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Nov 26 2011

Popular Culture 20111125: A Brief History of The Who. Part II

Last week we started this series, beginning in 1958 and going through early 1966.  This week we shall cover to the end of 1967.  The reason for the shorter timeframe is that the band were much busier and beginning to know real success beginning then, with a really good year in 1967.

Last week I failed to mention that Keith Moon married Patsy Kerrigan on 19660317.  He nicknamed her “Kim”, which stayed with her for the rest of her life.  She was killed in an automobile accident in 2006.  I apologize for the oversight.

I also neglected to report this piece of trivia about “Substitute”.  In the original US release on 19660402, the line in the original that goes “I look all white, but my dad was black.”  Was altered to “I try going forward but my feet walk back.”  I strongly suspect that this was because the Atco executives (this was the only song released by Atco with The Who) feared reprisal from the bigots in the US.

In any event, let us take up where we left off, more or less, last week.

In April and May of 1966 The Who just about split.  Daltrey actually quit for a while, and Moon and Entwistle were seriously considering forming their own band to be called Led Zeppelin.  Evidently, some others Brits took the name for themselves when Entwistle and Moon did not quit.  Daltrey came back after a week or so, and then Moon quit.  He also came back after a week or so and the reunion concert was not too cool.  After Moon and Entwistle were late for the gig on 19660520, they were annoyed to see that Daltrey and Townshend has substitutes playing for them, and a fight ensued, leaving Moon with a blackened eye and stitches in his leg after Townshend and Daltrey hit him with a microphone stand and a guitar.  He was playing with them by the 26th of the month.

The rest of the spring and summer were spent in the recording studio or playing live sets both in the UK and in Scandinavia.  They had still gotten much notice in the US, either by record sales and also because they had not toured there.

During that time some of the songs that they played live included “Babara Ann”, “Man with Money”, and “The Batman Theme”.  Here they are:

This one starts around 0:35.

Now out from the clutches of Shel Talmey, they began to record and release more records.  In April of 1966 the edited (lots of the instrumental part left out) version of “The Kids are Alright” was released with the “B” side “A Legal Matter) was released by Decca in the US.  It failed to chart.  In the UK, it was released unedited with the “B” the intrumental “The Ox” by on 19660812 and charted at #41.  Those songs were all discussed when we covered the album My Generation here.

They were actually slated to go to the US in mid September of 1966 but had legal problems (visas and the final, dying days of the legal problems associated with Talmey, an American).  They instead spent the rest of the fall recording and mixing material for their second album, A Quick One While He’s Away and some touring in the UK Scandinavia again.

The next release was the brilliant “I’m a Boy”, released on 19660926 on Reaction in the UK and on 19661210 on Decca in the US.  It charted at #2 in the UK but did not make the Top 100 in the US.  The band were really interested in the US market, and had been making overtures to tour there.  The “B” side for both releases was “In the City”.  That is a fairly obscure John Entwistle tune, so we include it:

This was the last US release of any material by The Who until 19670318.

Their next release was in the UK only, an EP called READY STEADY WHO.  An EP is sort of like a single, but it has more songs on it.  This one had five, two by Townshend and covers of three more.  The name of the EP was taken from the very popular BBC music program, Ready, Steady, Go! on which The Who had appeared many times.  The EP was released on 19661111 on Reaction, just a little over a month before the program’s last airing, with The Who performing, on 19661223.

The playlist for the EP is “Disguises” and “Circles” on the “A” side and “Batman”, “Bucket T”, and “Barbara Ann” on the “B” side.  The EP charted at #1, and “Disguises” is such a wonderful song that we shall present the Townshend number here:

I really like the punched up bass and the guitar effects, as well as the drumming and the French horn.  It is a gem of a song.

Next came the 19661111 release in the UK of “La, La, La, Lies” and “The Good’s Gone” both from the My Generation album.  This is noteworthy because it was the very last release by The Who on the Brunswick label.

On 19661209 Reaction released “Happy Jack” with the “B” side the very amusing Entwistle song, “I’ve been Away”.  The record charted at #3.  This is also sort of obscure, so here it is:

All of the evidence that I have been able to find indicates that only Entwistle and Moon played on this record.  Entwistle did the vocals, and it sounds to me like the “guitar” is really some Entwistle magic on bass.  He also played the piano on it.

On this same date, their album A Quick One While He’s Away was released in the UK on Reaction.  It hit #2, but was never released in the US.  Instead, a similar album called Happy Jack was released in the US on Decca in May of 1967.  It charted at #67 and was renamed for what most authorities agree are two reasons.

First, the UK title was a tad too racy for US sensitivities.  Second, and probably more importantly, Decca was beginning to see the The Who might have some value for the company and started taking baby steps to promote them.  It turns out that the single “Happy Jack”, discussed just below, was a fair hit in the US and I think that Decca was capitalizing on that.  The only differences were the names and that “Heatwave” from the UK release was replaced with “Happy Jack” in the US one.

“Happy Jack” was released in the US with the “B” side being another Entwistle song, the brilliant “Whiskey Man” on 19660318 back on Decca.  This was the first record by The Who to chart in the US, and it made it to #24.

