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Fifty Year Friday: August 1971

Pete Townsend planned to follow-up the successful Tommy with another rock opera — one which would incorporate data-driven composition, multimedia effects, and audience interaction when performed live. Practical and execution limitations aside, the bottom line is that the musical work itself was abandoned with some of the material recorded for “Who’s Next”, the Who’s fifth studio album released on August 14, 1971.

Though not an epic effort comparable to Tommy, the songs are strong and the intro to “Baba O’Riley” makes a lasting impression, suich that I still remember hearing it for the first time almost fifty years later, and “Bargain” and “Behind Blue Eyes” are two of Pete Townshend’s best classics.

Upon the release of the Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up on August 30, 1971, Warner Brothers Records ran a limited-time promo beseeching those hesitant about purchasing the album, to bring in one of their old Beach Boys albums as a trade-in for the new album. I didn’t own any Beach Boys albums and was more dissuaded from checking out the album than encouraged by what to me, at age 16, appeared to be more of an act of desperation on Warner’s part than a legitimate marketing strategy. However, once I heard the album when visiting my cousin in northern California, I was certainly surprised between the actual material on the album and what I had expected of a group I had thought whose time and relevancy had long expired.

The sound was fresh, with no sixties-artifacts, and though sounding tame to the many Zappa albums in my cousin’s shared collection with his roommate, was still vital and contemporary musically and lyrically. Soon I purchased the album, and listened to it a few times and then, like most albums, it fell out of circulation, but leaving an indelible respect for both the group and the album. The masterpiece of the album is Brian Wilson’s “Til I Die.” I paid little attention to the lyrics in 1971, but took notice of them now when relistening to this track and, now knowing about Brian Wilson’s battles with depression and mental illness, the emotion inherent in the lyrics and the supporting wistfully ironic melody and harmonies are heart-wrenching:

I’m a cork on the ocean
Floating over the raging sea

I’m a rock in a landslide
Rolling over the mountainside

I’m a leaf on a windy day
Pretty soon I’ll be blown away
How long will the wind blow?
How long will the wind blow?
Ohhhh
Until I die
Until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die
These things I’ll be until I die

Another unexpected treat that came my way in 1971, was Ten Years After sixth studio album, A Space in Time. Like the Beach Boys, Alvin Lee and company provide an updated sound, incorporating sound effects leading into tracks harkening back to their fourth album, Cricketwood Green. Alvin Lee writes all the music except for a short final instrumental jam that ends the album.

The album showcases Alvin Lee’s engaging, proficient guitar work along with his solid instinct for blues and ability to write more traditional pop songs — the album giving us the band’s highest charting single, “I’d Love to Change the World” and “Over the Hill” with its ironically upbeat baroque string episode contrasting against the bleakness of the lyrics.



With new vocalist Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, pretty much pulled off a street corner while in the act of busking, Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, Can releases their second, and most heralded and influential album, Tago Mago. Assuming no sonic boundaries and embracing a wide array of musical options, the group pushes the borders of pop music into areas previously occupied by German academic composers and late sixties free jazz artists, thus extending the characteristics, definitions and expectations of what English and American prog-rock fans would soon call Kraut-rock. The first and second sides are more accessible, and one cannot ignore that some listeners were more under the influence of drugs by the third and fourth sides and could handle the increased musical entropy on that second LP, yet one really needs the entire senses about them to fully appreciate this work. There is a lot of coherence within each individual song and the focus on the basic language that is individually conceived for each track. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but given the right mood and circumstances, is one that should be listened to, carefully, and not as background ambience.

Other albums of note include If’s third album, IF3, a balanced blend of rock, light progressive-rock elements and jazz-rock, and Atomic Rooster’s third album, In Hearing of Atomic Rooster, a mostly hard rock album with some progressive rock elements.

Fifty Year Friday: The Who’s Tommy

tommy2

Though not the first rock opera, The Who’s Tommy, released on May 23, 1969, due to its length, two long playing records, the inclusion of an opening instrumental track titled “Overture”, the prominence of Entwistle on french horn, its greater commercial success and overall quality, and the deployment of three recognizably distinct vocalists, surpasses earlier, less operatic, generally more narrative albums by the Pretty Things (SF Sorrow)  and Nirvana (The Story of Simon Simopath.)

It wasn’t until Christmas of 1970 that I got this album.  After hearing “See Me, Feel Me” on the radio when visiting Oregon in the summer of 1970, I determined that this was a must-have album and put it on my Christmas wish list.

