Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Who Who’s Next (1971)


After Leeds Townshend was in full rock-opera mode again, but his ambitious Lifehouse project was ultimately aborted. Tensions from the sessions resulted in a falling out between Townshend and producer Kit Lambert, who had basically served as the unofficial fifth member of the band and who was a great “ideas guy.” Fortunately, producer Glyn Johns was brought on board and he did a bang up job, and Townshend’s release of the Lifehouse concept enabled him to focus on a concise all-killer, no-filler 9-track album.

The album, which many including yours truly consider the band’s best, is notable for several things. For one thing, it’s bookended by arguably the band’s two best songs ever, “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Also, Johns delivered a cleaner, more polished arena rock sound that didn’t sacrifice any of the band’s legendary power, Townshend masterfully integrated synthesizers within said full-bodied sound, and Daltrey comes of age on this album, singing not only with his usual cocksure swagger but with a tenderness as well; this album established him once and for all as one of rock music’s finest singers. As previously noted, the album starts with “Baba O’Riley,” one of the best rock anthems ever (as per usual, a “teen anthem,” Townshend’s specialty).

Just thinking about the looped synthesizer intro leading into those dramatic da-da-da piano chords pumps me up, and when Moon’s drums kick in I can’t help but play along. Amazingly, the song gets even better, Daltrey’s masterful “out here in the fields” vocals being the icing on the cake (this is where he became Rock God Roger).

Of course, Pete sings the more sensitive “don’t cry…” section before Keith kicks the song into overdrive along with Pete’s propulsive power chords before a final “teenage wasteland” chorus leads into the fast-paced drums/violin (the latter courtesy of Dave Arbus) duel that provides a scintillating climax to an all-time classic. Whew, I’m tired just writing about that one, but damn it if “Bargain” isn’t almost as great, albeit in a much more low-key way. According to Pete, “this song expresses how much of a bargain it would be to lose everything in order to be one with God,” but more important than any meaning is the song’s delivery.

You just gotta love those mournful synths, which give the song a wistful flavor, and Moon and Daltrey in particular are at the top of their game. Like several songs here, this one is part ballad, part hard rock, but few of the band’s songs have ever come together so perfectly. The short, simply strummed acoustic tune “Love Ain’t For Keeping” is also good but comparatively modest, while “My Wife” is a classic John composition, arguably his best what with its butt kicking groove (as per usual led by Keith), strong riffs, humorous lyrics (a John trademark), and even some well-placed horns.

The next few tunes are less impressive but still enjoyable: “The Song Is Over” is a bit corny perhaps but it’s still a pretty, melodic, and powerful semi-ballad, “Getting In Tune” also features Nicky Hopkins on piano and is another half-ballad, half-rocker with a catchy chorus, more commanding lead vocals from Roger along with some cute backing vocals from the others (another band trademark), and some good soloing, while “Going Mobile,” featuring Pete on lead vocals, may be a minor pop song but it’s an enjoyable effort nevertheless due to its catchy acoustic melody, some wah wah soloing from Townshend, a fun jam ending, and more effectively used synthesizers.

Lest this review get too long, suffice it to say that “Behind Blue Eyes” and especially “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are additional all-time classics, joining “Baba O’Riley” and “Bargain” but perhaps providing an even a better 1-2 punch. OK, what the hell, I have to describe these two as well. I mean, you really feel for the sad soul “Behind Blue Eyes” during the ballad parts, but then it’s air-guitar time during its blistering balls out rock section (i.e. “when my fist clenches crack it open”…), with some great fills from Moon (his specialty) and one of Daltrey’s most vulnerable vocals topping it off. Last but certainly not least is “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the progressive 8+ minute epic that inevitably provided the finale to many a concert.

The song’s most notable attributes are its haunting keyboards, Pete’s raging power chords (particularly on the intro and outro), it’s catchy chorus and political lyrics, and several solo sections, all of which lead into the greatest scream in rock history and a dramatic overall finale to rival “A Day In The Life.” Anyway, I’m not sure why I went into such detail with this review, most of you who own a radio already know most if not all of these songs, but I guess I got a bit excited. You see, this has always been and always will be one of my favorite albums, it’s the Who album I grew up with and I don’t think they ever topped it.

Although many people prefer their concise, energetic raw early singles and others cite their rock operas as the band’s most “important” contributions to rock’s evolution, I believe that not only is Who’s Next the greatest Who album, but that it’s one of the absolute peak recordings of the rock era. Simply put, this focused masterpiece showed that when The Who put it all together they were an awesome force with few equals.

April 2, 2013 - Posted by | The Who Who's Next |

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