Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Who - ...Sells Out, Tommy, Who's Next

The Who Sells Out Release Date:
December 15, 1967

Tommy Release Date:
May 23, 1969

Who's Next Release Date:
July 31, 1971

Who Fan: "You like the Who?"

Me: "Sure. They're great. Sick drummer!..."

Who Fan: "I know, fucking awesome! Who's Next is epic, right?"

Me: "Mhm." *Please let this conversation be over.*

The truth is I could only name a few songs songs by the Who: "Pinball Wizard," "My Generation," "Baba O'Riley,"... All enjoyable tracks, but nothing I find essential. So what gives me the urge to say I like the Who? Who cares, really? I dunno. I guess I feel like the Who are one of those monumental bands that everyone should know about. I don't want to be the odd man out. After all, I have a copy of The Who Sells Out on my mp3 player, and I own Who's Next and Tommy on vinyl, stolen from my parents when they thought the turntable became obsolete. (funny how things have come back around full circle with CDs, and vinyl still retains it's value). Still, I never find the urge to play them.

The Who Sells Out, released in 1967, is the earliest of the three records I have, and also the most interesting. Sort of a concept album with faux-radio commercials and interludes dispersed between tracks, it gives the impression you're listening to a UK radio station. The concept is intriguing, and most the songs aren't half bad either. But in the end it all sounds like stuff I've heard before, and already have too much of in my collection: mid-60's Beatles or Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd psych-rock.

Tommy and Who's Next are where the Who really began to craft their own unique sound. It's been said and written everywhere but there's simply no better way to put it: this is rock-opera. Huge sounding guitars accompanied by frequent solos, anthemic vocals, lengthy instrumental interludes, and mammoth drums with incredible fills. The drummer, Keith Moon, really is something else to hear, and was the only saving grace for me when listening back to these two records. But the sound that the Who have created -- that big, arena-style rock'n'roll that became so prevalent in the 80's and onward -- has never been something I enjoy. Obviously the Who are a big part of rock's overall development, and influencing the likes of more overrated arena rockers like Rush, Queen, Black Sabbath, and all that 80's hair (and make-up) metal. All of which had they been wiped from the annals of rock history I would have no qualms with.

The Who have added some good to the world. Who's Next is probably the first rock album to include the synthesizer, a groundbreaking instrument that would eventually be adapted by nearly every genre imaginable, and it's a staple in most any rock'n'roll bands today. The percussion is phenomenal, helping to revolutionize how rockers can use a drum kit to be more creative. And while I think "Baba O'Riley" is an overrated track (a great intro, but no one else gets bored half way through like me?), there's usually good times and good beers going on around me when I hear it.

I know I am in the minority here. The Who, to most, are one of those monumental bands everyone should know about. I know enough about them now to admit I don't really like them next time that conversation comes up. My propensity to listen to them will directly coincide with how often I can fake a Keith Moon impersonation when playing a track of theirs on Rock Band 2, which is to say, not that often.

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