And from the start, this album lived up to its promise.  The overture, is a true rock overture, magnificent, dramatic, spacious, and expectant.  Much to my delight (at that time of first listening) the opening of the overture is a simple display of the chord sequence of  the chorus of “See, Me, Feel Me” morphing into a true fanfare section with french horn, coming back to the “See Me, Feel Me” theme, moving away into new material, coming back once again and then touching on material from “Pinball Wizard”, which soon meanders into a brief explanatory vocal, “Captain Walker didn’t come home: His unborn child will never know him.  Believe him missing with a number of men, don’t expect to see him again”, and then meanders back out into a guitar passage that, without any break, becomes the next track, “It’s a Boy.” So much going on in this overture to absorb in the first listening!  Astonished and delighted to hear three alternate references to that “See Me, Feel Me” theme,  I had heard in Oregon! It wasn’t until hearing the album all the way through and starting again, that I could notice that the overture was more Broadway-like than classical, incorporating music from the entire album similar to a Broadway musical overture. And yet, this doesn’t detract from the integrity of this overture, which is one of the finest examples of an instrumental (excepting the short expository-like Townshend vocal) opening to a single-topic rock album.

After less than two years since McCartney fought to get the lyrics included in the Sgt. Pepper’s album, accompanying lyrics were now, in 1969, becoming commonplace — particularly important for an opera. At this point in my life I had started to check out full opera albums from the library and the inclusion of lyrics with Tommy made listening to the music while following the lyrics a similar experience to listening to those opera albums — except instead of having to track the original language at the same time following the translation, Tommy was in English!  That Christmas I had also received Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ, Superstar (lyrics by Tim Rice) and had just purchased a low-cost four LP box set of Handel’s Messiah (lyrics by Charles Jennens)  — this was my first experience in following libretti booklets that required no cross referencing from the original language to the translation.  It made me wonder why the classic operas weren’t recorded in English so they would have wider appeal and be to be more competitive with contemporary albums sold in English speaking countries. It certainly would make following the text much easier.

Looking back, Tommy is certainly not produced like a real opera, as Daltry, Townshend and Entwistle handle all the vocals.  Clearly the 1975 movie soundtrack provides distinct parts, underscoring the inherent operatic nature of the work. This original, though, is the true reference, a musical work of art as good as any album of the 1960s.

Its worth noting that this work incorporated some previously written songs, including “Sensation”, “Sally Simpson” and “I’m Free”, the latter an expression of the spiritual peace Townshend achieved from association with Meher Baba, the Irani-Indian self-proclaimed Avatar and spiritual master.

We also have a blues number based on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind”, re-titled, “The Hawker” as well as two John Entwistle tunes, written on request from Townshend to cover the heinous actions of Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie.  Not surprisingly, given the nature of his earlier compositions, Entwistle makes use of chromatic passages in both songs, creating a darker, perverse mood that contrasts sharply with the usually brighter Entwistle compositions.

In short, this is a classic rock album, and though Who fans may freely dispute if this is better than the preceding Who Sell Out or the two subsequent albums, “Who’s Next”, and Quadrophenia, one point is indisputable: this album has stood the test of time for the last fifty years and will stand up just as nicely for the next fifty years.  It is my favorite Who album, filled with musical color and magic, and it continues to sound fresh, alive and vital to me — even though I listened to it this time around at much lower volume levels!

What is your favorite The Who album and why?

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Pete Townshend, except where noted.

Side one

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Overture Townshend

3:50

2.

“It’s a Boy” Townshend

2:07

3.

“1921” Townshend, Roger Daltrey on chorus

3:14

4.

“Amazing Journey” Daltrey

3:25

5.

“Sparks” Instrumental

3:45

6.

The Hawker” (Sonny Boy Williamson II) Daltrey

2:15

Total length:

18:36

Side two

 #

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Christmas Daltrey, Townshend

5:30

2.

“Cousin Kevin” (John Entwistle) Entwistle and Townshend

4:03

3.

The Acid Queen Townshend

3:31

4.

“Underture” Instrumental

10:10

Total length:

23:14

Side three

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

“Do You Think It’s Alright?” Daltrey and Townshend

0:24

2.

“Fiddle About” (Entwistle) Entwistle

1:26

3.

Pinball Wizard Daltrey, Townshend on bridge

3:01

4.

“There’s a Doctor” Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle

0:25

5.

Go to the Mirror! Daltrey and Townshend

3:50

6.

“Tommy Can You Hear Me?” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

1:35

7.

“Smash the Mirror” Daltrey

1:20

8.

“Sensation” Townshend

2:32

Total length:

14:33

Side four

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

“Miracle Cure” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

0:10

2.

