One of my ultimate summer albums

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Released 14 August 1971 (and now 45 years old), Who’s Next is widely considered The Who’s most quintessential album. It’s one of the most ideal starting places for a new fan or someone interested in getting to know the band beyond the 5–10 tracks in rotation on most classic rock stations. This is one of those things which deserves the massive amounts of hype, instead of being more hype than substance.

WN started life as Pete’s very ambitious magnum opus Lifehouse, a rock opera which he’s kept coming back to over all these years. So many songs and themes from Lifehouse have been recycled or resurrected in both his solo and band albums. Though Lifehouse itself has never properly been completed, its story is familiar to longtime fans thanks to songs and dialogues Pete used in other projects.

WN came into my life on Halloween 2000 (the same day I bought The White Album), at an Amherst music store which I don’t think is in business anymore (or else moved). I only went to that store every so often, since they had a lot more CDs than vinyl, and typically charged more than Newbury Comics and Mystery Train Records.

Though The Who were always best as a live band, this album shows they could be just as good in the studio. It’s awesome hard rock, showcasing them at their prime. There’s a reason so many folks recommend this album above all others to potential new fans, because it contains everything awesome about The Who. It’s that quintessentially perfect album against which all others in their catalogue are judged, for better or worse.

Track listing, with stars by bonus tracks:

“Baba O’Riley”
“Bargain”
“Love Ain’t for Keeping”
“My Wife” (one of John’s signature songs)
“The Song Is Over” (so lush and beautiful)
“Getting in Tune”
“Going Mobile” (a song I didn’t really like or appreciate till I finally had a car and knew how to drive!)
“Behind Blue Eyes” (super overplayed!)
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” (also very overplayed, but never gets old)
“Pure and Easy”*
“Baby Don’t You Do It”*
“Naked Eye”* (live at the Young Vic Theatre)
“Water”* (Live at Young Vic)
“Too Much of Anything”*
“I Don’t Even Know Myself”*
“Behind Blue Eyes”* (original version)

In 2003, a 2-disc deluxe edition was released, though I haven’t bought it yet. The first disc contains the original first nine tracks, plus six outtakes. The second disc is a 26 April 1971 show from the Young Vic.

I love playing this album in the car stereo when it’s boiling hot outside. It’s such a perfect hot weather album, just like Live at Leeds, and begging to be cranked up. It’s also one of those albums where every time is like the first time all over again, taking me back to those special moments when I first heard each of the songs.

My lace anniversary with ATMP

I’d planned to review and discuss Who’s Next (which turns 45 this year) for Friday’s post, but then I remembered 1 July is my anniversary with the one and only All Things Must Pass. I need no excuse to talk about such a special, special, special album or how much George’s music means to me!

When I was younger, my parents played ATMP on tapes in the car on a fairly regular basis, but I can’t recall if I ever heard it all the way through until 1 July 2003. I do remember my mother saying she particularly loved “If Not for You.”

This album is so, so special, beautiful, moving, and amazing. This is one of those quintessentially perfect albums like Plastic Ono Band, Colour by Numbers, Rio, Empty Glass, and Who’s Next, against which all of an artist or band’s other albums are measured forevermore. It’s that good and perfect, this yardstick which is impossible to top.

From the very first note, I’m unfailingly drawn in. The lyrics and music perfectly set the note for the personal, spiritual journey which is about to follow. “Let me in here/I know I’ve been here/Let me into your heart….”

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I honestly consider George one of my spiritual mentors. He had such a beautiful, powerful, deep, sincere belief in the Divine and the power of humanity to positively transform ourselves and the world. He understood there are many different names and faces for the Divine, and that none of them are wrong, so long as the person has a sincere heart and belief. I don’t get the allegation that certain of his songs are “preachy.” To me, they’re just expressing his own beliefs, not telling everyone we have to believe exactly the same way or that we’re going to Hell if we don’t fall in line.

His message of love and spirituality stayed with him his entire life, even until his beautiful final words, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.” I often think of this final message he left to humanity.

