Tag Archives: MTV

62nd Favorite: Pretenders, by The Pretenders


Pretenders. The Pretenders.
1980, Sire. Producer: Chris Thomas; Nick Lowe.
Gift 1984.

pretenders album

nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: Aggressive, melodic, unusual punky pop rock that sounds unlike anything else. Chrissie Hynde’s vocals and James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar work shine on an album that combines power and sweetness and grit and beauty. The band moves from jangle pop to tough punk to slow-dance grace, and never sounds like a copy of anything else.
diaryIf you’ve read this blog before, you’re very aware of what I’m about to type in the sentence after the next one. If you haven’t read it before, the next sentence may be the last of mine you’ll ever read. In this blog about records and music, I write just as much about me and my life as I do about the records and the music.

It’s kind of a weird thing to do – a private citizen who’s celebrityaccomplished nothing noteworthy to anyone outside a few friends and family[ref]The kind of noteworthy things everyone does: work a job, have some kids and pets, go on a vacation once in a while.[/ref] documenting things that have happened in my life. Who really cares? I’m a huge fan of rock music autobiographies[ref]Only AUTObiographies, generally speaking. (The recent book on The Replacements, Trouble Boys, by Bob Mehr, is an exception. However, the band cooperated (for the most part) so it was sort of like an autobiography.) I want the story told in the person’s own words. I accept that I may be getting a whitewashed or distorted version of facts, but it’s the trade-off I accept for reading the artist’s perspective. Besides, I’m more interested in insight into the creative process and what shaped an artist’s life than hard-hitting facts about their personal lives.[/ref], and what makes them interesting is the fact that the people writing them have done something terrific, moving, outstanding … something that has boredtypically touched the lives of millions, and reading their words can offer insight into their work.

I, however, have not done anything even remotely similar. The closest I’ve come to reaching millions is the time one of my funny phone calls made it on the air on WEEI radio’s old afternoon feature the “Weiner Whiner Line” back in the early ’00s[ref]Brief recap: Ivan Rodriguez, big-league catcher long rumored to have been a steroid user, returned to Spring Training significantly slimmer than previous seasons. Around the same time, Terri Schiavo’s family was battling for the right to remove the feeding tube from her brain-dead body. I called the show and said, “What happened to Ivan Rodriguez? He’s so small! Either he went off steroids or somebody removed his feeding tube.” A buddy at work told me he heard it. I was so proud.[/ref]. And (much like this blog) hardly anyone even knew it was me who did it.

importantSo why do I write so much about a bunch of mundane memories, stories so insignificant that very often the other persons featured in them have only a vague remembrance of the events I describe? It’s partially because I have a super-inflated ego, a borderline delusional sense of my own level of importance in the world, which demands I impart upon any unwitting reader an amplified version of all the characteristics that make up my “self.”

monetBut that’s only part of the reason. It’s mainly because this music has always connected with me on a deep level. Music informs my life and helps me make sense of it. There’s a soundtrack playing inside my head while I make my way through my life and, just like a movie soundtrack, it’s full of songs that color the events and enhance my feelings. My experiences are inextricably bound to the music that plays in my head during them, so I can’t really discuss the music I love without also discussing my life events that go with that music. It would be like displaying a black and white rendering of a work by Monet: you’d get the idea, but it wouldn’t really be the same. (Given Monet’s abilities vis-a-vis mine, a closer analogy might be watching an infomercial with the sound off.)

So music is part of all aspects of my life, both the good and the bad. bagheadThis means I’ve written about some pretty unsavory characteristics of myself – or rather, my past selves. I’ve changed a lot over the years. But the music has remained with me. In these posts I’ve talked about my past problems with alcohol and self-control, my past intolerance of others and flat-out bigotry, my nerdiness, and – maybe most embarrassing of all – my love for albums that aren’t very good. However, there are parts of my life that I won’t write about. I don’t write directly about individuals in my family, or other people I know. I try to refrain from writing about how wonderful I am – I figure that will come through on its own. I’m also not going to write about sex[ref]You’re welcome.[/ref].

