Where do you start with this? From the Dave Wedgbury overhead photograph, to the clobber worn by the band on the album sleeve, this is an iconic piece of work on many levels and I haven’t reached any music yet.
The Who were a band that became Mods, rather than the other way round, but they absorbed the culture and the lifestyle perfectly and in Townsend they had a songsmith who could encapsulate tales of teenage modernist angst like no other.
Released in December 1965 on the Brunswick label it has been a staple slab of vinyl of many a mod follower since. Producer Shel Tamy captured the raw, in every sense of the word, power of this quartet, with every individual member bringing something to the party.
It reached number 5 in the UK album charts, but its influence goes much deeper than that indicates. Its recording techniques pre date the heavier rock sound to come, not only from this band itself, but also by many who were influenced by the sounds achieved here.
Right, you ready?
Out! The first song ‘Out in the Street’, a Pete Townsend original, attacks your ears from the off. The soon to become familiar drum sound from Keith Moon catches you off guard immediately as the band launch themselves into the song and listening back to it today, the stirrings of the punk sound to come can be heard a full ten years ahead of its time. The infectious, high pitched backing vocals ear worm you and the guitar techniques on show must have been startling to the young upon release. This is precisely how to begin a debut album.
Next up, the pace drops for a cover of the James Brown song ‘I Don’t Mind’ which was a favourite of the bands live set around the time of this recording. Though fair to say Daltrey is no ‘Mr Dynamite’ in the vocal department, they make a fair stab of it, backed on piano by legendary session man Nicky Hopkins.
Townsend is back in the writer’s chair for ‘The Goods Gone’, which opens with a jingly jangly guitar refrain, instantly bringing The Byrds to mind. Daltrey is in fine snarly vocal form here and the song rumbles along with the jarring guitar sound clashing with the classic Moon ‘sloppy’ drum sound, all the while underpinned by the cemented to the floor bass lines of John Entwistle.
A 2-minute 18-second classic is the next pop slice offered up.
‘La La La Lies’ still sounds as fresh as paint all these years on. It’s infectious from the get go and contains some great lines. I’ll be so bold as to say you can hear the direct link to certain elements ‘Brit Pop’ in this and there’s nothing wrong in that of course.
The voices of rogue choir boys herald the opening of ‘Much Too Much’, with Daltrey reminding me here a little of Iggy Pop. This is another Townsend original, which again stands up to close scrutiny all these years later. He could certainly turn out a decent tune could Pete.
A stone copper bottom classic up next. ‘My Generation’ contains lyrics that are still quoted on a daily basis all these years later and its use in the film ‘Quadrophenia’ is still a highlight of that film for me.
The musicianship on this is, well, remarkable. The bass of Enthwistle is just fascinating to listen to and Keith Moon just explodes all over it.
I also doubt Daltrey had ever sounded better. Simply a staggering piece of graft.
‘I don’t mind other guys dancing with my girl. That’s fine, I know them all pretty well. But I know sometimes I must get out in the light. Better leave her behind with the kids, they’re alright.’
Townsend hits the spot again with ‘The Kids Are Alright’, which all right minded people know is a belter of a song. The guitar work from the first jangle to the interplay with the once again excellent drumming from Moon is a joy to behold to.
A perfect 60s pop single if ever there was one.
We’re back to the James Brown songbook next as the band take a breather and rumble thorough ‘Please, Please, Please.’
‘The Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness’ himself had little to worry about with this version, if truth be told, but if nothing else it’s a nod to work from another artist that deserves be checked out at the time and welcome for that.
It’s funny listening back to theses tunes after a few years of not hearing them and realising how influential they were. For example, I can hear elements of The Monkees in ‘Its Not True’ as Townsend hits a rich seam of lyrical content. Again, it cracks along full of energy, that also captures I sense the feeling that the band gave over on many of their early live performances.
My good mate and original mod, Fred the Shoe, saw the band when they were The High Numbers play at a club called The Glenlyn Ballroom in Forest Hill on many an occasion and he still says they were the best he ever saw play live.
Bo Diddley provides the next song and it’s a cover of his 1955 tune ‘I’m A Man’ which quickly turns into a bar room blues number in the hands of The Who. Once again Nicky Hopkins adds a keyboard flavour to it all and Moonie fills in all and any available space in the way only he can.
Townsend then takes over the lead vocal, on this his own composition ‘A Legal Matter’ looking at the joys, or otherwise, of married life. In truth this could quite easily be a song from the pen of Ray Davies, ploughing as it does the same lyrical path of his own band The Kinks in many ways. Again some insane Keith fills on show here and very nice guitar work compliment the tune.
Last up is ‘The Ox’ and what a way to go out! This feels like a song from the glory days of rock and roll and then it sounds like it’s from the future all at the same time. All those participating take no prisoners, with Moon literally trying to drum those listening to him to death. The overall menacing feel, is added to by the fantastic piano work of Mr. Hopkins once again, and he is rewarded with a songwriting credit for his pains.
So there you have it. It all began here for the Shepherds Bush wonders and the group itself still rattles on all these years later.
The very definition of power pop? Yeah that’ll do…
The Mumper of SE5