[Review] The Who By Numbers (1975)

Rarely numbered among The Who’s best albums, this is sort of Pete’s mid-life crisis set to music.

Kronomyth 11.0: Where the past is a hero and the present a queen.

After the full-frontal attack of Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia, The Who By Numbers felt like a retreat. The best song on it, “Slip Kid,” was a holdover from Lifehouse. The rest of the record suggests the introspective moments from their last few albums, strung together. Instead of anthems of teen angst, fans were treated to the bitter dregs of Pete Townshend’s middle-aged musings: “Dreaming From The Waist,” “How Many Friends,” “However Much I Booze.” The Who By Numbers isn’t a bad record, the band being plainly incapable of making one, but it is the weakest of their classic albums.

Townshend sounded like a man in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and The Who couldn’t offer him much more than musical support. Keith Moon continues to drum like a man on fire, John Entwistle pushes back against the upstarts on “Success Story” and Roger Daltrey sings the songs with enough passion, but there’s no getting around Pete’s blue mood. In its defense, The Who By Numbers does feel like Pete’s most personal album yet, partly because he sings lead vocals on two tracks (“Red Blue And Grey,” “However Much I Booze”) and partly because it is so personal. There’s no Tommy or Jimmy to stand as a proxy; it may be Daltrey singing on “Dreaming From The Waist,” but it’s Townshend talking.

Over the years, I’ve warmed up to a lot of these tracks, as many Who fans probably have. “Slip Kid” is brilliant, “Squeeze Box” is good not-so-clean fun and the succession of “They Are All In Love,” “Blue Red And Grey” and “How Many Friends” is pure genius. Telling you that The Who By Numbers is a disappointment is like telling you that Led Zeppelin’s Presence is a disappointment; it’s still better than ninety-nine percent of everything else out there.

The other thing you’ll notice about The Who By Numbers is that it isn’t as heavy an album as their other works. For the loudest band in the world, they’re surprisingly quiet most of the time. It’s not quite The Who Unplugged, but there is a lot of acoustic guitar on this record. “Slip Kid” is a fist to the face, “Squeeze Box” is more of a playful tickle, and that’s about it; The Who have their hands in their pockets for the rest of the way, except of course for “In A Hand Or A Face.” Tellingly, the band took a bit of time off before releasing their next album, the in-all-ways-superior Who Are You. Fans will definitely want to add The Who By Numbers to their collection at some point, but neophytes had best steer clear until they have a few of the undisputed heavyweights (Who’s Next, Who Are You, Tommy, Quadrophenia) under their belt.

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Original elpee version

A1. Slip Kid (4:35)
A2. However Much I Booze (5:07)
A3. Squeeze Box (2:39)
A4. Dreaming From The Waist (4:05)
A5. Imagine A Man (4:02)
B1. Success Story (John Entwistle) (3:20)
B2. They Are All In Love (2:59)
B3. Blue Red And Grey (2:46)
B4. How Many Friends (4:03)
B5. In A Hand Or A Face (3:20)

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Squeeze Box (live)
12. Behind Blue Eyes (live)
13. Dreaming From The Waist (live)

All selections written by Pete Townshend unless noted.

The Players

Roger Daltrey (lead vocals), John Entwistle (bass, vocals), Keith Moon (drums), Pete Townshend (guitar, vocals) with Nicky Hopkins (piano on A5/B1/B2/B5). Produced by Glyn Johns.

The Pictures

Cover drawing by John Entwistle.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on October 3, 1975 in the UK and the Netherlands (Polydor, 2490 129), on October 25, 1975 in the US and Canada (MCA, MCA/MCAT-2161), and in October 1975 in Australia, Germany, Israel and South Africa (Polydor, 2480 309), Italy (RCA Neon, NEN 00021), Japan (CBS/Sony, SOPO-104) {with poster}, Malaysia (Uranya, URLP-311-61) and Yugoslavia (RTB, LP 5561); reached #7 on the UK charts and #8 on the US charts. 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1977 in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAC-3026).
  2. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in the US (MCA Coral, MCA/MCAC-37002).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (CBS Sony, 25AP 1262) with poster.
  4. Re-issued on elpee on August 8, 1980 in the US (MCA, MCA-37002) {sky-blue rainbow label}.
  5. Re-packaged with Meaty, Beat, Big and Bouncy on 2-for-1 2CS in 1982 in the US (MCAC2-6914).
  6. Re-packaged with Who’s Next on 2-for-1 2CS in the UK (Polydor, 3577 378).
  7. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1984 in the US (MCA, MCAC-1579).
  8. Re-issued on elpee in 1985 in the UK (Polydor, SPELP 68).
  9. Re-issued on compact disc in 1985 in the US (MCA, MCAD-37002).
  10. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in the US (MCA, MCAD-31197).
  11. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in the UK and Germany (Polydor, 533 844) with 3 bonus tracks.
  12. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc on November 19, 1996 in the US (MCA, 11493) with 3 bonus tracks.
  13. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in 1999 in Japan (Polydor, POCP-9203) with 3 bonus tracks.
  14. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2000 in Japan (Polydor, UICY-2318) with 3 bonus tracks.
  15. Re-released on 200g vinyl elpee in 2008 in the US (Polydor, 2490 129) with booklet.
  16. Re-released on expanded super high material cmopact disc on February 20, 2013 in Japan (Polydor, UICY-20424) with 3 bonus tracks.
  17. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee on March 23, 2015 in the UK (Polydor, 3715627).
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