The Who’s response to punk rock, which coincidentally begins and ends with the same letter, F.
Kronomyth 12.0: Who the f*ck are they? The Who, that’s who!
Punk. It was the nasty little four-letter word on everyone’s lips. You loved it or hated it, but you couldn’t ignore it. Since the release of The Who By Numbers, Pete Townshend had been largely out of the limelight, and whispers began to circulate that perhaps The Who and their kind were outdated, part of the older generation they had once warned us about. Townshend and The Who silenced their critics with the combative, reflective and in-all-ways-inspired Who Are You.
The album doesn’t pull any punches. In fact, it opens by beating its critics to the punch with “New Song,” which takes aim at The Who’s “new” place in the world. John Entwistle’s “Had Enough” rejects the world altogether. The next track? It’s an Entwistle tune too. “905” is a terrific track that looks at a world where people are manufactured, not born. Where the punks rejected authority, Entwistle rejects humanity. Townshend returns to dismiss disco (perhaps as a proxy for punk?) and acknowledge that music is always in a state of revolution/evolution with “Music Must Change.” If you didn’t know where The Who stood on the matter of their own status, side one makes it perfectly plain while providing some of the best music of their career.
Side two is only a little bit weaker. Entwistle’s “Trick of the Light” is ostensibly a song about a prostitute, but might as easily apply to fame’s fickle affections. Townshend seems to offer encouragement to the next generation of songwriters with some friendly advice on “Guitar And Pen,” only to delve into the downside of the creative process on “Love Is Coming Down.” In classic Who fashion, the album’s closer goes down swinging with the title track, “Who Are You.” Here, Townshend takes his own battered ego and nails it to a cross, figuratively speaking. It’s here that The Who pick up their dusty crown, put it back on their head and dare the world to knock it off. Only the fools tried. The Clash, the smartest of the bunch, wisely took the knee.
Who Are You is not a perfect album. It is a perfect example of why The Who were so unique in the annals of rock & roll. Seven years after Who’s Next, the band was as relevant as ever. The Kinks would sort of repeat the feat with Low Budget, and Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door was hardly irrelevant, but Who Are You is a lion’s roar of a record. Unfortunately, Keith Moon would be taken away prematurely, making this the last Who album to really matter. But that it mattered at all is a triumph that not even Death could diminish.
Original elpee version
A1. New Song (Peter Townshend) (4:18)
A2. Had Enough (John Entwistle) (4:27)
A3. 905 (John Entwistle) (3:58)
A4. Sister Disco (Pete Townshend) (4:20)
A5. Music Must Change (Pete Townshend) (4:35)
B1. Trick of the Light (John Entwistle) (4:06)
B2. Guitar And Pen (Pete Townshend) (5:45)
B3. Love Is Coming Down (Pete Townshend) (4:00)
B4. Who Are You (Pete Townshend) (6:22)
CD reissue bonus tracks
10. No Road Romance (5:10)
11. Empty Glass (6:23)
12. Guitar And Pen (olympic ’78 mix) (5:58)
13. Love Is Coming Down (work-in-progress mix) (4:06)
14. Who Are You (lost verse mix) (6:18)
Original 8-track version
A1. Who Are You
A2. Guitar And Pen
B1. New Song
B3. Had Enough
C1. Trick of the Light
C2. Love Is Coming Down
C3. Music Must Change
D1. Sister Disco
D2. New Song*
D3. Love Is Coming Down*
* Repeated for program continuity.
Roger Daltrey (lead vocals), John Entwistle (basses, vocals, horns, synthesiser, lead vocals), Keith Moon (drums and percussion), Pete Townshend (guitar, piano, synthesiser, vocals) with Rod Argent (synthesiser, piano), Ted Astley (string arrangements), Andy Fairweather-Low (backing vocals). Produced by Glyn Johns and Rod Astley; engineering assistance by Judy Szekely.
Front cover photo by Terry O’Neill. Back cover photo by Martyn Goddard. Design by Bill Smith.
Released on elpee, picture disc elpee and 8-track on August 18, 1978 in the UK (Polydor, WHOD 5004), the US (MCA, MCA/MCAT-3050/MCAP-14950), Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand (Polydor, 2480 467), Germany (Polydor, 2417 325), Japan (CBS/Sony, 25AP-1130), the Netherlands (Polydor, 2490 147) and Yugoslavia (RTB, ST 2417 325); reached #6 on the UK charts and #2 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 2x platinum record).
- Re-issued on cassette in the US (MCA, MCAC-1580).
- Re-packaged with Live At Leeds on 2-for-1 2LP and cassette in 1980 in the UK (Polydor, 2683 084) and the US (MCA, MCAC2-6913).
- Re-released on half-speed mastered elpee in 1980 in the US (MCA, SD 16110).
- Re-issued with Live At Leeds on 2-for-1 double-cassette in 1982 in the UK (MCA, 3574 098).
- Re-issued on compact disc in 1985 in the US (MCA, MCAD-37003) on Platinum Plus
- Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1992 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-561).
- Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc and cassette on November 19, 1996 in the US (MCA, MCAD-11492) and in Europe (Polydor, 533 845) with 5 bonus tracks.
- Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in Japan (Polydor, UICY-2319) with 5 bonus tracks.