Back in the 1980s when as a teen I was getting heavily into rock music there were three monolithic pillars of English hard rock, three unassailable bands who would appear on any of those Top XXX lists that rock radio stations loved to put out. The Beatles were not one of them in that they were more pop and frankly seemed to exist on another plane entirely, one that ran the gamut from suits with thin ties to freaky acid trips, from strawberry fields to marmalade skies. But in the world of hard rock those big three were Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and The Who.
Establishing your identity as a rocker was only the first step to creating your teenage identity. From there you had to pick a camp. I was always a Zeppelin guy, start to finish. Yes the Stones had lots of great songs that I liked a lot, but I honestly don’t think I ever owned a Stones album other than the Hot Rocks greatest hits collection. I was definitely more of a singles fan when it came to the Stones as opposed to how I consumed the mighty mothership, in album sized pieces. Then there was The Who. For whatever reason I never “got” The Who. Which doesn’t make any sense at all, because they’re a great band and at the time they were all over rock radio (Who’s Next felt ancient when I was in high school… but it was only about 15 years old at the time. How is it possible it’s 48 now?!?!). But for whatever reason I never connected with them. I did, however, own a copy of Who’s Next on CD, which I’m pretty sure I bought because I absolutely loved “Behind Blue Eyes”.
The big collection of freebies I got a few weeks back included about a half dozen records by The Who, so I have the opportunity to address my ignorance. I listened to Tommy the other day for the first time all the way through and it was… well, when I texted my buddy Travis that I was spinning it for the first time ever his response was, “It’s… ambitious…” And it is, but it’s also a bit much for me. So for round two I decided to hit up old faithful, Who’s Next.
Damn this album sounds great. There’s a richness to the vocals I don’t think I ever truly heard before, the recording providing a sense of depth that you don’t hear very often. The musical palette is full but not overwhelming – you’re not being hit with a wall of noise and feedback, which gives everything a bit of space and allows you to concentrate on specific sonic elements if you want to. And the songs… this is one of those albums that in and of itself is almost a “Best Of” – “Baba O’Riley”, “Behind Blue Eyes”, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are all bonafide classics, but even the next tier of “Love Ain’t For Keeping”, “Going Mobile”, and “Song Is Over” would qualify as three of the best five songs for any other band not called The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, or Rolling Stones (♠). Who’s Next is one of those albums that if you’re a rock fan you’ll know every song, even if you’ve never listened to the album – it’s like it comes to you through osmosis.
I have a newfound respect for The Who after sitting down and just listening to Who’s Next. And it’s not just the quality of the songs – the record sounds amazing. This box of free stuff has been full of turn-back-the-clock surprises. I can’t want to see what’s next.
(♠) Clearly this is an exaggeration. So sue me.