Classic Rock Review

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The Who Odds And Sods (1974)

zap_who9From starling.rinet.ru

A slightly more obscure album of outtakes selected and cleaned up by John while the other band members were following their own fortunes. The good Ox thus lent a hand to the band in that (a) 1974 did not pass out without a Who album and (b) some of the real good stuff has been given out instead of dusting on the shelves. Still, one should always approach an outtake album with caution since, well, outtakes are usually something the band does not like from the start, and if even the band itself does not like ’em, why should we? In fact, the only great outtakes album I know seems to be Tattoo You, but most of them were reworked, so it’s not a clear-cut case… Oh, never mind.

This stuff mostly falls in three categories, one of which is Lifehouse outtakes, the other one is tunes written somewhere around 1972-73 but not directly related to any conceptual project, and the most precious part is earlier stuff which for the most part rules. Funny enough, they decided to include even their first single which was yet recorded under the High Numbers moniker (‘I’m The Face’, a dorky mod anthem set to the melody of Slim Harpo’s ‘Got Love If You Want It’ and lyrics of early mod guru Pete Meaden). It’s nothing special, but it is funny, and especially weird-looking in this context.

The early stuff also includes the anti-smoke groove ‘Little Billy’ which was originally made for a cancer society or something like that but rejected because the company thought it was too scary (ha-ha! little Billy didn’t mind!), and the gorgeous ballad ‘Faith In Something Bigger’ with some unsurpassed vocal harmonies and an excellent, soaring guitar solo (modestly hailed in the liner notes by Pete as “the worst I’ve heard”). Apparently it could have easily fit in on Sell Out. Plus, the shorty ‘Glow Girl’ provides some insights into the beginnings of Tommy – and did you know that ‘Tommy’ was supposed to be a girl in the first place? All these songs are very far from being classics, but that’s no big reason to dismiss ’em none.

Unfortunately, the 70’s stuff is not that good. Sure, it has ‘Naked Eye’, one of their most fascinating rockers with some of Townshend’s most hard-hitting, socially biting, pessimistic lyrics (check out an early, abbreviated, one-verse version on Isle Of Wight, as well as a live version as a bonus track to the re-issue of Who’s Next). It’s even a bit theatrical, with Roger impersonating the “power guy” and Pete playing the “bitter cynic”, thus leading to their more famous vocal interplay on ‘Punk And Godfather’. A classic track by all means. But then this stuff also includes ‘Pure And Easy’, which is the kind of real bombastic stuff I dislike about the Who; it’s in the same vein as ‘Song Is Over’, with even more of that smelly ‘universalist’ flair, and even its good melody and brilliant, understated, economic guitar solo don’t save it from ultimately getting my pukes. And the two songs of lesser cult status – ‘Put The Money Down’ and ‘Too Much Of Anything’ – are pretty average: no wonder they were left off of Who’s Next. Too slow, plodding and long; can’t say that the former lacks power (Roger screams his head off just fine), or that the latter lacks prettiness, but they cause way too little emotional resonance to justify the length and pomp.

The real dreck, though, comes with the even later stuff: Entwistle’s bleak travelogue ‘Postcard’, which unexplicably is used as the album opener, just doesn’t bother to be melodious (sadly, somewhere around this time Entwistle’s talents at songwriting slowly began to sink down the drain. Maybe that was because he ceased to incorporate black humour? Who can tell?), and ‘Now I’m A Farmer’ is one of Pete’s least convincing grooves.

I do like Keith’s hilarious impersonation of a gardener at the end of the track, though – pretty much saves the whole experience for me. Oh well, at least they bothered to have ‘Long Live Rock’ here. In case you haven’t heard it, it’s a brilliant anthem to rock music as a genre, and far surpasses the Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock’n’Roll’ in that respect. Might seem a little dumb, but hey, it is meant to seem a little dumb – anthem or not, it’s obviously supposed to be taken in an ironic key, and that’s the way I take it. Don’t know about anybody else. Still, an album that has at least one duffer for every gem is not that big of an achievement, I guess, and my original rating here was a weak seven – which is still pretty good by anybody’s standards, and pretty good considered that these are outtakes, but…

PS. Hey, but wait! The new re-release of the album is greatly improved! It has almost twice as many tracks as the original, bringing the album’s running time to 77 minutes, and some of them are good. And what’s more, it’s not just that they are good: actually, none of the bonus tracks are great, but the way they added ’em and rearranged the running order, you get a fascinating “discobiography” of the Who – from their earliest stunts like ‘I’m The Face’ and ‘Leaving Here’, through the poppy period, the rocky period, and the mature philosophic period. Kinda like the Beatles’ Anthology popped into one seventy-minute discs, only most of the stuff are not raw demo versions, but real accomplished songs you ain’t never heard before.

Among the general “additional” goodies you’ll find such groovy novelties as studio recordings of ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Young Man Blues’ (both inferior to the live recordings, quite naturally, but still fun to listen to, especially since these are practically the only pieces of ferocious feedbacky, distorted rock’n’roll they recorded in the 1967-69 pop art era); more Lifehouse outtakes (a ‘heavy’ version of ‘Love Ain’t For Keepin” with Pete on vocals, the gorgeous, not-a-bit-overblown ballad ‘Time Is Passing’; the studio version of ‘Water’ – again, inferior to the live takes, because hey, ‘Water’ is supposed to be ten minutes long, not four, goddammit, but, surprisingly, the distorted solo at the end is truly excellent), and some early bits of amusement (an old acetate of ‘Leaving Here’/’Baby Don’t You Do It’).

Missed anything? Oh sure! What about the hilarious cover of Eddie Cochran’s ‘My Way’? The pleasant organ version of ‘Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand’ with Al Kooper on said instrument? The pathetic bluesy “introduction” to ‘Cousin Kevin’? The “save-the-Stones” cover of ‘Under My Thumb’? The… wait, there’s just too much of that stuff here. Hell, it ain’t exactly the greatest music these guys ever recorded, but it’s all so diverse, intriguing, well-performed and involving that it’s no problem for me to upgrade the overall rating one point. Get the reissue, not the original, and screw all you pessimists.

February 27, 2013 - Posted by | The Who Odds And Sods |

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