Tag Archives: The Who

37th Favorite: Who’s Next, by The Who

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Who’s Next. The Who.
1971, Decca Records. Producer: Glyn Johns and The Who.
Purchased cassette, 1985.

IN A NUTSHELL: The sonic power of The Who is undeniable – Pete Townshend’s aggressive guitar, Keith Moon’s unbelievable drumming, John Entwistle’s ferocious bass, Roger Daltrey’s soaring voice – and Who’s Next brings it all together perfectly, then blends in synthesizers, country-rock and introspective lyrics to build a masterpiece. The different parts of the band play off each other perfectly, and no band has ever made more inspiring anthems.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
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One of the more ridiculous aspects of popular music appreciation in my youth during the 70s and 80s was the existence of strict lines between musical genres, which delineated boundaries in a multi-combatant Cold War pitting synthesizer against guitar; dancing against head-banging; innovation against broad appeal; and, very often, white against black. This war was waged by the fans of the music, not the musicians themselves – although they’d sometimes take snipes at other artists. Most people who were more than casual music fans knew which side they were on – and they also placed those casual music fans in their own enemy-combatant group. And for many fans, the disgust for the other sides was real.

It is quite true that the genre- and sub-genre-fication of music has only continued and expanded since that time. During my youth we didn’t have Emo, techno, drum ‘n bass, dubstep, death metal, nü metal, rap metal, metalcore, mathcore, rapcore, gangsta rap, trap-rap, snap rap, trip hop, glitch hop, homo hop, crunk, wonky, bounce, or Kenny G. But the animosity between genres doesn’t feel as intense today. I’ve talked to my teenagers about it, and while there may be types of music they don’t like, kids don’t harbor the same judgments against those who enjoy different music. If my era was the Cold War, today seems like the post-Soviet/post-Colonial era, when the number of nations and identities grew yet the global existential fear declined.

Key to taking part in the music-appreciation war was picking a side for yourself. As with street gangs, the mafia or the military, affiliation seemed to run in families. If one had an older sibling with a record collection or musical bent it was very likely to be passed down. When my older sisters were hitting the disco, I was a Village People fan. My one sister moved into AOR rock, owning a magic milk crate of music I’d explore, and my other sister was strongly Top-40 and a fan of dancing. They definitely influenced my induction. I became an AOR soldier, listening to Classic Rock on the radio and proudly declaring my allegiance to Cheap Trick, Styx, Rush and Led Zeppelin.

But I was also a double agent for the enemy, Top-40, taking my secret orders via MTV. A key factor in defending one’s territory is the era in which one comes of age. An 18 year old in 2001 may have wanted to fight against “Terror;” in 1981 it was “Communism.” Musically, I came of age in the MTV era, starting high school the month after the channel debuted. Many kids around me, other Rock Music fans, thought MTV was the enemy. I mocked it to many friends, but I was 100% on its side.

As I said above, the disgust for other music types and its fans was real. Popular music is continuously changing, and rapidly so, and such change can be difficult to understand, particularly when you’ve invested so much in your identity as a music fan. We rock fans felt like our music was under attack in the late 70s and 80s, that this music that teenagers past had fought to make mainstream – a blues-based music of electric guitars, with a steady backbeat and strong vocals – was being pushed aside by phony-sounding drum machines and computerized keyboards. It galled us that nerdy guys who pushed buttons in a studio were being regarded the same way as talented guitarists and singers who’d spent years on their craft.

Rock fans started using the language their parents used 25 years earlier to dismiss Rock and Roll and its lack of diverse instrumentation: “That’s not music!” They often used the language of hatred to describe other music: “fag” music, “n*****” music. These terms were used all around me by other rock fans. (My family and I didn’t use “the N word,” but I realize now that it was really a linguistic choice akin to our decision not to swear – meant to connote respect for the dignity of language, sadly, more than the dignity of people.) “Rage” is not too strong a word to describe rock fans’ feelings.

I described the scenario as a war, but here’s the thing about a war: it requires two sides, minimum, who want to fight. Looking back at that time 40 years later, I don’t believe anyone else was really fighting against Rock Music. My rock friends and I felt under siege, perhaps, but I don’t think fans of pop or R&B or disco or punk thought much at all about Rock – except, perhaps, to wonder why its fans were so pissed off. (Okay, punk fans definitely thought about Rock Music: thought it was bollocks.) The “war” was really just a bunch of us whiny rock fans angry about … something. But it certainly wasn’t music.

While 1979 rock fans held “Disco Demolition Night” in Chicago, in which anyone bringing a disco record to that night’s White Sox game got in for $0.98 in return for allowing the record to be destroyed, and started a riot that caused 40 arrests and canceled a baseball game; disco fans’ counter-attack was simply to keep dancing in the clubs.

