Who’s Next Turns 50

Exactly 50 years ago today, on August 14, 1971, The Who released their fifth studio album Who’s Next. The English rock band is one of my all-time favorite groups, and if I would have to pick one album, it would be this gem. As such, I felt it was appropriate to dedicate a post to the record’s 50th anniversary. Who’s Next without a doubt is among my top 5 releases of 1971, an incredible year in music, along with The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Led Zeppelin IV, Carole King’s Tapestry and Pink Floyd’s Meddle.

After the tremendous success of Tommy, Pete Townshend conceived Lifehouse, which was to become another rock opera, yet on a much more ambitious scale. The project was supposed to involve a live-recorded concept album that would provide the music for a film. The live footage would be captured in a series of concerts at the Young Vic theatre, a performing arts venue in London. During these gigs, the audience would be asked to interact with the band to create material for the film.

But after a few concerts at the Young Vic, Townshend grew disillusioned when he realized the audience was only interested in listening to The Who, not interact with the band to create material for the film. Together with other complexities of the project and a bad falling-out between Townshend and manager Kit Lambert, Lifehouse became mission impossible and was abandoned. The doomed project led to major stress within the band and a nervous breakdown of Townshend, with Roger Daltrey reportedly saying at the time The Who were never closer to breaking up.

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Ironically, the Lifehouse disaster led to Who’s Next, one of the best if not the greatest album The Who ever made. A key figure in this context was recording engineer Glyn Johns. Not only did he convince the group to make it a single as opposed to a double LP, but he was also given license to assemble whichever songs he thought would be best in any order. Who’s Next ended up with eight tracks from Lifehouse and one additional tune. The focus was on recording great music, not to force-fit different tunes into an overarching concept. Despite his remarkable role, Johns only received credit as an associate producer (apart from recording and mixing). Let’s take a closer look at the album.

Opening side one is the majestic Baba O’Riley, one of the aforementioned eight songs from the Lifehouse project. Like all except one of the other tracks, the tune was written by Pete Townshend. Songfacts notes the “Baba” in the title refers to Meher Baba, Townshend’s spiritual guru. “Riley” comes from experimental, minimalist composer Terry Riley, one of Townshend’s influences who inspired many of the keyboard riffs and sound effects on the album. Referencing the liner notes, Songfacts also points out the tune reflects Townshend’s vision of what would happen if Baba’s spirit was fed into a computer and transformed into music. “The result would be Baba in the style of Terry Riley, or “Baba O’Riley.”” Here’s a neat lyric video.

Bargain, the second track on side one, is another homage to Baba, according to Songfacts. Townshend believed in his message of enlightenment. “Bargain” refers to losing all material goods for spiritual enlightenment. The song also featured a then just introduced ARP 2500 synthesizer, “the same synth used to call the extraterrestrials in the 1977 movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.” Now, there’s some trivia you always wanted to know!

My Wife, written by John Entwistle, is the album’s only song that wasn’t composed by Townshend. Morever, it is the one track that didn’t come from the Lifehouse project. Entwistle who sang lead vocals also included the tune on his third solo album Rigor Mortis Sets In that first appeared in the UK in May 1973.

On to side two. Here’s Going Mobile, the album’s only song featuring Townshend as the sole vocalist. From Songfacts: This is about taking a vacation by riding around in a car with no particular destination. It was something Pete Townshend liked to do...For the solo, Townshend ran his guitar through a device called an Envelope Follower. It was a type of synthesizer distortion that made it sound like he was playing under water.

Next up: Behind Blue Eyes. The lyrics were inspired by an encounter Townshend had with a female groupie after a gig in Denver in June 1970. While he was tempted, he ended up returning to his room by himself. Once there, be began writing a prayer that started with the words “When my fist clenches, crack it open,” which became part of the song’s lyrics. At least so the story goes. Here’s another lyric video.

