The 50 Who songs we ought to celebrate

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By Dave Thompson

Word that the Who has been celebrating their 50th anniversary with songs that they’ve scarcely ever played throughout that mighty span set Goldmine’s resident Whooligans thinking. 

The sight of their latest greatest hits collection, too, left us hankering for all the bits that blossomed in between… the knowledge that, for every “My Generation,” there’s a “So Sad About Us”; for every “Dogs” there’s a “Dogs (Part Two)”; and for every fan who yells out for “Baba O’Riley,” there’s another who is still awaiting the day the band records that song called “Teenage Wasteland.” 

What follows is drawn from both the official and the unofficial Who catalog — 50 songs, in more-or-less chronological order, that might not be the Acest Faces of the erstwhile Shepherds Bush Modfatherhood, but certainly know how to press a mohair suit.  An alternative Who compilation whose contents have avoided more or less every compilation they’ve ever had.

1. “The Good’s Gone” (1965)

2. “La-La-La-Lies” (1965)

3. “It’s Not True” (1965)

4. “A Legal Matter” (1965)

5. “So Sad About Us” (1966)

Four from the band’s “My Generation” debut, and a fifth from “A Quick One” the following year; and all overshadowed by the sheer immenseness of the title track, but all pinpointing Pete Townshend as a songwriter supreme, with a grander grasp on teenage hormones than anyone else at the time. The Beatles were too romantic, the Stones were too coarse and grimy.  But the Who were soundtracking the juvenile opera like the black-and-white kitchen sink drama it was.

6. “The Ox” (1965)

7. “Whiskey Man” (1966)

8. “I Need You” (1966)

Pete Townshend was the Who’s songwriter, but John Entwistle was its sense of humor, and its sense of occasion as well. The cliché pegs his compositions as “macabre,” and indeed he had a comic strip as black as the spine of a Poe anthology. But the instrumental “Ox” titled an entire compilation of Entwistle’s Who songs, while “Whiskey Man” is just a great song about drinking. And “I Need You” (alongside “Cobwebs and Strange”) was Keith Moon’s first attempt at writing a song for the band.

9. “A Quick One, While He’s Away” (1966)

10. “Rael (1 and 2)” (1967)

Townshend’s drive to write the world’s first rock opera feels like it was always inevitable today, even if history does insist it was co-manager Kit Lambert who first planted the seed. Still, Townshend was making a remarkable fist of it, even before he settled down to “Tommy,” with the short form revealed across these two tracks in many ways superior to the eventual masterpiece.  Plus, movie footage and concert recordings of “A Quick One” in the live environment remind us just how much fun the Who could be, even when they weren’t smashing up all their instruments.

11. “Armenia City in the Sky ” (1967)

12. “Heinz Baked Beans” (1967)

13. “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand” (1967)

14.  “Odorono” (1967)

15. “Tattoo” (1967)

16. “Our Love Was” (1967)

17. “Silas Stingy” (1967)

18. “Medac” (1967)

Not the “Sell Out “album in its entirety… that would be silly. But sufficiently enough of it to reveal that, alone of the Who’s 1960s albums, it was the running gag and solid concept of the dying days of pirate radio, as opposed to differently-abled pinball messiahs, that truly nailed Townshend’s gift for storytelling — even if four of the eight tracks listed here sprang from other pens. Entwistle, inevitably, told tales of zits, misers and beans; Speedy Keen, of Thunderclap Newman contributed the opening “Armenia,” and for anyone who remembers parking their car on the cliffs of England’s east coast, with their headlights beaming out to the pirate ships at sea, it truly was paradise by the dashboard light.

19. “Doctor Doctor” (1967)

20. “Early Morning Cold Taxi” (1967)

21. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1968)

22. “Glow Girl” (1968)

23. “Dogs (Part 2)” (1969)

A mislaid album half recorded in 1968 spun off any number of orphan jewels.  “Magic Bus” titled an album of its own; “Dogs” and “Call Me Lightning” join it aboard “The Who Hits 50!” 2-CD package.  What remains was parceled up between B-sides and the “Odds and Sods” compilation.

