Boogie Your Sneakers Away (26th March 1972)

This week, on a distant, dusty website rather drily titled “World Radio History”, packed with media & music ephemera only of interest to obsessives such as myself, I was able to access the Billboard magazine chart archive that provided the initial impetus for these weekly posts from 50 years ago. This was a time before the B’board hotshots attempted to put their hand in my wallet & fortunately the Cash Box archive gave up first the contemporary R&B chart & this year those lower reaches, higher numbers (101-150) from the album listing. Billboard’s ranking goes all the way up to 200, that’s 50 better right? Nah, there’s ample choice at Cash Box & they helped me out when I needed it, the greed heads at Billboard can stick their bigger album chart right up their paywall!

My first selection is a Greatest Hits collection, well it was around my house, not so much if you lived between 3,500 & 5,500 miles to the West of here. Of the 14 tracks on “Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy”, a collection of early 45s by the Who, just four of them had reached the US Top 40 with only “I Can See For Miles” making the Top 10. By 1972 the Who were “the Greatest Show On Earth” (L.A.Times), show-stopping at festivals, Rolling Stones’ TV special-stealing, successive platinum albums with a Rock opera about a deaf, dumb & blind kid, a wall-shaking Live record & “Who’s Next”, a proper grown-up Rock classic. Way back in 1965, Pete & Keith still in their teens, John & Roger just 20, fashioned their Maximum R&B energy into the hit “I Can’t Explain”, ending the year with “My Generation”, recorded one day in October, released two weeks later, Townshend’s bold anthem about the young idea, lyrics we believed in, Daltrey stuttering over them like the pilled-up Mods in their audience. I’m aware that the USA was not yet swinging like a pendulum do but “My Generation”, a statement record that moved the music forward only made it to #74 in the US Hot 100. Why don’t you all fu-fu-fade away!

Encouraged by Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, their West London Situationist managers, the Who gained popularity & notoriety while the talent & ambition of Pete Townshend, chasing the next hit single, turned Pop into Pop Art. 1966 produced “Substitute”, “I’m A Boy” & “Happy Jack”, all great records. The group were kept busy in the UK & Europe, I guess the US record company, Decca, already mistaking the feedback on tracks for faulty master tapes, had problems persuading radio stations to air songs about gender confusion & a man who slept on a beach. Unsurprisingly the perfect “Pictures Of Lily”, concerning the comfort of masturbation, didn’t catch on either. Pete was looking to extend his range & after “I Can See For Miles”, from “The Who Sell Out”, a dazzling record, it was at the expense of the self-contained three minute story single. “Magic Bus”, here in its full, over four minutes, length & the idiosyncratic, marvellous “Dogs” (not included) were less focused. His vision was fully realised with “Tommy”, “Pinball Wizard” just so. Rock & Roll was moving on up & the Who were in the vanguard. “Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy” is an essential compilation from exciting times when, with a rush & an amphetamine-fuelled push, Townshend, Entwistle & the indefatigable Moon were developing as a great power trio, Pete’s lyrics for Daltrey pointing out some stuff to the youth that no-one else was. The kids were alright. (oh yeah, MBB&B was #120 on this week’s chart.

Steve Miller arrived in San Francisco in 1966 just as that Haight-Ashbury scene & all the bands connected with it was about to blow up, attracting a bunch of men with unsigned record contracts to the Bay Area. Steve had been around, in Milwaukee guitar virtuoso Les Paul was his godfather, in Dallas artists such as T Bone Walker & Charles Mingus were guests at his family home. In Chicago he found kindred spirits, young white men who wanted to play the Blues, he formed a band, jammed with Muddy Waters & Howlin’ Wolf. The Steve Miller Blues Band signed with Capitol Records, a label they remained with for 20 years, & were sent to Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, where the Beatles & the Stones recorded & young engineer Glyn Johns was waiting to debut as a producer. “Children of the Future” (1968) didn’t garner great sales but its mix of Blues with a touch a psychedelia, gentler Folk-Rock & yeah, a sprinkling of Prog was built to last & following records did very well thank you. Make it nice in here, all have a smoke, put on “Sailor” or “Brave New World”, songs like “Quicksilver Girl” & “Seasons” keeping it mellow, the Blues braggadocio of “Gangster of Love” & “Space Cowboy” amusing & a most pleasant evening was had.

“Recall the Beginning…A Journey To Eden”, a new entry at #136, was Steve Miller Band’s seventh album. The line-up had changed, recruiting Ben Sidran to replace Boz Scaggs, both talented friends from college, was a shrewd move. “Rock Love” (1971), live tracks with an unseasoned group & studio leftovers, had been released while Steve was recovering from a motorcycle accident & was badly received. “Recall…” deserved more attention & closer listening, the Blues-based tracks have familiar structures but are all “written by Steve Miller”, the atmospheric side two is that thing the band did, the playing immaculate, Steve is the guitarist of choice of many folks. “Fandango” was released as a 45 though the group had never had a hit single, well not by 1972. “The Joker” (1973) had a lightness of touch & humour that had not always been apparent. It also had a killer title track that brought the Steve Miller Band platinum albums & Top 10 singles. These well crafted, self-produced, catchy Pop-Rock hits sounded great on the radio & I by no means begrudge Steve Miller’s ability to sell millions of records. If I need a shot of SMB it’s the foghorns & stoned groove of “Songs For Our Ancestors”, the textured space jams of “Sailor” & those early records that find their way on to my turntable.

Canned Heat were formed by a couple of Blues aficionados, Bob “Bear” Hite, who had an extensive collection of 78 rpm records & Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson who before he moved to California had worked with Mississippi John Hurt then taught Son House the songs he had forgotten when the two Country Blues legends were re-discovered. Joined by guitarist Henry “Sunflower” Vestine, bass player Larry “Mole” Taylor & eventually drummer Fito de la Parra what began as a jug band proved to be most effective when they plugged their instruments into the mains. A debut album of energetic cover versions was followed by original songs on “Boogie With Canned Heat” (1968). Boogie, a John Lee Hooker-inspired shuffle was what the band did, with Hite, a big man, as singer & hype man the others gelled, jammed & brought the Heat. The real jewel was Alan Wilson, a talented harmonica & slide guitar player whose high-pitched croon (based on Skip James) reworked first “On The Road Again” then “Going Up The Country” into distinctive hit records, songs that are still instantly recognisable & welcome. With hit records & an onstage presence Canned Heat were, by the end of the decade, a very popular group but Alan was uncomfortable with the Rock & Roll lifestyle, his depression, which led to hospitalisation, exacerbated by his use of barbiturates to help him sleep. In September 1970 he was found dead in his sleeping bag behind Hite’s house. Alan must have been pleased with “Hooker & Heat”, a double album recorded with one of his idols & released after his death. It was a record that got a lot of play round at our house, our introduction to John Lee Hooker, one of the greatest Blues men.