I’m not a prude, and consider myself pretty “sex positive,” as they say, but my thoughts on the topic are not something I want to broadcast to the world at large, nor do I think I can write well about it. However, this creates a problem for prudeme when writing about music, as music does relate to all aspects of my life, so …

A big issue with writing about sex is the fact that discussing attraction and romance in a thoughtful, respectful manner is a precarious ledge along which to travel, and as a heterosexual male, one stray word from my own personal unskilled hands could easily send the piece off a sheer cliff into a glorified version of a “Letter to Penthouse Forum[ref]Although, to be fair to myself, I probably could complete a paragraph on sex without using terms like “bodacious ta-tas” or “luscious (anything).”[/ref].” Additionally, this blog is about rock/pop music, which has always been aimed directly at the teen market. So, even songs I didn’t hear as a teen can frequently stir teenage-based thoughts and emotions, and it is simply a fact that teenage feelings of attraction are different than what adults feel. In trying to delve back into those teenage feelings and document what I find, I risk coming up with nothing more than “That chick was hot!” and “I figure I’ll never touch a breast.”

But yet, I want to write about all these records honestly.

Anyway, look: some music, and some musicians, I do associate with feelings of physical attraction, and most of those associations are from a time in my life when I was in my teens and early twenties, and – at the risk of sounding like a sexist jerk judging women like livestock at the Farm Show – even barracudathough I am now approaching 50 and no longer base my opinions of these artists (who are now approaching 70) on what they looked like, I still can remember what I once felt, and songs from that era can still generate these feelings. To boil it all down: when I hear an old song by Heart today, there’s still a part of me that thinks “Man, those two are hot!!” (To be fair to myself, there’s an even larger part that thinks, “Man, this song is awesome[ref]Pre-1982 Heart only.[/ref]!!) So I’d like to write a little bit about sex and music – without discussing sex and without sounding sexist. In only about three sentences, too, since I’ve already wasted all these words on a rambling (though not particularly digressive) caveat. I’ll be as careful as possible so I don’t drop off that cliff.

I remember being grossed out by Cher’s sexy costumes on the old Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour TV show. I was not yet 10, and whenever she came out to sing (and make fun of Sonny) with her belly exposed, or in skin-tight dresses, I was horrified. By middle school, disco music was in full swing, and despite the often blatant sexual nature of the songs, I was clueless about their meanings and didn’t think much about the general attractiveness of the singers[ref]Although I did think The Village People were cool-looking guys, and was dumbfounded by the gullibility of a friend who told me he heard they were gay.[/ref]. The middle solidgoldschool years were also the era of Blondie, a band with songs I liked but with a singer whose attractiveness – once again – I didn’t really think that much about[ref]Even though my dad clearly felt strongly about her looks. He’d always recognize their songs and ask my sisters and I, “Hey, is that Blondie?” with a certain level of interest that was never matched in any of his other very few references to the existence of rock music.[/ref]. Sometime around 8th grade, the pop-music TV showcase Solid Gold debuted, airing locally in my town just before Saturday Night Live, and it featured The Solid Gold Dancers, who … well, I’ll not venture further out onto the ledge: suffice it to say things were changing with me, and I tried not to miss an episode.

As I’ve mentioned often in this blog, MTV was a big turning point in my musical appreciation. It launched in August of 1981, coinciding with mtvmy freshman year of high school – which was right about the time I also started noticing things about girls and women (including The Solid Gold Dancers) that I’d never considered before. In those early MTV years, the channel played songs I liked sung by women who were cute, but that I didn’t find particularly attractive. They also played songs I didn’t particularly like sung by women I found rather … captivating, let’s say. There were also a few videos of songs by women that my 14 year old self just couldn’t fit into its tiny little concept of men and women and attraction – even though – confusingly – I found them rather attractive just because they were making music.

And then there was Chrissie Hynde, of The Pretenders.
The Pretenders had several videos in rotation on MTV in 1981 and 1982, and all of them featured lots of shots of the band playing, including leader Chrissie Hynde strumming that guitar and singing. To that point in my life, I could have easily pointed out girls and women that I considered “pretty,” but Chrissie Hynde didn’t look like those people. She wasn’t ugly, but she seemed tough and dangerous, like she didn’t give a damn whether I thought she was pretty or not. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And she played that guitar, and sang so sweetly, but at times with such force and such emotion, on lyrics that were direct, not demure, that were at times shocking to a naive 14-year old boy from small town Pennsylvania.

