH OF ANYTHING
Another Lifehouse outtake, produced by The Who, and associate producer Glyn Johns, at Olympic Studios, London, April 12, 1971.  It was first released in 1974, with Roger’s re-recorded vocal, on Odds & Sods.
          ‘Too Much Of Anything’ is a rather pedestrian rock ballad, with Nicky Hopkins on piano, that deals with greed and its consequences, but the song meanders along indifferently without the punch of other Lifehouse tracks. The Who occasionally played it on stage in 1971 but soon dropped it.

15. I DON’T EVEN KNOW MYSELF
This is a 1970 Eel Pie recording that was part of a planned EP project. Instead, it appeared as the B-side to the ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ single in June 1971, credited as ‘Don’t Know Myself’. A Lifehouse reject which wasn’t quite up to the standard of the other songs Pete was writing in 1970, ‘I Don’t Know Even Know Myself’ blends a fierce verse and chorus with a strange, country and western style middle eight which features Keith tapping a wooden block. Often played live in 1970/71, but dropped when Who’s Next provided the band with better stage material.

16. BEHIND BLUE EYES
This original version of ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ was recorded at the Record Plant, New York, on March 17-18, 1971, and features Al Kooper on organ.

Deluxe Edition (2003), also available on vinyl.

The first CD contains the nine tracks off the original album and the following bonus tracks from the Record Plant Sessions, New York, March 1971.

10. BABY DON’T YOU DO IT
(Holland/Dozier/Holland)
While the remixed and remastered CD featured a 5:13 edit with Keith’s barely audible comment, “put away your girlie magazines” at the start, the Deluxe Edition featured a new 8:20 remix of the complete version, with Roger’s barked “a bit of quiet please” command before starting and an outbreak of laughter when the track finally winds down.

11. GETTING IN TUNE
An alternative version from the Record Plant sessions, recorded March 18, 1971. Previously unreleased.

12. PURE AND EASY
This is the same take as on the remixed and remastered CD, except it has been freshly remixed and has a full ending instead of fading at 4:19.

13. LOVE AIN’T FOR KEEPING
Originally produced by Kit Lambert, this version of ‘Love Ain’t For Keeping’ was recorded on March 17, 1971.  It features a live vocal from Pete, and Leslie West on second guitar. Previously available on the revamped Odds & Sods CD in 1998, the Who’s Next version was recorded with Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London two months later.

14. BEHIND BLUE EYES
This is the same track as on the remixed and remastered CD. 

15. WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN
This is an early version of the song from the Record Plant sessions, recorded on March 16, 1971, featuring a different synthesizer pattern than the released version, with the famous lyric “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, occurring before the final synthesizer break and drum pattern, and lacking Roger’s memorable scream.
          Pete: “No tape was used. What we did was play an organ through a VCS3 live with the session. So we had to keep in time with the square wave, but the shape was moveable. It was an experiment initiated by Roger and was fairly successful.”

Deluxe Edition Disc 2

Pete had anticipated using live material from a number of small concerts before a specially invited audience to help develop the Lifehouse project. The Young Vic Theatre, a venue close to Waterloo Station with a reputation for the avant garde, was booked each Monday and the Rolling Stones Mobile was hired for what appears to have been the final Lifehouse show on April 26, 1971 (where the tracks on the second disc emanate from).
          Also recorded at this show but left off because of space restrictions were: ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, and ‘Boney Maronie’ (see 30 Years Of Maximum R&B).
          By all accounts, the Lifehouse experiment was physically and mentally frustrating for Pete, and the tapes were quietly shelved as he failed to bring the concept into a format his fellow band members and audience could understand.

1.  LOVE AIN’T FOR KEEPING
As informal an introduction a Who concert could ever produce, this was the electric version of ‘Love Ain’t For Keeping’ the Who used to open their UK and US concerts over the summer of 1971. Considering that this (and the majority of the Young Vic material) were working versions of what were then unreleased songs, The Who clearly show they were masters of their craft, if somewhat mystified at what Pete was trying to produce. Entwistle and Moon’s interlocking playing is particularly noteworthy.

2. PURE AND EASY
A very good version with Pete’s guitar solo not quite as developed as the recorded take, but with John’s trebly bass figures well to the fore. The additional verse from Pete’s demo (lopped off for the recorded version) is still intact. The transition to “There once was a note, Listen!” is well handled in the latter part of the performance with more fine Townshend soloing.

