(Side note: The hesitation in such a purchase came from the fact that there are actually several different releases/collections of “greatest hits” and while it's tempting to buy them all—the redundancy is kind of nuts. And I’ve acquired “Live at Leeds” and “Kids Are Alright”, which is a respectable start for a newbie Who-be. Speaking of LAL, you must check out Mr. Toikkis 40th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Collectors' Edition. He’s got pics of what was in the package as he opened it, which is fun to see.
And then when I discovered it had pics I had never seen before and read Dave March’s commentary, well then it was like cajun—best present of the year! I don't know who he his, but I liked his perception of the music and his writing style.
I will not bore you with a complete copy of the entire text, but would like to share some of the highlights of his insight into the whole Who journey. It’s not complete because I snipped out a lot the asides* and super long clauses* to get to heart of the matter:
*...the Who’s music now encompasses the sounds of deathless youth and of a wiser old age that looks back upon that early anger and wild energy, not with a sigh or a frown but with a gaze of affection and a knowing laugh. That they did not (all) die before they got old, that in fact their two most important members continue on well into their sixties, is the most ironic triumph—“not enough,” indeed.
*The creation of the semi-preposterous “rock opera” concept makes this persistence less unlikely, as it attempts to shove the whole idea of the Who into a box marked art, with its high end up.
*Their earliest records... insist on being art...
*By the time they got to “Substitute” “Happy Jack” and “Pictures of Lily”, Townshend had become an already great rock n roll songwriter—and by that I do not mean just a lyricist since every one of his songs created credible people...
*Then came “I Can See for Miles”, which heralded a new world of rock n roll. It was a smash in the guts with Moon’s most audacious and controlled drumming (those perfectly timed cymbal splashes that accented Daltrey’s opening threats!) matched by guitar lines that still define emotional tension.
*...Townshend’s quest for the perfect long-form expression of rock’s creative possibilities—“rock opera” is one way to put it, concept album is another—seems less important then these individual gems. That because,
*In another mouth, “Magic Bus”, with its Bo Diddley beat driven by acoustic guitar and hand percussion, might have been a merely a novelty. That’s a formula for an Eddie Cochran record, but Daltrey takes it somewhere else, into a place where the eruption of Moon’s drums for the final minute feels both shocking and inevitable...
*On this collection, “Pinball Wizard” feels like a sequel, with the acoustic guitar strums leading into the explosive electric chord and then Daltrey entering, rattling off the words quick as fingers on the flippers.
*I suppose that “Behind Blue Eyes” can be said to open the door to the “mature” Who, if a band sporting Keith Moon could become mature.
*...”Love, Reign O’er Me”, the climactic song from Townshend’s elegy for adolescence, “Quadrophenia”, is another prayer to let things cool down long enough to get a breath and figure out how Jimmy, the protagonist, wound up stranded on that rock.
*”Squeeze Box”, believe it or not, ushers in Townshend’s mature or at least married period.
*”Real Good Looking Boy” brings the story full circle. What we get here... is a boy who likes what he sees until his mother tells him he’s ugly. Roger sings it with the conviction he brought to deaf, dumb and blindness (anyone who doubts that Roger is a good actor ought to see him perform this live.) It’s a different band—John and Keith both gone and never coming back—but it’s the same heart, the same soul and the music surges with the same degree of passion, though not at all the same kind. The anger isn’t gone—those guitar licks will never loose that edge, and Rogers sings the quotation from “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in a tone of vengeance, but is had been dissipated into acceptance and reconciled into a forlorn wisdom that we can never see ourselves truly... but if we’re very luck, we find someone who can. This is the greatest love song Pete ever wrote and the best that Roger ever sang. That they pulled this off in their 60s isn’t a miracle, anymore than it is really a surprise that people so smart and talented did not die before they got old.
Dave March, “The Who Greatest Hits” c 2009 Geffen Records. The emphasis is mine.
PS: I suppose this post could also be considered a long thank you note to my sister for acting on that hunch. Thank you, darlin!
*Yes, yes, I know—who am I to talk? Well someday someone can snip out all my asides and super long clauses (see first paragraph) if they want...
(No cellophane, green wrapping paper or the link to the 40th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Collectors' Edition were harmed during the production of this post.)