The stress of the siege, this changing musical landscape, even caused fissures within the Rock Music Army, where factions developed and judgments were made. The fans of the loud, heavy metal rock were bone-headed thugs. The fans of prog rock were fantasy freaks and dorky nerds. The fans of newer, punkish rock were arrogant, pretentious. Fans of the more weenie side of rock were poseurs. The music you liked and the artists you chose to align yourself with were opportunities for character assessments. It was a tribalism based on what cassettes you owned. It was – frankly – exhausting.

I wouldn’t break from the constraints of my tribe, or begin valuing other tribes, until some years after high school. And I still consider myself in The Beatles’ tribe, which means I still feel superior to any other tribes that might exist out there. But as early as my senior year in high school I did have my eyes opened to the nonsense of tribalism by an exchange student from Austria on a school trip to Philadelphia. His name was Christian, and the school trip was one of those ostensibly educational jaunts organized by a club or a class in which an hour is taken to, say, look at an old building, then the remaining three hours go to spending money on clothes, accessories, and other decidedly non-educational products.

A few of us went to Zipperhead, a now-closed Philly punk rock store made famous by the Dead Milkmen, then to a nearby record store. This is where I purchased Who’s Next on cassette. Many of the songs on the album were rock radio staples by 1985, and I couldn’t wait to get home to listen. I sat next to Christian on the bus ride home, and the cassette got us talking about music. He said of course he knew The Who, and was very familiar with the album. But, he said, he didn’t own it. “It’s old,” I remember him saying. “I like new stuff.” We talked about music, and he knew a lot about the rock that I loved. But he knew a lot more about bands like Depeche Mode and Bronski Beat and Yazoo (who were known in America as Yaz). He spoke about them with the same interest and excitement as I spoke about mine. In some spirit of international harmony, I continued the conversation with him with a consideration I probably wouldn’t have offered to an American synth-band fan. And he also wanted to hear about what I liked, and said he’d check out some of those bands that he didn’t know well, like Rush and Van Halen. I told him I’d do the same, and I eventually bought Upstairs at Eric’s, by Yaz, and enjoyed it!

Back at school, back among my rock music friends, a kid with a don’t-rock-the-boat personality, I didn’t further pursue many other “new sounds” of the era. I’ve written before about missing out on great music of my youth, and it remains a bit of a regret. I don’t think I would’ve connected with Christian’s synth-based bands (although I did enjoy that Yaz record), but there were other guitar-based bands of the era that I could’ve connected with. That bus ride with Christian stuck with me, and planted a seed on my journey to musical peace, love and understanding. I eventually got past the music-based character assessments and began to seek out music that I’d have hated – and whose fans I would’ve hated – in years gone by. Who cares what music you like, anyway? It’s not what we listen to that makes us who we are, it’s how we treat the people around us.

But look: all that lovey dovey stuff is fine, but let’s not gloss over the fact that the cassette I bought that day was FRIGGIN’ AWESOME! It was, and is, Classic Rock 101, a guidepost in 70s Rock by one of the best bands of the last century (and one that didn’t mind getting into the thick of the era’s genre wars). I loved listening to it on my Walkman, feeling like I was inside the songs, the sounds. The sonic power of The Who is undeniable – Pete Townshend’s aggressive guitar, Keith Moon’s unbelievable drumming, John Entwistle’s ferocious bass, Roger Daltrey’s soaring voice – and Who’s Next brings all that together perfectly, and blends in synthesizers, country-rock and introspective lyrics to build a masterpiece.

And it doesn’t make sense to start any description of the record anywhere else except the opening track: “Baba O’Riley.”

One of the band’s most iconic songs, and famously misbranded “Teenage Wasteland” by the masses, “Baba O’Riley” immediately introduced listeners to a sound they’d never heard much before – and certainly not on a Who album: the synthesizer. The opening sounds both space age and classical, like a robot string quartet that’s stuck in an infinite loop. At 0:42, its intricacy is exploded by three simple chords on piano, chords that are the basis of the entire song. Moon’s brilliantly untidy drums enter at 0:56, followed by Entwistle’s bass and Daltry’s vocals at 1:16. The song’s power builds, like an old-time gas engine sputtering from startup to a mighty roar, full-tilt once Townshend’s guitar enters at 1:48. The lyrics are about young people seeking freedom, and really only sort of make sense in the context of Townshend’s Lifehouse project, which is a story I don’t want to spend time on, but which is summarized pretty nicely here. And to the dismay of millions of stoned youth since 1970, Townshend has said the song WAS NOT a celebration of teenagers getting wasted, but about the bleakness of that reality. But regardless of meaning, it’s undeniably an anthem, which makes Pete’s quiet two measure vocals, about 2:16, extra powerful. The song’s aimed directly at the heart of 70s teenage rock fans: anger, defiance, guitars and drums. Pete plays a nice little solo about 3:10 that leads the band into the extended ending section, in which that robot string quartet is brought to life by a violin solo (of all things!) played by a buddy of Keith Moon’s, Dave Arbus. The ending is perfectly built to whip those screaming, wasted teens to a frenzy – introducing the album as a piece of art to be reckoned with.