Canned Heat were kept busy, “Historical Figures & Ancient Heads”, #108 on the chart, was their seventh studio record. Vestine had left & returned, there was a new bass player & guitarist Joel Scott Hill, a guy I saw later in a rehashed Flying Burrito Brothers, had replaced Wilson. It’s not Heat’s best record, some ordinary Rock & Roll, too many “life on the road” songs. There should have been more tracks like “Utah”, credited to the whole group, where they hit a Blues groove & play it like they mean it. The first time I saw Canned Heat, the sun rose at a Summer festival & they played like the group who succeeded at Monterey & Woodstock. The third time, just a few years later, it was a pretty standard set of bar-room Boogie. Apart from providing two of the group’s three hit 45s the Blind Owl was the compass of Canned Heat, keeping them on the course that these Blues enthusiasts had set to bring the music to the US. Hite died in 1981 when the heroin was too strong & the cocaine he was given didn’t help. Fito abides & Canned Heat are still around. If I need a little Heat I may not reach for the 40 minute long “Refried Boogie” but I’m happy to hear “Fried Hockey Boogie” (11 minutes) & their often experimental early work.


Covers Of The Rolling Stones (Aftermath)

In April 1966 the Rolling Stones released “Aftermath”, their 4th (well, in the UK anyway) LP, a marked departure from the previous three in that all 14 tracks were composed by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards. The repertoire of every British Beat Boom group was a mix of Rock & Roll & R&B favourites, often new US songs were quickly covered & became bigger hits than the original on both sides of the Atlantic. After a couple of years this was a little played out & a second wave of groups (the Kinks, the Who) included talents who, like Lennon & McCartney, wrote their own songs. “Aftermath” came between “19th Nervous Breakdown” & “Paint It Black”, self-penned smashes. Now there were these fresh potential hits. Just like new LP’s by those Beatles & that Bob Dylan there was a queue, a long one, to cover these songs.



Image result for chris farlowe thinkChris Farlowe had an inside line to the new songs by Mick & Keith. In 1965 the singer signed to the new Immediate record label founded by Andrew Loog Oldham, the publicist-turned-Stones manager, by their side in the rapid elevation from “England’s Newest Hitmakers” to one of the biggest groups in the world. Farlowe’s version of “Think” was released as a single in January 1966, four months before “Aftermath”. Produced by Oldham, Jagger & Richards & isn’t that the Stones’ singer on the closing backing vocals, Farlowe’s strong mature voice set off with a brassy, sassy, Soul arrangement. There’s no doubt that Chris had one of the most distinct voices around but his debut LP,  “14 Things to Think About”, is a little heavy on big ballads that had been done better elsewhere rather than the bluesy Soul to which he was more suited. “Think” made the Top 40 in the UK, next time around another “Aftermath” cover & he hit big.


Image result for chris farlowe mick jagger“Out of Time” is one of the strongest tracks on “Aftermath”, Brian’s light, imaginative marimba introduction leading into Mick’s restrained vocal & an instantly memorable chorus. Chris, produced by Jagger, gave it the Big Beat treatment & made the UK #1 spot in July 1966. It was perhaps an over reliance on the Stones connection, an easy option, that prevented Farlowe consolidating such a success. There were three more 45’s by Jagger-Richards, “Ride On Baby”, “Yesterday’s Papers” & “Paint It Black” which all missed the Top 30. He got first crack at Mike d’Abo’s “Handbags & Gladrags”, a great song which sure sounded like a hit but wasn’t. When Immediate folded in 1970 he became a voice for hire with Prog bands Colosseum & Atomic Rooster. In 1966 groups performing original material was the thing, that’s why the Stones moved away from the R&B covers. British singers like Joe Cocker & Rod Stewart were appreciated for their individual interpretations of discerningly selected material. This came a little too late for Chris Farlowe.



Related imageTime was when the Searchers were bigger than the Stones. After an apprenticeship which, like the Beatles, included a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, they were caught up in the Mersey Mania &, under the guidance of producer Tony Hatch at Pye Records, 3 of their first 4 singles were UK #1 hits (the 4th “Sugar & Spice” was only #2). The departure of bassist Tony Jackson, lead vocals on the earliest hits, had no real effect & with 3 US Top 20 songs in 1964 the group were part of the British Invasion. Their harmonies & John McNally’s 12-string jangle were an influence on the upcoming Folk Rockers. “When You Walk in the Room” was a perfect Pop record & there were a few of those around in 1964. A dependence on other people’s songs in an industry where you were as only as good as your last record meant that it was difficult to keep up.


Image result for searchers take it or leave itAfter 1965’s “Goodbye My Love” the Searchers were no longer hitting the UK Top 10 & when drummer/harmoniser Chris Curtis, on & off stage a strong personality, left the group they lost a little individuality. They were looking for more modern material but covering a Stones song was still a little surprising. “Take It or Leave It”, gentler than the original & pleasant enough, just failed to reach the UK Top 30. Subsequent singles, in a variety of styles, made less impression & the Searchers were finding gigs on the cabaret circuit. Later these progenitors of Power Pop found a new, deserved lease of life with Sire Records. I caught a show of theirs in the early 80’s before an appreciative young audience. They did all the old hits, “Needles & Pins” was demanded twice, an evening of melodic Mersey Beat was thoroughly enjoyed by all.



Related image“Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”. Andrew Loog Oldham’s Situationist mischief positioned the group as the evil twins of the Beatles. Long hair, being rude to journalists & peeing in public was rebellious enough but the band’s recreational drug use made them a target for the Sunday tabloids & Scotland Yard. After a raid in February 1967 the following June Mick & Keith were sentenced to 3 months & a year in prison respectively. Meanwhile Brian had been charged with possession in May. The Who, prompted by Pete Townshend, pledged their support by rush-releasing a double A-side of Jagger-Richards songs, the first, they said, of a monthly series for as long as the pair faced doing time.


Image result for the who under my thumb


“Under My Thumb”, possibly the most misogynistic of the “Aftermath” songs (there’s a few but the Stones disliked everybody not just women) was covered first by Wayne Gibson, a favourite in the Soul clubs up North & finally a hit in 1974. In the US rock & roller Del Shannon made a pretty good stab at it. Released on June 30th 1967 the Who’s version is a rush propelled by Keith Moon’s drums while, with bassist John Entwistle away on honeymoon, Pete plays everything else including those great stabs of fuzz guitar. The single, coupled with “The Last Time” was both the first & last in the series as in July Keith’s conviction was overturned & Mick given a conditional discharge. Still, it’s the thought that counts & it was a pretty great thought.



Related imageOK, there’s room for one more & this is from 1979, hardly jumping on the Stones bandwagon but my what a track. Ellen Foley had duetted with someone called Meatloaf on “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” from something called “Bat Out of Hell” which I believe was quite a big deal. Like many attractive, intelligent American women she was an Anglophile & chose two experienced British musicians to produce her debut LP “Night Out”. Ian Hunter & Mick Ronson were touring & recording together after leaving successful bands, Mott the Hoople & the Spiders From Mars respectively, & they did a fine job.


