The Who Played by Others

When it comes to popular bands whose songs have widely been covered by other artists, The Beatles are always the first who come to mind, and it’s no wonder. Fellow blogger Hans from Slicethelife has been doing a long-running series “Under the Covers” (see one recent installment here) and I believe has yet to find a Fab Four tune that hasn’t been covered by somebody else. While in my completely unbiased opinion, The Beatles are the best band that ever existed [ 🙂 ], obviously, there are many other outstanding groups with terrific songs. One of my favorites in this context are The Who. Following is a playlist featuring renditions of some of their songs.

David Bowie/I Can’t Explain

I’m doing this list chronologically by date when The Who first released the featured tune. First up is David Bowie’s cover of I Can’t Explain, off his seventh studio album Pin Ups from October 1973. Like all other tracks in this post, I Can’t Explain was written by Pete Townshend. It was the first single that appeared under the name of The Who in December 1964. Interestingly, the song came out in the U.S. before it did in the U.K. where it was released in January 1965. I’ve always loved it. After listening to Bowie’s slower take twice, I find it intriguing as well, especially the neat saxophone work that was largely done by Bowie himself!

Green Day/My Generation

One of favorite early tunes by The Who is My Generation, the title track of their debut album from December 1965. I still get amazed by John Entwistle’s bass solo, even though I’ve listened to it countless times. With its aggressive sound, My Generation really is an early punk song. So perhaps it was only fitting that Green Day included a cover on their sophomore studio album Kerplunk that appeared in December 1991 – not bad!

Vanilla Fudge/I Can See For Miles

I Can See For Miles became the only single from The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out – love that tune! Released in September and October 1967 in the U.S. and UK, respectively, it reached no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 10 in the UK. Yet Townshend was disappointed, feeling it should have been a no. 1 – oh, well! Regardless, it’s one of the gems in The Who’s catalog. Here’s a nice funky take by Vanilla Fudge from their most recent 2015 studio album Spirit of ’67. Apparently, the band is still around, with three of its original four members remaining in the current line-up.

Elton John/Pinball Wizard

Elton John’s version of Pinball Wizard is a great illustration of how the piano man could rock. Since I heard it first many years ago, I’ve always thought this is the length the original should have had instead of what feels like a premature ending where the tune suddenly fades out. Pinball Wizard first appeared in March 1969 as the lead single of The Who’s fourth studio album Tommy released in May that year. John’s rendition became part of the soundtrack of the rock opera’s 1975 film adaptation. It also appeared separately as a single, climbing to no. 7 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart.

Rush/The Seeker

In March 1970, The Who released The Seeker as a non-album single. I dig this tune that was subsequently included on their 1971 compilation Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. While I’m not much into Rush, the Canadian rockers recorded a neat version on an EP they released in June 2004 titled Feedback. Check it out, this nicely rocks!

The Dear Abbeys/Baba O’Riley

Baba O’Riley is the majestic opener of The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next, which just passed its August 14 50th anniversary release and hasn’t lost any of its magic. Here’s an incredible a cappella version by The Dear Abbeys, an all-male acapella group who according to their website were formed in February 1992 at Boston University and “have gained a reputation in the a cappella community for musical precision, complex and unique arrangements and an energetic style of live performance that’s difficult to match.” Well, they certainly passed my audition with Baba O’Riley, which was included on an album from January 2007. It sounds pretty neat!

The Natural Mystics/Love Reign O’er Me

This groovy version of Love Reign O’er Me was done by The Natural Mystics, a reggae band who recorded the song for a self-titled album released in June 2013. Originally, it’s the closer of Quadrophenia, The Who’s mighty sixth studio album from October 1973. It also became the second single off that record released the day after the album had come out.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Squeeze Box

In May 2017, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ issued a great collaboration album titled TajMo. It includes this fun Cajun version of Squeeze Box, a tune The Who recorded for The Who by Numbers, their seventh studio album from October 1975. Listening to Taj Mahal’s deep vocals in the chorus, one can literally picture a swamp alligator – really dig that rendition!

