Richie Unterberger , The Who. From mid to early , The Who undertook an amazing and peculiar journey in which they struggled to follow up Tommy with a yet bigger and better rock opera. One of those projects, Lifehouse , was never completed, though many of its songs formed the bulk of the classic album Who's Next. The other, Quadrophenia , was as down-to-earth as the multimedia Lifehouse was futuristic; issued as a double album in , it eventually became esteemed as one of The Who's finest achievements, despite initial unfavorable comparisons to Tommy.
Along the way, the group's visionary songwriter, Pete Townshend, battled conflicts within the band and their management, as well as struggling against the limits of the era's technology as a pioneering synthesizer user and a conceptualist trying to combine rock with film and theatre. The people who understood Lifehouse included one, Pete Townshend. These were more elaborate one-man-band-type productions by the time of "Lifehouse," of course.
The Who were used to working with Townshend's demos as templates, and I think both Pete and the rest of the band realized the advantages of working this way. Townshend could work out the arrangements in fine detail, yet Daltrey's vocals, Entwistle's bass and sometimes horns , Moon's drums, and some harmonies and other ideas were necessary to get the most out of the material. The difficulty, I think, was more that the songs didn't cohere into a story, or even tunes that fit together in mood and theme, nearly as well they did in "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" though the plots and narratives of both of those were sometimes hard to follow.
Combined with the pressure the band felt to get an album out and get on the road, the compromise, with which Townshend was never entirely happy, was to make a single non-concept LP, many though not all of whose songs could be played in concert to promote the album in the last half of Almost certainly they would have included eight of the nine songs on "Who's Next" every track except John Entwistle's "My Wife".
My educated guess is that "Pure and Easy" didn't make "Who's Next" because it was felt, by Glyn Johns and possibly others, that the use of some of its key lines in "The Song Is Over" might have made "Pure and Easy" seem repetitious and redundant. But Johns and others might have felt that if the decision had been made to make a non-concept album, there shouldn't be room for reprises, and that indeed they might have come off as rather confusing. It's ironic that "Pure and Easy" didn't make the album, however, since it more than any other piece was the song from which the core theme of "Lifehouse" the discovery of a note that transforms the world evolved.
Feel free to elaborate or correct me if that's not what you meant. I was 11 years old when "Quadrophenia" came out in late My recollection thus isn't as detailed as it might have been, but I really don't think it was overlooked or that limited in its airplay. Those were back in the days when commercial radio stations would sometimes play major popular albums in their entirety, and I do think "Quadrophenia" was spun from beginning to end on some occasions.
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This has been reassessed over time, now that "Quadrophenia" has been reexamined and reappreciated over a period of decades, and often esteemed nowadays to be in the same league as "Tommy. In part that's why the Who with the Keith Moon lineup only made "Quadrophenia" the core of their concerts for a few months in late and early , rather than for a year or two as they had with "Tommy. Certainly it introduced the material to many listeners too young to have heard or properly appreciated the album when it was first released in , and thus boosted sales retroactively.
But I do think the bulk of the album's commercial and audience impact did take place upon and shortly after the original release, not in the wake of the film. I would hate to think what kind of pigeon hole the band might have been shoved into. And if that concept hadn't worked we might never have gotten Quadrophenia. If the two dozen or so songs that have fairly reliably been reported to have been in the running for "Lifehouse" all been placed on the same album, the record would have been pretty uneven in my view.
Even the "placeholder" songs on "Tommy" that were there mostly to move the plot along had their merits, as did the instrumental link tracks on "Quadrophenia," although these songs don't hold up too well outside of the concept album context. But some of the lesser "Lifehouse" songs would have dragged the momentum much more than the lesser songs on "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" did.
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However, I do think that at least a couple of the songs that didn't make the cut for "Lifehouse" were very good. The obvious one to cite is "Pure and Easy," of course, but the folk-rockish "Mary" is very good too and also important to what would have been the "Lifehouse" story, as "Mary" was the character that would have supplied the plot's romantic interest. After that, to my ears, the quality in the "Lifehouse" extras goes down noticeably. McAlpin john-p-mcalpin Wed 22 Jun 11 I agree about the merits of "Pure and Easy" and "Mary", and very glad that song is included in all of the "Lifehouse" demos released as part of the box set some years ago.
I also remember hearing more songs from "Quadrophenia" on the radio in the late '70s and early '80s. But, as you quote Michael Tearson in the book, nearly every song on "Who's Next" was played on the radio and I grew up hearing Tearson do just that. In the book, Townshend talks about how the Who would see any bit of aggression in a demo and amplify it greatly, with "Behind Blue Eyes" as the example. I got that from comparing the demo versions from "Scoop" to the full band versions. What I didn't really get until you laid it out in the book, Richie, was how well the band acted as editors for those songs, particularly those that did not make the cut on "Who's Next".
Could you talk a bit about what you heard when comparing the demos to the official recordings? McAlpin john-p-mcalpin Wed 22 Jun 11 And is there something to the production of the two albums that makes it a bit more difficult for "Quadrophenia" to get a fair shake? But "Quadrophenia" is a double LP with many repeating musical themes, sound effects and a great deal going on in the mix. Daltrey has never been a fan of that album's sound, long complaining about his vocals buried in the mix.
One observation from him that you cited stood out to me, where Daltrey said that people had to sit down and listen to "Quadrophenia" and it wasn't album that jumped out at you when you played it. McAlpin john-p-mcalpin Wed 22 Jun 11 And Kevin, my thoughts exactly about the concept album trap they could have been in had "Who's Next" been one or carried that label. I've often wondered if the word "opera" and all it's cultural implications was a bit of a millstone around Townshend after "Tommy". It was cool when he emailed me a couple of years ago not about the Who, about something else I wrote and I was able to tell him that I heard him on his night shift for years starting in junior high school.
