Earlier this month (November 2004), Pete Townshend announced via the official Who website that he and Roger Daltrey were getting together in December, with whatever bits of song they’d managed to write thus far, in order to see if it was worth proceeding any further with plans for a new Who album. The project was apparently tentatively title Who2, clearly a reference to the remaining original members of the band.
Okay. The name sucks. But what about the idea?
A friend of mine likens the concept of new Who songs to re-animating a dinosaur skeleton.
When I saw The Who at the Sydney Entertainment Centre some months ago, I was impressed: despite lead guitarist Pete Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey illuminated by a spotlight as a duo, accompanied by a backing band who spent most of the evening in the shade, they were good. The backing band were essential to the enjoyment, providing the solid bed upon which Pete and Roger could rock.
And what a backing band: Zak Starkey, forever destined to have the middle name ‘Son-of-Ringo’, was the perfect drummer. Simon Townshend – slated to appear downunder as The Who’s guitarist in a mid-90s tour that was, thankfully, called off (see, the world really is wonderful!) before it could taint the outlaw memory the band had created in their one and only previous Aussie tour, in 1968, when they were given the bum’s rush out of the country for being ‘unruly’ on a flight – backed up big brother Pete as rhythm guitarist. Pino Palladino, session bass player extraordinaire deputised for the most recently departed Ox, John Entwistle. But it was John ‘Bunny’ Bundrick, on keyboards, who proved his worth, playing fantastically.
Indeed, ‘Bunny’ delivered the most gorgeously majestic introduction to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, that Daltrey had to go and ruin. That’s right. Ruin. Daltrey’s onstage ‘move’ for most of the night consisted oof swinging the microphone by its lead, often having it wrap around him and then unwrap before he’d catch it. Only, one time, it led to the ‘Spinal Tap’ moment of the evening, when he dropped the damn thing. Which resulted in a faulty connection, static, and ultimately, malfunction. But only at the most delicately dramatic moment of the evening, after that awesome introduction that reigned over ‘Love Rein O’er Me’. And there was no choice: stop the song mid-verse, pick it up again. However, rather than risk ‘Bunny’ attempting to reproduce that brilliant intro again, and failing, they chose to pick it up from the verse.
But that was ultimately forgiveable. Why? The true test of whether this version of The Who cut it was with songs like ‘Who Are You’. In fact, specifically the song ‘Who Are You’. The choruses were faultless, with perfectly falsetto’d ‘Hu! Hu! Hu! Hu!’s following each ‘Whoooooo are youuuuu?’.
Those harmonic interludes of “Whooooh-aaaaah-ooooh-aaaaah-ooooh-aaaaah” were, likewise, note-perfectly reproductions of that song. It was heaven.
The band played their token new ‘single’ – the recently recorded ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ (a tribute to Elvis and rock, based around the ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ melody) and ‘Old Red Wine’. The songs appear as ‘bonus’ tracks in the recently released singles box set and the most recent Who compilation The Who: Then & Now. It was after playing the songs that Pete admitted that they were considering recording a new album. The cheering didn’t increase noticeably, but nobody boo’d. Clearly, we’d given the idea our approval.
So back to the new album.I think the idea is almost, but not quite right, and even though Pete and Roger don’t realise this, the people around them certainly do. Consider again their greatest hits collection Then and Now.
Hint: the word ‘fab’, describing the ‘new recordings’, is a bit of a give-away.
If you’ll recall, The Who’s ‘The Kids Are All Right’ always was the best Merseybeat song that The Beatles never wrote. So it’s kind of fitting that The Who are ‘ripping off’ the ‘ripped’ artwork for The Beatles’ Anthology series.
Indeed, The Who could have gone all the way: instead of Then and Now they could have called the album Yesterday And Today, like the Beatles did, in America, in 1965. And there you have the perfect solution to the problem. With the passing of Keith Moon (drums) and John Entwistle (bass), The Who have lost their rhythm section. All The Beatles have left is Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr – their rhythm section. They should combine forces and record an album as The Whotles.
Unfortunately, another band has beaten The Who to this collaboration: former Beach Boy Brian Wilson has already let slip, in interview, that he intends to record with Paul McCartney next year. It won’t be the first time: Paul McCartney munched a carrot on the original recording of ‘Vegetables’, for the ill-fated Smile album (which, nearly forty years later, Brian Wilson has gone and re-recorded). Macca also appeared, along with Eric Clapton and Elton John, on Wilson’s album Gettin’ In Over My Head earlier this year. However, next year’s collaboration may prove to be more significant. Which is fitting: two great bass players who are also pushy song writers who orchestrated their respective bands’ best albums, who also happened to be born within days of each other, and admire each other greatly… most likely we’ll get a Beachles album before we get a Whotles album.