The last track I’d like to call out is Won’t Get Fooled Again, the album’s epic 8:30-minute closer. From Songfacts: Pete Townshend wrote this song about a revolution. In the first verse, there is an uprising. In the middle, they overthrow those in power, but in the end, the new regime becomes just like the old one (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”). Townshend felt revolution was pointless because whoever takes over is destined to become corrupt. I’m also including a link to a clip of The Who’s live performance of the tune at Shepperton Studios in 1978, filmed for the 1979 rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. What has to be one of the greatest moments in rock history sadly also turned out to be the last public performance by Keith Moon prior to his death on September 7, 1978 at the age of 32.

Who’s Next is widely considered to be the best album by The Who. It topped the UK Official Albums Chart, reached no. 2 in France and The Netherlands, and climbed to no. 4 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. As of February 1993, the album reached 3X Multi-Platinum Certification in the U.S., meaning it has sold more than three million units. It is Platinum-certified in the UK as well.

Who’s Next also received broad acclaim from critics. Even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, calling it “the best hard rock album in years.” Who’s Next was ranked at no. 28 in Rolling Stones’ list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in both the 2003 and 2012 editions. In the latest revision from September 2020, it came in at no. 77.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Is it really Sunday again? It is. Crazy how time seems to be flying. On the upside, Sunday is fun day and time for my favorite recurring feature. I think I’ve put together another set of six tunes that celebrates the beauty of music in its different flavors. Hope you enjoy it!

Henry Mancini/The Pink Panther Theme

Long before I had ever heard of Peter Sellers, Inspector Jacques Closeau and The Pink Panther movies, I was familiar with The Pink Panther Theme. That’s because I watched the cartoon series as a child growing up in Germany. I always loved the instrumental theme, which was composed by Henry Mancini in 1963 for the first movie in the series titled The Pink Panther. When that track came to my mind the other day, I figured it would be great to feature one of the coolest jazz instrumentals I know in a Sunday Six installment. Apart from being included in the film’s soundtrack album, The Pink Panther Theme also became a top 10 single in the U.S. on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, then known as Middle Road Singles. And it won three Grammy Awards. Undoubtedly, the standout is the tenor saxophone solo played by American soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson who is still alive at 89 years.

Solomon Burke/A Change Is Gonna Come

Solomon Burke may not have enjoyed the chart success of peers like James Brown, Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding, but he still is considered to be one of the founding fathers of soul music in the ’60s. Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler called him “the greatest male soul singer of all time.” Burke was also known as “King Solomon”, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Soul”, “Bishop of Soul” and the “Muhammad Ali of Soul”. No matter what you want to call him, there’s no doubt that Burke was an amazing vocalist, and I got a powerful example to illustrate my point: His amazing rendition of A Change Is Gonna Come, which has literally brought me to tears. The tune was written by Sam Cooke and first appeared on his final studio album Ain’t That Good News from February 1966, 10 months prior to his mysterious death from a gun shot at a Los Angeles motel in December 1964. Burke who passed away in October 2010 recorded A Change Is Gonna Come as the title track of a studio album that appeared 1986. If you haven’t heard this cover, you need to check it out. It’s incredibly moving!

Curtis Mayfield/Move On Up

At the time I decided to feature the previous Solomon Burke tune, I also thought of Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield. Then I saw fellow blogger Music Enthusiast featured the same song earlier this week in one of his posts and considered scrapping it. When I told him, Music Enthusiast encouraged me to keep it, saying “It’s a great song that shouldn’t be forgotten and deserves the widest audience possible.” He’s right. Move On Up is the title track of Mayfield’s debut solo album Curtis, which came out in September 1970. Addressing challenges faced by many African Americans, the album was somewhat comparable to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, except it predated Gaye’s seminal record by eight months. Move On Up, which like all other tracks on the record was written by Mayfield, appeals to listeners not to let obstacles get in the way to pursue dreams and make the best of life. As such, the tune has a more upbeat message than some of the other darker tracks on the album. Sometimes, I can get a bit impatient when it comes to long songs. Not so in this case where I love each and every second of the 8:49 minutes: The horns, the congas, the cool bass line, Mayfield’s falsetto vocals – it’s just perfect!

