Featured Album – Empty Glass – Pete Townshend

The Who released their final album with Keith Moon as drummer – Who Are You – on August 18, 1978. Just less than three weeks later, Moon was to die of a drug overdose. In a 1989 interview, Pete Townshend said, “What I decided to do after Who Are You (and Moon’s death) was perhaps take the opportunity to leave the Who completely.

Most people thought I shouldn’t do that … yet at the same time, people were saying that this was my opportunity to develop as a solo artist. Basically, I think I made the wrong decision – I decided to make Who records and solo records alternatively. What I was gonna do was take whatever songs were available after the Who albums use them. ‘Empty Glass’ was a song we did with the Who that didn’t work for them.”

Released in April of 1980, Empty Glass – sandwiched between Who Are You and 1981’s Face Dances (with ex-Faces Kenney Jones) – is Townshend’s first solo album of original material* and it’s a fine (and somewhat revelatory) album. It is also to some extent Pete’s reaction to the punks who thought of him as an old fuddy-duddy. That said, there’s nothing remotely punk about this album except Townshend’s dedication of “Rough Boys” to the Sex Pistols (and, interestingly, his daughters.)

Of the album’s title, Townshend said this: “I called it Empty Glass, ’cause of this idea that when you go to the tavern – which is to God, you know – and you ask for His love – He’s the bartender, you know – and He gives you a drink, and what you have to give Him is an empty glass. You know there’s no point giving Him your heart if it’s full already; there’s no point going to God if your heart’s full of Doris.” So, there’s that.

The reason I said the album is revelatory is due to the fact that the very first song – “Rough Boys” – is Townshend’s confessional song to being gay or at least, bisexual.**

Townshend again: “[The song} was almost a coming-out, an acknowledgment of the fact that I’d had a gay life, and that I understood what gay sex was about. It was about violence in a lot of senses. It leans very heavily into the kind of violence that men carry in them.” (Question – was Pete trying to undercut or even subvert his own message by having two women on the cover?)

Spotify link

If you know any other song from this album as likely as not it’s “Let My Love Open the Door” which was a pretty good hit for Pete. Despite its sounding like a song about a lover, it’s really a song “about spiritual redemption. … Most of my songs are about Jesus. Most of my songs are about the idea that there is salvation. But I won’t mention His name in a song just to get cheap play.” (Anybody who knows Townshend’s long history with spirituality in general and Meher Baba, in particular, shouldn’t be at all surprised.)

Spotify link

“Cat’s in the Cupboard” is arguably the most Who-like track on the album. Some might wish to hear Roger Daltrey’s voice on this. I dunno. I’ve always liked Pete’s high-pitched voice singing his own lyrics as a diversion. BTW, Tony Butler of the band Big Country plays bass on this album and that band’s drummer Mark Brzezicki plays on one tune.

Spotify link

I always seem to discover one interesting factoid whenever I do these posts. Townshend: “I wrote another song about homosexuality for that album called ‘And I Moved.’ Which I wrote for Bette Midler to sing. She said, “Somebody’s gotta write me a song for a real woman,” and I said something like “The way to write a song for a real woman is to write a song for a real man and you can sing it!”

And I moved
And his hands felt like ice exciting
As he laid me back just like an empty dress
And I moved

But a minute after he was weeping
His tears his only truth.
And I moved
But I moved toward him

Spotify link

*Pete released an album in 1972 called Who Came First consisting of demos from the aborted Lifehouse which became the much-lauded Who’s Next. Both Ronnie Lane and Elton John’s guitarist Caleb Quaye played on it.

**Not to make too much of Townshend’s sexuality one way or the other, but I have the whole interview with Townshend where he mentions that both “Rough Boys” and “And I Moved” are about homosexuality. But he later tried to walk it back in an interview saying the earlier interviewer connected dots incorrectly. Nope, it’s all there on the page, Pete. Own it. I know that’s easy for me to say. But hey, you’re a rock star, not a fucking accountant. We expect a little androgyny.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; ClassicRock. Rock Lives by Timothy White. 

28 thoughts on “Featured Album – Empty Glass – Pete Townshend

  1. I’m a Pete fan. Love ‘First’ and I like this one also. Hey He’s the engine behind the Who. As far as him talking about the music, a little of that goes a long way with me. Like the title to a Zappa record “Shut Up and Play ..”. Townes Van Zandts Mom also told him to “Plays Townes, don’t talk, play”
    Like the title ‘And I Moved’ I get something out of the music I listen to and I have my experience with it. It might not mesh with the writers intention.

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    1. I think Pete would definitely agree his music is universal enough that while he’s writing about something specific people can interpret it as they wish. As to Pete talking, actually I love it. There aren’t a lot of musicians who speak articulately as he does (Elton John, Frank Zappa come to mind) so I always enjoy reading his interviews.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes , Frank and Pete and a few others I do find interesting. They can talk on various subjects. Plus they usually sprinkle in a sense of humor. Depends on who’s interviewing also. Frank could handle anyone, Pete could get a little cantankerous but I like that too.
        Here’s one for you Doc (being a guitar player). Song and a little chat. Why I like Pete

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        1. I threw that at you because of the Gibson guitar.
          It all depends. Sometimes it’s self indulgent bullshit and sometimes it’s super interesting and informative. The creative process amazes me. Some people can talk about it and others are off in their own world. Yeah Herzog, Brando, Ford, Peckinpah guys like that are great interviews. Like Sam’s choice on using Dylan’s music for ‘Pat Garret’. Great choice.
          Back to Pete. He makes music that I dig.