Image result for ellen foley mick ronson

Ronson, Foley, Jones, Hunter.

Mick Ronson (that’s the great…) was no stranger to a crunchy Keith Richards riff,  there’s  “Rebel Rebel”, “Jean Genie” & that’s just a start. “Stupid Girl” is a full-on Glam assault & it’s great to hear. In fact Ronno’s guitar flourishes & perfect solos allied to Hunter’s attachment to a bit of Rock & Roll drama makes for a most listenable album. Ellen became romantically involved with Mick Jones off of the Clash & on “Spirit of St Louis” (1981), recorded after “Sandanista”, she was backed by the band. With 6 Strummer/Jones songs included that’s definitely one to check out.

In The Air (UK Pop Psych May 1969)

Pete Townshend, off of the Who, got his flatmate/chauffeur a record deal with his managers’ label. John “Speedy” Keen had written “Armenia City in the Sky”, recorded by the Who on their “Sell Out” LP. A couple of other musicians were invited to the studio, Pete produced & played bass & by May 1969 there was a ready-to-release debut 45. In the first week of July “Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman, you know it, everybody does, displaced the Beatles’ “Ballad of John & Yoko” from the top of the UK charts. It’s a distinctive, accomplished record, perhaps diminished by its overuse in films about the period & commercials, but back then it sounded like the zeitgeist, of not only music but also of the way things were, had been captured on a 7″ plastic disc.

Image result for thunderclap newmanThey were an incongruous trio Thunderclap Newman. Drummer/vocalist Keen had the songs. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, prodigiously talented, was just 15 years old (he looked younger!) when the single was released. Andy Newman was 26 (he looked older!), his boogie-woogie/honky-tonk piano insertions added a different even unique dimension to the music. Surprised by instant success & under-rehearsed, hurriedly augmented by a rhythm section, the group set out on a tour of small UK venues. They were the hottest band in the country but, as we shall see later, their mentor Pete Townshend was busy with other things.

Image result for thunderclap newman hollywood dreamIt took another year, a long time in Pop music, for Thunderclap Newman to complete their debut LP, “Hollywood Dream”. I know a lot of people who like a lot of different music & many great obscure albums from this time are not that “lost”, they can be found round at my friends’ houses. It’s only this month (as part of y’know “research”) that I have listened to the whole of this record & it seems that an interesting, varied, adept work has passed all of us by for so long. Speedy’s voice may be a taste to be acquired but the songs have a touch of Ray Davies Englishness to them. Jimmy is an obvious talent, handling that acoustic/electric blend that Townshend was so good at while Andy’s idiosyncratic keys ties the whole thing together. I had always thought that the follow-up 45 “Accidents”, released in June 1970, cut from 10 minutes to 3, was a hit too but I thought wrong. “The Reason” was too similar to “Something …” to make an impression. There was to be just this one LP before the trio went their separate ways. Missed opportunities & poorly scheduled releases meant that Thunderclap Newman would be a one-hit wonder & what a hit it is.

Image result for idle race days of broken arrowsMeanwhile in May there was a new single from the Idle Race, their fourth to be issued in the UK. “Days of Broken Arrows” was one to hear because the ones that came before were pretty good. Perhaps they had missed their main chance when, in February 1968, “The Skeleton & the Roundabout”, a whimsical tale of the ups & downs of fairground life, had failed to sell despite support from some DJs on the national Radio 1. The demise of the 24 hour a day pirate stations did mean that lesser known groups struggled for attention & a follow-up, the Beatle-esque “The End of the Road”, was similarly neglected after making an initial splash. Idle Race evolved from the Nightriders, a leading group on the Birmingham scene. When the group lost a couple of major players they enlisted a young singer/guitarist with a stash of songs influenced by the Fab Four. You may not have heard Idle Race but you know the work of Jeff Lynne.

Image result for idle raceThere are two albums by this incarnation of the Idle Race. Inventive instrumentation & production, light on psychedelia, heavy on the influence of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” & very good they are too. Lynne’s lyrics are idiosyncratic though the collections, like the singles, perhaps lacked the immediacy & the substance to attract a wider audience. Any fan of late-1960’s British Pop will not be disappointed on further investigation. Jeff’s next move was to join the Move, led by former Nightrider Roy Wood. Wood knew how to put the flesh on the bones of a song & make it a hit. “Brontosaurus”, their first recording together, made the UK Top 10. A more confident Lynne eventually usurped Wood as the Move metamorphosed into the Electric Light Orchestra & a bunch of platinum records followed. Post-E.L.O. he moved into production & the rest, or some of it at least, is Wilbury.

So, on May the 17th 1969 The Who released a double album, a concept album, a Rock Opera no less, about a deaf, dumb & blind boy. Pete Townshend had always been interested in the Art of Pop & while he was a master of the 3 minute single was frustrated by its limitations. There had been an attempt to link songs on “A Quick One” in 1966, the jingles & commercials of “The Who Sell Out” gave a great album an entertaining continuity. “Tommy” was to realise Pete’s big idea, he had given it away in interviews & then had to write the music so that the record walked it like he talked it. Recording sessions were interrupted because the Who had to play gigs, they needed the money. Failure was not a option.

Image result for the who tommy albumWe had been given a taste of things to come with the single “Pinball Wizard” in March. Three non-album 45’s had been released in the previous year & however much I liked them there had not been the group’s accustomed commercial success. “Pinball Wizard” is, of course, now a classic & it sounded like one in 1969. It put the Who back on the UK & US charts, the perfect lead-in for the album. “Rock Opera” may have been the tagline of the day but thankfully there was more of the former than the latter. The grand opener “Overture” introduces musical themes to come while confirming that Townshend, Entwistle & Moon were the most imaginative of music’s great power trios (proof of Daltrey’s expanded vocal range came later). The libretto may have been vague in parts but Tommy’s amazing journey struck a chord with a bigger world-wide audience than the Who had ever attracted before. In the summer of 1969 “Tommy” was all the rage.

The Who - Stonehenge Rock Bar - September 1978 - Mini PrintWhatever your opinion on the growing aggrandisement of Rock at this time, an ambition to be more expansive possibly to the detriment of the adrenaline rush of a perfect Pop 45, there’s no doubt that “Tommy” contributed, as Pete intended, to a more serious consideration of popular music. He was just 23 years old when he challenged his developing talent to find a new way to tell a story. None of that old stuff like writing a novel, making a movie or painting a picture but y’know, for the kids. Now, 50 years later, when a shot of the Who’s Maximum R&B is just what you need the Pop Art of the preceding albums can do the trick. The sheer heft of “Live at Leeds” & “Who’s Next” are unmatched while “Quadrophenia” can be considered a more successfully realised “concept” than Pete’s first attempt. If “Tommy” is your selection there will be no reduction in quality.  It’s a great album, a landmark in the development of our music. Here, have another track.