24. “Amazing Journey” (1969)

25. “Sparks” (1969)

26. “Do You Think It’s Alright?” (1969)

27. “Fiddle About” (1969)

28. “Tommy, Can You Hear Me?” (1969)

So much of “Tommy” has ascended to immortality, and so much more truly functions only within the confines of the album itself. But if four sides of vinyl had been condensed down to two, and if everyone admitted that they’re sick of “Pinball Wizard,” this would have been a worthy introduction.

29. “Postcard” (1970)

30. “Pure and Easy” (1971)

31. “Classifieds” (1971)

32. “Going Mobile” (1971)

33. “Music Must Change” (1971)

34. “Get Inside” (1972)

35. “Long Live Rock” (1972)

36. “Waspman” (1972)

37. “Can’t You See I’m Easy” (1972)

38. “Put The Money Down” (1972)

39. “Riot in the Female Jail” (1972)

So powerful were the opening and closing moments of “Who’s Next,” that it is often easy to forget just how unmemorable the remainder of the LP was; truly, without “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as bookends, how much of the band’s fifth album would really stand out? “Bargain” and “Behind Blue Eyes” both join the biggies on “The Who Hits 50!,” and so we’re stuck with “Going Mobile.”  And the Who were stuck with a pair of abortive new album projects, “Lifehouse” and “Rock Is Dead-Long Live Rock “on either side of “Who’s Next,” from which a clutch of new singles, B-sides and out-takes add up to a genuinely invigorating blast, one that could compete with almost anything else in their canon. 

40. “Is It In My Head?” (1972)

41. “We Close Tonight” (1972)

42. “Ambition” (1972)

43. “Bell Boy” (1973)

44. “The Rock” (1973)

45. “Get Out and Stay Out” (1979)

“Quadrophenia” was the Who’s third concept album, and has occasionally been touted as their second rock opera. Of course, it wasn’t — rather, it adds up to their finest release of the 1970s, particularly when appended by the demos included on the 5-CD “Directors Cut,” and the later material incorporated into the 1979 movie.  The six songs here draw from all three, but also hint back to the “Long Live Rock” LP, abandoned by the band when the new concept dawned.

For every fan who yells out for "Baba )'Riley," there's another who is still awaiting the day the band records that song called "Teenage Wasteland." Photo: Ed Finell/Frank White Photo Agency

For every fan who yells out for “Baba O’Riley,” there’s another who is still awaiting the day the band records that song called “Teenage Wasteland.” Photo: Ed Finell/Frank White Photo Agency

46. “However Much I Booze” (1975)

47. “Had Enough” (1978)

48. “I Like Nightmares” (1981)

49. “Dangerous” (1982)

Beyond the retro-slash of “Slip Kid” and an unquenchable urge to retitle “Eminence Front” as “Elephant’s Trunk,” little about the last seven years of the Who were truly worth noting, with neither “The Who by Numbers” nor “Who’s Next” deserving to remain in the same room as the original quartet’s earlier catalog; and both “Face Dances” and “It’s Hard” simply dying on the vine. Four songs creep in here because someone would complain if they didn’t, but even “The Who Hits 50! “ starts looking embarrassed once it slips beyond “Quadrophenia,” and it at least had the hits to choose from. This is the best of the rest.

50. ____________________ ?

Well, what have we missed?  Goldmine readers are invited to send in their own nomination for the 50th and final cut on what we might like to title “WHO Did You Say This Was?”  Maybe it’ll be something from “Endless Wire,” the surviving twosome’s 2006 reunion; maybe something from their High Numbers past. Whatever it is, let us know, and we’ll include a selection of your choices in a future issue. GM

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goldmine-mayThe above article appeared in Goldmine‘s “Who Turns 50” issue (May 2015, Volume 41, No. 5, at left). If you would like a digital copy of the issue, click here. It’s only a $4.95 download! Or if you would like a print copy (the cover itself is worth framing!) call 1-800-726-9966, Ext. 13369, or e-mail missy.fenn@fwcommunity.com.

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