3. YOUNG MAN BLUES 
(Allison)
The band begin aggressively enough, if not with quite the flair as at Live At Leeds, but Pete’s guitar goes dead at 1:40 (one can only imagine the stage demonstration in anger management that Pete is not exercising!). While his guitar gets seen to, Entwistle and Moon carry on a breathless display of interplaying for 30 seconds without the slightest need for a lead guitarist or vocalist. Pete kicks back in and vents his frustration in a great guitar run until he peels off into a very beautiful blues orientated solo. 

4. TIME IS PASSING
This version highlights the great mix on the Deluxe Edition’s second disc, best heard in the contrast between Pete’s and Roger’s vocals. ‘Time Is Passing’ was first widely heard on Townshend’s solo album Who Came First, which was released in September 1972. Originally recorded during the Olympic Who’s Next sessions, a remastered Who studio version from a damaged master tape was released on the upgraded edition of Odds & Sods in 1998. 

5. BEHIND BLUE EYES
Introduced as “probably a single”, this live version is unusual in that Keith is still seated behind his drums during the opening verses (playing cymbal flourishes) when traditionally he was banished from the stage. He comes in on the beat with impeccable timing.

6. I DON’T EVEN KNOW MYSELF
Pete first rebukes a fan that dared to stand up and ‘idiot dance’ during the previous song. Pete explains that he normally wouldn’t care, but it is distracting as The Who are playing “a whole new show”. An excellent version as is to be expected for a song The Who had played live for the past year.

7. TOO MUCH OF ANYTHING
Pete introduces the song by smoking a cigar to celebrate the recent birth of his second daughter, Aminta. When a heckler pipes up, Pete retorts with “because I’ve had more fucks than you’ve had mate… Many more… When you catch up, come round”. Although Roger starts off in a key that is comfortable for his range, as the song progresses, he strains to hit the high notes. A good attempt, nevertheless and fascinating to see what worked well on stage for the band while developing what came to be known as Who’s Next.

8. GETTING IN TUNE
This sounds faster than the album version, and lasts for over six and a half minutes. John’s bass line doesn’t sound fully developed yet, and at 4:10, the bass and guitar cut out as Roger, John and Pete repeatedly sing the pay-off line “Getting in tune to the straight and narrow”.

9. BARGAIN
Pete apologises that the new songs are “sounding a wee bit lame, but they’ll come together”. This version is played a little slower – the tempo throws Moon into some confusion - but is noteworthy primarily for the lack of synthesizer that dominates the album version. The song was refined and went on to be one of the exhilarating highlights of the Who’s 1971/72 shows (check out the live version on Who’s Missing and 30 Years Of Maximum R&B) for confirmation, so why it wasn’t retained in the act remains a mystery.

10. WATER
In a live context, The Who often dragged this slight song out to an inordinate length – no exception here at 8:19 (this Young Vic version first appeared in edited form on 30 Years Of Maximum R&B and the remastered Who’s Next [1995]). While it’s debatable whether it merited such an approach, it was a cornerstone of Who shows throughout 1970/71. A studio version eventually appeared on the B-side of ‘5.15’ in October 1973.

11. MY GENERATION
“Not trying to cause a b-b-bloody big sensation,” as Rogers sings. This is a straightforward treatment of the classic and is terminated by Pete sliding his pick up the strings to herald…

12. ROAD RUNNER
(Ellas McDaniel)
Originally written and recorded by blues master Bo Diddley (a.k.a. Ellas McDaniel) in 1959, a song subsequently covered by many artists during the British R&B boom of the early to mid-Sixties, among them The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Pretty Things, The Zombies and The Who. (In fact, it was this very song that the group played during Keith Moon’s drum-damaging audition at the Oldfield Hotel, Greenford, in April 1964.) During tours in the Seventies The Who often lurched into this medium paced rocker during lengthy jams within the ‘My Generation’ framework.
          Pete: “It was an afterthought to play this, probably not a good idea.  It was a chaotic evening and I think that during this song some young boys started to fiddle around with some older women who were present, one of whom was Roger’s ex, Cleo. We lost concentration as there were no bouncers.”
          At the end if segues into the riff from…

13. NAKED EYE
Sharp-eared Who aficionados can pinpoint that this song (and certainly the middle break) had its genesis in parts of Pete’s guitar work played during the ‘My Generation’ finale of The Who’s set at Woodstock.
          A long-standing concert favourite, this version is slightly marred by Roger forgetting the lyrics during the final verse. A studio version was recorded at Eel Pie Sound in 1970 (completed at Olympic on June 7, 1971) and released in 1974 on Odds & Sods.

14. WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN
The Who’s second epic single (after ‘I Can See For Miles’) was pretty well worked out at this stage (possibly because it had already been recorded). There are some interesting guitar runs played over the synthesizer, with Roger’s definitive rock and roll scream at the conclusion, but the recorded version has a little extra drive and aggression.




12.8.16

BRITISH ROCK IN THE FIFTIES





Called upon to edit a book about the history of rock on television earlier this year[1], I was taken back into the world of Six-Five Special, Oh Boy! and Juke Box Jury. These names will ring a bell only to those of us who can remember a time when news presenters, all of them male, wore evening dress to inform us of the day’s events, when Woodbine cigarettes were available in packets of five and when Cliff Richard – believe it or not – was deemed threatening. These were not the only televised shows that featured what was termed ‘beat music’, just the best known, and the book I edited is not a nostalgia fest – it is bang up to date and dwells lovingly on Ready Steady Go! and The Tube, to name but two – but somehow I found myself drawn to the first chapter, about the fifties, for the simple reason that it was all so innocent then and, of course, this was the first rock’n’roll I ever saw, as opposed to heard.
All of which explains why earlier today, browsing the CDs in Sainsburys, I was tempted by a CD package called Rock’n’Roll Britannia: The Foundations Of Rock’n’Roll Culture which looked like a snip at £3 for 75 tracks across three CDs. Leaving aside for a moment the undisputed truth that the foundations of rock’n’roll culture lie not in Blighty but somewhere south of the Mason Dixon line in America, this works out at just four pence a song so it’s unlikely Cliff, Marty, Adam, Billy, Tommy and all the rest will benefit much from my indulgence, a sad reflection on the value of music these days.
It was misleadingly packaged with the kind of graphics that suggest it's a Britpop compilation – Noel Gallagher’s Union Jack guitar on the front[2] – and it lacks sleeve notes of any kind bar a track listing, but in no other way do I regret my purchase. Prog rockers would be advised to note that no song exceeds two minutes and 48 seconds, with the shortest ‘Big Beat Boogie’ by Bert Weedon clocking in at just 38 seconds, shorter than any Ramones track on my iPod, as is the shortest vocal track, ‘What Do You Want’ by Adam Faith. The running time is two hours and 45 minutes, which means the average song length is two minutes and two seconds – and they say kids today have no attention spans.
What these early British rockers lack in finesse they by and large make up for in enthusiasm, albeit often misplaced. Nevertheless, I may have been hasty in a previous post when I suggested that Cliff Richard’s debut single ‘Move It’ was the only decent record he ever made, for ‘Dynamite’ and ‘Livin’ Lovin’ Doll’ aren’t bad at all, and he makes a decent fist of ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ too. The rot set in with Lionel Bart’s ‘Living Doll’ which, doubtless because it was his first number one, set him on the path to righteousness and rubbish records. The same thing happened to Cliff’s role model Elvis, of course, insofar as the insipid movies GI Blues and Blue Hawaii were enormous hits, far more popular than his earlier films, and similarly nudged him down the slippery slope to inconsequence.
