Celebrating The Ox on his 16th Jahrzeit

This year, in honor of the 16th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of The Who’s bassist, John Alec Entwistle, I’m featuring my favorite songs he sang lead on. He was such a dear, special treasure, and often underappreciated. My estrogen Who lists were very active in the early Aughts, and it was rather uncommon for us to get a John girl. Most of us held one of the other three as our fave raves.

My all-time favorite John song! The lyrics are particularly poignant after his premature passing. Yet again, he proved how very deep still waters run.

This is John’s solo lead vocal on Who Are You, though he wrote three of its songs. It’s quite unusual how Roger sings two John songs. Like “When I Was a Boy,” “905” too has extra poignancy since his untimely passing. I also see parallels with Brave New World and We.

One of John’s two songs from A Quick One. It’s so cute how he sings his Rs as Ls and Ws (noticeable in the words “friend” and “drink”) in the hopes that they’ll run together and come out properly. He had a hard time singing his Rs at this early stage.

One of John’s songs from The Who Sell Out. Like so many of his other songs, it’s so full of his trademark dark, quirky, deadpan humor. His sense of humor is one of my favorite things about him.

John’s song on The Who by Numbers (which I’ll be writing a proper review of soon). It’s also full of his trademark quirky, dark humor, and fits so well with the overall mood of the album. While it’s not as dark and depressing as the rest of the songs except the insipid “Squeeze Box,” it still has that same sort of edge and mood. It also brings some levity to the mix, in its own quirky way. I also love the deep Boris voice he uses on the “fairy manager” line.

Originally the lead-off track on Odds and Sods, but moved closer to the end on the CD remastering. The songs (original tracks as well as bonus songs) are arranged in chronological order on the reissue. Yet again, it’s bursting with his trademark style of humor.

Doesn’t everyone love this song? It’s one of John’s classic Who songs, and the reason I named my stuffed spider keychain Boris. The name is truly pronounced Bah-REECE, not BOR-iss, but I can’t help but use the Anglo pronunciation for my spider when that’s the one used in his namesake song.

I’ve got the VHS of their incredible 1970 Isle of Wight show, and watched it so many times in my early twenties. Sadly, I haven’t been able to play it in years, due to not having a VCR at the moment. The Who often opened with “Heaven and Hell.” The lyrics have extra poignancy since John’s passing. The studio version on the remastered Odds and Sods majorly pales in comparison to the live classic. The Who were known as a live band, not a studio one. Even their greatest studio songs gained an extra level of fire onstage.

John’s song on Who’s Next. It’s one of his most belovèd and quintessential, and of course full of his trademark style of humor. So many of his songs are bursting with it.

John’s solo lead vocal on the rather unfairly denigrated Face Dances, though he also wrote “You.” This is one of his signature songs, and perfectly sums up so much about who he was. There are so many parallels between him and George Harrison, starting with the obvious fact that each was labeled The Quiet One of his respective band. Speaking from personal experience, once you’ve been saddled with that label, it’s damn-near impossible to throw it off, and people often don’t take you seriously. We have to prove how very deep still waters can run.

May your beautiful light shine forever, dear sweet Junnykins. The world is a better place because you were in it for 57 years. It was an honor to share Planet Earth with you for 22 and a half of those years.

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“I wish I could stop, and start it again”

In loving memory of John Alec Entwistle, 9 October 1944–27 June 2002

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

In honor of John Entwistle’s upcoming 15th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I decided to review his awesome solo album Too Late the Hero. Some of the material is edited from my old Angelfire posts. Though I own several of his albums on vinyl, this is the only one I’ve gotten around to listening to so far.

TLTH was recorded from 1979–May 1981, and released 23 November 1981. This was his only solo album of the Eighties, though he tried to release The Rock in 1986. Instead, The Rock released in 1996.

TLTH went to #71 on the U.S. Billboard 200, his highest-charting position since his 1971 solo début Smash Your Head Against the Wall. This was also his last album to chart before his untimely death.

The single “Talk Dirty” went to #41 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart, with the B-side of “Try Me.” (I’m sure many of my younger readers don’t even know what a B-side is!) The other single, title track “Too Late the Hero,” charted at #76 on the U.K. NME (New Musical Express) chart, and #101 on the U.S. Billboard chart. “Fallen Angel,” while not a single, also received much radio play on album-oriented rock stations.