The Binghamton Crosbys/You Better You Bet

How about some more a cappella action? Ask and you shall receive. Meet The Binghamton Crosbys, aka The Crosbys, a group formed in 1983 at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. Wikipedia lists 13 albums released between 1987 and 2016. Their 2006 record Roadtrip to Munzville includes this fun rendition of You Better You Bet. The Who recorded this tune as the opener of their ninth studio album Face Dances that came out in March 1981. The song was also released separately as the record’s lead single, giving The Who their first top 10 hit in the UK (no. 9) since 1976 when a reissued single of Substitute reached no. 7. In the U.S., You Better You Bet topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and climbed to no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Casey Wickstrom/Eminence Front

Let’s do one more: Eminence Front, a track from The Who’s 10th studio album It’s Hard that appeared in September 1982. Unlike for most other songs in this list, I found numerous covers of the tune. I was particularly drawn to this bluesy take by Casey Wickstrom, a young artist from California. According to his website, he is a multi-instrumentalist and live looping artist, vocalist, music producer, writer, and film editor. He sings and plays guitar, lap slide guitar, cigar box guitar, bass, harmonica, and other instruments. Wickstrom released Eminence Front as a single in June 2019.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Dear Abbeys website; Casey Wickstrom website; YouTube

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The Who Remain A Formidable Rock Force On New Album

“Although it’s been 13 years since their last LP and more than half a century since they formed, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey still know who they are” (Rolling Stone). “While Who is an album brimming with experience, emotion and ideas, it’s ultimately aimed at the fans who have always stuck with them, through thick and thin. Their best since Quadrophenia, then. Just don’t leave it so long next time, eh?” (UNCUT). “Whether Roger Daltrey is bellowing through anti-war flamenco or slagging off copycat bands, The Who have lost none of their vim and vigour. Just don’t mention Brexit.” (NME).

On Friday, The Who released WHO, their widely anticipated new studio album. From what I have seen, it has received mostly positive reviews. While I oftentimes feel music critics are desperately trying to be clever in an effort to say something memorable, I have no problem citing reviews I happen to agree with! The Who are among my favorite ’60s rock bands, so I realize there’s no way I can be completely unbiased here. After having listened to WHO various times, I have to agree with NME there is plenty of vim and vigour on this album.

The Who have now existed for some 55 years, which is incredible in and of itself. Okay, there were some breaks in-between when Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey worked on solo projects. And, yes, it is fair to say the band hasn’t been 100 percent the same since the untimely death of Keith Moon in September 1978 at age 32 – not to mention The Ox John Entwistle who passed away in June 2002. Still, The Who’s longevity is truly remarkable. Think about it, how many bands other than The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys can you name that have lasted for more than half a century?

Here’s another remarkable aspect: WHO is only the 12th studio album by The Who, and their first since Endless Wire, which came out in October 2006 – a whopping 13 years ago! And the preceding record It’s Hard dates back all the way to June 1982. That’s the one with Eminence Front, one of my favorite tunes from the band’s later-stage career – actually, from today’s perspective, it’s not even their midstage if you base it on the number of years the band has been in existence!

Pete Townshend & Roger Daltrey

Back to WHO. There are various tracks on the album showing Pete Townshend still knows how to write great music. But what really stands out to me is Roger Daltrey’s singing. At age 75, he still is a formidable vocalist. “It’s a feat made all the more incredible given his brush with the Grim Reaper in 2015 following a bout of viral meningitis,” UNCUT’s above review rightly points out – and, as USA Today reported, after recurring laser surgeries Daltrey apparently needs to undergo to remove precancerous cells from his throat.

And let’s not forget about the fine backing musicians, including long-time drummer Zak Starkey, bassist Pino Palladino and keyboarder Benmont Tench. There are also Gordon Giltrap (acoustic guitar) and Gus Seyffert, who plays bass on three tracks, as well as various additional drummers: Carla Azar, Matt Chamberlain, and Joey Waronker. Last but not least, Pete’s younger brother Simon Townshend, who is also part of the band’s touring line-up, contributed one of the songs: Break The News. All other tracks except for one were written by Pete. Time for some music!

