Sally take my hand....
Released on 14 August 1971
Running time 43.38
This was the album that saw The Who fully morph in to being a "stadium" rock band. All the old sixties "mod" thing was long gone, their audience grown up and the whole zeitgeist changed. They effectively fully re-invented themselves as a heavy rock band, albeit retaining the ear for a catchy riff and refrain that they always possessed. Yes, they had been heading that way in the late sixties and 1970's "Live At Leeds" album but here they really went for it, with Keith Moon's sledgehammer drumming and Pete Townshend's mighty lead guitar well to the fore. John Entwistle's bass provided a solid, rumbling foundation and Roger Daltrey's soaring voice reigned high over it all.
All this had come out of the (thankfully, for me) aborted "Lifehouse" project - another "rock opera/concept" thing from Pete Townshend. I hated that sort of stuff - all somewhat pretentious and indulgent. It was art, I guess, and creative, but it was not rock 'n' roll. "Who's Next" changed all that and it became one of the greatest rock albums of all time. It was pure rock from beginning to end. Its music was simultaneously full of attack and power yet full of hooks. It raised the bar for hard rock, introducing acoustic guitars and synthesisers along with a huge drum sound and crashing lead guitar interjections. Both The Who and hard rock itself changed considerably as a result of this album.
1. Baba O'Riley
3. Love Ain't For Keeping
4. My Wife
5. The Song Is Over
6. Getting in Tune
7. Going Mobile
8. Behind Blue Eyes
9. Won't Get Fooled Again
"Baba O'Riley" opens the album with one of rock music's greatest ever introductions - that infectious keyboard loop that draws you in, seemingly never ending, before good old Keith Moon comes thumping in, followed by Roger Daltrey's titanic vocal - "out here in the fields" - and then Pete Townshend's immense guitar blows the whole thing apart. The bit where Daltrey first sings "it's only a teenage wasteland" and the Moon's drums power their way in is just pure rock nirvana. It is truly one of rock's greatest ever songs. Why it was called "Baba O'Riley" and not "Teenage Wasteland" has always puzzled me. This was one of the songs that made it through from the the "Lifehouse" project.
The full-on rock power continues with the barnstorming "Bargain", with Moon and Townshend driving it along at full throttle. John Entwistle's bass is lovely in the middle of the song quiet bit. Check out the synthesiser/drum/guitar interplay at the end. Classic early seventies Who. "Love Ain't For Keeping" is a (comparatively) short but chunky ballad. There is a catchiness to it that makes it stick in your mind. "My Wife" is the "Entwistle song", with the bassist on vocals. It is a piano-driven bar-room blues-style number with some infectious brass parts too. "The Song Is Over" is a piano and guitar backed tender ballad that sounds like something from a concept album or stage project. A little way in, though, the whole band kick in and it has definite airs of the material that would appear two years later on "Quadrophenia". Daltrey's voice lends a huge grandiosity to the whole thing. This was the end of the old "side one" and most impressive these five songs had been. The Who had really come up with something good here. Out of the apparent chaos and dispiriting experience of "Lifehouse" had come something wonderful.
"Getting In Tune" is a lovely, melodic but muscular number. The bass and drums are just sumptuously industrial. Full of rock power. Daltrey's vocal is once more staggeringly good. "Going Mobile" is an addictive song with Moon and the synthesisers running rampant. As with much of the album, there is an appealing commerciality to it that rendered it different from denser, heavier rock. This was rock, but with a singalong side to it. The anthemic ballad "Behind Blue Eyes" is almost folky in places before, half way through, it bursts out into some bloomin' beautiful Who rock. Man, this is just so good. Just listen to those Townshend riffs around 3:10. Wonderful.
Then, of course, if it couldn't get any better, along comes the iconcic synthesiser intro to "Won't Get Fooled Again", followed by the guitar, drums and vocals in what is probably The Who's finest moment. Oh, did I forget that marvellous bass line underpinning it all? What a magnificent, epic song this is. "Meet the new boss - same as the old boss..." is a line that still gets quoted today. I can't get enough of it. Moon is mammoth on here, monumentally mammoth.
Forget "rock operas", "Tommy" and all that guff. This was The Who at their absolute peak. A truly superb album. What was that cover all about, though? Pissing against a concrete monolith on a slag heap? What was the symbolism in that? Typical early seventies though. Back to the album - there is a fair case for saying that, along with "Quadrophenia", this was the only true classic album The Who made. Certainly, it was never really questioned that this was their best.