Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Who - The Who By Numbers (1975)

  

Released on 25 October 1975

Running time 37.19

After 1971's wonderful "Who's Next" and 1973's almost as impressive "Quadrophenia", this 1976 album from the by now mega-group The Who had a lot to live up to. It doesn't quite equal them, but it is still a reasonable album, containing some of the best aspects of both of its predecessors. It just doesn't quite have that certain je ne sais quoi that they had. It was recorded with Pete Townshend in a bit of a state - drunken, drugged up and questioning whether he should still be playing rock. Keith Moon obviously still had his own problems. Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle just worked around it, although Daltrey was said to be regularly bad-tempered at that time. Despite those problems, it comes over as a remarkable coherent and fulfilled piece of work. Indeed, Daltrey has sometimes claimed it to be his favourite Who album, surprisingly.

Townshend said this of it:-

"....I felt partly responsible because the Who recording schedule had, as usual, dragged on and on, sweeping all individuals and their needs aside. Glyn worked harder on The Who by Numbers than I've ever seen him. He had to, not because the tracks were weak or the music poor but because the group was so useless. We played cricket between takes or went to the pub. I personally had never done that before. I felt detached from my own songs, from the whole record.
Recording the album seemed to take me nowhere. Roger [Daltrey] was angry with the world at the time. Keith [Moon] seemed as impetuous as ever, on the wagon one minute, off the next. John [Entwistle] was obviously gathering strength throughout the whole period; the great thing about it was he seemed to know we were going to need him more than ever before in the coming year....."

Many compare this album unfavourably with "Who's Next". To compare it with that is unfair. Just take it on face value and you will find it is a very good Who album. I hadn't listened to it for years and was pleasantly surprised upon revisiting it. I played it over several times.

TRACK LISTING

1. Slip Kid
2. However Much I Booze
3. Squeeze Box
4. Dreaming From The Waist
5. Imagine A Man
6. Success Story
7. They Are All In Love
8. Blue, Red And Grey
9. How Many Friends
10. In A Hand Or A Face                                  

"Slip Kid" starts with an intoxicatingly rhythmic drum and guitar groove before Daltrey's vocal leads us through a mid-pace typical Who rocker. It could have fitted on "Quadrophenia" to be honest, musically, at least. the instrumental break in the middle is intoxicating and the following guitar solo searing. It also features some excellent piano parts (by Nicky Hopkins, of Rolling Stones fame). "How Much I Booze" is an appealing, upbeat number that again has many recognisable Who traits - a strong, dramatic vocal, great drums, acoustic and electric guitars merged together so well. It is an autobiographical confession song from Pete Townshend about his drink problem.

"Squeeze Box" was a hit single and is a bit lightweight in a country rock-ish sort of way. That said, it is a singalong pleasure and has a silly double entendre lyric. "She goes in and out and in and out....". Indeed. The rollicking banjo style solo is infectious too. The remastered album contains a live version of the song which is far heavier.


"Dreaming From The Waist" has some excellent, attacking Keith Moon drums, a big rumbling bass and a lot of verve and vibrancy. It also features some archetypal Who vocal harmonies. It sounds like quite a lot of the "Quadrophenia" material. It was, apparently, bassist John Entwistle's favourite song to play. Townshend, perversely, stated it was his least favourite! "Imagine A Man" is a lovely rock ballad, with a sumptuous bass line and some seriously powerful instrumentation. Again, it is a typical piece of grandiose Who balladry.

"Success Story" is a muscular song about the pitfalls of the music industry. More great vocal harmonies feature. a lovely piano and bass interplay introduces the beautiful "They Are All In Love". The track fades into the light, plaintive acoustic McCartney-esque whimsy of "Blue Red And Grey". Some Beatles-style horns feature on the backing. "How Many Friends" again has a great bass line and another convincing Daltrey vocal. It is a cynical song from Townshend. "How many friends have I really got..." he asks. There is something Rolling Stones about the backing, for me, with shades of Mott The Hoople too. That is probably just me, though. More Stonesy riffery and some heavy rock guitar launches the solid rock of "In A Hand Or A Face". Moon has some great drum parts on this too.

It is a pretty short album, certainly no behemoth like "Quadrophenia" and certainly lacks the sheer brilliance of "Who's Next", but it is not without its unsung charms. Well worth checking out.

B-

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