The Who In South London

It didn’t seem to be the biggest deal when we obtained tickets to see the Who in February 1981. Since Xmas we had been panning for the gold to be found on “Sandanista!”, a dense, sprawling triple LP on which the Clash laid claim to be the Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World, a title previously contended by the, you know, Who. In January Elvis Costello’s lyrical dexterity & developing musical maturity delivered “Trust”, a 5 star collection (out of 5). In the same month David Byrne & Brian Eno were making music for a brave, future new world. “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” would be influential & rarely equalled in the new decade. It was the shock & the shine of this new music that occupied our turntables. Those great Who records, whether filed alphabetically, chronologically or just left where they lie, tended to be at the back of the stack.


Image result for the who the clashThe gig was at the Lewisham Odeon, one of the country’s largest cinemas, a stopping-point for the package tours of the 60s but now out of the loop & a little faded. The Who usually played enormodomes or sports stadia so this is better. The biggest gigs in the city, the Rainbow in Finsbury Park, the Hammersmith Odeon, both a fair trek from our South East London manor. Lewisham was a short bus ride from East Greenwich, a night out for the locals seemed to be in order. It was a 7.30 p.m. start, early after a day at work, we didn’t even have time to hit a pub just met up outside the cinema not quite ready to rock. I had picked up a half-bottle of whiskey (& rolled up a bit of the other) to help things along. Dave, good man that he is, had exactly the same idea. Sue, much cooler than us two, was sensibly not drinking for 2…more for us then.



Related image“Substitute”, “I Can’t Explain”, “Baba O’Riley”, a perfect triple whammy to start. The Who’s more recent output.may not have been the most vital but from their 1965 debut, the aforementioned “I Can’t Explain”, maximum R&B for smashed & blocked Mods, to 1973’s double LP “Quadrophenia”, the kids are not alright, they had been smack dab in the middle of British Rock’s amazing journey. “My Generation” (1965), a confident rebel yell, was one of those significant songs that convinced you that this Beat Boom was for real & not just a passing fad. In 1967 their 45 “Pictures of Lily” made my life so wonderful & then, at the end of the year, the LP “The Who Sell Out” was Pop Art, more relevant to 15 year old me than a Warhol print, an Antonioni movie or a novel by Truman Capote. As the band thundered into their set I realised that while the Who’s records may no longer be at the front of the stack, this group, well I used to follow them back in 65. A long list of great songs, my perfect Who set list, came to mind. This was going to be meaty, beaty, big &…you get me.


So there was Pete Townshend, windmilling, power chord  guitar hero, ambitious, a sensitive even neurotic songwriter, still a believer in the redemptive qualities of a great Rock & Roll anthem. Singer Roger Daltrey, the punk with the stutter who became a microphone twirling Rock God. His job was to sing Pete’s lyrics & he made damned sure that he would always have work. John “The Ox” Entwistle, stony faced & stood stock-still, rumbled a bass foundation & just how is he doing that ! Of course, Keith Moon, the group’s extraordinary drummer, had died in 1978. Kenney Jones, an ace Small Face, was an obvious, natural replacement but, well, y’know…Moon was a one-off, we knew that & I’m sure Kenney did too. We got 4 songs from the new, yet to be released, LP, that’s how it went in the early 1980s.  I’d have to dig out “Face Dances” to remind myself how “Don’t Let Go the Coat” goes. “You Better You Bet”…I’ll be singing that for the rest of the day.



Image result for the who 1981Promotional requirements out of the way the band gave us more of what we had come for. Just the 1 track, the one about pinball, from “Tommy”, the expansive double LP which Pete was happy to call a “rock opera”, a presumption that I was never convinced by (it was still  a great record). “Drowned”, “The Punk & the Godfather” & “5.15” were from 1973’s “Quadrophenia”, a more accomplished concept than the deaf, dumb & blind boy. Townshend was better placed than anyone to document Mod, the most significant British youth movement of the previous decade.


There’s a case to be made that Pete’s inability to satisfactorily complete “Lifehouse”,the one between these two big ideas, produced two of the group’s finest records. “Live at Leeds” (1970) may have been a stopgap release but captured the Who as an onstage juggernaut, It’s one of the great live LPs, the best ever according to Rolling Stone readers in 2012, & we were getting a taste of this tonight. “Who’s Next” (1971), with it’s innovative use of synthesizers, proved that Townshend’s pretensions to a wider cultural significance for his group were unnecessary when you were capable of making music as good as this. We got plenty of that one too.



In 1981 the Who were still a working band, touring every year to promote new albums & consolidating their rep for putting on one of the great Rock shows. They were no longer smashing their equipment but the aggression was undimmed, the power unmatched. “Who Are You”, “5.15” & “Wont Get Fooled Again”, possibly a greater anthem than “My Generation”, were a world class ending to the set. They returned for an encore which included thunderous versions of “Summertime Blues” & “Twist & Shout”. I’m guessing that the PA had been scaled down to suit the venue but this was the loudest band I had ever heard. I had friends who still told of earlier ventures south of the river, great days out at the Charlton football & the Oval cricket grounds, when the Who had rocked over 50,000 people out of their socks. To see the group in such a relatively intimate venue was a privilege. You have got to love the Internets for allowing me to hear this concert again. If you stick with “Twist & Shout” to the end (& you should) you will hear a packed cinema going nuts in appreciation of just the best way to spend 2 hours on a Monday night in Lewisham.



Image result for the who the clashThe next year the band toured the US with the Clash in support. Apart from showing out at Live Aid it would be 1989 before the next Who tour. By then the 20th anniversary of Pop’s resurgence had come around. VH1, MTV for old people, was launched, Golden Oldies were re-branded as Classic Rock & you could buy your record collection again, this time on shiny, new-fangled CDs. Original Who fans now had kids who were alright without babysitters, teenagers who were fans of the group themselves. The Who kept rolling out, even after the death of John Entwistle, to huge audiences, no longer promoting new music, easily filling long sets with their extensive back catalogue. In 2010 they were the half time attraction at the Superbowl.Pete & Roger played a 12 minute medley of songs that 100 million viewers knew because of some American cop show.


Pete Townshend probably didn’t mean it when he wrote “I hope I die before I get old”, we have all said things as dumb as that. He’s 70 now, his group still sell out big venues playing 20 songs & every one a winner. I’m not sure that I want to be there but when I catch them on TV the Who seem to retain a strength & power that has always made them a class act. I was lucky to see them do their big show at a small place. Those stellar records  (particularly the expanded “…Sell Out”), some of them 50 years old, are nearer the front of the stack nowadays too.