Pete Townshend wrote most of The Who’s songs, and Roger Daltrey sang most of them. But very often they’d share vocal duties, typically Daltrey taking the roaring parts and Townshend taking the more sensitive, as heard on “Baba O’Riley.” That’s the case on the raucous drum-extravaganza “Bargain,” as well.

This song may be the most representative of all four members’ skills, not only on this album but maybe of their career. And it opens with a strummed guitar and a lilting synth. Moon’s thunderous entry, at about 0:10, is one of the great drum intros in rock. Daltrey is in excellent form on a love song to God, written by Townshend for his spiritual guru Meher Baba. Townshend throws in cool little guitar licks, like at 0:25. He’s a unique Guitar God – a rhythm guitarist at heart, who never much deals in the blues wailing or fleet-fingered flashiness of many others. He’s distinctive and great, but this song is all about Keith Moon’s drumming, for me, a rumbling, tumbling unstoppable force. He gallops into the bridge, at about 1:30, leading into Pete’s quiet vocals. Behind these vocals (1:49), John Entwistle’s masterful use of countermelody on the bass is featured. From 2:20 to the end, the song builds through a synthesizer melody while Moon goes crazy. The final verse features more Townsend style and then a few verses of Moon. From 3:46 to the end, there’s a relentless ferocity that is set off nicely by Pete’s acoustic guitar at the end. It’s a pretty incredible song.

That outro features the three instrumentalists in the band, and they’re also featured on the song “Going Mobile.” It’s a jaunty road song, almost country in its feel, and Townshend handles the traveling lyrics nicely. Amazingly, the song was recorded live in the studio!

Perhaps even a better drum song than “Bargain,” I can’t truly describe Moon’s playing. If you’re so inclined, listen to this isolated track of just the drums. It is astounding. At 1:57, Townshend plays one of his coolest solos ever, using an envelope follower to create another spacey sound. Most amazing is how effortlessly the trio pulls out of Pete’s solo, about 2:53, to change musical direction. To do that live demonstrates the hours of work the band spent playing together, communicating sonically together. It’s brilliant.

But just because Roger is missing from a song doesn’t mean he’s forgotten. He gets to shine on the tender (for The Who) “Love Ain’t For Keeping,” a country-western effort, though Roger’s power makes it much more. Behind lyrics on the beautiful, yet fleeting, nature of love, there are excellent harmony vocals throughout, an excellent skill of the band, often overlooked. Entwistle’s bass rolls along merrily, and Townshend plays a terrific acoustic solo. Daltrey’s masterpiece on the album, however, is the excellent Townshend song “Behind Blue Eyes.”

This is actually a divisive song, I’ve learned over the years. Some people are very put off by it’s needy lyrics and bombast. I’ve always loved it. When I was a teen I was a sucker for aggressively macho emotional lyrics like “if I swallow anything evil/put your fingers down my throat/If I shiver please give me a blanket/Keep me warm, let me wear your coat,” and I still love the song today. Pete’s acoustic, and the band’s backing vocals are once again excellent during the opening. Then about 2:12 the mayhem starts. Check out how Keith Moon – going against all common sense – plays his fills WHILE ROGER SINGS instead of in the vocal breaks, where every other drummer would put them! Pete adds nice guitar fills throughout, as well, then the band pulls everything back into the gentleness for a very satisfying ending.

If it all sounds very serious, these songs about troubled teens, spiritual love, human needs, allow bassist and all-around musical genius John Entwistle to lighten things up with his ode to an angry wife, “My Wife.”

Like George Harrison, on Beatles records, Entwistle typically had at least one composition on each Who album. Lots of terrific ones, like “Boris the Spider,” “Success Story,” “Trick of the Light,” and “Had Enough.” He was also a multi-instrumentalist who played all the horns on all The Who albums, including this song. It’s a humorous romp with funny lyrics, and even though he’s not as strong of a singer as Daltrey or Townshend, Entwistle does just fine carrying the song.