The band’s biggest hit video to that point was “Brass In Pocket,” andwaitress it featured Hynde acting as a waitress in a diner, serving the rest of the band members and their girlfriends. I hated that video. I didn’t want to see her act, I wanted to see her SING and PLAY! When she acted, she was just another person on TV. When she sang and played, she was CHRISSIE HYNDE. I found her compelling, but I couldn’t really explain why. I’d figure it out soon enough.

Chrissie Hynde has always been the leader of The Pretenders: chief songwriter, singer, and rhythm guitarist. The band has had some tragic setbacks, including firing original bassist Pete Farndon in 1982 due to heroin abuse, followed two days later by original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott’s death from a cocaine overdose[ref]Hynde wrote the lovely “2000 Miles” about his death.[/ref]. Farndon himself died a year later. The band has had lots of lineup changes, but Chrissie Hynde has always been there. And the album Pretenders had the first, and most memorable, lineup.

64 mustangThis was another album that I originally found in my oldest sister’s collection – however not in the milk crate full of vinyl, where I discovered so many other records. Pretenders was on a cassette she owned. I had seen it but hadn’t played it, until dawned on me one day that this was the band I’d fallen in lust with on MTV. Then I played it a lot. I also have a memory of listening to it with my sister while she drove me around in her sweet ’64 red mustang. She eventually moved to California and took the cassette with her, but she sent me a copy for a birthday present.

The album immediately announces itself, and Chrissie Hynde, with the raucous and raunchy “Precious.”

Four drum stick clicks, a little background chatter and that driving guitar riff begins. chrissie guitar 2The bass kicks in around 10 seconds, and the band is off and flying. Hynde’s voice is tough but sweet on a song that doesn’t really have much of a melody, and at times is almost a rap. If you’ve read Hynde’s recent autobiography, you know that she had a pretty violent life as a young woman in Cleveland, associating with biker gangs and doing way too many drugs. “Precious” is about her escape from Cleveland; while others stayed, as she states in one of the most famous “f-bombs” in rock history, she had to “fuck off.” The Pretenders’ songs often have unconventional structures and time signatures, and “Precious” doesn’t hew to the typical “verse-chorus-bridge” pop song format, but just charges ahead. It’s fast and direct, and James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar is unusual, with effects such as the flanging, featured at 0:44. It’s a perfect first song for a first album.

“The Phone Call” is up next, and it’s got an unusual sound, too.

For one thing, it’s in the time signature of 7/4 (withchambers an extra 6/4 measure before the chorus (if you will)) which is odd enough, but switches to 4/4 (with stray 2/4 bars every fourth bar, for good measure [ref]Get it? Ha! Anyway …[/ref]) in the instrumental section. It all creates a cool, noisey, aggressive sound within which all those extra beats are barely noticeable. This is a testament to excellent drummer Martin Chambers, who handles it all with no problem whatsoever. I never knew what the barely audible, again mostly melody-less vocals were singing about, but I believe they are also about Hynde having to get the hell out of Cleveland to save her life. It’s evidence of the band’s, and Hynde’s confidence, that she’d place two such unusual songs 1-2 on the first record. It makes a listener wonder what’s coming next. And next up are two songs that have always blown me away.

The first is “Up the Neck.” And it features the inimitable guitar sounds of James Honeyman-Scott.

His guitar riff alarm opens “Up The Neck,” and after 10 seconds he begins to play ascending notes that draw me right into the song. Pete Farndon’s simple, catchy bass joins Hynde’s vocals and by 22 seconds in, jamesa perfect guitar pop song is under way. While she’s singing about what sounds to be a one night stand that turns violent, Honeyman-Scott’s guitar continues to produce little chiming flourishes that are unmistakably his, and unmistakably cool. Honeyman-Scott is one of those guitar players with a sound all his own, who you can identify simply by listening. Others in this category are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham. At 1:15, when the ascending riff returns, he adds even more curlicues to it. It’s the perfect complement to Hynde’s sweet and aggressive (and suggestive: “the veins bulged on his … brow …”) vocals. He plays a coolly simple solo, as well. It’s a song I always listen to with enthusiasm that is only eclipsed on the album by the next song: “Tattooed Love Boys.”

