The Who's Weirdest Songs
mbailey at netsoltek.co.uk
Thu Feb 26 13:54:59 UTC 2009
Thanks to Schrade for the link to Mojo's site. Here's a better link:
There loads of links to more Who related stuff here. Most interesting of which is the link to "What is the Who's Weirdest Songs?". See below for the lovingly copy & pasted version.
This begs to the question to us all: What do you think is the weirdest Who song?
My choice would have to be "Dogs Part 2". This isn't in MoJo's list at all, which can only mean that Mojo haven't heard the song.
Other bands wrote songs about boys, girls, sex and drugs. The Who wrote songs about cross-dressing children, spiders and the rise of Red China. Celebrating the Who cover of the April issue of MOJO magazine, we use the deluxe reissue of their Who Sell Out album as a springboard into their world of the strange, where French horns, comedy drinking songs and self-hating disco prevail.
Cue our idea of the 15 oddest Who songs. Maybe we've missed one or twelve, or have them all in the wrong order. As ever, your input is welcome.
15. I'm A Boy
It says something about the strangeness of Pete Townshend's ouevre that a #2 hit about a boy made to dress as a girl by his mother and sisters is pretty much par for the course. Perhaps the first evidence of Townshend "over-sharing" his neuroses, it's the prototype of the sexual darkness that variously haunts Fiddle About and Dreaming From The Waist, to name but two future nightmares. Exactly where this all comes from it's not certain even Townshend knows for sure. He has alluded to abuse in his childhood, but detail has been scant and he's yet to name names - one for the book, perhaps. What is certain is that The Who are driven by something troubled and at their best they turned that conflict vividly into noise. Because above all, I'm A Boy is thrillingly oddly-shaped music - like girl groups and English folk mashed up and electrically charged, a mile from the straightahead R&B then favoured by the majority of UK beat groups. You can see why The Beatles admired them so much. [DE]
14. A Man In A Purple Dress
(Endless Wire, 2006)
Having watched Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ in high dudgeon, Pete Townshend penned this bathos-laden attack on organized religion, Catholicism a prime target despite his previous contributions to a Catholic educational charity. A picked intro leads into a Dylanesque diatribe against ceremonial pomp and judgmental aspect of religion that he described as "a challenge to the vanity of the men who need to put on some kind of ridiculous outfit in order to pass sentence on one of their peers", which is a bit pot/kettle when you think about it. Perhaps the only rock song to use the insult "prat", sung with evident discomfort by Daltrey - enduring one of his sporadic "do I have to sing this?" moments. [PA]
13. Boris The Spider
(A Quick One, 1966)
Recorded at Pye Studios in October '66, bassist John Entwistle's first ever Who composition remains the ultimate testament to childhood "creepy crawly" arachnophobia. Written with the dangling carrot of a £500 advance, it became an enduring live favourite, its dank atmosphere and downright cartoon nastiness (Boris gets squished, of course) adding to The Who's increasingly anti-pop stance. Entwistle himself would add to the track's sinister edge by adopting Boris's persona, his all-black stage gear and spider medallion signifying as much. [PA]
12. Dreaming From The Waist
(The Who By Numbers, 1975)
Even on the auto-scouring The Who By Numbers (featuring, lest we forget, However Much I Booze) this is self-disgust of startling potency. Pete's not well. Cocaine could be part of the problem ("My heart is a-pumping, I've got sand in my mouth"). He can't sleep and some kind of ghastly erotomania has him in its, ahem, grip: "I've got the hots for the sluts in the well thumbed pages of a magazine." The backing is slick, high-octane country-rock like an impolite Eagles, making it a sturdy live proposition with legs throughout the late-'70s and early '80s, and as ever Daltrey translates Townshend's disdain as defiance. Still, hadn't Pete already written enough songs about masturbation? [DE]
11. Mary-Anne With The Shaky Hand
(The Who Sell Out, 1967)
Not Townshend's greatest hymn to female emancipation this one: "Linda can cook / Jean reads books / Cindy can sew" but Pete would rather know Mary, "prettiest in the land". Doubtless to find out for himself what those shaky hands "have done to her man" and indeed the guys who "come from every city". Another tuneful reminder that sexual liberation in the '60s was very much for men only. But as ever, Pete's pervy innerworld set in a hilarious ditty sounds like harmless fun. I'm sure plenty of parents still sing Pictures Of Lily to their daughters too... [JB]
10. God Speaks Of Marty Robbins
(Endless Wire, 2006)
A real off-the-wall double-whammy. First Pete Townshend imagines that he's God. Then he imagines God creating the world in order to hear music, specifically and inexplicably the anodyne C&W of Marty Robbins. Originally, Townshend had thought that Hank Williams or Jim Reeves would have made better candidates for his bonkers eulogy before judging them both to be "too extreme" and plumping for Robbins, one of the artists he'd listened to in his youth. Tellingly, Daltrey did not ask to sing the song, leaving Townshend to lend his own vocals gracing this sparse and gentle curio. [PA]
9. Eminence Front
(It's Hard, 1982)
Recently "rediscovered" by such trendy club DJ types as Erol Alkan, this supposed disco anomaly from 1982's confusingly wrong It's Hard, stands as one of most frightening examples of Pete Townshend's ability to immerse himself in a lyric. Zeroing in on the cocaine superiority and self-deceptions behind the monied smiles of early Thatcherism ("The sun shines / And people forget / Forget they're hiding / Behind an eminence front / It's a put on"), the song's sinister disco rhythms and Townshend's cold vocal delivery suggest that he and his band are as much a part of this, harsh white-powder world as anyone. The only track from It's Hard that the band continued to play live, Eminence Front remains eerily relevant ("The shares crash / Hopes are dashed / People forget / Forget they're hiding / Behind an eminence front"), closer to the icy terrains of post-punk funk than the cokey studio rock of their '80s peers. [AM]