The album kicks off with three great tunes, which so far are my favorite tracks: All This Music Must Fade, Ball And Chain and I Don’t Wanna Get Wise. In addition to the music, some of the lyrics stand out as punchy. On the opener, Daltrey sings, I don’t care, I know you gonna hate this song, and that’s fair, we never really got along/It’s not new, not diverse/It won’t light up your parade/It’s just simple verse…Townshend ends the tune with the words, Yours is yours, and what’s mine is mine/And what’s mine is mine, and what’s mine is yours/Who gives a fuck?

Or take Ball And Chain, a re-recording of a Townshend solo track that initially was called Guantanamo and appeared on his 2015 compilation album Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend: …Down in Guantanamo/We still got the ball and chain/There’s a long road to travel/For justice to make its crane/Let’s bring down the gavel/Let the prisoner say his name

And here’s I Don’t Wanna Get Wise and yet another lyrics excerpt, which may be an eye-opener to some folks: …That the crap that we did/Brought us money, God bless/And those snotty young kids/Were a standing success/ Helped us conquer and rise/And we learned in this hell/We didn’t wanna get wise/(I don’t wanna get wise/I don’t wanna get wise)/Life teaches us well

While I’ll Be Back, one of the quieter songs on the album, may not be among the best tunes, it proves that Townshend still has a decent voice – and that Daltrey is a credible harmonica player.

The last track I’d like to highlight is another standout: Rockin’ In Rage, which has a bit of theatrical/musical vibe to it. Daltrey is on fire here vocally, while Townshend throws in some nice rock guitar chops.

“I think we’ve made our best album since Quadrophenia in 1973,” said Daltrey in a statement. “Pete hasn’t lost it, he’s still a fabulous songwriter, and he’s still got that cutting edge”. While Quadrophenia dates back a mighty 46 years, that statement rings true to me.

Added Townshend: “There is no theme, no concept, no story, just a set of songs that I (and my brother Simon) wrote to give Roger Daltrey some inspiration, challenges and scope for his newly revived singing voice. Roger and I are both old men now, by any measure, so I’ve tried to stay away from romance, but also from nostalgia if I can.”

Without meaning to be Debbie Downer here, unless Messrs. Townshend and Daltrey rapidly accelerate their rate of releasing new records, it’s safe to assume WHO is the band’s final album. Well, if it is, I think they are going out on a high note!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; UNCUT; NME; USA Today; The Who website; YouTube

The Who Rock New York, Backed By Symphonic Orchestra

Singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson opens with captivating set

Last year, I read several stories about Roger Daltrey being pretty candid about aging, saying he’d stop performing if he realized his voice was no longer up to par. While other music artists haven’t followed through on similar retirement talk and The Who previously suggested their 50th anniversary tour could be their last, Daltrey’s above comments felt genuine to me. When I learned about Moving On! tour, I got a ticket right away, thinking this may well be my third and last time to see one of my favorite British bands. But there was one detail that I somehow had completely missed. Apart from traditional touring musicians, Moving On! features local symphonic orchestras backing Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have jumped to get a ticket, had I known that.

In general, the thought of combining a rock band with a symphonic orchestra gives me mixed feelings. One can easily picture that the former gets drowned out by the latter or that the music becomes overly massive and feels overproduced. On the other hand, The Who are known for a grandiose sound. So did the combination work Monday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City? For the most part it did for me, so my initial ignorance about the details of the tour wasn’t a bad thing after all.

Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend

Before getting to The Who, I’d like to say a few words about New York singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson, who performed a captivating opening set. In 2009, following the release of her second album Swan Feathers, Mendelson was compared to Carole King and Rickie Lee Jones, and her record was nominated for a Grammy. Then a series of setbacks stopped her upward trajectory, but things seem to look more promising again for Mendelson these days. A new album, If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…, is almost done. She’s currently raising money through Kickstarter to support promotion for a planned autumn release.

Monday night, Mendelson was accompanied by her longtime collaborator Steve McEwan, a British songwriter and musician, who played a vintage-looking electric guitar and provided backing vocals. Since I wanted to conserve my aging smartphone battery, unfortunately, I didn’t take any footage, but here’s a clip of The Hardest Part, a single from the new record, captured last December at a much smaller venue. The guy in the clip is McEwan. I’m pretty impressed with Mendelson and plan to do a separate post on her in the near future.

