The Who – The Lifehouse Saga and Who’s Next (Part Two)

“Lifehouse became the pathetically titled Who’s Next. The album cover was, in my opinion, a joke in bad taste. On the front, we stood next to an obelisk against which we had been pissing. On the back, we were all pissed in a dressing room after a show. The sleeve almost stank of urine. I was utterly confounded when so many fans and friends I respected loved the title and the sleeve design.” – Pete Townshend.

In my post on Lifehouse, I noted how that was supposed to be The Who’s next great rock opera. Alas, it was not meant to be and so the proposed double album morphed into what was to become one of the great classic all-time albums, Who’s Next. Released in August of 1971, the album quickly became a staple of FM radio. It’s interesting how little ink Pete gives it in his autobio, perhaps too painful a memory of the remains of Lifehouse.

If you think to yourself, wow, everybody who was into rock must have been sitting around listening to this album, well, heh! Forget about it. There was an absolute TON of good stuff that came out that year. This is just a partial list of albums released in 1971 and this is just from the March through year’s end. We were not sitting around waiting for shit to listen to:

Aqualung, Tull; L.A. Woman, Doors; Sticky Fingers, Stones; What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye; Every Picture Tells a Story, Rod Stewart; Aretha Live at Fillmore West; Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Moody Blues; The Inner Mounting Flame, Mahavishnu; At Fillmore East, Allmans; The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions; Future Games, Fleetwood Mac; 200 Motels, Frank Zappa; Meddle, Pink Floyd; Madman Across the Water, Elton John; Led Zep IV; Nursery Cryme, Genesis; Live-Evil, Miles Davis; There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Sly & the Family Stone, Fragile, Yes; Tapestry, Carole King.

Debuts? Doobie Brothers, Weather Report, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Electric LIght Orchestra, ZZ Top, Little Feat, Carly Simon; Earth Wind & Fire; Rita Coolidge, Kate Taylor.

The Who had a bunch of great songs left over from the Lifehouse project and the challenge was to pare down and shape the two-disc album down to roughly 44 minutes. Freed from having to make a concept album with some sort of linkage, the band was able to just put the album together as a bunch of songs and let it rip.

Wikipedia: Glyn Johns was instrumental in convincing the Who that they should simply put a single studio album out, believing the songs to be excellent. The group gave him free rein to assemble a single album of whatever songs he wanted in any order. Despite Johns’ key contributions, he only received an associate producer credit on the finished album though he maintained he acted mainly in an engineering capacity and based most of the arrangements on Townshend’s original demos.

Let’s drop the needle:

“Baba O’ Riley” is named for both Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and avant-garde American musician Terry Riley.” In Lifehouse, a Scottish farmer named Ray would have sung the song at the beginning as he gathered his wife Sally and his two children to begin their exodus to London.

Townshend stated in an interview that the song is about “the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where audience members were strung out on acid and 20 people had brain damage. (I can find no evidence that this is true – ME.)

The irony was that some listeners took the song to be a teenage celebration: ‘Teenage Wasteland, yes! We’re all wasted.” The songs on this album demonstrate Townshend’s relatively newfound fasciation with synths. Violin by a musician friend of Keith Moon’s, Dave Arbus:

Spotify link

Sure, I could easily do nothing but Townshend songs. But has there ever been a better “I went out and got drunk and now I’m fucked by my old lady but not in the good way” song? Entwhistle wrote and sings on “My Wife” and it’s a corker. It was originally intended for an Entwhistle solo album but Pete loved it and so, on it went:

Gonna buy a tank and an aeroplane
When she catches up with me
Won’t be no time to explain
She thinks I’ve been with another woman
And that’s enough to send her half insane

Gonna buy a fast car
Put on my lead boots
And take a long, long drive
I may end up spending all my money
But I’ll still be alive

Spotify link

In their review of this album in Rolling Stone, John Mendelsohn – the infamous twat who trashed the first Led Zep album – managed to pull his head out of ass long enough to do a decent review. Blubberbutt called it “an old fashioned long-player containing intelligently-conceived, superbly-performed, brilliantly-produced, and sometimes even exciting rock and roll.”

Next up – “Behind Blue Eyes.” Wikipedia: “When ‘Behind Blue Eyes”‘ was to be released as part of the aborted Lifehouse project, the song was sung from the point of view of the main villain, Jumbo. The lyrics are a first-person lament from Jumbo, who is always angry and full of angst because of all the pressure and temptation that surrounds him, and the song was intended to be his “theme song.”

Townshend: “Behind Blue Eyes” really is off the wall because that was a song sung by the villain of the piece, the fact that he felt in the original story that he was forced into a position of being a villain whereas he felt he was a good guy.”