After I bought the 2000 reissue on MP3 for my second trip to Israel in February 2008, I made a playlist of just the first 18 original tracks. I left off the bonus tracks and jam sessions. To me, the album properly ends at “Hear Me Lord,” and doesn’t contain any bonus tracks interrupting the journey, nor is it ruined by extraneous material coming after the assumed end.

George Harrison through the years.

Now that I think of it, it’s kind of like one of my favourite Rap Critic reviews, “Every Girl,” by Young Money. After he roasted this terrible song and seemingly ended the review, there came an unexpected fourth verse. He didn’t know if it were an outro or another verse, since they’d already had three verses and could end the song.

George had a wealth of excellent material, after years of having to fight to be thrown a bone or two every album. I know this is a rather infelicitous metaphor, but he compared it to having diarrhea for years and being unable to get to the toilet, and then he finally was able to let it all out.

This album is so, so perfect, and has more than earned its place as my #2 album, ranking only after Quadrophenia. It really helped to set the stage for George becoming my favourite solo Beatle. Words can’t express just how very, very, very much George and his music mean to me.

Track listing:

“I’d Have You Anytime”
“My Sweet Lord”
“Wah-Wah”
“Isn’t It a Pity”
“What Is Life”
“If Not for You”
“Behind That Locked Door”
“Let It Down”
“Run of the Mill”
“Beware of Darkness”
“Apple Scruffs” (a throwaway, in my opinion)
“Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)”
“Awaiting on You All”
“All Things Must Pass”
“I Dig Love” (also approaches throwaway territory for me)
“Art of Dying”
“Isn’t It a Pity” (Version Two)
“Hear Me Lord”

There are also five tracks on what was originally the third LP, four endless, pointless, meandering jam sessions and a brief nonsense song, which I never listen to anymore:

“Out of the Blue”
“It’s Johnny’s Birthday” (the song)
“Plug Me In”
“I Remember Jeep”
“Thanks for the Pepperoni”

The 2000 remaster has one new song, “I Live for You,” plus alternate versions of “My Sweet Lord,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Let It Down,” and “What Is Life.”

Who Are You review

[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.]

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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.”

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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.

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Track listing (stars by bonus tracks):

“New Song”
“Had Enough”
“905”
“Sister Disco”
“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!

WeWriWa—What Makes a Mother

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a snippet from Little Ragdoll, the contemporary historical I’m releasing on 20 June. (I chose that release date because it’s the 50th anniversary of the release of The Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll,” the inspiration for my story.)

It’s May 1973, in Hudson Falls, NY, and 18-year-old Adicia is in labor with the child who was created the night before her newlywed husband Ricky was inducted into the Air Force for Vietnam. Ricky’s number was 88, one of the final numbers to be called in the last active year of the draft lottery. I’m not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say, Ricky can’t be at the birth.

The midwife hasn’t come to the house yet, but she’s got the support of family and friends. Most meaningful to Adicia is the presence of her old nanny Sarah (with a long A), who was fired by her mother shortly before her eighth birthday and finally reunited with Adicia’s family about eight months ago. No matter that they have different family names, religions, and ethnicities, Adicia is her baby.

***

She sobs in relief when she feels her old nanny’s arms around her and her hands stroking her hair.

“Please don’t leave me, Sarah,” she begs. “I think God, if he exists, made a mistake when he was assigning mothers and gave me my birth mother and you only as my nanny.”

“Du und deine Schwestern waren meine Kinder bevor ich hatte Kinder biologischen,” she whispers to Adicia. “I love Fritz and Nessa as a mutter loves her biological kinder, but I love you and your sisters as a mutter loves kinder who are hers through love.  You, Emeline, Ernestine, and Justine all said ‘Mama’ as your first word, and to me, not your blood mutter.  You, Lucine, Emeline, Ernestine, and Justine are my babies just as much as Fritz and Nessa.  I have seven kinder, not just two.”