Jean-Michel Jarre/Oxygène (Part IV)

Let’s continue with the idea of moving up. Way up. All the way to outer space. To those who have followed my blog for a long time and have witnessed my occasional criticism of “artificial music” that is “generated by computers,” the selection of Jean-Michel Jarre may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, we’re talking electronic music that’s entirely generated by synthesizers. Not even the drums are real. So what’s up with that seemingly contradictory pick? Well, perhaps Jarre is the exception that proves my rule! 🙂 It’s simple. I’ve always had a thing for space music and Oxygène, Jarre’s third studio album released in December 1976, is exactly that. The best way to listen to this album is with headphones. The sound effects are just amazing, and before you know it, you feel like floating in space. I’ve listened to this music countless times to fall asleep. Here’s the best known track from the album, Oxygène (Part IV). It also appeared separately and became the most successful single of Jarre’s still-ongoing recording career, topping the charts in Spain and reaching the top 10 in various other European countries and in New Zealand. Happy floating!

HĂ©roes del Silencio/Entre dos tierras

HĂ©roes del Silencio were a Spanish rock band from Zaragoza. They were formed as Zumo de Vidrio in 1984 by guitarist Juan Valdivia and vocalist Enrique Bunbury. Bassist JoaquĂ­n Cardiel and drummer Pedro Andreu completed the line-up of the band, which in 1985 changed their name to HĂ©roes del Silencio. The group’s debut EP HĂ©roe de Leyenda from 1987 was followed by full-length debut album El Mar No Cesa, which came out in October 1988. The breakthrough came with sophomore studio release Senderos de traiciĂłn from May 1990. It topped the charts in Spain and reached no. 17 in Germany. Altogether, HĂ©roes del Silencio recorded four studio and various live and compilation albums before they disbanded in 1996. In 2007, as part of a 20th anniversary celebration, the band organized a 10-concert world tour. Entre dos tierras, credited to all members of the group, is the opener to their aforementioned sophomore album. While it’s the only HĂ©roes del Silencio tune I know, I’ve always liked its amazing sound.

The Who/Success Story

I guess we’ve already reached the point again when it’s time to wrap up. Let’s do so with another rocker: Success Story by The Who. The track from their seventh studio album The Who by Numbers from October 1975 may not be the most popular or best tune by The Who. But when I coincidentally stumbled across the song the other day, I immediately earmarked it for a Sunday Six. Notably, it’s one of the few tunes written by John Entwistle. I also dig the lyrics, which Songfacts calls “a cynical autobiography of The Who.” Songfacts further notes, The line, “I’m your fairy manager” is an allusion to The Who’s gay manager Kit Lambert, who they were in the process of suing. Referring to a preacher becoming a rock musician, Entwistle also poked fun at Pete Townshend who followed Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and included spirituality in his songs. Perhaps most importantly, this song simply rocks and is bloody catchy!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and Yes, You’re Gonna Be a Star!

Since my recent post about Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman, the above creatively borrowed and somewhat adjusted phrase had been stuck in my head, just like the catchy song. The first part of the statement is true, the second half is perhaps debatable. But while this British rock band only had one real hit, there’s no doubt in my mind Thunderclap Newman was more than just a one-hit-wonder.

As a fan of The Who, I’m intrigued by Pete Townshend’s role in the band’s history – in fact, without Townshend, there would have been no Thunderclap Newman. He brought the band’s core members together in late 1968/early 1969: Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Speedy Keen (born John David Percy Keen), Dixieland jazz pianist Thunderclap Newman (born Andrew Lawrence Newman) and lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (born James McCulloch). They are pictured in that order from left to right in the above photo.

Something in the Air Single

Interestingly, prior to the band’s formation, Keen had been The Who’s chauffeur and shared an apartment with Townshend. He also had written Armenia In the Sky, the opener to The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out from December 1967. Apparently, Townshend was impressed with the songwriting talents of Keen who had played in different bands since 1964, so he decided to introduce him to Newman and McCulloch. Townshend was also instrumental in getting the band a contract with Track Records, an independent label established by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.

The first song Thunderclap Newman recorded was their big hit Something in the Air written by Keen. The sessions took place at Townshend’s home studio. He also produced the single and played bass on the recording under the pseudonym Bijou Drains. Released in May 1969, Something in the Air topped the UK Singles Chart only three weeks after its appearance, replacing The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko. The tune’s original title was Revolution, but it was changed because The Beatles already had a song with that title, which had come out in 1968.