Tommy Steele was another victim of the dreaded ‘family entertainer ambition’ syndrome. I can remember my mum taking me to the local Odeon in 1957 to see the movie The Tommy Steele Story, a sort of bio-pic that dramatised his rise from ship’s steward to Britain’s ‘first rock’n’roll star’, but of his four tracks only ‘Tallahasie Lassie’ is worth a second listen. I can only hope he listens to Paul Weller’s ‘Come On Let’s Go’ to learn what a song with this title ought to sound like.
The omission of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’ is strange considering that two other great JK&TP’s tracks, ‘Feeling’’ and ‘Please Don’t Touch’, are included, but I suppose this has something to do with availability. A third JK&TP’s track, ‘If You Were The Only Girl In The World’, is an uncharacteristically bad choice on their part. Quite why they were persuaded to record an inappropriate marshmallow ballad written in 1916 is a mystery to me.
Aching melodrama was clearly a sought after ingredient in fifties pop ballads that dealt with unrequited love and in this respect Marty Wilde (‘Endless Sleep’), Billy Fury (‘Maybe Tomorrow’) and Vince Eager (‘This Should Go On Forever’) all score heavily. It’s not hard to imagine teenage girls weeping buckets and wringing their hands in anguish as these heart-throbs, their voices drenched in doom-laden echo, emote raw feelings of discontent at the faithlessness of their women. Better Fury tracks of which I am familiar are not included.
Men dominate, of course, but the two tracks by girls stand out. ‘A Girl Likes’, a rockin’ 12-bar by Janis Peters, shows the clear influence of Brenda Lee and could easily be mistaken for a Lene Lovich B-side. ‘Getting Ready For Freddy’, on the other hand, is a novelty song by variety star Alma Cogan, the most successful UK female star of the fifties, whose curiously dark life was the subject of a brilliant novel by Gordon Burn.[3]
There are, of course, far too many tracks by relative unknowns for me to asses the lot here but it’s worth mentioning that Dickie Pride doesn’t quite make the grade on ‘Slippin’ And Slidin’’ but the guitar solo is ace; Larry Page, who went on to manage The Kinks, can’t rock for toffee if ‘Cool Shake’ is anything to go by; Vince Taylor’s ‘Brand New Cadillac’ is more than respectable; ‘Six-Five Special’ by Don Lang & His Frantic Five, which became the theme tune to the TV show, is marred by Lang’s assumption that the faster you play the more you rock; and ‘Rockin’’ by Tommy Sampson & His Strongman sounds like the Black & White Minstrels have washed off their dodgy black make-up and ill-advisedly pitched into this newfangled rock and roll business, ditto The Most Brothers who cover ‘Whole Lotta Woman’, a song originally recorded by Cherokee Indian Marvin Rainwater that I remember my mum buying for her pop mad 11-year-old son, on the yellow MGM label, in 1958.
Finally, there are Beatles fingerprints to be found on this set. Of songs they recorded, we have Terry Waye doing ‘Matchbox’ and Jack Parnell doing ‘Kansas City’; and of songs they covered we have Craig Douglas’ curiously anaemic reading of ‘Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees)’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’’ by The Tunettes (who they?). Roy Young, who played with the Fabs on stage in Hamburg, rocks out splendidly on ‘Big Fat Mama’, and ‘Raunchy’, the guitar instrumental that secured George’s future after he played it to impress John atop a Liverpool Corporation bus in January 1958, is offered up by the bandleader Ken Mackintosh.
            "Hi there... we've got almost a hundred cats jumping here, some real cool characters to give us the gas, so just get with it and have yourself a ball," spluttered DJ Pete Murray when Six Five Special first went on air on February 16, 1957, a priceless quote from the rock on TV book.