After a short intermission it was time for The Who! The first section of their show was with orchestra and mostly focused on songs from Tommy, The Who’s first rock opera from May 1969 – an appropriate choice, as the album nears its 50th anniversary of release on May 23. It started with the record’s first five tracks: Overture, It’s A Boy, 1921, Amazing Journey and Sparks. This was followed by Pinball Wizard and We’re Not Gonna Take It.  The remainder of the first section featured tunes from various other albums, including Who Are You (Who Are You, 1978), Eminence Front (It’s Hard, 1982),  Imagine A Man (The Who By Numbers, 1975) and the non-album single Join Together (1972). Here’s We’re Not Gonna Take It, the final track from Tommy, which like most Who songs was written by Townshend.

The middle section of the concert featured The Who only. Daltrey jokingly pointed out that union rules required the orchestra to take a break and now it was only the band, “so we can fuck up things even more.” The section consisted of five songs: Non-album single Substitute (1966), I Can See For Miles (The Who Sell Out, 1967),  Won’t Get Fooled Again and Behind Blue Eyes (both Who’s Next, 1971) and Tea & Theatre (Endless Wire, 2006). Here is I Can See For Miles.

Perhaps the highlight of the section was an acoustic rendition of Won’t Get Fooled Again. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture it, in part to conserve battery, but here’s a clip from the tour opener in Madison, Wis. Even though the camera person was much closer to the stage than I was, the MSG performance felt more dynamic, so I feel the footage doesn’t do it full justice. Or maybe it was the excitement of the moment!

The third and last section of the show, which saw the return of the orchestra, almost entirely focused on Quadrophenia. The Who’s second rock opera perhaps is the album that best lends itself to the use of symphonic orchestration. It’s the band’s only record that was entirely composed by Pete Townshend. Here’s section opener The Real Me, one of favorite Who tunes.

Other tracks from Quadrophenia included I’m One, The Punk And The Godfather, 5:15, Drowned, The Rock and the mighty Love, Reign O’er Me. Of course, I couldn’t resist recording the last track, so here it is.

By the time I had Love, Reign O’er Me in the can, my phone battery was on life support, so I couldn’t capture the show’s finale, Baba O’Riley, another tune from the Who’s Next album. Luckily somebody else who was there did, so I’m borrowing their clip – thanks, “ForgottenNYC”! Check out the solo by amazing lead violonist Katie Jacoby, which starts at around 3:40 min – that woman stole the show from Townshend, at least temporarily!

Monday night saw Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend in excellent shape. Daltrey still commands the stage, singing with a strong voice and swinging his microphone like a mad man, while Townshend continues to be a kickass windmilling rock guitarist. One could almost forget these guys are in their mid-70s! I think they also deserve credit for continuing to push the envelope at this stage in their careers, when they could have played it safe instead of bringing in a symphonic orchestra. The fans including myself would have been perfectly happy with a “regular” performance.

I must also mention the great backing band: Simon Townshend (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Pete’s younger brother; Zak Starkey (drums), son of Ringo Starr, who has been The Who’s touring drummer since 1996; Loren Gold (keyboards, backing vocals), and one of the standouts in addition to Jacoby; and Jon Button (bass).

Upcoming dates for the Moving On! tour include Noblesville, Ind (May 18); Tinley Park, Ill (May 21); St. Louis (May 23); Philadelphia (May 25); and Detroit (May 28). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Leslie Mendelson website, The Who website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Who/Eminence Front

What could be better than music from The Who? More music from The Who: Eminence Front!

The above clip was captured during The Who’s concert in London’s Hyde Park in the summer of 2015, the finale of their triumphant 50th anniversary tour. Written by Pete Townshend as usally, the tune first appeared on the band’s 10th studio album It’s Hard from September 1982, the last with John Entwistle.

Eminence Front, which was also released separately as the album’s second single, is one of a few Who album tracks featuring Townshend on lead vocals. While the song has become a crowd pleaser at concerts, its chart success in the U.S. at the time it came out was moderate. It peaked at no. 68 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single did much better in Germany where it climbed all the way to no. 5 on the charts.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube