October 20, 2020

’76 New Music Express article about The Who’s early singles

John discusses some of The Who’s early singles

IT ALL begin when John Entwistle presented Nicholas James Cooper with the Wurlitzer Nostalgia Juke Box he’d won in NME’s celebrated competition.


After the presentation Entwistle roamed around the Aladdin’s Cave of pin-tables, video action games and juke boxes where it took place and decided that what was good enough for NME readers was good enough for Chez Ox.


In short, he purchased a magnificent chrome and glass music machine.


What to stock it with was the next problem.


A few days later, he and I breezed into Vintage Records and proceeded to grab enough classic singles to fill his machine four times over.


However, he then realized he hadn’t even a complete collection of Who singles and LPs – so once again we hit the browser boxes.


And as Entwistle unearthed artifacts from the early and middle Who dynasty he provided these reminiscences…


I Can’t Explain/Bald Headed Woman

Brunswick 05926 (1965)


PETER TOWNSHEND once told me that around the same time as The High Numbers recorded Peter Meaden’s primitive mod anthems "I’m The Face" and "Zoot Suit" (Fontana TF480), they also taped a rather restrained version of Townshend’s "I Can’t Explain." But a dozen years have faded Entwistle’s memory of those sessions.


"I suppose we could have recorded it!" he ponders. "All I do remember is that when we came to record ‘I Can’t Explain’ with Shel Talmy, we had the number very well rehearsed."


However, he does remember that they recorded Holland-Dozier-Holland’s "Leaving Here," which Ronnie Wood’s old band, The Birds, copped from The High Numbers’ stage act and promptly rush-released through Decca (F.12140).


"I’m The Face" sank without trace, and in six months The High Numbers reverted to their original name of The Who and re-surfaced with one of the most powerful debut singles ever recorded.


Though it’s the same group, when played back-to-back there’s absolutely no comparison with The High Numbers’ single and The Who’s "I Can’t Explain." The former is tepid, self-conscious and uninspired, while the latter is nothing short of an apocalyptic assault.

"It wasn’t just a matter of changing names", explains Entwistle. "For a start I’d changed my bass and Townshend had changed his style of playing. He’d gotten into 12-string guitars. He was playing a Rickenbacker, and so was I, so we sounded completely different."


There is however, a marked similarity in style between The Kinks’ "You Really Got Me" (Pye 7N.15673) and The Who’s "I Can’t Explain," further compounded by the fact that Shel Talmy (producer of both groups) utilised "Bald Headed Woman" — from The Kinks’ first album (Pye NPL. 180096) — as the B-side of The Who’s first single.


Entwistle concedes that there’s a link between the two records. "Townshend wrote ‘I Can’t Explain’ as an answer to ‘You Really Got Me’" — he vocally illustrates the similarities and points out how Townshend chopped up the basic "Louie Louie" riff and increased the intensity.


But although The Who shared the same producer as The Kinks, Entwistle doesn’t think Talmy applied the same studio techniques to both.


"He didn’t bring in the bleedin’ Ivy League to sing on Kinks singles like he bleedin’ well did on ‘I Can’t Explain’. The only link between The Kinks and us was Jimmy Page."


In those days, when both sides of a single were often cut and mixed-down in under three hours, it wasn’t uncommon for groups to either be augmented or even replaced en bloc by sessioneers. It saved time, money and sometimes face.


Talmy kept young Jimmy Page permanently on "hold", just in case a group guitarist didn’t cut the mustard. Likewise, he often kept a drummer and other spare parts in reserve.


When The Who arrived to cut their first record for Shel Talmy, they found themselves out-numbered by hired session-men.


"Talmy didn’t like our backing vocals, so he dragged in The Ivy League. Likewise, he was a little unsure of Townshend’s ability as a lead guitarist — hence Jimmy Page."

It was only natural that Townshend resented Page’s presence.


"He wouldn’t allow Page to play his 12-string Rickenbacker, and Page wouldn’t loan Pete his fuzz-box for the B-side and so Page played lead on ‘Bald Headed Woman.’


"I’m quite certain that if Talmy could have pulled it off, he’d have brought in Clem Cattini to play drums instead of Moon."


The Who were tailor-made for Associated-Rediffusion’s prime-time TV show, Ready Steady, Go! and were promptly booked to promote "1 Can’t Explain."


From the outset they’d been made to realise the importance of image by their co-managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, and Ready Steady, Go! was the ideal launching pad.


Once Lambert discovered that the man responsible for assembling the studio audience was ill, Lambert ‘kindly’ volunteered to supply a ready-made crowd on Typical Teens. What the producers of R.S.G. didn’t know was that Lambert had herded them from The Goldhawk Social Club and that each one was a die-hard Who fan.


That night, the other acts didn’t stand a chance.


Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere/ Daddy Rolling Stone

Brunswick 05935. (1965)


"KIT LAMBERT realised that we had to be seen before people would begin to buy our records. ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ was his way of taking a short-cut. The intention was to encapsulate The Who’s entire stage act on just one side of a single — to illustrate the arrogance of the Mod movement and then, through the feedback, the smashing of the instruments. I never particularly liked the song or thought that the record worked all that well.


"We recorded it at IBC in next to no time. After doing the basic backing track we set up Townshend’s stack and let him do the various whoosing, smashing, morse-code and feedback effects as overdubs. It was as simple as that."


My Generation/Shout And Shimmy

Brunswick 05944. (1965)


THERE ARE at least five different recordings of "My Generation" in existence. According to Entwistle, the first two were cut at The Marquee Studios, behind London’s Marquee Club.


"Then we decided to incorporate a bass solo, but so as to get the right effect I had to buy a Danelectro bass because it has little thin strings that produce a very twangy sound." However, the results of that session were scrapped and another promptly scheduled. Unfortunately, Entwistle had broken the strings on his bass — only to discover that nobody stocked replacement sets.


"So I went out and bought another Danelectro for £60."


Yet again, the session was unsuccessful. Entwistle was left with two new Danelectro basses and no strings. And seeing as they were going to record "My Generation" yet again, he had no alternative . . .


"I went out and bought my third Danelectro bass."


It was this session that produced the hit recording.


Seemingly, the unreleased versions differ from one another.


"At first, Roger didn’t want to do the stuttering, and if I remember correctly, he sang the first couple of versions straight."


"My Generation" was one of the first records to fully exploit the bass guitar, yet to this very day many are quite unaware of this fact. To Entwistle’s chagrin, those quicksilver dive-bombing bass run attacks have often been attributed to Townshend, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, those very same bass solo runs have become such an integral part of the song that if Entwistle ever deviates from the original 1965 blueprint, people misconstrue this as being a mistake.


"The only solo I ever get to play . . . and I have to do it note-for-note every night — it’s bloody infuriating."


Substitute/Waltz For A Pig

Reaction 591001 (1966)


IN EARLY 1966 you couldn’t move for Who singles. It seemed like they were being released or withdrawn by the hour.


This was when The Who severed their association with Shel Talmy and moved to Robert Stigwood’s newly inaugurated Reaction label, with the result that Brunswick released "A Legal Matter’/’Instant Party" (05956) at precisely the same time as Reaction issued "Substitute”’Circles" (591001).


It only took Brunswick and Talmy minutes to realise both B-sides were one and the same, and they promptly too out a High Court injunction to restrain Reaction from selling their record and The Who from undertaking any further recordings until the dispute had been settled.


Within the week, "Substitute" reappeared in the shops with the same catalogue number but with "Cricles" replaced by an instrumental, "Waltz For A Pig," performed by The Graham Bond Organisation under the pseudonym of The Who Orchestra. And in reprisal, Brunswick attempted to split sales by pulling "The Kids Are Alright"/"The Ox" (05965) off The Who’s first LP, "My Generation" (LAT 8616).


The outcome of the litigation was that Talmy won his case and for the next six years received a percentage from all Who recordings, including "Tommy."


"If that wasn’t enough, Moon couldn’t remember having recorded ‘Substitute.’ He got this crazy idea into his head that The Who had recorded it with another drummer and we were about to throw him out. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t seem to recall having ever played on that particular session. He was in a bad way — but then we all were."


The Who were working at such a grueling pace that they needed artificial energy, and soon they were downing so many pills that if you bumped into them they rattled. – "On the other hand, perhaps Moon’s loss of memory had something to do with my bass playing" Enwistle smirks. "In those days, if you turned your guitar up halfway through a backing track, there wasn’t too much anyone could do about it afterwards. During the instrumental break in ‘Substitute’ I thought to myself, ‘Sod this, I’m gonna make this into another bass solo,’ and so I turned up the volume. When they eventually started mixing they couldn’t reduce the bass."


I’m A Boy/In The City

Reaction 591004. (1966)


MUCH EMPHASIS has been placed upon Townshend’s home-made demos and how he always presents his new material to The Who in that manner. As far as Entwistle can recollect, "Substitute" was the first one that The Who worked on.


"Usually, Townshend would play his demos at the actual session and we’d start recording them almost immediately. Nowadays, he gives us all copies in advance so as we can familiarise ourselves with the song.


"With the exception of ‘Quadrophenia’, Townshend’s demos have usually left a lot of latitude for interpretation. Of all the demos, ‘Substitute’ came out closest to the original, while ‘I’m A Boy’ is totally different.


"Actually, ‘I’m A Boy’ was an opera-type invention Townshend wrote long before we ever did ‘A Quick One’ or ‘Tommy’."


Ready, Steady, Who! (EP)— Disguises/Circles/Batman/ Bucket "T"/Barbara Ann

Reaction 592001 (1966)


A NUMBER of American writers have suggested that The Who are the definitive surfin’ band, offering as evidence side two of this, The Who’s only EP.


"Oh, that’s just Moon’s influence — he’s surf mad", states Entwistle, and leaves it at that.


Happy Jack/I’ve Been Away

Reaction 591010. (1966)


"FOR ABOUT a year now, Townshend’s been saying The Who must get back to writing character-based songs like ‘Happy Jack’ and ‘Silas Stingy’ — songs about people instead of songs about ideals and religious motives.


"He’s realised that a lot of his work only applies to himself and that, perhaps, he’s got to stop baring his soul all the time, because his personal opinions don’t always apply to everyone in the band. That’s precisely why Daltrey refused to sing ‘However Much I Booze’ on our last album."


A Quick One (LP)

Reaction 593002. (1966)


FOR THIS second the only non-original was Martha and The Vandellas’ "Heatwave". The remaining nine tracks were split between Townshend (4), Entwistle (2), Moon (2) and Daltrey (1). This to date has been the only occasion when the various members of The Who have been so liberally represented on record.


Entwistle: "When we were recording that album, there wasn’t too much money around, so we had this publishing deal whereby each member was paid £500 if he contributed two songs.


"I’d already written ‘Whiskey Man’ and Daltrey had ‘See My Way’. Moonie’s ‘I Need You’ was a stab back at The Beatles doubletalk. You see, Moon used hang out with The Beatles but they often insisted on talking among themselves in a way that made Moon feel left out. The song is also about pills — (laughs). Everything we wrote at that time was about pills."


Entwistle continues: "When we’d recorded everything, we discovered there was still something like eight or ten minutes still to be filled and as Townshend didn’t have any more numbers, Kit Lambert suggested to Townshend that he write one number that lasted that long.


"Townshend said that was impossible — rock songs didn’t last for more than two or three minutes.


"Lambert then suggested that Townshend should make it a load of little songs and join them all together and that’s precisely how ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ came to be written."


"A Quick One" may well have been Townshend’s first bona fide magnum opus, but of all the material on that album, only Entwistle’s "Boris The Spider" has endured. It was this song that established his somewhat macabre sense of black comedy with the public.


"I’d been in The Scotch of St. James Club with Bill Wyman and we got around to talking about spiders and about the people who like them. Finally we gave spiders names and I called mine Boris.


"The next day, while we were rehearsing in The White Hart at Acton, I played the band my demo of ‘Whiskey Man" and they liked it. Suddenly, Townshend came up to me and asked quite casually if I’d written the other song? I hadn’t, but said I had.


"When he asked me what it was about, I said the first thing that came into my head — spiders … eh, one particular spider called Boris. He asked me how it went, and I made it up as I went along. After the rehearsal I dashed straight home to get it on tape before I forgot it."


The reason why "Boris The Spider" was never a single allegedly related to a question of pride. "Townshend knows it would have been a hit — probably one of our biggest. But he was always proud of his position as The Who’s composer."


Pictures Of Lily/Doctor, Doctor

Track 604002. (1967)


"IT’S ALL about wanking…Townshend going through his sexual traumas — something that he did quite often. I suppose you could say that   record   represents  our  smutty period, of to be more refined, our blue period!"


‘The Who Sell Out’ (LP)

Track 612002.  (1967)


IN 1967 The Who were caught in a vicious circle. Following three years of British occupation, American rock bands were  beginning to mount a counter-attack, while back in Blighty a new vanguard of heavily armoured power  packs  were   poised  for  yet another all-out assault on the States.


The Who were rapidly running out of time and money and, as yet, hadn’t cracked the lucrative dollar market. The writing was on the wall: they had to be seen to be believed.


