Some bands seem to have averted the threat of ever being over rated. No one ever complains that Led Zeppelin, or The Beatles, or (hey day) Rolling Stones (I like to think of the post 70s Stones as a completely different band) get too much praise. I know there are plenty of American examples too, but I’m in a British mood. Because I just listened to The Who’s, Who’s Next. And it made me realise, they’re another one of those bands who have averted the threat of ever being over rated. But have they earned it?
Is this the greatest album opener of all time? Baba O’Riley is a song I’m more than a little familiar with. In isolation, I sometimes find the extended, repetitive intro a little too extended and repetitive. But hearing it here, knowing it’s the setup to an entire album, it struck me in a totally new, and totally awesome way. It’s an amazing slow burn that pays off within this song alone, while also getting me really pumped for what Who’s Next as a whole has to offer.
Things take an early change for the quiet that I really wasn’t expecting from The Who. Bargain offers plenty of attitude, but it’s a sizzle, not a full on guitar assault. Then things become even more subdued with Love ‘Aint for Keeping, an acoustic jam that reminds me little of the Rolling Stones.
My Wife is a stand out, and not for good reasons. The only song on Who’s Next not written by guitarist Pete Townsend, or sung by lead singer Roger Daltrey, bass player John Entwistle took over both writing and vocal duties. All it made me think was, old Thunder Fingers should leave the writing and singing to Pete and Rog. It’s awkward and cheesy, and only more awkward and more cheesy when sandwiched been Townsend written gold.
Speaking of Townsend written gold, they can’t all be winners. As the writer of more than one rock opera, I don’t think anyone would ever accuse Pete Townsend of being unambitious or shying away from big, bombastic song writing. But when the octave exploiting, kind of lazy piano intro of Getting in Tune kicked in with all of its underwhelming glory, before the on the nose lyrics of Daltrey stumbled in with “I’m sing this note ‘coz it fits in well with the chords I’m playing”, I couldn’t help thinking maybe Pete could benefit from agonising over this one a little more. Because Baba O’Riley, this song is not.
Then we have Behind Blue Eyes. All I have to say is, thanks a fucking lot Limp Bizkit. Your shitty, shitty version, and commercial radio’s bizarre decision to not let it die, mean all I could hear was your shitty, shitty version, even while listening to the original.
A great bookend, Won’t Get Fooled Again returns to an intro and overall sound very reminiscent of Baba O’Riley and delivers the second best song on Who’s Next (after O’Riley obviously). The opener and closer are a little simpler and straight forward than a lot of what we get in between them, yet they are also the most interesting and listenable.
While they’re by far the best, that’s not to say they’re the only songs worth listening to. In fact, I’d say Who’s Next only has two songs I’m likely to skip next time I listen to it. This is four world class musicians, all at the top of their game, all delivering to make a more than solid album over 40 years ago that still delivers and still sounds almost timeless today.