Who’s Next began as a project called “Lifehouse.” Pete Townshend would almost drive himself to a nervous breakdown trying to create another musical tale called “Lifehouse.” Unlike Tommy, this project collapsed under its own weight. Even Roger Daltrey couldn’t quite fathom what “Lifehouse” was supposed to be about. The band had rented The Old Vic Theatre for production of the project. It’s a fascinating story, just beyond Townshend’s reach at the time.
However envisioned, Townshend revived some of the “Lifehouse” songs, along with one song written by bassist John Entwistle, for what I consider their greatest work, Who’s Next.
All songs written by Pete Townshend except “My Wife” by John Entwistle. The album was produced by the Who, but have engineer Glyn Johns an associate producer credit. I imagine Johns contributed much to the sound the production beyond that skimpy credit. The production sensitivity that embraced the acoustic instruments was a technical skill of Johns. Who’s Next contained a lot of acoustic guitar and piano, not to mention the drums, and capturing the sound cleanly and with power, made this a strong musical album. Johns would work with the Who again on Who By Numbers and It’s Hard.
This album contained a superb set of rock and roll songs, spirited for the blue jean wearing, freedom seeking youth, of any country, but aimed squarely at the USA market. Townshend wrote about the restless spirit, longing for love, but not necessarily a lengthy commitment, dissatisfied with the establishment, and wanting to set your own direction.
Townshend employed a lot of electric guitar, but this wasn’t Led Zeppelin. He used acoustic guitar and piano on nearly every song to provide the chords and melodic spine. Electric guitar was used for expression, fills and solos. The synthesizer was new to rock, although progressive rock bands had latched onto it and the Beatles used it on Abbey Road. Townshend weaponized it for more commercial rock, his repeating patterns on “Baba O’Riley and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” showed how it could be par to the song structure in a truly unique way, different from the Mellotron and organ. Townshend was a bit of mad scientist, working in his music room surrounded by keyboards and tape machines in search of the lost chord pattern.
No. Title Lead vocal Length
1.”Baba O’Riley” Roger Daltrey (verses), Townshend (bridge) 5:08 The opening synthesizer spelled something different, then the piano chords, and then the drums and finally the guitar riffs. What a beginning.
This song was directed at young people. “It’s only teenage wasteland.” Pete knew how to open an open with a blast, this is a rousing song to get you on your feet, or sailing down the highway with the top down.
2. “Bargain” Daltrey (verses), Townshend (bridge) 5:34 Another blistering song with a lot of great guitar playing. Thunderous drumming and creative use of the synthesizer.
3. “Love Ain’t for Keeping” Daltrey 2:10 A rocker with acoustic guitars, still with a lot of energy and fine playing.
Lay down beside me, Love ain’t for keeping
4. “My Wife” Entwistle 3:41 Never under estimate the Ox, he wrote some dandy songs for the Who, but less so for his own albums. This tune crackles with spunk, it has a great horn/bass groove. This is a winner.
5. “The Song Is Over” Townshend (verses), Daltrey (chorus) 6:14 A gentle intro with piano and synth, Daltrey singing. The song starts slow and builds, then slows down at the verse and heats up again.
It’s all behind me
I should have known it
She tried to find me
They’re all ahead now
I’ve got to learn it
I’m gonna to sing out
No. Title Lead vocal Length
1.”Getting in Tune” Daltrey 4:50 A soft piano intro, then it picks up steam with piano and electric guitars. The Who can shift gears from a slow roll to an all out blistering rock conflagration in seconds. The song ends with a big finish.
With the chords I’m playing
I can’t pretend there’s any meaning here
Or in the things I’m saying
2.”Going Mobile” Townshend on a rare lead vocal 3:42 A piano and acoustic guitar intro that builds behind thundering Moon drums. Townshend only brings the electric guitars in on the choruses and solos, but the acoustic guitars deliver the pulsating groove.
I don’t care about pollution
I’m an air-conditioned gypsy
That’s my solution
Watch the police and the taxman miss me
3.”Behind Blue Eyes” Daltrey 3:42 Plaintive lyrics, Daltrey sings with just an acoustic guitar. Then the song picks up energy with an electric guitar and Daltrey snarls his lyrics.
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free
4.”Won’t Get Fooled Again” Daltrey 8:32 “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Townshend created a masterpiece. A techno wizard with the synthesizer, creating loops and imaginative sounds, he was one of the first to harness the creative power of the machine. His tapes used in the studio were taken on the road since they are critical to the song and can’t be reproduced live. Townshend’s guitar windmill riffs power the anger in the song along with Daltrey’s powerful vocals. This is the Who’s anthem, railing against revolution and the boot of government.
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
The cover photo came from a coal mining town. The concrete slab is a reminder from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Townshend was the only true urinator of the four. Daltrey is said to have not really liked the idea. It’s a great concept, although not well received by the conservative establishment at the time. It’s rather iconic now.
Who’s Next is one of the greatest rock albums in history. It captures the spirit of rock and roll, has instantly memorable songs and is infused with the Who’s remarkable energy. It’s timeless.