“Sally Simpson” Daltrey

4:10

3.

I’m Free Daltrey

2:40

4.

“Welcome” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

4:30

5.

“Tommy’s Holiday Camp” Townshend

0:57

6.

We’re Not Gonna Take It Daltrey, with Townshend and Entwistle

6:45

Total length:

19:12

The Who

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: The Who Sell Out

blog_the-who-sell-out-lp

“Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun‘ which I preferred.” Pete Townshend (1967)

Somewhere in the mid sixties, rock and roll was replaced with rock.  The rock and roll music of the fifties, primarily based on blues and variations of blues chord sequences, slowly was overshadowed by music that was more message and substance oriented. The Beach Boys classic “Fun, Fun, Fun”, and the 1967 masterwork “Good Vibrations” is clearly Rock and Roll. The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is clearly rock.  I don’t recall the year, but sometime in the late sixties, I started correcting my dad when he referred to rock music as “rock ‘n roll” — I disdained Rock and Roll as a relic and lower form of music,  and loved Rock for its broad musical diversity and, for the best of it, it’s reach beyond dance music to serious listening music.

The Who, part of the British Invasion, deviated from what was pretty much a rock and roll group in 1965, opening their first album “My Generation” with “Out in the Street” immediately followed with James Brown’s “I Dont’ Mind” and songs like “The Good’s Gone”,  “La-L-La Lies”, “Please, Please, Please”, “It’s Not True”,  and Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man. ” However, like the Beatles, there were significant forays into a newer musical expression as hinted in “A Legal Matter” and in the instrumental “Ox.” By their second album, we get true rock pieces like John Entwistle’s classic “Boris the Spider.  By the third album, “The Who Sell Out”, an imaginative concept album that includes commercials interspersed throughout, mocking the format of commercial radio stations, The Who are a seasoned rock group writing and performing rock compositions, making use of such “power pop” chord progressions, modulations, and power chords (chords structures found in earlier Who songs such as”My Generation” and “Boris the Spider” — chords that just have the root and fifth — this not only omits the note that provides the major or minor quality of a traditional triad, but produces a simpler harmonic footprint producing an especially powerful effect when played loudly) that create a sound that is easily identifiable as the sound of The Who.  This is not the power pop of rock and roll, but power pop that is part of the new rock music movement.

The album opens strikingly, and aligning with it’s wanton-commercialism concept, with a jingle followed by John “Speedy” Keen’s (a friend of Who main songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend) “Armenia, City in the Sky” — starting out much like a radio ad, lyrically, with “If you’re troubled and you can’t relax” but soon followed with more mind-altering-like lyrics and with a 1967 psychedelic and imaginatively crafted arrangement including backwards french horn bursts and various guitar effects.

“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” is both melodically appealing and lyrically bold (“Mary-Anne with the shaky hands — what they’ve done to a man, those shaky hands.”) Musically, “Odorono” is even more notable, forging towards the musical style perfected on their next album and yet done as a deodorant jingle.  If one doubts the genius of Pete Townshend to align music and lyrics without compromising either, this is prima facie evidence of his capabilities, as is the track that follows: “Tattoo” a tune that could work very well as jingle for the Tattoo industry.

“Our Love Was” is an ethereal gem, maintaining energy and vibrancy to the end, with Entwistle’s French Horn providing just one of many elements that make this arrangement special.

The Who’s 1967 hit, and arguably the best song of the album, if not of Townshend’s career, is “I Can See for Miles”, punctuated perfectly by Keith Moon’s drums and cymbals.

The second side, is also excellent and includes  “I Can’t Reach You”, “Relax”,  Entwistle’s chromatically-flavored, organ-accompanied “Silas Stingy”,  the beautiful “Sunrise” and the Who’s second miniature rock opera, “”Rael (1 and 2)”, even shorter than their first mini-rock opera, “”A Quick One, While He’s Away” on their previous album.

Released in the UK in December 1967 and the US on Jan 7th, 1968, some of the musical techniques employed in “The Who Sell Out” will be more fully explored in their 1969 full-length rock opera,  “Tommy”, which also further develops  musical material in the songs “Sunrise” and “Rael.”  Though this album was only marginally successful in the US when first released, climbing no higher than the 48th spot on the Billboard album chart, perhaps due to its unusual jingle-based concept, it is one of the best albums of 1967, music that should be explored by those looking to better understand the history of rock (as opposed to  rock and roll) or just looking for some well written, enjoyable power pop music.

Track listing and song credits

Last week’s Fifty Year Friday

 

 

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