[This is a repost and expansion of something I wrote in 2012. That original post also included a discussion of The Who by Numbers, since it was my 11th anniversary with both albums.]
Who Are You shows they were moving in the direction of New Wave at the time of Keith’s untimely death, and probably would’ve still done their Eighties albums in that musical style if he’d still been with them. They had to change, adapt, and move with the times. If they’d kept trying to remake Who’s Next and Quadrophenia for the rest of their career, that would’ve been really boring, and gotten them a reputation as one trick ponies. I just can’t understand the hypocritical criticisms of some of these so-called fans who want everything their way, every single way, and screw what was best for the band and what fit with the musical climate and reality.
Side one is all about the changing nature of music, and how, while it’s distressing to realize your style is perceived as out of step, it’s important for music to evolve and change with the times if you want to stay relevant and keep being creative. Some fans don’t like this album that much, but I’ve always adored it. It’s just pulsing with musical excitement and energy, and I love synthesizers, being an Eighties kid. However, the CD remastering kind of really sucks. Now that I have the vinyl, I far prefer the original format. For example, they took out part of the chorus on “Trick of the Light,” and also fiddled with “905.”
It’s also kind of an unusual album, in that Roger sings one of John’s songs. He almost never sang a song John wrote. The album overall has three of John’s songs, again a rarity. Many people have rightly compared him to George Harrison, not only because they were each The Quiet Ones of their respective bands, but also because they had to fight to be thrown a bone, get even one song on each album in spite of a wealth of great material.
The album is also notable for “Love Is Coming Down,” one of three songs Pete wrote during this period with lyrics about standing on or jumping off of a ledge. Thank God he got over this dark mood. The other two are “Street in the City,” from Rough Mix, his 1977 album with Ronnie Lane of The Small Faces, and “Empty Glass,” the title track of his first official solo album from 1980. The original 1978 lyric of the latter was “Killing each other, then we jump off the ledge,” but in 1980, it was changed to “Killing each other by driving a wedge.”
Even though Keith’s drumming was suffering during this period, he was still the best drummer he could be, and the album is one final memory, his beautiful swan song. Even if he never again was as perfect as he was on the ending of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” he was still better than all the other drummers out there. It’s so eerie how, on the front cover, Keith is sitting in a chair that says “Not to be taken away.” I’m now older than he was when he went to his eternal home.
Track listing (stars by bonus tracks):
“Music Must Change” (took me awhile to warm up to this song)
“Trick of the Light” (I’m so naïve I didn’t immediately realize this song is about a hooker in a brothel!)
“Guitar and Pen” (one of those Who songs which women tend to like and men tend to hate)
“Love Is Coming Down” (another Who song more popular among female fans)
“Who Are You”
“No Road Romance”*
“Empty Glass” (demo including John and Keith)*
“Guitar and Pen” (Olympic ’78 mix)*
“Love Is Coming Down” (work in progress mix)*
“Who Are You” (lost verse mix)*
The Who’s catalogue was remastered onto CD by Pete’s then-brother-in-law, Jon Astley. I’m far from the only fan who feels as though Astley majorly dropped the ball by the time he got towards the end of the catalogue. There were so many awesome bonus tracks on earlier albums like Who’s Next, A Quick One, and The Who Sell Out (and of course it would’ve been sacrilege to add anything to Tommy or Quadrophenia), yet from The Who by Numbers onward, the bonus tracks scraped the bottom of the barrel and weren’t really worth the effort.
There are some great bonus tracks on the later albums, but most of them are just alternate versions of songs already included, either live or studio. Of course The Who were an awesome live band (in comparison to The Beatles, who weren’t really that great live even factoring in issues like poor recording technology and ear-splitting screams), but many of us would’ve far preferred entirely new, unreleased tracks. We’d happily shell out the money for CDs of those entire live shows, like Swansea ’76 and Toronto ’82.
Overall, this seems to be an album thought more kindly of by female than male fans. As proudly tomboyish as I’ve been my entire life, I can’t deny this is one of those things which I don’t take the stereotypically male view on!