I probably overuse the term “chiming” to describe a certain sound a guitar can make, but it perfectly describes Honeyman-Scott’s chrissieguitarguitar riff on this song. His chimes begin a charging, aggressive song with snarling vocals and a crazy time signature of either 15/4, or 7/4 + [2 x 4/4] (if there’s a difference). That time signature gives the song a hiccuping, rough-edged sound that makes it far more compelling than it would be in a typical time signature, and Chambers again shines behind the drums. The extended guitar section, from about 1:18 to about 2:11, with its stops and starts and one-measure guitar solos, never fails to astonish me. I feel like I could happily listen to this song on a continuous loop.

One of the great aspects of early MTV was how the channel would reward a viewer for watching in long chunks of time. You knew that if you just watched long enough, and sat through enough bullshit and goofy crap (terms I use endearingly, as I enjoyed the bullshit and goofy crap, too) you’d get to see a a video you loved. For me, “Tattooed Love Boys” was such a video. And it wasn’t played frequently, so I had to watch a lot. (I HAD TO!) pretenders_2This video, with the band covered in sweat and manhandling their instruments, drove me crazy. It wasn’t just the playing: much of my fervor was due to Hynde’s performance – her wielding that guitar, dancing and moving, her voice, openly singing about a crazy, rough sexual experience involving what sounded like several men, in which she seemed to brag about, and take delight in, her role. In her recent autobiography, she has deflated my (and I hope everyone’s) fascination with the what-sounded-sexy-back-then lyrics by revealing that the song actually described a brutal gang rape by a group of bikers she thought were her friends, including a boyfriend. It’s still one of my all-time favorite songs, but I hear it differently now.

“The Wait” is another song that floors me every time, again with the crazy time signature, again one of my all-time favorites.

This is a song sung at a furious pace, with Hynde spitting out peteunintelligible lyrics about, well, something, I guess, scratching guitars in the verse, and a terrific walking bass line in the chorus by the under-appreciated Pete Farndon. At 1:47 a quiet, sultry bridge begins, then at 2:14 empties into another excellent guitar solo from Honeyman-Scott, finished off with Hynde’s grunt of approval at 2:47. It’s a song that makes me bounce around whenever I hear it.

Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders don’t just play the crazy-rhythmed, furious punk songs. They also manage the typical pop song quite nicely, as evidenced by the wonderful “Kid.”

Along with great harmony vocals and a driving beat, what I love about this song is – once again – Honeyman-Scott’s incredible solo at 1:35, culminating in a lovely harmonic, and backed by Chambers’s tribal drums. pretenders 3The band also covers The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing,” and serve up their big hit, “Brass In Pocket,” both excellent, straightforward pop pearls. There’s also the instrumental, video game-inspired “Space Invader,” featuring sounds from the old arcade game recorded when it was a newfangled thing! The songs “Private Life” and “Lovers of Today” are a pair that I never loved (although, as always, the guitar work in “Private Life” is top-notch) but tolerated so that I could get to the last song.

“Mystery Achievement.”

It’s a perfect song to end an incredible album. The drums and bass get the song pumping, and soon enough Hynde is singing mysterious lyrics and Honeyman-Scott is throwing in his signature sounds. At 3:00 the band plays an extended instrumental section, with echoing drums and guitars and then an incredibly cool solo that pulls out at 4:23 and breaks into a nifty, ringing two-note riff behind the chrissie2vocals. It’s a song that demands repeated listening, and leaves the listener exhausted but satisfied by the very end.

Some lyrics from that last song, “Every day/ every nighttime I find/ Mystery Achievement/ you’re on my mind,” begin to describe what it’s like when you’re 13, 14, somewhere around that age, and you start to recognize something, some thing, you’ve never recognized before, even though you feel it must have been there all along. Maybe it was a face that inspired it, or a body, or a movie. For me, it was a singer in a band. I couldn’t explain it then, I can’t explain it now. The only thing I know for sure about it – even after all these years – is that it led me to a tremendous rock and roll record.

