November 27, 2021

It’s Hard


Roger Daltrey Vocals
John Entwistle Bass Guitar, Synthesizer, all horns & Vocals
Keith Moon Drums
Pete Townshend Guitar, Keyboards & Vocals

All studio tracks recorded June 1982 at Turn-Up-Down Studios (Glyn Johns’ home studio) in Surrey, England.
Produced and Engineered by Glyn Johns

Photography and Concept by Graham Hughes [The cover, infamously described by Q magazine as "your dad at the disco", is a reference to Tommy with a Space Duel video game as an update on Tommy’s pinball table. Pete disowned the cover soon after the album’s release. "I had very little to do with the cover and the title. One of the problems with the band is that we very, very rarely agree on policy. So where we should have had a terrific album cover, we have a rather spineless cover because nobody works hard enough for it. Nobody fights."]

It’s Hard was originally released as Polydor WHOD 5066 on September 4, 1982. It reached #11 in the U.K. In the U.S. it was released as Warner Brothers WB 23731 also on September 4, 1982 and made #8 in the Billboard charts; the last Who record to date to reach the U.S. Top Ten. It was also the first Who album to be released as a compact disc, shortly after its LP release, as Polydor 800 106-2, pressed in West Germany as they had the only CD pressing plant at the time and it was the last Who album to come out as an 8-track. The album was awarded gold record status by the RIAA November 3, 1982.

Liner notes by Brian Cady [with research help from Jim Jackson]

Welcome to The Who’s last studio album (to date) and certainly their most controversial. It’s Hard received some rave reviews when it came out but quickly became their most reviled studio release and one of the biggest reasons why The Who didn’t record another for 24 years. Before it was released, however, Pete Townshend didn’t just promote the album, he was enthused about it as a revitalization of the band and there are Who fans (and I’ll admit I’m one of them) who find this album very under-appreciated. It’s Hard began under curious circumstances and it is impossible to properly approach the album without knowledge of both what was then happening in The Who and in the world at large.

Face Dances, The Who’s previous album, had been commercially successful but was very disappointing for the group. Both Roger and Pete talked of the band being disengaged from the material and Pete was determined that it wouldn’t happen with the next album. However, he had problems of his own to solve first. By the end of 1981 he was not only drinking heavily, but was also addicted to Ativan and sleeping pills and was freebasing cocaine mixed with heroin. When he went to his parents’ home for Christmas holidays, he looked so close to death that they begged him to get help. Reuniting with his wife Karen, from whom he had been separated for the last two years, Pete flew to California to a clinic run by Meg Patterson. Here he underwent the same NeuroElectric Therapy that had helped Eric Clapton overcome his drug addiction. While he was there he sent word back to The Who that he wanted to return to work. Pete: "I managed to convince the guys in the band that I would stay alive if they allowed me to work with them again. After the Rainbow fiasco [the 1981 concert where Pete drank four bottles of brandy and got in a backstage fight with Roger], I had difficulty proving to Roger in particular that I was going to enjoy working with the Who, and that it was important to me that the band end properly, rather than end because of my fucking mental demise."

When Pete returned from California in February, The Who were ready for him, having been rehearsing at producer Glyn Johns’ house. "The band was working, they were active, they were writing. Roger was playing the guitar. If I had said right then and there, ‘Listen chaps, I don’t feel like making the record,’ they looked as if they would have gone on and done something without me. And they weren’t making any demonstrations to me, either. They were just doing it because they wanted to do it. It was really strange. I thought ‘I’d really like to play with those guys.’"

But what would they play? Pete only had two songs ready for the new album and the failure of The Who to respond to the Face Dances material was foremost on his mind. "Before we started recording, I sat down with everybody and I said, ‘listen, what’s the fucking album going to be about? What are we going to say? I can’t just go and write a load of songs again and bring them in and hope that you’re going to feel good about them or hope that they are going to be right for the band or hope that the band’s fans are going to think that they are right for the band. Let’s at least all decide how we want the album to fucking sound, whether we want it to be different or old sounding, open or loose or tight or what, and even further, what we actually want the subject of the songs to be about before we commit ourselves and then at least we know when we’ve completed the album, we won’t feel like we did about Face Dances.’"

"’What do you want to fucking sing about? Tell me, and I’ll write the songs. D’you wanna sing about race riots? D’you wanna sing about the nuclear bomb? D’you wanna sing about soya bean diets? Tell me!’ And everyone kinda went, ‘Uhhh.’ So I said, ‘Shall I tell you what I think we should be singing about?’ So I told ’em. And it actually turned into a debate…what was it that each one of us shared, our common ground? Well, after establishing quite quickly that there was very little common ground, we did find that we all cared very deeply about the planet, the people on it, about the threat to our children from nuclear war, of the increasing instability of our own country’s politics."

The Who were hardly alone in being concerned. Most of Europe was then terrified of the worsening situation between the United States and the Soviet Union. At the end of 1979 the NATO alliance had agreed to base 572 nuclear-tipped U.S. Cruise missiles in Europe.

