Classic Rock Review

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The Who Odds & Sods (1974)

zap_who9From sfloman.com

Looking to both release an album in 1974 and again beat the bootleggers (a la Live At Leeds) who were distributing crappy versions of songs not yet officially released, John Entwisle pored through tapes of unreleased songs. In some cases the band fixed up songs here and there, others were good to go but simply hadn’t fit whatever album they were working on at the time, and the end result was Odds & Sods, one of the better “rarities” collections out there.

Of course, with many of these songs now appearing as bonus tracks on other reissues, albeit often in different versions, this album isn’t quite as special as it once was. Then again, the remastered/reissued version of this album added 12 songs to the original version, and as per usual with these albums that’s the one I’d recommend getting. Among the original eleven songs, some such as “Postcard” and “Now I’m A Farmer” are very atypical and not in a good way, while others are overly generic (“Put The Money Down”), are included purely for historical purposes (“I’m The Face,” the band’s first song recorded back when they were The High Numbers), or are good (“Glow Girl”) but also appear elsewhere (in this case on The Who Sell Out).

So that’s nearly half the album that’s pretty forgettable, but the rest of the material is grade-A stuff, including “Too Much Of Anything,” a catchy, melodic, country-ish sing along, and “Faith In Something Bigger,” another catchy pop nugget on which their harmonies are the highlight. Even better is “Little Billy,” recorded for an anti-smoking ad that was never used, but best of all are “Pure And Easy” (one of several Lighthouse outtakes), “Naked Eye,” and “Long Live Rock,” which actually became a minor hit and perennial radio favorite.

As with many of the songs on Who’s Next, “Pure And Easy” (which would’ve fit perfectly on that album; in fact, its melody shows up at the end of “The Song Is Over”) is part ballad, part rocker, and it contains a lovely flowing melody and poetic lyrics, while “Naked Eye” features some of Pete’s best studio guitar work ever. As for “Long Live Rock,” it’s The Who in full on anthem mode, though this one is notable for being influenced by ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, for its enjoyably ironic lyrics, and for Roger/Pete’s throat-shredding vocals.

Among the bonus tracks, most were unreleased for a reason, particularly the ones recorded in the mid-to-late ’60s, including a couple of Motown covers (“Leaving Here,” “Baby, Don’t You Do It”), a pair of tracks that pale compared to their definitive Live At Leeds renditions (“Summertime Blues,” “Young Man Blues”), a humorous but minor Eddie Cochran cover (“My Way”), and their famous “save Keith and Mick” cover of “Under My Thumb,” which also pales next to the Stones original (also, where’s “Out Of Time”?). Fortunately, there are several keepers as well.

The exceptionally pretty keyboard-heavy version of “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand” (guesting Al Kooper) and the rocking, Leslie West assisted “Love Ain’t For Keeping” may be my favorite versions of those songs, for example (the latter is worlds better than the version on Who’s Next, largely due to Leslie’s soaring guitar work). “Time Is Passing” is utterly gorgeous, surpassing the version on Pete’s first solo album Who Came First since it sounds more fully fleshed out and has that lovely harmonium sound going for it. Also included is the short, odd Tommy discard “Cousin Kevin Model Child,” the forgettable “We Close Tonight,” and a studio version of “Water,” a stage favorite from the early ’70s that sounds much better live, alas.

Still, excessive filler aside, it’s hard to fault the suits at MCA for being overly generous, as Odds & Sods remains an extremely interesting album (albeit one designed for hardcore fans) in the way that it shows off so many different sides of the band. Besides, there are a handful of essential Who songs, or essential versions of Who songs, that can’t be found anywhere else, so if you’re a big fan of the band you’d do well to pick this album up.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | The Who Odds And Sods | | Leave a comment

The Who Odds And Sods (1974)

zap_who9From sputnikmusic.com

Originally released as a deterrent against the extensive bootleg market of unreleased songs, this is the Who collection that you probably already have if you started listening to them after they began remastering and re-releasing all of their albums. Many of these songs have been inserted as bonus tracks with the album whose context they were originally recorded or composed (or in the case of the Lifehouse songs attached to Who’s Next). This, to me, is a superior arrangement, as many of these songs, excellent on their own and in the context of their respective recording sessions, have little cohesion here. So while there’s a good chance this album is redundant, if you enjoy listening to album exclusively in their original incarnation or if you’re some old fogey who remembers buying Tommy when it first came out on vinyl, then this collection is for you.