We Want The Airwaves (Pirate Radio)

Image result for radio london 1966I was only 11 years old when radio stations, operating from ships outside of British territorial waters, began broadcasting non-stop Pop. In 1964 I was already a little obsessed by music, more than just a Beatlemaniac, I found the rush of creativity from young British musicians to be the most exciting Art around. My parents had kindly provided a spanking new Dansette record player for the previous Xmas (to be “shared” with my younger sister. Like that was going to happen !) but my stack of 7″ 45s was small & Auntie BBC, neglectful of a new audience, shackled by a meagre ration of “needle time”, really didn’t get what was going on. Pirate Radio (could they have come up with a cooler name ?) were playing all the hits & more to an audience of 15 million but not in our house. “That’s right kids, don’t touch that dial” was was a rule set by the old folks.


Image result for transistor radio 1960sI did get my own portable, transistor radio, a hand-me-down from someone in my large extended family. It was more formal Fifties model than Swinging Sixties & boy, I wish I had it now. Everybody thought that I got a lot of homework from school but I was in my bedroom, somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, listening, more often than not, to Radio London,  “Big L”.Unfortunately the government were having none of this fun & the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act blew the boats out of the water in August 1967. My best friend & I determined to catch as much as we could in that final month. John Peel’s Perfumed Garden show, the only place to hear the new underground sounds, started at midnight. I listened quietly, the radio under the bed sheets, my younger brother asleep across the room, trying to stay awake for as long as possible. Some nights I managed a whole 15 minutes ! On August 14th, after playing “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles, a track you would never hear on the BBC, Big L stopped broadcasting. The #1 on their final Fab 40 was “Heroes & Villains”. We knew who was what.



It’s tough to select one tune from that pirate period so I’ve gone for something released at the end of 1967. On “The Who Sell Out” the group wanted to make aural Pop Art, fresh, fast, flashy, & fun. They chose to link the songs with Radio London’s jingles, recorded by the PAMS company in Dallas (I’m not sure if they obtained permission) & their own commercials. The concept worked well, “…Sell Out” is my favourite Who LP & just the best way to remember my station of choice from back then. All together now… “What’s for tea Mum ?”.


So it was “wonderful” Radio 1, staffed by many former freebooters, its mid-morning/early afternoon shows shared with the less wonderful Radio 2, which the BBC transmitted to an audience with little other choice. Caroline persevered with less resources & an air of resignation, supplies coming from Holland. Radio Luxembourg, around since the 1930s, music-based from 1960, was hardly hip to the trip & never really had been. It was 1973 before the government allowed a network of independent local commercial stations to challenge the BBC’s monopoly. There were still good shows being aired. John Peel found his corner at the BBC, playing an intoxicating mix of the wild & wonderful for over 35 years. The indies often scheduled an evening of off-playlist music while, in London, Capital’s Roger Scott hosted Cruising, a Friday rush hour of energetic American graffiti. The forced cheeriness of the daytime output, with presenters who you suspected didn’t really like music, grated very quickly. We all knew that “the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel”.



PictureAfter I moved to that London I was sure that I would find something interesting on the outer edges of the dial. Some communities did have their own set ups & the change of scenery was refreshing. In 1981 we found somewhere that seemed like just the place to hang out. Initially Dread Broadcasting Corporation only broadcast for a few hours a week from founder Lepke’s Neasden flat. They played the Roots Reggae you wanted to hear & the sound system operators knew how to present it. By 1983 people knew about it & it was a 12 hours a day, 7 days a week operation. The late, live mixes were essential, there were Funk & Soul, Jazz & Soca shows too. DBC really was an upful, vibrant thing, community radio that should have been encouraged but illegal & hounded off the air by the end of 1984. Their big tent at the Glastonbury Festival was my late night venue of choice in the early 1980s. Dancing until the bag of goodies ran out or I fell over, whichever came first.


Image result for dread broadcasting corporationReggae stations did reappear but Lovers Rock was carrying the swing, a little too sweet for my taste. It was the new Soul stations. Kiss & Horizon, which caught our ears in the mid-80s. Hip Hop & Electro were bubbling up & these fresh new sounds were what we listened to & bought back then. We, of course, would tape our favourites & I think the DJ at the club in Deptford we frequented lived next door because he would play all our new hit picks at the weekend ! Both stations were very popular & many smaller stations sprung up. The authorities encouraged them to give it up with the offer of a fair hearing at a licensing committee. Kiss FM returned as a legit operation but maybe the era of the celebrity DJ, branding at the expense of the music, didn’t help. Maybe it was just that being legal was not as much fun. Anyway, we were waiting for a pirate TV station, operating from a car driven around the Crystal Palace transmitter. We heard the rumours but we never found it !



It was later that we had a pirate station of our own operating from our South London flat. On Friday nights a bunch of young anarchists from Camden would call around, the more intrepid of them would take the transmitter to the roof along with a pre-recorded cassette, 90 minutes of subversion. They had to stay up there to swap the tape around half way through. The others sat quietly in our living room, accepting our hospitality of tea & biscuits all round. They were just kids & the most polite anarchists you could wish to meet.


One night we had places to go, people to see & left them to their business of smashing the state. On our return in the early hours the gang were still around. The running-dog lackey of a caretaker had put the police on to the renegades. One of their crew had hidden & was now locked on the roof of the 12 storey tower block. We kicked a door in, that either hadn’t occurred to them or was considered to be too drastic & rescued the frozen fugitive with ice forming in his dreadlocks, taking him back to base for more warming beverages & baked refreshments. That was the end of Radio Free Camden. The guy’s name was Fiddler…”Fiddler on the Roof”, you could not make this stuff up, so I’m not.



When There’s Things To Do Not Because You Gotta (Summer of 66)

The Summer of 1966 is a very strong contender for an inter-equinox/solstice type of deal Hall of Fame. At loosehandlebars we are often caught looking back but none of us have turned into pillars of salt because we are down with Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” No room for nostalgia here. With an unlikely cultural leap we summon “Dragnet”s Joe Friday,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. In that summer I was 13 years old. On the 30th of July England’s football team beat Germany’s 4 goals to 2 to become the Champions of the World. For 2 weeks in July the #1 record in the UK was “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks.

Image result for the kinks magazine coversThe charts belonged to the Beatles in the Summer of 66. When “Paperback Writer” was released in June the next double sided smash, “Eleanor Rigby”/”Yellow Submarine”, had already been recorded. For the 6 weeks of non-Fab Four omniscience the chart-toppers were Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, the Troggs & the Kinks. Britpop carried the swing but acts were having to raise their game because the competition was unforgiving. You were only as good as your last single & who wants yesterday’s papers…you get me ? The Kinks had got the hit single thing absolutely down. After “You Really Got Me” 11 of the next 12 45s made the Top 10 (the other reached #11). There are some great songs in that run, “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” did not match the sales of the big guns but maybe should have. Ray Davies was developing an acerbic, more expansive (did I hear anyone say smug ?) style. “Well Respected Man” was a tentative start, “Dedicated Follower” was just original, funny & brilliant. “Sunny Afternoon” is a multi-layered satire on either the old Imperial aristocracy or the nouveau rock rich & the reaction to Government tax policy. It is a Lovin’ Spoonful song with added cynicism. It is 4 pints in a British beer garden, the dolly birds in their mini dresses. It is languid, lovely & it was everywhere.