Two weeks later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and relations between the two superpowers began to break down. In the fall of 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected president of the U.S. Opposed to the SALT II nuclear arms-limitation treaty and with plans to increase the U.S. military budget by $32 billion, Reagan set out to heighten the arms race. Britain’s conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, elected in 1979, supported his efforts.

Reagan and Thatcher also agreed on something else, the weakening or elimination of national government-funded social programs to aid the poor. Britain exploded with riots in the spring and summer of 1981 in areas such as Brixton and Liverpool where unemployment was high.

Others were taking to the streets of Europe and the U.S. as well in 1981 and 1982 to protest both nuclear power and armaments. Hundreds of thousands marched all over Europe in what was known as the "No Nukes" movement.

It reached its zenith during the recording of It’s Hard as 800,000 marched in New York City before attending a massive "No Nukes" concert in Central Park headed by Bruce Springsteen.

In Britain the band then doing the most to address political issues was The Clash. Their albums London Calling and Sandanista! had addressed everything from the Brixton riots to the Nicaraguan civil war. Billed as "the only band that matters" and with a front cover to London Calling that showed Paul Simonen smashing his bass guitar, they could not help but get Pete’s attention. Pete spoke of The Clash in almost every interview he gave in 1982. "About two years ago, while the Who were touring, I was wearing the basic Clash outfit, red handkerchief and baggy trousers and whatever else. And it really didn’t come into its own until I went to a Clash concert, where I actually blended into the crowd and had that feeling of being lost, and at the same time of being…found." Pete saw It’s Hard as a chance for The Who to take the high ground from The Clash or at least to further their message. "I think the Who are in a unique position in that we’re capable of exactly the same kind of tense and desperate expression the Clash make, but with a far, far larger audience."

In interview after interview in 1982 Pete spoke of how The Who’s new approach excited him and revitalized the band. "[The Who] all feel a great…sense of urgency I think it the only way to put it." "…it’s changed our attitude a bit, because now we have something we want to take out and work one hundred percent; we want to shove it down people’s throats, in a sense." "…a lot of material we’re doing at the moment is quite anguished." "I thought, ‘fuck it! There must be something! I’ve got two growing children, there must be something I can do about the planet. There must be something other than the occasional fucking concert for Amnesty International. I must be able to do something, express something." "I felt that suddenly the band had an outside purpose and it really did unify us a lot, it made us feel like human beings, part of society, living on a planet, not as isolated superstars who were worried about advancing middle age, money problems, whether they could buy another radiator cap for their Rolls-Royces. We were living in the real world again. Despite the fact that we can’t alter who we are, or the fact that we are set apart from society, but to re-establish our position as observers, as commentators, as writers with a heavy emotional bias. To a great extent, it has given the band a feeling of being again." "Recording has rejuvenated us. Not so much in musical terms, but in the sense of standing together and saying that we’re prepared to actually change the way that we live and the way that we operate, if it will make a difference."

And Pete also spoke of how happy he was with his songs and the recording. "I think the writing I’m doing now for the band has come out much more successfully." "I haven’t tried particularly hard on the material. I haven’t sat and ruminated and tortured myself to get anything out. I’ve just written the songs that I think are right for the band and they’re much, much, much better for them; much more effective." "We’re working with Glyn Johns who produced Who’s Next and Who Are You and all the early, very early Who stuff, he engineered. And it’s going extremely well." "I must say the material’s come out really good and I’m really pleased with it so far." "The new Who songs are violently aggressive, the most aggressive stuff we’ve ever come up with. The songs that I’ve written are totally preoccupied with the danger and tension of living in the ’80’s. And that is the common attitude and stance that the band has." "Six weeks later the album was finished and it was a natural, unconsidered, spontaneous record; the kind I would imagine a brand new group could easily make. Perhaps in the context of a lot of Who records, particularly Who’s Next and Quadrophenia it’s not quite such a landmark, but from our point of view it’s a tremendous record."

Roger’s reaction to it in 1982, however, was negative even as he tried to sell it. "It’s more of a live type album. I think it’s very unpretentious. It’s not particularly my favorite Who album. I think there’s about five really good tracks on it…it’s a stopgap album…I think musically you just cannot keep doing the same old thing. I think that’s been one of our mistakes; that’s one of my main criticisms of this album. It is a bit like this is The Who doing what they know how to do and I don’t like that particularly. I like taking chances."

In 1994, Roger allowed his feelings about the album to come out full force. "It’s Hard should never have been released. I had huge rows with Pete…when the album was finished and I heard it I said, ‘Pete, this is just a complete piece of shit and it should never come out!’ It came out because as usual we were being manipulated at that time by other things. The record company wanted a record out and they wanted us to do a tour. What I said to Pete was, ‘Pete, if we’d tried to get any of these songs onto Face Dances, or any of the albums that we’ve done since our first fucking album, we would not allow these songs to be on an album! Why are we releasing them? Why? Let’s just say that was an experience to pull the band back together, now let’s go and make an album.’ He said, ‘Too late. It’s good enough, that’s how we are now.’"

In the end, if you are sympathetic to the record, you tend to believe Pete that The Who were putting out an impassioned political statement. If you’re not sympathetic, you tend to believe Roger that It’s Hard was nothing but a contractual obligation. Which is the truth? It’s hard to say.