[Review] The Who: Who’s Next (1971)

Pete’s failed attempt at a second concept album takes on a life of its own as one of the decade’s greatest rock albums.

Kronomyth 6.0: Perfect with a capital pee.

There are albums, and then there are uber-albums. (And, yes, I realize that the stupid cab company has ruined the word for many of us, but if it survived the Nazis it’ll survive the Capitalists.) Paranoid, American Beauty, Who’s Next, Sticky Fingers, The Yes Album – some of the greatest stuff ever committed to vinyl, all of it released at the dawn of the 70s. These records are so solid from top to bottom that they serve as a kind of greatest hits overview for the artists.

Certainly some of The Who’s greatest moments reside here: the epic “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the bitter “Bargain” and “Behind Blue Eyes,” the breezy “Going Mobile,” and that treasured anthem of every henpecked husband, “My Wife.” The lesser-known tracks are hardly slouches, instead offering a respite to buffer these intense emotions. What band would kick a “Love Ain’t For Keeping,” “The Song Is Over” or “Getting’ In Tune” out of its album setlist? None.

Beyond the brilliance of the material, what’s always impressed me about Who’s Next is the way the roles are defined here: Daltrey as the band’s heart, Townshend as its brains, and the rhythm section of Entwistle and Moon as the lungs and nervous system. Here was a band whose greatness rested on the sum of its parts. And those parts were constantly busy, the four members bathed in a shared spotlight, playing at 100% all the time as if the light were shining on them alone at that moment. It’s what makes a song like “Going Mobile” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again” so much fun, because your ear can wander from bass to drums to guitar to vocals and get lost in each for a moment. That’s often the case with trios out of necessity (Cream, Rush), but it’s an exponential increase in pleasure when another instrument or two is added (prog fans will know what I’m talking about).

In 1995, MCA released an expanded, remastered edition that partially atoned for their historically cheap repackages. I’m not sold on the idea of attaching inferior work to superior masterpieces, but the live version of “Naked Eye” alone justifies the exercise. You can lament the death of Lifehouse if you want, but what survived here is worth ten convoluted concept albums.

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Original LP Version

A1. Baba O’Riley (4:59) (5:08*)
A2. Bargain (5:33)
A3. Love Ain’t For Keeping (2:11)
A4. My Wife (John Entwistle) (3:35) (3:40*)
A5. The Song Is Over (6:16)
B1. Gettin’ In Tune (4:49)
B2. Going Mobile (3:40)
B3. Behind Blue Eyes (3:40)
B4. Won’t Get Fooled Again (8:31)

Expanded CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Pure And Easy (original version) (4:19)
11. Baby Don’t You Do It (Edward Holland, Jr./Lamont Dozier/Brian Holland) (5:13)
12. Naked Eye (live) (5:22)
13. Water (live) (6:25)
14. Too Much of Anything (4:24)
15. I Don’t Even Know Myself (4:54)
16. Behind Blue Eyes (original version) (3:25)

All songs composed by Pete Townshend unless noted.
(*) Indicates where CD track time differs notably from the elpee times.

The Players

Roger Daltrey (vocals), John Entwistle (bass, brass, vocals, piano on A4), Keith Moon (drums, percussion), Pete Townshend (guitars, VCS3 organ, A.R.P. synthesizer, vocals, piano on A1) with Dave Arbus (violin on A1), Nicky Hopkins (piano), Al Kooper (organ on 16), Leslie West (lead guitar on 11). Produced by The Who; associate producer: Glyn Johns; excutive producers: Kit Lambert, Chris Stamp and Pete Kameron; engineered & mixed by Glyn Johns.

The Pictures

Photography by Ethan A. Russell. Design by John Kosh.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on August 14, 1971 in the US and Canada (Decca, DL 79182), on August 25, 1971 in the UK (Track, 2408 102), and in 1971 in Germany and Italy (Polydor, 2480 056), Japan (Polydor, 28MM0069), Mexico (Polydor, 16053) and Taiwan (First, FL-2101); reached #4 on the US charts (RIAA-certified triple-platinum record) and #1 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Polydor, MPX-4022) with lyrics insert.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in May 1973 in the US (MCA, MCA-2023) {black rainbow label}.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in October 1977 in the US (MCA, MCA-3024) {tan label}.
  4. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAC-1691).
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1980 in the US (MCA, MCA-5220) {blue rainbow label} and in the US again (MCA, MCA-3024) {blue rainbow label}.
  6. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in November 1983 in the UK (Polydor, SPELP/SPEMC 49).
  7. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in Canada (MCA, MCA/MAD/MCAC-37217).
  8. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc and cassette in June 1995 in the US (MCA, MCAD/MCAC-11269) and in Europe (Polydor/Universal, 527 760) with 7 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-released on remastered 24K gold ultimate master disc on August 29, 1995 in the US (MCA, MCAD-11312).
  10. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in Japan (Polydor, UICY-2314) with 7 bonus tracks.
  11. Re-released on remastered gold compact disc in 1999 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-754).
  12. Re-released on 3LP and 2CD deluxe edition in 2003 in the UK (Polydor/Track, 076 177-1 / Universal, 113056).
  13. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2008 in the US (MCA/Geffen, 8136511).
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