Those were the last releases for 1966 either in the UK or the US, and note that several of them were released quite a bit later in the US.  This is sort of a general trend.  Decca was just still aware that The Who would make them a LOT of money in future.

The year 1967 was the most successful year for The Who up to that time.  Lambert and Stamp took the lessons learnt from Talmey and started their own record production company, Track Records.  They pitched the idea of a partnership with Polydor (Polydor had the actual vinyl pressing equipment, whilst Track was more concerned with marketing and distribution), and Polydor bit.  This actually happened late in 1966, but all of the details were not worked out until early in 1967.

In addition to The Who, Track had in its artist list a then obscure performer named Jimi Hendrix.  Since Polydor and Track had a binding, but not yet functioning, agreement, “Hey Joe” was released on Polydor late in 1966.  Hendrix’s next single, “Purple Haze” was released on Track in March of 1967.  Now that The Who, since they had financial relations with Lambert and Stamp, were part of Track Records, of course they released their next single, “Pictures of Lily” on that label in the UK.

That single was released 19670421 on Track in the UK and on 19670624 on Decca in the US.  The “B” side for both releases was the amusing Entwistle song “Doctor, Doctor”.  It charted at #4 in the UK and #51 in the US.  “Pictures of Lily” is fairly well known but “Doctor, Doctor” is sort of obscure.  I like it very much, especially Entwistle’s falsetto singing:

One of the most significant things to happen in the spring of 1967 was for The Who finally to travel to the US for a concert tour.  Robert Stigwood was involved with booking them, and got some US attention.  They landed in New York on 19670322 and played at the RKO Radio Theater for a week, five shows a day.  In a stroke of incredibly poor luck, their already scheduled appointment to tape a spot for The Ed Sullivan Show was derailed by a strike of personnel in the news section towards, CBS.  They sympathized with the strikers and would not cross their picket line.  That likely set their American career back quite a bit, but their US TeeVee debut was spectacular nevertheless.

A very interesting track that they recorded in April 1967 was “Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg.  It is pretty obscure, and was not released until decades later on one of the many compilation albums, and I forget which one.  Here it is:

Whilst performing classical pieces is not technically a cover, in spirit it is.  This is an excellent cover.

The next big career boost was appearing at the  Monterrey Pop festival in California on 19670618.  They were not really satisfied with their performance, because of substandard equipment, in particular microphones (The Who were hard on microphones).  They were well received, and the event was filmed and part of their set was released as the motion picture Monterrey Pop in May of 1969.  By then, The Who were much better known.

On the way back to the UK from the gig at Monterrey, Moon and Townshend each took a tablet given to them by the famous Owsley that Townshend believes was STP, actually the extremely powerful and extremely long acting synthetic psychedelic drug 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine.  Apparently Moon was unfazed, but Townshend climbed the walls.  He reported an out of body experience, and vowed never to use any kind of psychedelic drug again.  He indicated that he actually feared for his life, if not his sanity, after taking the drug.  All was well later, and he apparently got OK.

The next really significant thing to happen in 1967 was the marriage of Entwistle to Alison Wise on 19670623, leaving Pete as the only bachelor in the band.  This leads to another interesting story about a UK only release of Rolling Stones cover songs.

It turns out that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were convicted of drugs related offenses on 19670628 and faced significant incarceration time.  The Who decided to record covers of two of their songs and donate any profits to their defense fund.  Thus the single “The Last Time” with “B” side “Under my Thumb” were recorded the next day and released the very next day!  That must be some sort of record for getting vinyl pressed!  It actually charted at #44 for Track Records (it was released only in the UK).  It turns out that Jagger and Richards were able to post bond pending appeal and finally the most serious of the charges were dismissed, so instead of the legal defense fund, the profits were donated to various charities.  But this is the strange part.

Entwistle was still on honeymoon when all of this happened. The band (it is not clear who made the actual call) contacted him on the Queen Mary at 3:00 AM local time to make sure that it was OK with him to record the songs and for Pete to substitute on bass for John.  At first panicked by being contacted by ship to shore telephone in the wee hours (he later said, “I thought someone had died”, because instant communication was still novel in 1967), he readily agreed.

These cuts are not often heard, so here are both of them:

I have two observations.  First, Townshend was as good a bass guitarist as most bands were fortunate enough to have.  One of the things that sat The Who apart is that John Entwistle was a GREAT bass player, and in the opinion of not only me but many music critics who make money writing about such topics, may well have been the best rock bass player EVER.  The second observation is that I like their cover better than the Stones original, but I freely admit that I have some prejudice there.  By the way, I actually saw the Stones live once, in 2006.  I do not understand why they wanted Merle Haggard to open for them, but they put on a good show.

Well, I lied to you!  I promised to get to the end of 1967 with this installment, but I failed.  Part of it has to do with watching my Razorbacks get slaughtered by LSU (and it was not that we could not catch a break or poor calls, we just got BEAT by the #1 college football team) and part of it was for personal reasons.  As a matter of fact, I almost did not have the heart to write at all tonight, but I forced myself to start and am actually pretty happy with the outcome.  We shall take it up from late June 1967 next time.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

Daily Kos,

Docudharma and

firefly-dreaming

1 comment

  1. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    an amateur historian a lover of good music?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

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