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By Bill Kopp
Pete Townshend is best known as the guitarist and visionary songwriter for The Who. But Townshend plays all manner of instruments, and even in the earliest days of the band he created multitrack demos of his songs in his home studio. And Pete launched a solo career to showcase material that didn’t fit neatly into The Who’s body of work. His first solo album, Who Came First was released 50 years ago this month. Here are five deep cuts that display some of the best Pete Townshend solo material.
“Street in the City” In 1977 Townshend embarked upon a collaborative project. Rough Mix was a homespun, understated album made with Faces guitarist/bassist Ronnie Lane. The folk-rock flavored record flew under the commercial radar; in fact it was the fourth album the duo had made together. This track stands apart from the rest of the record thanks to its sophisticated orchestration.
“The Sea Refuses No River” One of Townshend’s most sweeping, dramatic and emotional compositions is this song, the second track on his idiosyncratic 1982 LP, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. The album was poorly received on original release but has enjoyed a well-deserved critical reassessment in later years.
“Crashing by Design” Following on from earlier narrative works like The Who’s Tommy and the aborted Lifehouse project, Townshend made a film/album in 1985. White City: A Novel featured superb contributions from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour on two tracks, but this overlooked cut is one of the record’s strongest songs, with strong lyrics and searing guitar work.
“English Boy” Townshend released his last solo album of new material in 1993 – nearly 30 years ago –and on its release Psychoderelict was widely panned. The conceptual/narrative work is no Quadrophenia, but it’s still fascinating and engaging, and contains some excellent music. Echoing both The Who’s “Join Together” and “Eminence Front,” the opening track “English Boy” sets the tone for the quasi-autobiographical album.
“Save it for Later” Townshend has only rarely recorded or performed songs by other artists, making the choice of this 1982 hit by ska heroes The (English) Beat all the more special. The song was a staple of Pete’s concerts fronting his supergroup Deep End in the mid 1980s.