While it’s never wise to come into a B-side collection with expectations of cohesion, this one has an especially inconsistent tone. Unlike strong examples of such releases, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Pieces Iscariot immediately comes to mind, where the recordings were taken from a somewhat limited time frame or revolve around a similar idea or style, this album is a jumble of tracks from an eleven year recording span, from the time when they called themselves The High Numbers to the release of Quadrophenia. Accordingly, what we get is a vertigo worthy crash course through history, yet an oddly jumbled one, as the band has not put the tracks in chronological order, so that The Who Sell Out era “Little Billy” and “Glow Girl” are sandwiched between three Lifehouse songs, while “I’m the Face,” their first single is near the end of the album and would have been out of place almost anywhere they stuck it. It seems as if the intention here is to break up the songs from a particular era to prevent the album from feeling disjointed; unfortunately, it is a decision that has the exact opposite effect. At the same time, it’s nice that the track list is somewhat limited. What we get is the best of the worst, the cream of the chaff, and while the quality is spotty, it’s not nearly as spotty as most exhaustive compilations.

Individually, the songs are generally good, and while they never bore, their quality is somewhat inconsistent. Aside from a few standout tracks, it won’t live up to repeated listens, and mostly serves as a history lesson and a method to analyze influences, as the voices of other bands shine through on this album more so than their official releases. “Now I’m A Farmer” sounds like it would just as easily work on an outtake compilation from The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society sessions, and “Faith In Something Bigger” shows the influence of groups like The Byrds and The Turtles. It’s particularly interesting, because the Who were generally innovative on their records, concealing their influences and allowing their own voice to make itself heard, so that aside from the fact that it’s obvious they listened to The Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow album, the geneses of their work is often ambiguous.

Similarly it contains bits of who history that never made it to an official release. The inclusion of their first single shows the growth of the band and can be juxtaposed to both the rest of this album and their main discography to note how they’ve changed over the years. “Glow Girl,” one of the best tracks on the album, contains a coda that would become the birth of Tommy, both literally and figuratively, providing an interesting look at the bridge between The Who Sell Out and their famous first rock opera. And this excluding the fact that it’s a damn good song in its own right, with driving instrumentation and lyrics about a woman who dies in a plane crash and then immediately being reincarnated (although I think it makes for a much more interesting song to interpret it as a woman giving birth as the plane crashes; somehow that feels more poignant). Along with those are the aforementioned tracks from the abandoned Lifehouse project. Although there is little indication of what the concept of the album would have been based on these tracks alone, with the exception of “Pure and Easy” which explores Townshend’s theory about the power of a perfect note or chord, they are, again, an interesting piece of Who history that can be enjoyed on their own or as a vehicle to feel wistful about what could have been. Lastly, it’s nice to see the inclusion of studio favorites such as “Naked Eye,” even though it falls short in comparison to live versions.

The problem is that for every few brilliant or intriguing songs, there are strange and obvious stinkers. The closer, “Long Live Rock,” is a generic addition to the ubiquitous collection of rock musicians writing homages to their genre. Although The Who certainly rocked hard, it’s a little topically strange for them, and it’s pretty clear why it never made any of their albums. The same can be said for “Now I’m A Farmer,” which musically sounds like a Who song, but lyrically not at all.

In the end, the title of the album really says it all. This is a rough collection, and while it’s a fascinating piece of history of one of the most prolific rock bands in history, it isn’t exactly for the casual fan, or for someone expecting a coherent release. Those willing to wade through it, however, will find moments of wealth can hold their own with the best work of their career.

February 28, 2013 Posted by | The Who Odds And Sods | | Leave a comment

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 | | Leave a comment