8. Happy Jack
The Who's choice of singles could be baffling (see: Dogs) but it was part of their charm that conventional boy-girl narratives were shunned and subversive concepts forced on the unsuspecting public. This barmy little folkesque ditty pushes the envelope of kook with its educationally subnormal protagonist, who "lived in the sand at the Isle Of Man", then goes way beyond odd with its sadistic details: "The kids couldn't hurt Jack / They tried, tried, tried / They dropped things on his back / They lied, lied, lied, lied, lied." Townshend's empathy for the runt/outcast is always a factor (only he would have made a rock icon - My Generation's rebel narrator - out of a stutterer), but there's a sinister glee to Happy Jack that remains unsettling. As ever with Townshend the insoluble conundrum is this: What would compel you to write a pop song about this? [DE]
7. They Are All In Love
(The Who By Numbers, 1975)
The Who By Numbers album is one big cry for help, with Townshend moaning about his drinking and his fear of growing old and irrelevant. They Are All In Love has a heart-stirring melody, a lovely piano sound and Daltrey blowing a raspberry 56 seconds in, while singing the line, "Where do you fit in phtttt magazine? Where the past is the hero and the present a queen." The fart rather defeats the message in a song that apparently addressed The Who's financial woes and the fact that Townshend "felt like crawling off and dying." [MB]
(The Who Sell Out, 1967)
Pete Townshend will insist that he predicted the internet, but it wasn't the only field in which he was weirdly prescient. This remnant of his mooted rock opera about the rise of a barely-disguised Red China ("Red Chins", geddit?) is a Spectoresque mini-opera with a submerged Keith Moon going potty on the drums. Rael (nothing to do with this guy) is the name of the homeland overrun by Red Chin militarism, and Townshend imagines himself among its martyred heroes: "If a yellow flag is fluttering / Sickly herald against the morn / Then you'll know my courage has ended / And you'll send your boat ashore". By contrast, The Who Sell Out's eventual message - that pop culture is a commodity like any other - seems downright sensible. [DE]
A 1968 single, Dogs was an uneasy mix of old-style Who power-pop and clunky comedy. In their defence, there was not a band in the world making music like this at the time. Although that's no excuse. The exaggerated Cockney vocal throws the listener off guard, the laddish chorus ("There was nothing in my life bigger than beer") doesn't help, but Townshend's excruciating spoken-word outro ("lovely buttocks" etc.) is the final straw. Roger Daltrey denounced Dogs as coming from "a terrible wanking-off period" in The Who's history. He was absolutely right. [MB]
4. Mike Post Theme
(Endless Wire, 2006)
2006's Endless Wire album is like one long, opiated reverie, full of nostalgic references of dubious provenance. Here Townshend hymns the composer of TV themes including the Rockford Files, The A-Team, Dougie Howser MD and (a Townshend fave, it would appear) Hill St. Blues. Somehow, Roger Daltrey manages to make Townshend's scattershot observations on emotional immaturity and TV escapism and, er, stuff, sound heroic, but then this is his job and you can't say he hasn't had the practice. "It is truly the little things in life [like soap operas on TV] that help ease the big troubles," explained Townshend, kind of. [PA]
3. Now I'm A Farmer
(Odds & Sods, 1974)
Said Pete Townshend of this whimsical 1970 out-take, "This track is from the period when The Who went slightly mad." Yee-ess. All the necessary early '70s Who ingredients are here; Moony gives it some in proper amyl-nitrate-sellotaped-to-his-hooter style and the Ox acquits himself well, as does Daltrey. But it's Pete's ludicrous words - winking suggestively about eggplants, potatoes and "digging, digging, digging" - that make you, like a drunken Alfie Bass in the Bond films, peer at the label in bleary horror before chucking it over your shoulder. [IH]
2. Tommy's Holiday Camp
The central character in Pete Townshend's rock opera really doesn't have an easy ride. Witness to a brutal murder that leaves him deaf, dumb and blind, young Tommy is dosed with hallucinogenic drugs, catapulted to a disorientating level of superstardom and subjected to all sorts of behind-closed-doors nastiness, mainly at the wandering hands of his own family. Credited to Moon, but written and delivered by Townshend, this 57-second vignette of circus organs and whimsical seediness hints at the sort of sexual depravity that caused many to dismiss Tommy as 'sick'. "The holiday's forevarrrrrgh!" oozes Uncle Ernie - the patron of this "camp with a difference". It's the sound of a bandaged, pox-ridden beast dressed as a 1950s Redcoat slowly spinning a tombola at the dead of night. As always, The Who's head honcho remained defiant: "Sickness is in the mid of the listener," Townshend told the Disc & Music Echo, "and I don't give a damn what people think." [RB]
1. Cache Cache
(Face Dances, 1981)
Cache Cache (from the French meaning 'hide and seek') was written after one of Pete Townshend's 'lost weekends' in 1980. Drunk on brandy in Bern, Switzerland, Townshend decided to visit the bear pits in the hills overlooking the city. As it was the middle of winter, the pits were unoccupied. Though Townshend didn't know that when he climbed into one. "I was thinking, if I can get in, I wonder why they couldn't get out?" he said later. The resultant song ("about doing something amazing and stupid") has Townshend whispering the song title in the chorus, and Daltrey bellowing the priceless opening line "Did you ever sleep in a bear pit with apple cores and mice..." like a town crier who hasn't a clue what he's singing about but is putting his back into it anyway. [MB]
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