Their first move was to get on to Murray The K’s Easter Week Show at the Brooklyn Fox — with Blues Project, Mitch Ryder, Wilson Pickett, Crearn and The Miracles — three shows a day for 10 days with four appearances over the week-end.


All that was expected from The Who was a truncated version of "Substitute" followed by "My Generation" and the trashing of their equipment, then straight back to their hotel and until the next show. Meanwhile, roadie Bobby Pridden had to try and repair their wrecked equipment as best he could.


"We received 900 dollars a day, but in the first three days at The Drake Hotel, Moon and I spent over 7,000 dollars on a running champagne and caviar buffet."


However, by the end of the Brooklyn Fox stint, The Who’s spot had been extended from five to 20 minutes.


"After that, we played a couple of clubs in Chicago and Detroit and headed for the Monterey Pop Festival. Because we didn’t have sufficient funds, when we played Monterey we used Vox equipment and sounded dire. Then after we’d smashed it up, Jimi Hendrix came on, set fire to his guitar and completely upstaged us."


Instrumentally, The Who may well have been the prototype power trio, but every time they were about to break into the big time they were beaten to the punch, first by Hendrix, then by Cream and finally by Led Zeppelin — that was, until "Tommy" manifested himself in May, 1969. "Overnight we became snob rock — the band that Jackie Onassis came to see and all that rubbish. But before that we were getting pretty paranoid because we seemed to set up a situation for others to capitalise on.


"F’instance, Hendrix went along to see all the top guitarists and copied their best tricks. I know, because I played with him before he formed the Experience and he was an entirely different guitarist. I don’t care what people say, Hendrix nicked the best bits from all the great guitarists and he was good enough to put them all together.


"But I can tell you, we all got very depressed about constantly being pushed out of our niche."


"Tommy" was still two years away and so they embarked upon a road tour of North America supporting Herman’s Hermits. They almost didn’t finish the tour. While flying to a gig, the engines of the tour plane cutout and they made a crash-landing on a foam runway. "That was a bleedin’ nightmare — because two blokes on the plane were out of their heads on acid. Actually, it was probably that incident that inspired Townshend to" write ‘Glow Girl’.


"If that wasn’t enough, after that tour I had to borrow 100 dollars to get home first class to make it look good. Truthfully, we didn’t make a cent from our first ever U.S. tour. We were always in debt.


I Can See For Miles/ Someone’s Coming

Track 604011 (1967)

Call Me Lightning/Dogs

Track 604023 (1968)

Magic Bus/Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Track 604024 (1968)


"THOUGH    TOWNSHEND    was optimistic about ‘I Can See For Miles’ — it was his ace-in-the hole — they were a bunch of pretty duff singles. What I think happened was that it took Townshend a couple of years to write ‘Tommy’, and whatever he wrote on the side was our hope for the charts. Truthfully, we’d reached a stage where we looked upon singles as padding until we put out a new album. The only reason why we put out singles was because we were worried that if we didn’t, people might forget us."


Pinball Wizard/Dogs Part 2

Track 604027 (1969)

Tommy (LP)

Track 613013/4 (1969)


READING PRESS interviews Townshend gave prior to recording and releasing "Tommy" gives  the impression that to a certain extent he was making up the plot as he went along, and in some instances testing out vague ideas on various, interviewers. To this day he’s never been able to give a satisfactory synopsis of the story.


"All I know," says Entwistle, "is that when we were recording the damn thing, nobody knew what it was all about or how the hell it was going to end.


"Originally, ‘Tommy’ was going to be a single album — that I do remember — but when we put it all together it just didn’t seem to make any sense, so we cut off the ending, stuck ‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’ on and finished off with another bit of ‘See Me, Feel Me’."

So what was the original ending?


"Can’t remember . . . like I said, I had absolutely no idea what the story was, who the characters were or what they did. I can remember Townshend coming to see me and saying that he’d got a couple of main characters . . . one, a kid called Tommy, who was gonna go through all these traumatic (he always used that word) experiences with some chick who slips him acid, a homosexual uncle and a bully.


"He then asked me if I could write songs for the last two because he felt that he couldn’t write nearly as nasty as me. I wrote ‘Fiddle About’ that same evening, and ‘Cousin Kevin’ I based on an old school chum. It was only when it was decided to make ‘Tommy’ into a double album that it became much easier to work out the story line.