[1] We Hope You Have Enjoyed The Show: The Story of Rock and Pop on British Television by Jeff Evans, to be published by Omnibus Press on September 12.

[2] In the fifties it would probably have been regarded as treason to use Union Jack imagery to promote rock’n’roll. Townshend changed all that.

[3] Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn (Secker & Warburg, 1991)

5.8.16

BACK IN THE USSR


For reasons that I am at a loss to explain Just Backdated has seen a surge of hits from Russia in the past month, over 10,000 compared with 2,886 from the USA and 1,302 from the UK. Russia has now leapt into third place after the USA and the UK in terms of all-time national visits, overtaking Canada, Germany, France, Japan and Australia in a matter of weeks, and although it still has some way to go to challenge the US and the UK in all time hits totals, if they keep up this pace it won’t be long before that challenge becomes serious.
           As I say, I haven’t the foggiest idea why music fans in Russia have suddenly cottoned on to Just Backdated in the past few weeks, but I welcome them all the same. If any of them are reading this, maybe some could enlighten me. Has JB been promoted by some Russian music forum that I don’t know about? Has a link to JB been shared by some influential Russian rock critic? Has JB been mentioned on a Moscow radio rock show? Please tell me.


           In keeping with the Russian theme, it may be of interest to these new readers to learn that I have some previous in regard to Russia and rock music. In 1986, on behalf of Omnibus Press, I commissioned the noted Russian music critic Artemy Troitsky to write Back In The USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia, an account of the history and development of rock music over the previous 25 years in what was then the Soviet Union. As I wrote in a brief note at the beginning of the book, I got the idea for this project when I read a Guardian article about Russian rock that was written by Artemy and commissioned by the paper’s then Moscow correspondent Martin Walker.
           This wasn’t as easy it sounds. Back then Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev had yet to initiate glasnost and perestroika, so the USSR was effectively still a closed shop. Artemy wasn’t supposed to accept a commission from a western publisher and all manuscripts by Russian authors intended for publication outside its borders were supposed to be delivered via VAAP, the Russian copyright agency, which would translate it from Russian to English and, presumably, censor it while doing so. We got around this by having Artemy write two manuscripts, one for them and one for Omnibus, ours being smuggled out via the Guardian’s diplomatic bag courtesy of Martin Walker. Not having access to an English-alphabet typewriter, Artemy painstakingly wrote it out in longhand, meaning I had to type it all out for our typesetter, not the easiest editing task I’ve ever undertaken, and he also sent me about 50 pictures to use in the book.
           It was worth the effort. The book was published to excellent reviews the following year, even though I never received the ‘official’ manuscript from VAAP (to whom, incidentally, we had paid an advance). We made arrangements for Artemy to visit the UK to promote it – the first time he’d visited the west – for which all sorts of official red tape had to be resolved. At one point the Russian authorities wanted to send a ‘minder’, presumably to make sure Artemy didn’t defect, but when we balked at paying the minder’s travel costs they let it drop. I was bemused by a seemingly obvious contradiction that the Soviets seemed to have overlooked: if VAAP hadn’t delivered a manuscript, how come Omnibus had published it, thus requiring its author to visit the UK promote it?
           “Ah, ha,” laughed Artemy. “To understand that you have to understand the way Russian bureaucracy works. The government department that deals with manuscripts is a different department to the one that deals with travel visas. They don’t communicate. To do so would create extra work, and no one wants that.”
Artemy's dedication to me at the front of his book. He told me once what it said but I have forgotten.

           Back In The USSR wasn’t a massive seller for Omnibus but it was translated into many non-English language editions and published in the USA by Faber & Faber. Like me, all these other publishers felt it was an important historical document, a history book if you like, and that the story of rock in Russia needed to be documented for future generations. In this regard Artemy did a wonderful job.
           On his visit to London Artemy appeared on TV and radio and, through my efforts, met up with Paul McCartney, Richard Branson and Brian Eno. He visited Bath, where he met Peter Gabriel, and Dublin, where he met U2. All of these famous names were keen to talk to him, to learn from his experience. That aside, I found the whole exercise deeply enlightening, not only learning about how rock permeated the Soviet Union against the wishes of the authorities – like everywhere else, like Canute and the tide, they simply couldn’t hold it back – but dealing with – and outwitting – official procedure.


           Finally, I’m happy to add that Artemy, who now lives in Estonia, has remained a great friend.