***

In case you couldn’t guess, the German means “You and your sisters were my children before I had biological children.” Sarah’s speech was originally written with a German accent, but I finally took it all out and just introduced her by saying she still retains her strong accent after so many years in America. Now she only has a few German words she says in place of hard to pronounce English words, like bruder (brother), mutter (mother), vater (father), and mit (with).

For those who are interested, Jakob’s story is now available for purchase by Kindle and will have a print edition coming presently. You can click on the image for more information.

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How not to write a biography, Part II

(This is edited from a review I wrote of Many Years From Now, Barry Miles’s overly fawning biography of Paul McCartney, about 2007, intended for my Angelfire site but never put up.)

I honestly enjoyed perhaps a good half of this book. The first few chapters, and those on Paul’s life in the Asher household, the making of the albums, and his romance with Linda, are quite good and fast-paced. However, there are numerous long, boring stretches, particularly most of the “Avant-Garde London” chapter. Mr. Miles isn’t a professional writer, and it shows. He’s a longtime close personal friend of Paul’s, and he’s way too close to be objective and analytical. He even writes himself in as a character, which is really pretentious and unprofessional.

It’s also really unprofessional when at least half of the book consists of huge block quotes. Merely presenting information would never pass muster in a high school research paper, so why should it be accepted in a supposedly professional bio? A good biographer is supposed to analyse and synthesise the information, challenge it when need be, and rewrite it in one’s own words.

Apart from a number of typos and grammatical errors, there are a lot of glaring factual errors too. And Paul can’t stop intruding into songs which have long been established as having been written entirely or primarily by John, such as “Girl,” “Help!,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “It’s Only Love.” He claims he helped to write the song too, or that his minimal contribution was the most important contribution. He even tries to claim credit for the BBC radio play of King Lear heard in the background of “I Am the Walrus”!

So many times it seems like his underlying message is “Everything John did, I did better.” And Mr. Miles never challenges any of this historical revisionism. At first it seemed like Paul were being really petty, childish, insecure, egotistical, determined to rewrite Beatles’ history, but then I started to wonder if perhaps this attitude were just encouraged by his sycophantic biographer.

It’s really laughable how Mr. Miles seriously compares Paul’s home movies, paintings, and some of his lamest songs to serious artistes. Since he’s so close to Paul, his views suspiciously parallel Paul’s on many subjects.

The constant trashing on John was really over the top, mean, and uncalled for. We get that he had problems with drugs in the Sixties. Do we need to have that repeated with such fervor on every other page? And why is he the Beatle being singled out for his problems with drugs and character flaws? This constant, unprofessional, mean-spirited savaging doesn’t square well with the frequent quotes from Paul about their close friendship! You don’t need to put others down to build your subject up. Although surprisingly, Mr. Miles seems rather even-handed, even sympathetic, when talking about Yoko instead of bashing her too.

Events that might cast aspersions on Paul as an absolute prince are often left out, like how he treated poor George like crap during the Rubber Soul sessions, or how Paul released a couple of musical attacks on John prior to “How Do You Sleep?” And if Paul wants to be taken seriously about how John left him out of recording sessions too, he should not have used “Revolution No. 9” as his example. This is the same song the other Beatles tried to keep off the album, which Paul in particular hated?

I almost wish the book had been written by Paul (as it is, at least half of it is in his words), since he comes across as rather candid, honest, and open. The constant name-dropping also was more than a bit much. And as a fan of classic film, I was angered by his comparison between John and Yoko and William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. Way to keep alive the hurtful urban legend that she was totally untalented and only got work because she had a powerful lover!

Paul does seem like a really nice guy, and he was originally my favorite Beatle, but he just comes across as childish, petty, insecure, and even a liar. Mr. Miles never challenges anything Paul says, no matter that it’s contradicted by every other source. Who seriously believes Paul was really the hard-edged, avant-garde Beatle?

In another biographer’s hands, this could’ve been much better. Paul probably is a lot deeper, more interesting, and multi-faceted than his image suggests.