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        2. Funny you should pick that song. How I wound up writing this post was from an interview with Townshend in the book ‘Rock Lives.’ It just so happens that of all tunes they discuss ‘Sheraton Gibson.’ He says he was ‘inspired’ by how lousy Dylan’s ‘Self Portrait’ is and how it sounded like Dylan made it up on the spot.

          Pete: “I wonder what happen if I did that? So I did twenty songs and just made them up as I was going along. I never corrected them or anything.” So Sheraton Gibson where he was staying in Cleveland was one of those songs.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I’ve always wanted to own a real Gibson or Fender. The closest I got was an Ibanez Performer, which essentially was a copy of a Gibson but much lighter – actually a pretty nice electric guitar.

          I knew somebody at the time who was studying music (guitar and piano). He owned a Gibson Les Paul and thought the sound of my Ibanez’s came pretty close to his Gibson – probably, he just wanted to be nice.😀

          He once lent me his Gibson for a day or two. I was so thrilled, but boy was it heavy!😀

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        4. The Les Paul is a pretty heavy guitar but not all Gibsons are. The ES-335 is a semi-hollow body and it’s a lot lighter. My thought behind buying it was maybe I’d get into jazz but it would also be good as a rock guitar. But the problem is that it tends to feed back at higher volumes. So I have the Ibanez even though ironically I bought it long after I gave up playing out. It’s become my main axe these days. My son sometimes borrows the Gibson but watches it like a hawk when he’s out. BTW, BB played an ES-355 (“Lucille”).

          Side note – I have a Stratocaster downstairs. It’s not mine, it’s a neighbor who never plays so he just leaves it here. And my son borrowed a Paul Reed Smith from his band the guitar that Carlos popularized. Very sweet. But frankly, I’m not such a guitar junkie. One’s as good as another in some respects.

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        5. I guess I can get pretty excited about “famous” guitars. I can’t deny it’s at least in part driven by the coolness factor that certain guitarists I like play these axes. Ultimately, what’s more important is how the instrument feels to you rather than what brand it is or whether a famous musician plays the same guitar.

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        6. I agree on that. For me, once I get over the coolness factor it’s really more of Do I like the feel? Nobody famous plays my $700 Ibanez but I play it ‘coz it plays and sounds great and is versatile.

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        7. Makes total sense. My Ibanez at the time cost about $500 – definitely not cheap!

          My grandpa, who was a retired music professor and was thrilled that one of his grand kids was learning an instrument, paid for it. I couldn’t have afforded it!

          He even frequently asked me to play something for him when he would visit our house. Keep in mind he was a classic pianist, so one can only imagine how torturous it must have been to listen to somebody playing the electric guitar who didn’t exactly have Carlos Santana skills!😀 Still, he genuinely seemed to be interested. He was such an open-minded person. He also gave me the money to buy my Spanish guitar. Frankly, without him, I may have never learned how to play the guitar.

          It was a pretty good guitar. The only thing that bugged me was that the body had a tiny carve out “in the wrong place,” so at least somebody who knows what a Gibson body looks like could immediately tell it was a copy.

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        8. Do you really think $500 is a lot for a guitar? Man, that’s nothing. My $700 was chump change and so was the $400 for the Gibson years ago. Check out Strat and Les Paul prices sometime. The PRS my son’s band loaned me cost $2500.

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        9. I’m not. But for me as a 14-year-old in 1980 $500 definitely was a lot of dough!

          Plus, don’t forget the equivalent amount today would be about $1,500. I realize that’s not massive either, but you can definitely get a Strat for $1,500. Not a Les Paul, though!😀

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        10. One other thought on re-reading your note. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about some rocker – as often as not the early British ones – who could only afford the cheapest piece of shit guitar on the market. But then who also had a relative that bought them something actually playable. Usually in those days it was something like a Sears Silvertone which my own first guitar.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silvertone_(brand)

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  2. “there’s no point going to God if your heart’s full of Doris.” Do what mate?

    He’s a er… interesting character / bit of a knobhead is Pete but he knows his way around a tune.

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    1. I had to think about that quote for a while as well. I figured maybe it was Britspeak. But my best guess here is that Doris was a random name and he was saying if you’re thinking about or lusting for women you can’t also have a heart that is empty to be given over to God. I think that Pete is overall a smart guy who goes in and out of being a total wanker. And he bloody well knows it. But he is one of the relatively few rockers I would enjoy sitting down and having a conversation with.

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        1. Oh yeah, right. Forgot about that. I’m sure I did see that induction. I usually never miss that show. I see it’s online. I’ll have to watch it again, can’t remember. Was he drunk and they had a bit of a punch-up?

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