Thunderclap Newman_Hollywood Dream

Following the success of Something in the Air, an initially reluctant Thunderclap Newman agreed to go on the road. They brought in Jim Pitman-Avery (bass) and Jack McCulloch (drums), Jimmy’s older brother, to support Deep Purple on a 26-date tour of England and Scotland from July to August 1969. After the tour, Pitman-Avery and Jack McCulloch exited and formed country-rock band Wild Country, leaving Thunderclap Newman with their three core members. Keen, Newman and McCulloch went back into the studio and recorded Hollywood Dream, their only studio album.

Like Something in the Air, Townshend played a key role, producing Hollywood Dream and again playing bass under the name of Bijou Drains. And while the final track Something in the Air undoubtedly is the hit, there are other gems on this album. Let’s kick things off with the nice opener Hollywood #1, which like most of the other tracks was written by Keen.

Here’s Open the Door Homer, a great cover of a Bob Dylan song. If I see it correctly, Dylan did not release the tune until 1975 when he included it on The Basement Tapes, a collection of tracks he had recorded in 1967, mostly with backing by The Band. In particular, I dig Keen’s singing on this tune.

Next up: Accidents, another original tune written by Keen. There’s a lot going on in this more than nine-minute track, including some great piano and guitar work. In fact, as much as I dig Something in the Air, Accidents is the album’s tue standout to me. A shorter version was released separately and peaked at no. 46 on the UK Singles Chart in June 1970, becoming Thunderclap Newman’s only other single to make the charts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. To readers who know my affection for vocals, it may come as a bit of a surprise that I chose to highlight an instrumental. Well, it’s not that I don’t like instrumentals – after all, I’m a big fan of Pink Floyd’s ’70s albums that are filled with instrumental parts. But after a while, I simply feel the need to hear some vocals! In part, I also chose Hollywood Dream since it was co-written by the McCulloch brothers, making it the only original that wasn’t penned by Keen. BTW, Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 years when he recorded this tune with the band.

In early 1971, Thunderclap Newman brought in Australian musicians Roger Felice (drums) and Ronnie Peel (bass) to create a new touring lineup. This was followed by another tour with Deep Purple that included Sweden, Norway and Denmark. And then it was suddenly all over for the band. Why? Referencing a 1972 interview Newman gave to the New Musical Express (now known as NME), Wikipedia hints to personal friction between Newman and Keen. It’s unfortunate when egos clash, but certainly not unheard of, especially in music!

Keen went on to record two solo albums, Previous Convictions (1973) and Y’ Know Wot I Mean? (1975), and also played as a session musician with Rod Stewart, The Mission and Kenny G. Sadly, he passed away from heart failure at the age of 62 on March 12, 2002.

Newman also recorded a solo album, Rainbow, which appeared in 1971. Other than that he was “was musically dormant and worked as an electrician, until he put together a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010,” according to an obituary in The Guardian. In addition to Newman, the band’s new line-up featured Tony Stubbings (bass), Nick Johnson (lead guitar), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Pete Townshend’s nephew Josh Townshend (rhythm guitar and vocals). Shortly thereafter, the band released Beyond Hollywood, an album of studio and live tracks of old Thunderclap Newman songs. In 2011, they toured the UK with Big Country. The last two gigs listed on the band’s official website are from 2012. Newman died on March 29, 2016 at the age of 73.

Jimmy McCulloch formed his own group in October 1971 and also played guitar in various other bands, most importantly Paul McCartney’s Wings, which he joined in August 1974. After exiting Wings in September 1977, McCullogh joined the reformed Small Faces. Another own band and a few additional stints followed. On September 27, 1979, McCulloch was found dead, apparently having died from a heart attack attributed to morphine and alcohol poisoning. He was only 26 years old.

This post was updated on September 18, 2021 to note that Thunderclap Newman’s second tour with Deep Purple in 1971 included Sweden, Norway and Denmark, not England and Scotland, as had previously been stated.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Guardian; YouTube