There was no cricket season in 1966. Well not until the football was done with. This was the first & the only World Cup to be staged in Britain in my lifetime. It was the first one when TV technology & space hardware meant that the whole world (except the USA) really was watching. My friends & I kicked a ball about all day, new international heroes to admire & to emulate, before watching 2 games in the evening. The first week saw a great victory for Hungary over the champions Brazil. My Uncle Erno, a refugee from the 1956 uprising, was able to show his pride & his enthusiasm for his country for the first time since he fled…splendid. England became the World Champions at the first tournament I had watched so carefully. It seemed to be the natural order of things, Swinging London would surely always be the cultural centre of the world. I wish someone had told my 13 year old self that I should appreciate & relish England’s victory because it would NEVER bloody happen again in my life !

Image result for the who magazine coversThe Who, like the Kinks, were on an inspired run of singles & were reliant on the creativity of a single member of the group. Ray Davies & Pete Townshend were intelligent but fragile talents who did not react well to the demands of their musical partners, business associates & audience. Their respective autobiographies are a litany of complaint, dissatisfaction, even damage when they were living the dream of so many. It may have been tough, it may have been hell but man, it produced a shed load of fantastic, original, world class pop songs. “I’m A Boy” was released in August 1966, the first of a twisted, thrilling trilogy of hit singles. Pete was already beyond his smashed/blocked Mod anthem phase & this clip shows the confidence & talent of the whole band. Not yet the best rock & roll band in the world but maybe on their way. Most of Pete’s work seems to have been part of a more ambitious song cycle. It took some time before he was able to balance the rock operas & the hit singles. “Happy Jack” & “Pictures Of Lily” kept the Who in the Top 10, these strange & wonderful songs of adolescence. I was never dressed as a girl by my mother but…”I wanna play cricket on the green. Ride my bike across the stream.Cut myself and see my blood.I wanna come home all covered in mud”. I was 13 years old & so did I.

Our family holiday was 2 weeks long in 1966. We usually had a week in a caravan (I loved it) but this year we went further for longer & stayed in a B&B. Did we have more money ? I have not the slightest idea ! As the eldest of 5 I had 3 younger brothers to play with/look after. No problem, I loved them then & still do now. My parents arranged for my best friend to join us for the 2nd week as company for me. Y’know I thought that was great then but now…how cool & kind were my folks. Wink & I had a great time. On a rainy day my Dad took us to a snooker hall, a wonderful fuggy place of dim light, green baize, stale smoke. A man’s place. He paid for our game & left us alone to our Fast Eddie Felson fantasies…we loved it. In 1966 there were still illegal pirate radio stations in the UK. Our Yorkshire resort had one moored nearby so reception was loud & clear. In the evenings we took a radio to the cliffs & we listened to a lot of music. Released on the same day as “Eleanor Rigby” & its successor at # 1 was this classic.

Mod was provincial by 1966. Those sharp dressed young men of 1963 inspired by an R&B existentialism were moving from purple hearts to Gold Lebanese, to a new dandyism supplied by Carnaby St boutiques. Out here on the perimeter an army surplus parka, a scooter & a liking for Tamla Motown got you into the club. Hey, it was OK, working class kids still wanted to look sharp, there was still plenty of business for the local tailor, but the first steps from Hard Mod to Skinhead were being taken. In 1966 the Small Faces were absolutely the top Mod band in the UK. They took up permanent residence in the Top 10 with 4 singles & every day of the year they looked as great as this. Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane learned how to write the pop/R&B belters & “All Or Nothing” was their biggest hit. They were becoming a great band but things were changing by the end of the year.

Image result for small faces magazine coversIn May 1966 the Beatles played their last UK concert. There was anyway, a new generation of young girls looking for their own idols. The Small Faces were all good looking boys, they attracted screaming teenyboppers to their gigs when being heart throbs was no longer quite the thing. There was not a lot of money around, they helped themselves to the best clothes in London, living the life while the bills were sent to the manager. When the band’s parents called on Don Arden he grassed them up about the marijuana habit…oh oh. Keyboard player Ian McLagan got busted which hampered US visas at an important time. The band did get away from Arden. He sent his heavies to dangle one potential suitor from a window but they went with Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham & his new label Immediate. Still no money but still the talent & interesting times ahead.

We were back at school when the Small Faces were at #1. In that same chart was “Land Of 1,000 Dances”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose” & “Working In A Coal Mine”. Soul Heaven…sitting on those cliffs, with my best friend, listening to Wilson Pickett shriek “1-2-3 !” that was great. There have been better summers, great places, great times & people but I doubt that there has been a better soundtrack. The day after my Dad took us to the snooker hall it rained again. He asked us what we wanted to do. We said that we wanted to go back there again. He was not too keen but we said, hey, you pay & leave us to it. It’s said that an ability to play a decent game of snooker is the sign of a misspent youth. Well we were doing the best we could back then.

I Thought I Was The Bally Table King (Pinball)

There are a number of things that I was born at the right time for. There is no element of nostalgia when I remember hearing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Good Vibrations” or “Sgt Pepper” on the day they were released. It sure made the 1960s an interesting musical experience. Similarly three of the first movies my wife-to-be and I saw together at the cinema …”Easy Rider”, “The Graduate” and “Midnight Cowboy”. Now I don’t spend too much time checking my footprints (“they are upstairs in my socks”  Groucho Marx) but a twice weekly cinema-going habit in the 1970s meant that you saw a lot of good movies. Then there was the Sexual Revolution, all the women I knew were “on the pill”. Yeah, I would be lying if I said that I did any more than read about that.

Anyhoo…here’s another thing that I thought was golden at the time and is now as obsolete as the video machine.

In the monochrome early 1960s my family went to the same seaside holiday camp. Being the eldest of 4, soon to be 5, children I got to explore the place by myself. The only source of colour around had, of course, a magnetic attraction for my young self. The amusement arcade had a juke box and a pinball machine. If it was my choice, I would still be living there now. I had little spare cash to flash but, like Chance the Gardener, I liked to watch. It was in this neon oasis that I learned how to put the three best records on the juke and how a proper pinball player presented himself in the battle of man versus machine. The designs, the noise, the lights…I liked those too.

“Pinball Boogie” is a song one of our favourite mid-70s bands, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers, played in a live set which always included imaginative covers. They were a fun band which included a former Resident and a future Attraction. When they whipped out this belter from the 1940s we loved it. I suppose that “Pinball Boogie” can be read as rather clumsy sexual metaphor. “Rattle it and shake it till it gets in the hole”…mmm…it might be worth a try.

The university I attended was an experiment conducted by mad social scientists. A concrete carbuncle dropped into beautiful Constable country and a 1,000 students left to find a way to get along. There were three communal TV rooms (one for each channel !) and little else to divert. There was, however, a bare room containing four shiny new pinball machines. It was time to put those misspent rainy holiday afternoons to good use.

We were competitive and we were pretty good. An etiquette was established. stand away from the table and don’t talk to the guy who is playing. Let him concentrate and don’t give him an excuse when he screws up. It takes more than crazy flipper fingers to get the best out of a table which can be a cussed thing giving you nothing. The ball has to be cajoled with body English (lovely phrase) , careful not to “tilt” and lose it, when you get it right, grokking the machine, the ball will just run onto the flippers and the points will rack up, giving up it’s replays with that satisfying “THWACK !”

We left the campus and lived in a nearby seaside village. In Winter the tumbleweed fluttered along the streets of shuttered chalets  but a small arcade remained open all year round. We knew the machines inside out, playing pinball was what we did of an evening. Good times. On leaving the seaside and student life there were tables to be found in pubs and we would drink in those discerning dives with no thought for the quality of alcohol available. Living in London there were still arcades and from Soho down to Brighton we must have played them all. In a splendid low-life Brixton joint we would play the locals for money, careful not to win big as we lived our Hustler/Cincinnatti  Kid dreams.

“Pinball Cha Cha” is by the Swiss band Yello. It is a song of a man who can only find solace at a pinball table. “It’s just pinball for me. It’s claro que si” (of course). There have been afternoons with just me in the pub and I’m doing the thing I do when I may have been that man playing “the sensational game”. OK, I suppose that I have to do this…

Not too obvious…this is a ready-for-prime-time demo of “Pinball Wizard”, Pete Townshend’s epic from “Tommy”. If I had a pound for every time some wit has said to me, “Oh, you’re a Pinball Wizard are you ?” I would have £15. The machines got more electronic, more complicated. Of course I liked the traditional machines but this was no Fonz fantasy. Bring it on…make the whistles and bells blow and ring until, one day, the machine disintegrates in front of you !

And now the pinball machine has pretty much disappeared. I have even stopped looking in the nooks of the seaside arcades because it’s disappointing that this last refuge no longer comes through. I have had friends who, building their own man-cave, bought their very own tables. It’s cool for a couple of days to get a few games in while the first kettle boils but they are bloody noisy in a confined space and unlimited free games can take the edge off your game. Then, when you have sated yourself, friends arrive and they want to make some noise for a few more hours. It’s just not the same as being down the pub.

So now it’s the X-Box and the PS3, games from the comfort of your sofa and that’s OK. I have done my share of Tomb Raiding. Console Pinball , crazy flipper thumbs ?…Please ! I really enjoyed my pinball days (still think I could kick a machine’s arse, if I could find one). I liked to walk away from a table leaving the free plays for the next player. If you have had the perfect game you will do no better. I really liked the arcade days when a young kid would be watching as you subjugated the silver ball to your will. I would give him the free plays just as the aces I had watched back in the day had given them to me. Pay it forward, yeah.

Pete Townshend. Life Outside The Who.

Pete Townshend, the Who and the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” were tied together for quite some time. “Tommy” was the cornerstone of their spectacular live performances. Surely Pete tired of reiterating the meaning of his “rock opera” to uninterested journos. At the end of the 60s musicians were now expected to be philosophers and seekers. Some stellar talents died and others became addicted to whatever was available as they tried to break on through to the other side. Townshend hitched his wagon to the teachings of Meher Baba, a spiritual master who had not spoken since 1925. Baba had complicated views on reincarnation and the process of God-realization. His philosophy had been reduced to “don’t worry, be happy”. That Pete was searching was no surprise but there was an earthiness, an anger and a sense of humour about the Who which did not fully convince me that the West Londoner was not still getting wasted on the way.

Musically the group did not make a wrong move in the new decade. Pete’s next concept was “Lifehouse” a more personal project. He worked and worked it but never got it to a place where he wanted to release it. He was to lick his wounds and retreat to his notebooks where surely the story of a fucked up Mod, “Quadrophenia”, must have already been waiting in embryonic form. If anyone was to chronicle this British tribe then it was the original “Modfather”. An interim LP “Live At Leeds” was a blues-rock approximation of a volcanic eruption. The new kids in town, Led Zeppelin, made a big noise but so did these old hands. The “Lifehouse” tapes were used as the basis of a studio album, “Who’s Next”, a collection of such quality few have equalled never mind bettered.

The Who were at the top of their game. They kept busy with “Quadrophenia” (1973) and another LP 2 years later. Pete handed “Tommy” to the idiosyncratic director, Ken Russell. Whatever your opinion of the movie it does have Ann Margret writhing around in beans and chocolate. I’ll repeat that, it does have Ann Margret…ah, you get me. Pete made a couple of records inspired and dedicated to Baba. It was 1977 before a record with his name on was commercially released.

“Rough Mix” was a collaboration with fellow Mod musician and Baba devotee, Ronnie Lane. I was lucky enough to meet Ronnie in the early 70s, he was a lovely friendly man. I should have told him how great his work with the Small Faces, and the Faces, was. I will never get that chance now. The LP is a fine mix of British rock. Pete hung up the power chords and plays more lead guitar. “My Baby” and “Keep Me Turning” are songs good enough to compare with the Who. The demos Pete had made of his hit songs always had a more acoustic feel. For over 10 years these tunes had been put through the Who process, muscles added to the skinny frame. On “Rough Mix” the songs did not suffer from a different approach. The album went down really well round our yard. The full thing is available on You Tube, if you have any interest in the Who it will be 41 minutes and 33 seconds well spent. It will probably not be the last time you listen to it.


The sad but perhaps inevitable death of Keith Moon in 1978 must have initiated a period of re-appraisal for the remaining three members of the Who. The four of them had shared the amazing journey. The chemistry between them made the music greater than the sum of the parts. The Who may continue but it would never be the same. Pete, having his own problems with alcohol, released a fine solo LP “Empty Glass” and in 1981 a new Who album “Face Dances” came around. I went to see the Who a month before this release. It was not some enormo-dome mega gig but in a South London cinema. My musical tastes had changed. I did not listen to the Who so much in those days. The band were absolutely spell binding. Kenny Jones, a fellow traveller of Ronnie Lane’s and John “Rabbit” Bundrick joined the original trio. They had a classic catalogue to select from. Every song was golden, the bond between Daltrey and Townshend astonishing. The intimacy of the relatively small venue allowed us to see Pete at work close up. So that’s how it is done ! It was a stunning gig and my ears rang for the next two days.

The clip I have chosen is from a tour in 1985. The song is a feature track on the 1982 solo LP “All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes” (rubbish title). When Pete toured he did it properly and he assembled an impressive band. Bundrick came along, Simon Phillips is a great drummer and David Gilmour helped out on guitar. It’s a terrific song with the dynamics of a Who anthem but without the windmill chords. A mature Townshend, undoubtedly, he had to strike the poses when he played with the Who but he was 40 now and probably, like all of us, no longer hoped he died before he got old. I selected the later clip because the live footage of the final song is not as excellent as the recorded version. This take on “The Sea Refuses No River”  shows a happy and confident Pete with a fine band to showcase his song.