31.7.16

DAVID BOWIE AT THE PROMS




Fitting though it was that David Bowie’s life and music should be honoured at the Proms, I remain unconvinced that rock music played by classically trained musicians is an improvement on guitars, bass and drums played through 100-watt amps by men and women who play gigs and not give recitals. While the enthusiasm, devotion and skills of the Stargaze Ensemble and their leader/conductor AndrĂ© De Ridder could in no way be faulted, these violinists and brass players seemed somehow unable to inject it with anything like the punch that makes rock sell by the bucketload and, conversely, albums of classical music struggle to reach five figures.
On the TV the Royal Albert Hall was dark and gloomy, with Ridder’s announcements formal and painstakingly comprehensive, all of which injected an atmosphere of melancholy worthiness that appeared to me a touch pretentious. The evening opened with ‘Warszawa’, the moody instrumental in an arrangement not unlike Bowie’s original on Low, an appropriate start with its slightly discordant undercurrent and suggestion of impending doom. A xylophone link led to an avant-garde passage that segued into ‘Station To Station’ sung by sober-suited Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, followed by ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ by an earnest chap with his nylon stringed guitar worn very high, wherein Mick Ronson’s lean guitar lines were adapted for violins and French horn, the whole piece closing with an ethereal choral coda.
‘This Is Not America’, another Hannon vocal, was enlivened by a rap interlude by Elf Kid, a Lewisham grime man. This was followed by Marc Almond’s expressive reading of ‘Life On Mars’, his arms-wide-open dramatics making up for the occasional gratingly off-pitch vocal. He would redeem himself later with ‘Starman’.
This was by no means an all-male affair however. The females in Stargaze assumed the lion’s share of the backing and Anna Calvi (often with Jherek Bischoff on bass), Amanda Palmer (with Fender Telecaster and, at the close, babe in arms) and Laura Mvula (with added soul), all took lead or shared lead vocals as the evening progressed. Mvula’s take on ‘Fame’ finally injected a bit of tempo into the evening as the ensemble achieved the difficult feat of getting foot-tappingly funky with instruments designed for interpreting Mozart and Beethoven.
          The Blackstar trilogy of ‘Girl Loves Me’, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ and ‘Blackstar’ itself formed the concert’s poignant centrepiece, Palmer and Calvi topped with what looked like crowns of thorns, the music from Bowie’s final album lending itself perfectly to the evening’s heart-rending mood. After that it was a bit of a relief to recognise Robert Fripp’s sinewy guitar motif of ‘Heroes’ and get back into the groove as the audience got behind Palmer’s rendition of Bowie’s most loved song.
          Opera singer Phillipe Jarousky, a counter tenor, surprised us all with his surprising high-pitched vocal on ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’, and Marc Almond brought back a bit of oomph with ‘Starman’ – at one point he yelled ‘Let’s take it up now’, surely a first at the Proms – and I probably wasn’t alone in wondering if he’d pull off the song’s famous octave leaps. He did, just.
It was left to John Cale to bring the evening to a close. Wearing a calf-length dress of the kind work by middle-aged ladies in drawing room plays, his white hair nicely awry, he was in fine Velvety voice, his version of ‘Valentine’s Day, sounding a bit like Tom Waits, while the full-on arrangement of ‘Sorrow’ – an odd choice though Bowie covered the Mersey’s hit on Pin Ups, of course – made it sound as if a real rock band had stumbled uninvited into the RAH. Cale’s final offering was a rather dirge-like reading of ‘Space Oddity’, his deep Welsh tones lending a degree of gravitas to the song that contrasted with Bowie’s more vulnerable interpretation of the plight of Major Tom.
          To close the evening Marc Almond led the ensemble through ‘After All’, and finally the Stargaze players took over for an instrumental version of ‘Let’s Dance’ for which the audience, clearly delighted by what they had seen and head, contributed vocals.
          I can’t help wondering what David would have made of it, though. Flattered maybe, but probably disappointed that no one who’d actually worked with him – Eno maybe – hadn’t taken part, and bemused by its earnestness. Six and a half out of ten.

(The photograph was taken from the web, credited to The Guardian)




28.7.16

JIMMY PAGE – The Day Jimmy Met Robert




For the last few days I have been attending to final proofs of the forthcoming book No Quarter: The Three Lives Of Jimmy Page by Martin Power that Omnibus Press will publish in September. The book is nearing completion, all 704 pages of it, and I have referred to it before on Just Backdated in a post about two instances of Page’s impressive – but largely unheralded – work as a session musician before he joined the Yardbirds and subsequently assembled Led Zeppelin.
          The extract below focuses on the first time Page and singer Robert Plant spent any time in each other’s company. It is July of 1968. Alerted to Plant’s talent by Terry Reid, Page and Zeppelin manager Peter Grant visit Birmingham to see him sing with a group called Obbstweedle and, suitably impressed, Page invites Plant down to spend a three days with him at his house in Pangbourne.