Track Listing
“The Phone Call”
“Up The Neck”
“Tattooed Love Boys”
“Space Invader”
“The Wait”
“Stop Your Sobbing”
“Private Life”
“Brass In Pocket”
“Lovers Of Today”
“Mystery Achievement”


97th Favorite: Empty Glass, by Pete Townshend


Empty Glass. Pete Townshend.
1980, ATCO. Producer: Pete Townshend and Chris Thomas
Purchased ca. 1997.

empty glass

squirellIN A NUTSHELL – Driving guitar rock with emotional lyrics and energetic vocal performances. Lots of catchy songs, and a few that grow on you with repeated listening. Great background vocals and harmonies, and interesting song structure, give the songs an operatic feel. WOULD BE HIGHER IF – it had even more guitar.


I grew up in a rather small town in a made-up state in the 70s. Generally, this meant my sisters and I experienced typical American life about 15 to 18 months after everyone else did. “Hey, TIME magazine says there’s a hot new fad called “Pet Rocks!” Not in our town. Maybe they’ll show up at The Mall next summer, as the rest of the nation buys their first Bean Bag Chairs. I’m surprised the Bicentennial didn’t happen in my town in 1977!

Living life in my town was like watching a DVR’ed TV program, only we couldn’t see the green bar in front of us showing how far behind we were.

But we could tell. We were behind the curve. I heard about things like ATMs and home computers and microwave ovens, but nobody I knew really USED those things – they seemed to be part of the made-up Hollywood world, the type of thing that Johnny Carson made jokes about, but that “real” people didn’t use, like plastic surgery, dresses for men and airplanes.

So considering how behind-the-times we seemed, it’s surprising that we had Cable TV in my little part of town for as long as I can remember. antenna 2 Cable TV was introduced in the US as early as the late 40s but hardly anyone had it. In the 70s, most of my friends and relatives still had unsightly antennas on their houses, which pulled in TV signals broadcast through the atmosphere and delivered those signals to a heavy wooden box with a bulbous blue screen protruding from it.

tv set

(Basically, it’s magic.)

And those signals weren’t always clear. Depending which way the house’s antenna was pointed, and which channel you were trying to watch, if you wanted a clear picture and sound the antenna had to be adjusted. This gave the viewer three options:

1) Shinny up the side of the house, crawl onto the roof and move it around, while a partner watched the TV and shouted, “A little more! A little more! STOP!! No! Too far! Go back! STOP!! No! Too far!” …


2) Buy a futuristic automatic antenna adjuster device, adjust 2like my grandma had, upon which you turned a dial marked with the four cardinal directions, and somehow the TV antenna moved, enabling you to get perfect(ish) reception, which in turn allowed you to make a list to keep on top of the TV with cryptic tuning instructions like “Ch. 15 – WNW. Ch 27 – E. Ch. 8 – SW +4” …

or 3) Forget the adjustments altogether, and just find one “best position” for your antenna, where most of the “good” channels got the least-poor reception, and where the “lousy channels” didn’t come in as clearly. (Although, the lousy channels always seemed to have some kind of super-receptive-power that enabled you to always be able to clearly view boring shows like Big Blue Marble or Masterpiece Theater even though over on the “good channels” every episode of McHale’s Navy or Baretta seemed to be constantly phasing in and out of static and snow!)

It made TV viewing frustrating.tv broken But my household didn’t have to deal with all the frustration. We had a big, black, ropy Tarzan-vine of a cable looping onto the side of our house from the heavens (I guess) which carried brilliantly clear pictures and sound directly into our TV set. I don’t know if my neighborhood was part of some consumer test group, or if someone on the Township Board of Commissioners had blackmailed a TV executive somewhere, but for some reason cable TV was the only aspect of 70s life in which my family was AHEAD of the curve.

It wasn’t Cable TV as is commonly thought of today, with 2,713 individualized networks catering to every interest known to (or conjured up by) humans. There were only a few channels, all of them “Broadcast TV,” all of them found on either the VHF or UHF dials on a conventional television of the day. uhf vhf

But with Cable TV, these broadcast stations were wired directly into our living room, meaning the signals were always clear. Meaning, also, that we could receive signals not only from the handful of channels available from local cities, like Lancaster and Harrisburg, but that we could also receive clear signals from channels in the faraway big city of Philadelphia! aussie2This meant I got to watch shows like “Wee Willy” Webber, and Dr. Shock’s Horror Theater and watch commercials for Krass Bros. Clothing (“Store of the Stars!”) and Tastykakes (“All the good thing’s wrapped up in one”) and Frank’s Soda (featuring Patty Smyth and her band Scandal, years before She Was The Warrior) all from 100 miles away. It’s easy to see why I watched so much TV.