Two songs that have always seemed connected to me, maybe because they ended Side 1 and began Side 2 on my old cassette, are “The Song Is Over” and “Getting In Tune.” However, I think it’s more than just their proximity in sequencing. It’s that, collectively, they form a kind of Winter/Spring for the album. Maybe “The Song Is Over,” but another one is coming, so we’ll be “Getting In Tune.”

“The Song Is Over” is melancholy from the beginning. “The Song” in question is a love that has been lost, as Pete sings. About 1:15, the power comes with Roger’s section. Moon and Entwistle play nicely off one another between verses, for example at about 1:30. Piano actually carries much of the song, played by frequent Rolling Stones collaborator, Nicky Hopkins. Once again, much should be said about Moon’s drumming, but anything more than a simple, loudly exclaimed “Holy Shit!!!!” is superfluous. The controlled mayhem of his sixteenth notes from 5:30 out are … “Holy Shit!!!!”

Getting In Tune” also features piano by Hopkins, with Entwistle playing a lovely melody behind. This song features his patented “lead bass” style, a countermelody throughout the song. I love this song, even though it could be considered a forerunner of the dreaded 80s monstrosity known as the “Power Ballad.” It’s lyrics are quite a bit beyond Power Ballad, however. Backing oohs and aahs are again wonderful, and the song ends in typical berserk style.

The album closes with one of my all-time favorite songs, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

As with “Baba O’Riley,” a synthesizer pattern opens the song, but this time there’s an electric guitar chord with it, a bit of foreshadowing of the grandness to follow. The band enters at about 0:30, and Roger begins singing an anthem of resistance that could have been the fight song for us angry Rock fans back in the day. The backing bass, particularly the descending runs in the choruses, and Moon’s drums (again: “Holy Shit!”) hold everything down. Pete’s guitar riffing and stylish, one-of-a-kind rhythm playing throughout bring extra life to it. It’s an 8 minute song, and his guitar after about 3 minutes through the bridge and to about 3:40 is simply inspired playing. Afterwards he plays a really nifty double-tracked solo, leading up to (at 4:28) the first (and smaller) of two momentous screams from Daltrey. We’re only halfway through, and the song keeps getting better. More incredible singing, incredible Entwistle/Moon and incredible Pete, soloing better than he ever has, leading to the 6:33 mark, when the synth comes back in with some rather ominous tooting for the next minute or so. Moon gives a couple drum fanfares, and then comes the best rock and roll scream ever: 7:45. Whenever I hear this song, I can never really tell when he’s gonna do it, and I don’t try to figure it out because it sounds so much better when it’s sort of a surprise. It’s a powerful song, it means a lot to many people, and if you can make it through the band’s performance of the song for the first-responders of September 11, 2001, at the Concert for New York City, and watch the effect of the song on the audience without tearing up, you’re a different sort than me.

The last two lines of the song (and the album) “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss” may be the most profound couplet in rock music history. Sure, they’re a rehash of the old saw “The more things change …,” but in the context of the song, and the path the singer has traveled, they mean much more. They mean personal integrity, staying true to one’s self. At the start, the song sounds like a defense of the old guard (“The men who spurred us on/Sit in judgment of what’s wrong/They decide and the shotgun sings the song”). But the perspective seems changed by the chorus and second verse. “I’ll take a bow for the new revolution;” and “Smile and grin at the change all around me;” and “The change it had to come/We knew it all along.” These lines seem to reveal the song as welcoming of the new. And yet, by the end, there’s a realization that the new is really just a rehash of the old, and the same fights are going to reappear anyway. The New was feared; then it was welcomed. Either way, it didn’t matter. Old vs. new is really a pointless debate. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. All you can do in the face of it is to maintain your Self, and keep doing what you do.

It seems true in both the political and the personal worlds, but it’s also true in the musical world. Whether it was disco, new wave, country, funk, whatever – at the end of the day, what’s the point of getting angry and fighting? And, also, what’s the point of hopping on a bandwagon? The best reaction is neither indignation nor fawning, but to simply stay true to yourself. Pick up your guitar and play. Just like yesterday.

Maybe back in the day, we should have taken that message more to heart.

Track Listing:
“Baba O’Riley”
“Bargain”
“Love Ain’t For Keeping”
“My Wife”
“The Song Is Over”
“Getting In Tune”
“Going Mobile”
“Behind Blue Eyes”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again”

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97th Favorite: Empty Glass, by Pete Townshend

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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.

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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.
dvr

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!” …

adjust

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:

mtv

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.

dolbynuman

(Kidding!)

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.

tommyquad

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).

bloody

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!”

Animated-dancing-red-question-mark-picture-moving

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.”

TRACK LISTING
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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