Classic Rock Review

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Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse To Quadrophenia by Richie Unterberger (2011)


This is a very engrossing account of what I regard as The Who’s golden era. In the wake of “Tommy’s global success around 1969/70 the band, especially Pete Townshend, were clearly at a crossroads personally and artistically.

The writer, a rock historian of some pedigree, examines and clarifies what lay behind Townshend’s “Lifehouse” rock opera concept (a visual, musical and cinematic depiction of the spirituality and power behind rock music), how those around him found it all rather obtuse and how both band politics and the technological limitations of the time meant that it never came off and had to be shelved in favour of laying down Townshend’s best Lifehouse inspired compositions for a conventional album release in 1971 “Who’s Next” – arguably, alongside “Tommy”, their finest work.

The writer draws from his exceptionally well researched source material, mostly contemporary interviews with the rock press and recollections of band members and their immediate circle, to set out the whole fascinating story. And there are plenty of curiosities highlighted throughout, for example why “Pure and Easy” was not included in “Who’s Next” even though its lyrics were central to the Lifehouse idea, a decision that Townshend appears now to regret. And why “My Wife” ended up on the album when it bore no relation to LH and why Entwhistle didn’t reserve it for his (rather poorly received) solo album at the time.

I was rather amused by some of Daltrey’s quotes from old interviews, for example when he was asked by Rolling Stone about “Who’s Next” scaling back on LH: “..Who’s Next holds up much better [than Tommy] but nobody wanted to take it seriously because it was just nine songs and not some great thing about a bloody spastic”.

The second half of the book covers the conception and delivery of Townshend’s other career rock opera masterpiece “Quadrophenia” which although a fine record also fell far short of the band’s expectations. In a particularly interesting chapter the author recalls the rather mixed critical reaction at the time, partly because the Mod storyline didn’t translate that well for the US market and because the live shows were handicapped with technical problems in getting across Quad’s more ambitious soundscapes.

Indeed, towards the end of that particular tour only 4 Quad songs made it onto the live set, including the historic concert at Charlton Athletic in 1974. All this happened when Townshend was drinking a lot of brandy, Moon had a hit a career high as hotel wrecker par excellence and Daltrey was using his fists a lot backstage, on one celebrated occasion putting Townshend in hospital after being smacked with a guitar. It was interesting to learn that Daltrey has never liked the echo on Quad’s vocal mix and believed that you could only listen properly to the album with headphones on.

The book is peppered with quotes from those involved in the record who argued that it was devoid of catchy hooks, that the Mod story behind Townshend’s songs was actually a bit flat and that it was more his solo album than one from The Who as a group (ie quite the opposite of “Tommy” on all three counts).

I enjoyed Townshend’s 1994 quote to Q magazine when he explained how he needed to put across some rather frail emotional concepts associated with Quad’s central character “Jimmy” to a band with The Who’s power and intensity: “however poignantly I put the thing together, however direct, however right, however honest and true it was, I then had to hand it to this XXXXing war machine and it would be churned out like Wall’s pork sausages”.

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Book Won't Get Fooled Again by Richie Unterberger | , | Leave a comment