In the 80s, Cable TV started to expand beyond UHF and VHF channels. Suddenly Cubs baseball games were always on, and there were channels that showed movies (without commercials!) or showed ONLY SPORTS – which sounded like a great idea – sports all the time – darts2but before ESPN had broadcast rights for major American sports, they showed sports like Australian Rules Football and Darts and the opening round of the professional slo-pitch softball championships (!!) so it wasn’t very impressive. None of those new channels impressed me, really, except for one:


All Day, All Night, All Music, they said, and that’s what it was. It began broadcasting on August 1, 1981, and by October of that year, my family – which had been years behind every other technological advance and breakthrough product since before the advent of indoor plumbing (my parents’ childhood homes both had outhouses until well after WWII) – was among the vanguard consuming the product responsible for the downfall of substantive, meaningful popular music and the recording industry as a whole.

And I loved it.

When people discuss early MTV and its music, the focus is frequently on interesting-looking bands, typically English, who played catchy pop, but made their reputation as much through their looks as their music.newwave But one of my earliest MTV memories is seeing a music video featuring an older, shaggy guy playing guitar in a pool hall while harassing the players, and angrily singing a driving, catchy song that ended with a series of ascending chords, played with larger and larger windmill motions, building up the anticipation for a final exclamation that just … felt awesome!! (In the parlance of my 14 year old self). rough

The video is for the first song off Empty Glass, “Rough Boys,” one of my favorite songs of all time. I didn’t know what the song was about (and I still don’t know for sure), but that really didn’t matter. I just knew that the power and energy seemed to encapsulate my emotions about life as a teenager in my little town. And watching Pete play and sing as he jumped around the tables intensified those feelings. I’d jump around myself as I watched, as long as my sister wasn’t around.

I’ve read, maybe in Townshend’s excellent autobiography Who I Am that the song is a response to the punk rockers of the 70s (the album states the song is dedicated to his kids, Emma and Minta, and The Sex Pistols), an attempt to capture some of their anger and energy, and lyrically the song describes Pete’s desire to better understand where that anger and energy comes from.

“Gonna get inside you
Gonna get inside your bitter mind”

With its lyrics about leather and tough boys and biting and kissing, much has been written and discussed about Pete’s sexuality and how this song fits into the topic. I don’t remember being aware of all this as a teenager, I just remember loving the song. And I still do.

Pete Townshend is, of course, a founding member and chief songwriter of The Who, probably the third most famous rock band to come out of the 60s, along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

who 60s

When I first heard the songs on this record (or – more accurately – watched them, on MTV) I was aware that there was a band named The Who, and I knew some of their songs, but it didn’t really register with me that Pete was part of that band. Many listeners, I’m sure, immediately compared Empty Glass to albums by The Who, and reviewed the record in the context of Pete as a Famous Musician and Songwriter. To me, Pete was just another British guy on MTV making cool songs and videos. Not unlike Thomas Dolby or Gary Numan.



The next video I remember from this record, and the biggest hit of Pete’s career, was the song “Let My Love Open the Door,” a catchy, keyboard-driven song with a solid, danceable backbeat, that reached Top Ten in the US in the Fall of 1980.

This well-known song was quite different from anything else in the Top Forty that week, with lyrics that are typical of the entire Empty Glass album – heartfelt and emotional, and not shy about human feelings. The deeply spiritual Townshend has said that the lyrics are meant to be about a larger love than person-to-person, intending them to be about God’s love in times of crisis or doubt. As an atheist, I can’t go there personally, but I appreciate the intent. For me, the lyrics have always been a strong testament to the power of friendship and family, and how we all need others in our lives to make it through the days. Plus, it has an infectious beat and a cool hook. And the video – like most Townshend/Who videos from this era – was simple footage of the band playing – the type of video I always found most inspiring back in the day.

playing pete

These two songs were favorites of mine for a long time, but I never thought about buying the album until I noticed it kept popping up on various “Best Of” lists of 80s albums. I’ve written before about my general distrust of Best Of record lists, but when I saw a used copy of the LP in a record store in San Francisco, I picked it up to hear what the hubbub was about.