A few days [after the Obstweedle gig in Birmingham], Robert Plant took up Jimmy’s invitation to visit him in Pangbourne, walking the last mile past elegant houses that bordered the River Thames, the bright blue summer sky reflected in its shimmering surface. The contrast with the noisy, crowded streets of Wolverhampton, with its traffic and multicultural mix of Indian, Pakistani and British families, was profound; this was Middle England at its most charmingly pastoral, the setting for Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat, an idyll where geese sashayed across the water and garden birds twittered in the trees. This was a land where cows munched in fields and rabbits bustled in hedgerows as the endless river flowed gently past pubs with mock Tudor beams and names like The Swan or The Jolly Angler. Sadly, despite its verdant setting and chocolate box scenery, Pangbourne didn’t take well to hippies. Soon after Plant exited the train station, he was scolded by a pensioner about his scruffy appearance. “Desperation scene, man,” he later told writer Simon Godwin, “but I had nowhere else to go.”

Legend has it that Robert brought with him LPs by Robert Johnson, the Incredible String Band, Howlin’ Wolf and Joan Baez, the latter so as to make Jimmy aware of a traditional song he liked called ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’. Arriving at the house, his knock was answered by Jimmy’s girlfriend. The door opened and suddenly I saw ‘America’,” he told Nigel Williamson of Uncut in 2005. “There was this beautiful woman clad in a 1920s shawl with the light behind her. She was very charming. Then Jimmy came back from somewhere and I realised that this guy had a lifestyle I could only imagine. He had quietness... a maturity. Then we sat down and talked about music.”
The reality was that by the summer of 1968 Jimmy Page was a sophisticated man of the world, while in comparison Robert Plant was a cultural neophyte. Having travelled far and wide with the Yardbirds, Page had even found time for a solo trip to India, then an exotic location for Westerners. In addition, he had developed a taste for fine art and antiques that cluttered up his Pangbourne home. According to Melody Maker’s Chris Welch, who would visit there to interview Page, the house contained valuable paintings, records, model trains and many books. “A large white telescope has pride of place in the living room,” wrote Welch. “Copies of Man, Myth, and Magic lay around and a huge volume of the works of mystic Aleister Crowley. In one room was a Mutoscope, a hand-cranked seaside peepshow featuring ‘a gentleman’s downfall’, involving a lissome lass wearing not unsexy 1926 underwear and a healthy smile.”
Robert Plant, on the other hand, had travelled not much further than the West Midlands, even if he did resemble a refugee from Haight Ashbury in San Francisco with his gym pumps and snake-hipped bell-bottomed jeans. Still, there were real possibilities here. He was a tall, handsome young man with bushy blond hair that curled over his ears, and a wide, welcoming smile that lit up his friendly face; all assets in a potential vocalist. But Plant was also aware that he had some cultural catching up to do with the more seasoned, urbane Page. “You can smell when people have travelled, had their doors opened a little wider than most, and I could feel that was the deal with Jimmy,” Plant told Williamson. “His ability to absorb things and the way he carried himself was far more cerebral than anything I’d come across. I was very impressed.”
The purpose of the visit, of course, was to share music, establish compatibility within it and, hopefully, establish a friendship, and to this end ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ turned out to be the key link. Jimmy, too, loved the song and had intended playing it to Robert, a symbiotic concurrence that helped Robert pass the audition – if that was what it was – with flying colours. “I’m not sure Robert knew much about the Yardbirds but I started playing things like ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’,”[1] said Page. I’m not entirely sure he knew what to make of it all, but he did stick with it…” He was also impressed with Robert’s harmonica playing. “A big plus!”
In real terms, the pair bonding over ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ was incredibly important to all future progress. For Jimmy, the song exactly represented all that he wanted to achieve with his new group, its undulating structure providing the opportunity to weave between moments of musical calm and savage bursts of instrumental power (“scream to a sigh and back again,” said one critic). Equally, the song gave Robert a chance to demonstrate both his vocal range and gift for inhabiting a lyric – in this case, switching the protagonist’s gender to add an extra emotional dimension. Consequently, for a short time at least, ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ became a pivotal moment in the fledgling band’s live show, its soft/hard qualities counterbalancing their ability to amp it up, as with material such as ‘Communication Breakdown’ and ‘How Many More Times’, or dial it down as with ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’, but all in the space of just one tune.
 At last, Page had found his man. Plant was in.






[1]  In some tellings of the tale, Robert did not arrive at Pangbourne with Joan Baez’s ‘Babe...’ at all, leaving Jimmy to alert the singer to the song. Whatever the case, it remains obvious that Page and Plant’s love for the tune was crucial in taking things forward between them.