“Save It for Later” is a song by the Beat (known in the US as the English Beat). From Birmingham, they had hooked up with the Two-Tone bands, groups who were too young for punk and had their own take on pop and ska. I always liked the Beat, they had some good songs. My wife had worked on the design of the first LP sleeve and I spent a pleasant evening with two of them when they were in the band General Public. “Save It” was possibly their best song but there are other contenders. Pete had recorded cover versions before but mostly they were influential songs from his youth. In one instance he covered a favourite song of Meher Baba.

This song by Pete is, I think, little known yet when I listen to it I hear a hit record. He has kept the basic acoustic rhythm which first attracted him and added characteristic Townshend flourishes. It would not be him if he did not stretch his music towards anthemic. The killer touch in this version is the work of piano player Nicky Hopkins. He fills out the sound so beautifully as he had done for years on LPs by the Who, the Beatles, the Stones and a hundred other albums you like. A girlfriend once had to sort out a Japanese visa for Hopkins, on tour with Art Garfunkel. She told me she expected his C.V. the next day and I said she was in for a surprise. She was more than impressed when she saw his history.

I make no great claims for the continued relevance of Pete Townshend in his later years. He can play the Olympics or the Superbowl with his singer and it is songs from 40 years ago that the audience want to hear. From 1965 to 1975 he consistently produced songs that defined the times and that have survived the changing times. That is enough and I love this version of “Save It For Later”


The Who Before Tommy. The Kids Are Alright.

In 1965 I knew about how the Beat from the Mersey tide that had swept us all up was now receding. Those lovable Mop Tops were moving right along. They not only bought a ticket to ride,  they were driving the bus. The London art school boys were tired of waiting and drove pop forward anyway, anyhow, anywhere they pleased. England swings, like a pendulum do . Was I a precocious 12 year old ? I don’t think so. When the Beatles shook the world it was Year Zero for the youth. Something was happening and even if we did not know what it was, the music was telling us about new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. TV, newspapers,our parents, our schools,none of them understood the outer manifestations (the hair, the clothes) . How were they gonna even get near to a rejection of the straight jacket of twisted, hypocritical morality which had prevailed in “Great” Britain from Victorian times until 15 years after the end of World War 2 ? They were not.

Lennon & McCartney started a tradition of young British working class boys going into their bedroom with a guitar and their favourite music emerging with ideas and sounds which would affect the world. This voice had not been heard in their own homes before. Now, if you were any good, your music allowed you to reach millions of people. In 1965 some of those young Brits who walked through the door kicked down by the Beatles were ahead of the writers, the film-makers and the artists when it came to reflecting and anticipating change in the world.

Here are The Who looking bored on the edge of The Serpentine in Hyde Park as they lip-synch a track from their 1965 LP “My Generation”. The early days of the group (as the High Numbers) were a messy energetic mix of R & B, Motown and Surf/Beach Boys covers. This worked well enough in the mod clubs and the West London pubs but when it came to recording they needed their own sound. They found it immediately. The group’s guitarist, just 20 that summer, Pete Townshend showed a facility for song writing, of such originality, that he wrote 7 Top 10 singles from the first 2 LPs. He handed over his lyrics to the singer, Roger Daltrey, while he worked the power chords. Keith Moon was a drummer so unique that his busy but not intrusive style still surprises today. John Entwistle provided a solid bass rumble upon which the power and the fury revolved.

The third single by the Who was “My Generation”, a blistering cry of youth revolt , still regarded as a definitive rock anthem. It established them in the music world and the quality of Pete’s songs ensured their position was maintained and their reputation enhanced. “The Kids Are Alright” was released as a single by a record company from which the group were trying to extricate themselves . It was not a hit because the Who did little to promote the song. No matter, it is an outstanding example of the group’s early work. I could examine the entrails of the song., the pace, the harmonies, the chorded guitar break (hardly a solo) but is the whole which is most satisfying. Townshend had the three minute simple logic of the pop song down. The lyrics hardly match the angst and sexual frustration of other 60s Who singles but the song is a positive one about liking and trusting your friends. You know as I listen to this song I hear the pace and feel of early R.E.M. “Chronic Town” and “Murmur” were a young three piece band making a good noise, making their point and not hanging about. It is never not a pleasure to hear “The Kids Are Alright”.

The Who did not have big hits in the U.S.A. The brilliant run of singles had their champions in the press there but it was not until the tour of 1967 that the group made an impression. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was a gathering of the new Californian hippie tribe. It was the Who and the honorary Brit, Jimi Hendrix, who took the power and aggression of the music to an almost logical conclusion and destroyed the instruments they used to make it. Those L.A. hippies had the flowers blown clean out of their hair and the Who were on their way.

This appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Show” helped as well. “My Generation” was two years old but was new to Americans. The band are leaving the young Mod look behind and are in their Carnaby Street finery (and what seems like a layer of pancake make up). To us British it is the Who doing that thing they do. To American viewers it was another example of the strangeness of this new music. The story is that Moon, not wanting to be upstaged by Pete’s guitar smashing act, bribed a stage hand to increase the explosives in his drum kit. The resultant explosion shocked everybody. It is hilarious.

Pete Townshend, from early on, tried to find an effective way of linking his music. The second LP “A Quick One” had a title track that was 9 minutes long and was dubbed a “mini opera”. Released a year before the pivotal “Sergeant Pepper” Townshend was showing his hand too soon. The Who’s audience wanted those three minute vignettes combined with the muscle of the power trio. “So Sad About Us” from the LP and not a single is another Mod classic in the vein of “Kids”. After the Beatles, the deluge. Every band and their uncle were getting it together in the country in search of their “concept album”. The Who certainly delivered with “Tommy” an album that has sold over 20 million copies. In this writer’s opinion the LP before “Tommy”, an attempt at aural pop art with songs linked by radio jingles and ads is a finer piece of work. “The Who Sell Out” (113 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest LPs) is a more successful and fully realised piece of work.

Anyway, what do I know ? By the end of 1968 The Who were a major live act and in December they were guests on the Rolling Stones’  Rock and Roll Circus.This was a TV spectacular/the Stones’ answer to “Magical Mystery Tour”. It was not released at the time. The performance of “Salt of the Earth” is perhaps one reason, Jagger and Richard’s legendary procrastination another. The Who were straight off a concert tour and were fully match fit. Rather than perform anything from “Tommy” they reached back and revived “A Quick One”. They were sensational as you can see in the clip. Daltrey is becoming the master fringed frontman, not yet whirling the mic around. The others are all just so on it.Pete had now perfected the windmill power chord. Moon plays as though he has more than two arms. Entwistle, the rock solid bassist, provides French horn and falsetto vocals as required. Amazing.It may not be the best Who song but it is a great performance. Perhaps the reason for such a delay (it was finally shown in 1996) is that the “greatest rock and roll band in the world” were blown off stage by the Who that night.