The Seeker/Here For More

Track 604036 (1970)

Live At Leeds (LP)

Track 2406001 (1970)


"THERE WAS absolutely no way we could follow-up ‘Tommy’ with another concept album, and it was to haunt us for quite a long time. Seeing as ‘The Seeker’ didn’t really happen — anyway, I never really regarded The Who as a strong singles band — we just knew that our next project had to be a ‘live’ album.


"But we toyed around with a few other ideas that involved plans to put out another EP.

"A couple of years earlier, we’d recorded ‘The Hall Of The Mountain King’ and ‘Instrumental—No Title’ for a proposed all-instrumental EP, then we tried to record studio versions of some of our best stage numbers, like ‘Roadrunner’, ‘Young Man Blues’, ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Fortune Teller’. Finally, we were going to put out an EP comprised of ‘Water’, ‘Don’t Know Myself, ‘Naked Eye’ and ‘Postcard’. The reason that didn’t get released was because the record company refused to sell an EP at the same price as a single.


"In many ways, ‘Live At Leeds’ was just padding until we could come up with another killer studio album."


Who’s Next (LP)

Track 2408102 (1971)


"THIS WAS our next major concept. Originally it was going to be called ‘Lifehouse,’ and incorporate film footage. Basically, the project centered around The Who living with its audience. We did a couple of experimental things down at The Young Vie and then the whole thing fell through.


"When we started, ‘Lifehouse’ was to be a double album. Half of it ended up on this album, and another four tracks are on ‘Odds And Sods’."


Won’t Get Fooled Again/Don’t Know Myself

Track 2094009 (1971)

Let’s See Action/When I Was A Boy

Track 2094012 (1971)

Join Together Baby/ Don’t You Do It

Track 2094102 (1972)


Track 2094106 (1972)


"ALL THOSE records represent trying to talk to the kids in general. Pete was trying to get the same feel that ‘My Generation" had, but it didn’t really work. You see, they weren’t pointed at the latest generation — they were pointed at ours, which had already grown up.


"That was the time when Townshend honestly thought that he was losing his ‘feel’ and that he could no longer communicate. After we’d finished recording ‘Quadrophenia’ he reached a point where he was adamant that he would never again tour with The Who. Then he realised that if we came off the road the band would disintegrate.


"Thankfully, his faith in himself has been restored and he’s playing better than ever.


Quadrophenia (LP)

Track 2657013 (1973)


ENTWISTLE MORE or less agrees with Townshend’s theory that "Quadrophenia" was the Birdman’s solo album. "It’s because Townshend more or less controlled the shape even though, in my case, the demos left a great deal of space for me to stretch out. Maybe I was lucky!


"Actually, Daltrey wasn’t too keen on the final mixes — he thought the vocals were set too far back, and Moon encountered some difficulty with the drum parts. The basic problem was that ‘Quadrophenia’ was one great big lump of songs — endless miles of demo tapes with intricate synthesizer parts dotted all over the place. And this is why Townshend appears to be so dominant, with The Who just tagging along.


"It was so complex it took four months to put together. I was there most of the time. Moon was in the studio for about three weeks and Daltrey took a week to do his work. But for most of the time it was just Townshend and I."


Entwistle prefers not to work on such an impersonal basis. "It’s so much better when we’re all involved at the same time — although it’s a fact that we don’t record with Daltrey singing. That doesn’t work. Experience has taught Townshend, Moonie and myself that if he’s singing we don’t play as well, because we allow him to take a lot of the strain. If he’s not there, we don’t fall into the trap of just playing back-ups to a vocal. We do our part and Daltrey does his."


Odds & Sods (LP)

Track 2406116 (1974)


"FOUR OF the tracks — Too Much Of Everything’, ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘Put The Money Down’ and ‘Long Live Rock’ — all come from the aborted ‘Lifehouse’ project.


"Actually, there’s still sufficient material in the vaults to make a second album. There’s an unedited version of ‘Join Together’, three minutes longer than the single. We’ve got The High Numbers’, ‘Zoot Suit’, ‘Early Morning, Cold Taxi’, those two instrumental, a couple of out-takes from ‘Quadrophenia’, and things that aren’t finished like ‘Glittering Girl’ which only has a guide vocal.


"’Put The Money Down’ only had a guide vocal, and that held up the release of ‘Odds & Sods’, but I just couldn’t get Daltrey down to the studio to record a new vocal. So I sent him a message asking if it’d be all right if I did the vocal, and almost immediately Daltrey replied that it was O.K. as long as he could overdub the bass parts. Next morning he was in the studio!"