Pete’s solo songs have an operatic quality about them – probably not surprising, since he’s the father of the Rock Opera.


And I Moved” is a song that displays these operatic qualities. Granted, the only thing I know about Opera is what I learned from Bugs Bunny, bugs opera so maybe it’s not operatic, but it sounds grander than most rock songs, and even though it’s a mid-tempo song, it has a weightiness and a quick, driving drumbeat that makes it sound important. It’s a somber song, with oblique lyrics, and upon first listening I disliked it. But as I’ve listened more, it’s grown on me. As with all the songs on the album, Pete’s sings with The Three E’s: Energy, Emotion, Earnestness. Throughout Empty Glass, he sounds as if he believes his words are the most important words he’s ever known. This could be a negative if performed by the wrong singer, or with the wrong material but it works for me on this record.

Also operatic, to me and Elmer and Bugs anyway, is Pete’s frequent use of backing vocals that answer the main melody, like The Chorus in a stage musical, providing background information or counterpoints to supplement what is sung in the main melody. (All of the songs have excellent, interesting backing vocals, something that is often missing in rock and roll created after the 70s.) Pete used this technique with The Who frequently. It’s on display in the song “Gonna Get Ya,” a march of sorts, with a compelling bass line and Pete’s urgent voice. There’s an extended instrumental section in the middle that again, as in the ascending chords in “Rough Boys,” builds the song to an emotional, frantic finale. (My only quibble with this song are the shouted words “Girl, I’m Gonna Do Ya!”, which sound creepy, even coming from a Rock Icon).


Pete’s plaintive vocals can, at times, almost make me feel bad for the guy. In the song “I Am An Animal” the vocals and lyrics flip among anger, hurt and sadness, and the quality of his voice is such that I just want to give him a big hug. He clearly has more on his mind than sex and drugs and rock and roll, and offers the listener a candid glimpse into his emotional life. But he spares us further direct microscopic examinations of his hurt and sadness on the album, which is a good thing. We all have met people who are “over-sharers,” and know the awkward experience of wondering, “Do I put an arm around this person I met five minutes ago who is now sobbing to me about his colon issues?” But despite Pete’s emotions on display throughout the record, he never makes me feel uncomfortable as a listener.

The best display of emotion is the song of furious anger, “Jools and Jim.” This is Pete’s response to some rock critics who in the late 70s had questioned the relevance of 60s and 70s rock to an audience now steeped in punk rock, and in doing so mocked Who drummer Keith Moon’s death. moon

“Typewriter tappers/you’re all just crappers …. Typewriter bangers-on/you’re all just hangers-on …” he sings (or shouts, really), and he goes on to ridicule the lack of spiritual and emotional depth of critics in general. But even in the middle of his fury, the thoughtful Pete slows the tempo and offers to meet the two for drinks, “’cause you’re right, hypocrisy will be the death of me …” I think it’s rare for a rock musician to display such depth and self-awareness, especially a famous, wealthy rock musician whose head is on the mythical Mount Rushmore of Rock. Even in the middle of a rage, Pete is thoughtful. My only complaint with this song is that the song ends with the curious phrase, “Oklahoma! Oklahoma! Oklahoma! OK!”


I have been on a quest for nearly 20 years to find out why this state slogan is put here, and what it has to do with the rest of the song. It is one of my Great Unanswered Questions of Rock, and if anyone can send me the answer, or post it in the comments, I will be forever in your debt. This song is also one of my favorites on the album, a great tune to blast at high volume, and proof that Pete, nearing 40 years of age, could still hang with the young guns on the scene.

My town was ahead of the curve on cable, but I was late to this record. I may have given the impression that Pete is very serious throughout the record, but the songs are truly great. And just to show that he could tone down the seriousness at times, here’s a (likely) drunken Pete with a goofy video from the record for a song called “Keep On Working.”

Rough Boys
I Am An Animal
And I Moved
Let My Love Open the Door
Jools and Jim
Keep On Working
Cat’s In The Cupboard
A Little Is Enough
Empty Glass
Gonna Get Ya

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