To amplify a comment in an earlier post, here are a couple striking things about Townshend demos of Who songs. While elaborate one-man or one-woman demo or even official studio recordings are not uncommon these days, forty years ago they were relatively rare, at least to the polished extent that Townshend did them, playing all of the instruments including then-exotic synthesizers and singing everything. At times the demos are so precise and thought-out that you might think, "Why does he need the Who? But also, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were such virtuosos of rock bass and drums respectively that they really did add enormous punch, even if they were playing similar or even exact riffs and patterns.
Sometimes there are notable differences, however. As you note, John, the Who were good "editors. The Who's studio versions usually cut off the excess fat to the essential bone. Here are a couple of the most striking examples: "Behind Blue Eyes" is an extremely familiar "Who's Next" staple of classic rock radio, and was also a small US hit single.
Most of us reading this can probably hear in our sleep how it veers between pensive, folky verses and a very aggressive hard rock bridge, forcefully sung by Daltrey with pounding drums by Moon. This and numerous other Who songs from the era, incidentally, seemed to be a prototype for the soft-hard-back-to-soft approach used in mainstream rock in "power ballads" and in alternative rock in grunge bands, though I haven't seen many writers note this.
The demo of "Behind Blue Eyes," however, is very folky the whole way through, making it sound like much more of a vulnerable, melancholy tune.
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I think Townshend's capacity for playing both electric and acoustic guitar well is a little underrated and overlooked Jimmy Page and Stephen Stills are two other major guitarists who can do this too. In this version, you hear more of his folk side, as a tender singer, but also as a guitarist who might have been influenced by major British acoustic guitarists such as Bert Jansch. I can see why the band and Glyn Johns thought the more powerhouse approach on the "Who's Next" version would have been a lot more commercial, but I prefer the more personal quality of the demo myself.
From "Quadrophenia," "Bell Boy" is in my view the album's most underrated song, and one of Townshend's best lyrics. The demo is pretty similar to the Who arrangement, but with a key difference. One thing that makes "Bell Boy" great is how Keith Moon takes over the part of the "bell boy" character with comic relish when the lyrical perspective shifts from the opera's protagonist Jimmy to the bell boy he idolizes, and then back and forth again.
On the demo Townshend sings the "Bell Boy" part, and he just isn't nearly as effective or funny as Moon.
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For all the reports of how the Who squabbled with monumental egotism, here's an example of how they were prepared to set aside egos to bring out the best in the song. Townshend had written the lyric, but he knew that Moon was the guy to sing the bell boy part. The band also likely knew that although it's Moon's only vocal on "Quadrophenia," it was a cameo that added enormous color, both to the studio track and the stage version, which gave Keith a chance to song to the great merriment of both the band and the audience.
He was not a great singer, to put it mildly, but when there was a chance for his persona to be showcased as it was in "Tommy" with "Tommy's Holiday Camp" , the band seized it. It's more like "Who's Next"'s production was so slick, for hard rock certainly, that it almost defined how the most commercial hard rock sounded on the radio in the s.
I think "Quadrophenia"'s production is good, and more interesting in some ways than "Who's Next"'s certainly in its use of sound effects, which is brilliant and still not as discussed as it should be, though I go into them in depth in the book. But it's not nearly as radio-ready as "Who's Next. It takes more to appreciate, and does benefit from being heard on headphones - big bulky things when I was growing up, of course, though now listening via an iPod would be the usual equivalent.
Daltrey has complained about the vocal mix, though it doesn't bother me. In my interview with "Quadrophenia" engineer Ron Nevison for the book, this came up, and Nevison was pretty unfazed, noting that he'd heard these kinds of complaints whether from singers or instrumentalists on virtually every record he's worked on. He also noted, aptly I think, that the record was not about Roger, but about the Who.
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A record with far more synthesizer, horns, and sound effects than "Who's Next" was almost bound not to have the vocals as upfront, I think, because it wasn't as much of a fit for the material. It was an interesting comment when Daltrey said that people had to sit down and listen to "Quadrophenia" and it wasn't album that jumped out at you when you played it -- almost like that was a bad thing. It's great when an album can be enjoyed in the background or as a sit-down intellectual exercise like "Tommy" could, much more than "Quadrophenia" , but I don't think it's an insult to a quality album if you have to concentrate to "get it" instead of just playing it in the background.
They did actually start, not once but twice, non-concept albums during this period that were unfinished.
In , between "Tommy" and "Who's Next," they recorded about half a dozen tracks with a mind to working toward an album, but were unsatisfied with them and didn't feel they were leading to something special enough, either individually or as a collective whole. Much the same thing happened when they recorded about a half an album in spring , deciding to abandon that in favor of pursuing "Quadrophenia," and thinking the approach was too much just a continuation of what they'd been doing with "Who's Next.
A bunch of them showed up on singles, and then later on archival compilations, especially "Odds'n'Sods. Quite the opposite. If you have a comment or question, we'll make sure it's posted here - just send via email to inkwell well. Barry Smolin here. As we discussed once upon a time, Quadrophenia, much more than any other Who album, presented lyrical problems, not only for American kids but also for young Britons circa The detailed references to Mod culture on Quadrophenia were foreign to most of us I was 12 when Quadrophenia came out , and at that time we couldn't just go online and google the allusions.
Although the booklet that came with the album helped those of us who were enthralled by the music envision what "Mods" looked like and how they dressed, I think the lyrical content might have partially held the record back from mainstream radio airplay. That said, I heard Quadrophenia in its entirety broadcast on KMET in Los Angeles in , secretly listening way past my bedtime and fell in love with it.
But I totally understand why it didn't reach a large American audience.