In an age when bell-bottom pants were seen on every man, woman and child, when the mod movement was momentarily dead and when the rock era was still being defined, an British rock band called The Who was blazing the music trail. Even before releasing their debut album My Generation in 1965, the group had greatly contributed to the way rock music was performed.
Even though I wasn’t there to experience the high of their concerts, I learned from old recordings of their shows on YouTube and from my mother, that they were one of the rowdiest rock stars of their time. They would quarrel among themselves (sometimes in public, sometimes in private). They would also be so into the music that they’d decimate their instruments at their live performances and would – sometimes – crowd-surf.
From their auto-destructive art performances to their music that compels anyone to dance and sing along, The Who is one of my favourite Rock bands of all time. Today commemorates the 45th anniversary of The Who’s fifth and most memorable album Who’s Next.
The Who easily took the late ‘60s and 1970s by storm and officially made themselves a household name in both the U.S. and the U.K. by the time they made their appearance at Woodstock. However, it wasn’t until their fifth album that they really became musical icons.
Who’s Next is an album born out of Pete Townshend’s inability to launch Lifehouse (a supposed rock opera). Instead of battling with a project like Lifehouse, Pete Townshend gathered some of the songs he planned to use for the rock opera and used it for Who’s Next instead. The band was also coming out of a trippy, hippie era and into one with attitude, defiance and upbeat songs. Rock music was evolving and The Who evolved with it. “Baba O’Riley” is a testament to this evolution and is also the first song in the album’s line-up.
Inspired by Pete Townshend’s admiration for Indian spiritual figure Meher Baba and American minimalist composer Terry Riley, “Baba O’Riley” is a combination of their names and of their personalities. The song starts out with a synthisizer tune that’s prolonged well after the lyrics come into play. Roger Daltrey’s and Pete Townshend’s vocal performances and Keith Moon’s mad drumming skills, made “Baba O’Riley” such a unique song. It was released as a single in Continental Europe, but not in the U.K. or United States. To this day, “Baba O’Riley” is well known and used in film and television; It’s the theme song to CSI: New York.
A few tracks ahead is the song “My Wife” which can be thought of as a spotlight on bassist John Entwistle, as he wrote the song, sings lead and plays most of the instruments. The song is about a man whose wife believes he’s out cheating on her after he’s put in a “drunk tank” for a couple of hours. The man is verbalizing all the things he’ll need to do to protect himself from his jealous wife’s wrath. Directly after is the beloved track “The Song Is Over”. Starting off with a melancholic vibe and slowly making its way to an upbeat one, “The Song Is Over” shows just how well Pete Townshend’s and Roger Daltrey’s voices complement each other.
I’m not the type to claim that “I was born in the wrong era” because of a particular style or music I like, but The Who made me look at the ’60s and ’70s from a whole new perspective. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was the first song I listened to from The Who, and it will always be my favourite from the Who’s Next album. Arguably, the second best known track on the album, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is Pete Townshend’s heart on score sheet. It’s said that with this song in particular, he wanted to transcribe his personality into music.
As much as I love this song, there’s something more electrifying about it when you watch the live version (seriously, check out the live performance of the song and witness Roger Daltrey using his mic as a lasso, Pete Townshend massacring his guitar and Keith Moon banging on more than eight drums!). “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a perfect close to a perfectly produced album and is also one of the most iconic songs The Who has created.
What I like most about The Who is that the members – especially, Pete Townshend – had this unnerving desire to always bring something new, something fresh and something current to the Rock scene. That’s probably why Who’s Next is said to have been the album that immortalized the band. Overall, Who’s Next is an album that solidified The Who’s dominance in rock music. The Who can easily be labelled as a legendary band that will remain relevant in this era and others to come.