Sunday, September 11, 2016

1971 - Who's Next

What? How can one choose? Led Zeppelin IV, Who's Next, Hunky Dory, Marvin Gay's incomparable What's Going On, Sticky Fingers, Blue, L.A. Woman. I'm at a loss. Tapestry? Fragile? Just Yikes. Aqualung, Nursery Cryme and Madman Across the Water. So many AM10s; so many stellar accomplishments. But what indeed is evolutionary. The LPs of '71 are mainstream rock and roll, yet not in an evolutionary manner. 1971 is the sweet spot of rock. So what what shook things cold?

The Who began their days as typically British and mod as one can imagine. Songs like "The Kids Are Alright" (sic) exemplified British Youth and the Teddy Boys. Who's Next, though, was instead global hard core rock, evolutionary and accessible, loud, bold and daring - the greatest motherfuckin' scream in music. What else do you want?


Pete Townshend began his best period of song writing at the same time he had his first nervous breakdown. The material for the proposed multi-media project, Lifehouse, came to light on Who's Next. Townshend made the leap that evaded other artists at the time. Musically powerful, Who's Next set the standard for rock in the 70's, most of which was a parody of Townshend's intelligence, conflict, and wellspring of creative rage. I was ten years old when the edited 45 of "Won't Get Fooled Again" was released in '71. After an endless barrage of "feel good - love your neighbor - summer of love" anthems on the radio, this one hit like a bolt out of the blue. Imagine hearing Diana Ross sing "Baby Love" followed by Tom Jones (I kid you not) singing "She's a Lady" followed by Roger screaming/pleading to the heavens that maybe, just maybe, things will be different. This song got to the heart of the matter - that peace, love and understanding don't come easy and one can only fight for his meals. When the LP was released it put a cap on the 60's. From that man/electronic syncopation of "Baba O'Riley" to the all too human isolation of "Behind Blue Eyes" to the final bombast of the drum solo at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again," everything works - down to the 2001 album cover parody.

The original concept? A secret rock concert takes place in a futuristic society where all music has been banned. A messianic leader named Bobby and his followers go to the concert, where their collective personality traits and vital signs are fed into a synthesizer and translated into sound. At the end of the concert, as the anti-music forces close in on the people, they disappear with a sudden "mystical chord." "Baba O'Riley" kicks off the album with an ARP synthesizer line that runs down one's back like cold water. Thundering drums courtesy of Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey's defiant voice, and a spare but powerful guitar riff launch one into the teenage wasteland. It's Townshend's kiss-off to 60s hippie idealism. "Baba O'Riley" is rich in its orchestration, anthemic words, and drive, but more for Townshend's blend of power chords, Moon's expectedly frantic drumming, Entwhistle's mellifluous bass, and Daltrey's power vocals over synthesized textures not derived from any previous musical form. The ending of the song, parlaying Dave Arbus's folkish fiddling over the sythesized texture exemplifies the battle between technology and humanity. In a thematic unity stronger than many so-called concept albums, Townshend explores that battle to the bitter end. It's "Karn Evil 9" without the pretense (Lifehouse wouldn't have been).

Quickly following is "Bargain," a frenetic rumble of passion, and the acoustic "Love Ain't For Keeping." Two of Townshend's best songs come next, "The Song is Over" and "Gettin' in Tune." The reflection in the lyrics shows how just far he'd come from "I Can't Explain" and "The Kids Are Alright." And no Who record would be complete without a bit of John Entwistle's dark comic relief, here served up in "My Wife." The other chief tunes here are "Behind Blue Eyes", originally meant for Lifehouse's villain, Brick, and the anthemic "Won't Get Fooled Again," a song that marks Townshend's cynical view of hippie communalism.

Not only does each song have its own lucid melody, Townshend's lyrics are among the most inspiring and introspective that any artist has written in a hard rock motif; lyrics like these are ordinarily reserved for the singer/songwriters. Indeed there are times when I'm talking to someone and a phrase of Townshend's lyrics pop into my head. Instead of focusing on the conversation, I become intrigued by the poetry and what it has to say, rather than the person in front of me (Signed, Distracted). WE'RE ALL WASTED!