Spotify link

And what do you say about one of the most iconic songs of all time? Just this – “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” Whomp-whomp-whomp-whomp-WAAAAAH.

This video was filmed at Shepperton Studios on 25 May 1978 as the end to the excellent Who flick The Kids are Alright. Here are five things you need to know. One: It is classic fucking rock and roll. Two: Daltrey swings the mic and nobody gets hurt. Three: Townshend -at 7:50 – pulls off the greatest fucking rock and roll knee slide of all time, something he could not possibly dream of doing today. Fourth – this was Moon’s last performance with the band. Fifth: it is classic fucking rock and roll.

Spotify link

According to Acclaimed Music, Who’s Next is the 35th-most ranked record in critics’ lists of the all-time greatest albums. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it 28th on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list. The album appeared at number 15 on Pitchfork Media’s list of the 100 best records from the 1970s.

It was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005). The album was chosen by Time as one of their 100 best records of all time. In 2007, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “lasting qualitative or historical significance.”  It was voted number 48 in Colin Larkin’s All-Time Top 1000 Albums 3rd Edition.

Be sure to check out the expanded version especially “Baby Don’t You Do It,” featuring fellow Woodstock attendee Leslie West.

17 thoughts on “The Who – The Lifehouse Saga and Who’s Next (Part Two)

  1. As I mentioned in my comment to part 1, this is my favorite Who album. I think the epic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is already worth the price of admission. And then “Baba O’Riley”, “Bargain” and “Behind Blue Eyes” – I mean, holy moly! BTW, that John Entwhistle tune is great as well – nice call-out.

    Despite all the other formidable albums you noted that came in ’71, “Who’s Next” still managed to hit no. 1 in the UK and peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200.

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    1. I once read a whole article somewhere about how Germans – at least some – could relate to “Behind Blue Eyes.” I can’t find the article but it was interesting. Agree? Or just bullshit?

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  2. I have an expanded one disc version which has Water and Pure and Easy, but not all the other stuff. I find Who’s Next way more concise and enjoyable than Tommy and Quadrophenia.

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    1. It’s hard to argue that point. Who’s Next is a classic by any measures. As to Quadrophenia, minus a handful of songs I’ve never been that crazy about it. I like Tommy quite a bit but it’s like Sgt. Pepper in that I enjoy it but rarely listen to it. But Tommy will always by definition be less concise because of its need for overture, story, connecting pieces, etc. But frankly I’ve always found the storyline rather silly.

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    2. BTW, the 100% reason Townshend wrote “Pinball Wizard” is because he was hanging with a rock writer with whom he was playing that game on a regular basis. He got phrases like “mean pinball” and “pinball wizard” from him. The writer liked the album and told Pete he’d love it and give it a great review if he wrote a song that incorporated pinball into the story. So, a great song but stuck into the story for all the wrong reasons.

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      1. I once read this great article from the 1970s about Joe Strummer and Robert Fripp patching up their prog and punk differences with a spot of pinball.

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        1. I misspent a good portion of my youth “bangin’ them pleasure machines.” Whenever I go to Philly or meet a certain buddy of mine at the Jersey shore, first thing we do is head for the arcade for a spot of pinball and air hockey.

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  3. I know every song on this album since my youth, so I just want to say: “Who’s Next” isn’t just because of the two alpha leaders Pete Townshend, who composed eight of the nine songs, and Roger Daltrey, who presented himself as a world-class singer, so great. It’s also the rhythm section, John Entwistle with his nuanced bass playing and Keith Moon with his incomparable drum power style, who made a significant contribution to ensuring that each of the songs was so brilliantly successful.

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    1. Yes, well said. I’ve been re-reading Townshend’s memoir and for the years preceding Tommy and their Woodstock appearance, he didn’t think the band were taken very seriously. Those events (plus Live at Leeds) put an end to that.

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    2. When I got the WordPress email about the Tiny Desk concerts, I wanted to comment on the great Fogerty video. But it only gave me an option to ‘Like’ it. When I went to your site I also could find no option to comment there.

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  4. One of my favorite rock albums. One of a few of theirs that I play(ed) the hell out of. You know how I feel about these guys so I will spare you any more of my bs and I’ll get “mobile”. Like I said I’ve been spinning their music a lot lately. One last thing. I’ve told you that I like different vocals in a band. The Who had 3 plus one that sang like CB.

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    1. That’s true. I liked when Pete sang or when Pete sang alternately with Roger. Funny but I’ve never really thought of CB as an air-conditioned gypsy.

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