On TommyThe Who sought to stretch beyond the confines of single songs to a cohesive, two-album work. With Who’s Next, The Who deliver nine incredible specimens of classic rock and roll.
From the first notes of the primitive A.R.P. synthesizer on “Baba O’Riley” to the final flourish of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Who’s Next is a monument to The Who’s sheer brilliance. If it’s not a perfect album, it’s so close that any deficiencies aren’t worth discussing.
“Baba O’Riley,” (often mis-identified as “teenage wasteland”) is the first track. The synthesizer that permeates the track is a new addition to The Who’s repertoire, but the rest is just what Who fans turn up for – Roger Daltrey’s amazing vocals, Keith Moon’s explosive drumming, Pete Townsend’s power chords, and John Entwistle’s complex and thunderous bass lines.
I’m particularly fond of Townsend’s riffs on “Bargain.” His mid-song vocals are also particularly good. While Townsend’s voice isn’t a match for Daltrey’s, he sells this one exceptionally well.
As has been said often, Entwistle suffered the curse of being a good songwriter in a band with a great songwriter. He also has decent chops as a vocalist, but rarely has a chance to put them on display. “My Wife,” is his sole turn as songwriter and vocalist on Who’s Next and it’s a fun little tune.
“The Song Is Over” and “Getting In Tune” are both wistful numbers that were originally meant for the abandoned Lighthouse project. I suppose “The Song Is Over” counts as a proto-power ballad. Lots of great stuff going on in that one as it alternates between slower-tempo’ed piano/vocal work and the full band going top speed.
If I were going to make a “top 100 rock songs” list, I’d have to include “Behind Blue Eyes” very high up the list. The acoustic intro, Daltrey’s soulful singing, the harmonies, the subtle but melodic bass… once you’ve been sucked into the song, the eruption at 2:20 is so satisfying. I have to admit, “if I swallow anything evil / put your finger down my throat” is one of my favorite lyrics of all time.
And finally we have the epic “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Do not accept pale imitations in the form of the radio edit, you must listen to the full album cut.
The synthesizer that was so distinctive in “Baba O’Riley” is back, setting the mood before the rest of the band comes in to kick it up a notch. I particularly love the bass on this one, and of course Moon is attacking the drums like a madman. And then there’s Daltrey’s almost inhuman scream, which still sends a frisson of pure joy down my spine. The sentiment behind this one is as valid today as it was in 1971 when the album was released.
Who’s Next is one of those albums that I never get enough of. With a run time of just more than 43 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It has thoughtful tunes, and big dumb rockers. It gives the entire band an opportunity to shine, and they do deliver. Anybody with an appreciation for classic rock should have this in their library.