13.7.16

iPOD SCARE




Regular visitors to Just Backdated will have noticed that I no longer write iPod ‘Shuffle’ posts. This is because I no longer commute regularly and don’t really shuffle the songs on my iPod any more, just select what I want to hear instead. But the fragility of digitalised modern music was brought home to me about four weeks ago when, against my better judgement, I downloaded a new version of iTunes on to my laptop, in the process straining the relationship between the iPod and the laptop which necessitated a visit to the nearest Apple store to sort out. In the end it was but not before the iPod was reformatted to become compatible with the new version of iTunes, a process that for one heart-stopping moment caused me to imagine that all my music might have disappeared. It hadn’t – but I did have to synchronise the iPod again. To download all the music again, of course, would have taken months.
The upshot of this rather stressful episode was that for reasons I can’t understand some music has disappeared. On the last iPodding post here, on December 21 last, I refer to 16,635 songs but my iPod now tells me it contains 16,210, so 445 songs have somehow gone astray. Also, the figure of 16,635 ought now to be higher to take into account new songs (and there’s probably over 300) acquired this year. I have no real idea what the 445 missing songs are, and I suspect more have disappeared because the recent stuff (which I can remember) seems to be all present and correct.
One track whose absence I did notice – because I’d played it a lot around the time of his death – was the David Bowie Soulwax mash up, lasting slightly over an hour. I didn’t notice it had gone missing until I tried to play it on my iPod shortly after downloading the new format, and when I discovered it wasn’t there I checked on the laptop and it wasn’t there either. Fortunately I’d saved it elsewhere, a reflection on how much I love this homage to the great man, so I was able to reinstate it easily. As for the rest, I’ll only find out what they are if I happen to look for something and can’t find it.
There were two further side-effects to this: all the playlists I had compiled were deleted, which is easily remedied by making new ones, and the number of plays each of the 16,000+ songs had received was also lost. This meant I was no longer able to compile a list of my most played songs, as I did here on 26 June, 2014, when ‘Orphan Girl’ by Gillian Welch topped the list with 130 plays, followed by The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (126) and Welch again with ‘Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor’ (124).
Although the list of plays on the iPod had disappeared into the ether, there was a list of most played on the laptop, however, but it was wildly different from its predecessor in that it consisted entirely of songs I’d bought from iTunes as opposed to CDs, and also bought fairly recently.  The reason for this is that I had synchronised my iPhone with the laptop so as to be able to transfer this music to the iPod and the number of recent plays on the phone had been registered in the iTunes folder. Why older plays on the iPhone hadn’t registered is a another mystery, a case in point being the Under The Covers albums by Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs, which I’ve listened to a lot.
Since phone calls interrupt music and won’t therefore be missed, I often listen to music on the phone and not the iPod when on a train or strolling around a supermarket. It is these plays, concentrated over a limited number of albums, that have registered highly while iPod plays, which cover 100s of albums and, in any case, will only have registered during the past four weeks, are minuscule.
But just for the hell of it, here’s how the ‘most played’ list looks today. The top six are all tracks from The War On Drugs’ album Lost In A Dream, number one ‘Under The Pressure’ with 69 plays. Ennio Morricone sneaks in at number seven with ‘Ecstasy Of Gold’, then Robert Plant with ‘Little Maggie’, then more War On Drugs and then Ravi Shankar since I find sitar music is a pleasing soundtrack to supermarket shopping. In fact, the entire top 50 consists of War On Drugs, songs from Plant’s Lullaby And.. The Ceaseless Roar album, sitar music by Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee, Morricone film music, John Fahey (I bought a Guitar Masters collection of his on line) and a girl trio called Applewood Road, which, like the Under The Covers albums, was recommended to me by old friend Richard Williams.
The 26 June, 2014, list of most played songs took several years to compile insofar as it represented the length of time I’d owned my iPod ‘Classic’ (which, regrettably, Apple discontinued in September 2014). It will therefore take several more years to compile another representative one, by which time I might have traced the missing music or – more likely – this trusty iPod will have given up the ghost and – technology being what it is – all my music will have been transferred into an appliance the size of a pin head that has been implanted into my brain from which I can select or shuffle merely by thinking about it.