TLTH was John’s first solo album in six years, since 1975’s Mad Dog. He felt he’d been going in the wrong direction musically, and wanted to get away from that old-style rock and roll with its “shoo-bop, shoo-bop” stuff. With this album, John returned to his previous style of songwriting. (Read more in a 1981 Rolling Stone interview.)

Critical reception over the years, both then and now, has typically been rather underwhelming or negative. A rare positive review came from venerable music critic Chris Welch of Melody Maker.

I’ve always absolutely adored this album. It’s pulsing with so much musical energy, and as a proud Eighties kid, I can’t resist that trademark Eighties production style!

It’s been said that John’s voice was never this top-notch again after this period.

Track listing, with stars by the CD reissue bonus tracks:

“Try Me”
“Talk Dirty”
“Lovebird” (so lovely and poignant, with John’s voice sounding particularly pretty)
“Sleeping Man”
“I’m Coming Back” (catchy and upbeat, though veers a bit dangerously close to filler)
“Dancing Master” (claims to not be a disco song, but so obviously is, even if it’s more of a spoof!)
“Fallen Angel” (has some very insightful lyrics about how cynical and fickle people can be towards those who are no longer on top)
“Love Is a Heart Attack” (an eerily prophetic song he played at all his solo shows)
“Too Late the Hero” (so beautiful, epic, and haunting, with John’s voice sounding not only very pretty, but delicate)
“Sleeping Man” (demo)*
“Dancing Master” (demo)*
“I’m Coming Back” (demo)*
“Love Is a Heart Attack” (demo)*
“Overture” (unreleased outtake)*

I’m sorry I waited to long to get this album. There was a $3 or $2 copy at Mystery Train Records in Amherst for quite some time, along with Smash Your Head Against the Wall, but I always hesitated, since I wasn’t enough of an established, longtime, serious Who freak to be ready for solo work. But when I found it for $1 at the (now out of business) Saratoga branch of Last Vestige Records, I hesitated no more.

In spite of the many lacklustre reviews, I’d strongly recommend this album to someone interested in John’s unique solo work. Though he only had eight solo albums, it’s quality that matters, not quantity. Ideally, one should also be well-versed in a solo artist’s band of origin before branching out into solo work.

All these years later, I’d still rate it a 4.5.

To John on his 12th Jahrzeit

JohnandhisInstruments

In loving memory of John Alec Entwistle, 9 October 1944-27 June 2002, patron saint of spiders and bass god extraordinaire.

I still remember being gobsmacked by the news that Junnykins had suddenly passed away on the eve of The Who’s 2002 Summer tour. I even remember the day of the week, Thursday. Though I’ve been a Petey girl since I was fourteen, I was still emotionally gutted. That was all I could journal about in Athena for weeks. It was even more shocking to discover he was doing cocaine and cheating on his common-law wife with a groupie when it happened, but I’m not going to slander the dead. That was his personal business, and now he has to work it out with God. Castigating him for poor choices won’t change the fact that they already happened, and he’s no longer here to defend himself.

I know there’s a scientific reason for thunder and lightning, but ever since he passed, I’ve liked to believe he’s giving a concert in the other world every time there’s a thunderstorm. And it always seems to rain and thunder around his Jahrzeit. (I use the German spelling instead of one of the Yiddish spellings because, to be frank, I find German far superior to Yiddish. It looks and sounds so much more cultured, and I’m half-German besides.)

There are so many parallels between John Entwistle and George Harrison. To name but a few:

They were dubbed “The Quiet One” of their respective bands.

They had to beg for a few bones per each album, and showed what they were really capable of with solo work.

Fans obviously love and respect them, but it seems less-common to find someone who holds him as their fave rave. It was really rare when we got a John girl on the estrogen Who lists.

They died only seven months apart. It was a punch in the gut to lose John so soon after losing Georgiekins. John’s death was even more of a sucker punch, since no one had seen that one coming at all. At least we knew George was dying, and so were emotionally preparing ourselves for the inevitable.

They were so much deeper and more interesting than one might assume at first glance, with lots of interesting hobbies.

Each was the second to go in his respective band.

Casual fans have probably never heard any of the Who songs John sings lead on (apart from maybe “Boris the Spider” and “My Wife”), but they’re definitely awesome and worth a listen. My favourite is “When I Was a Boy,” which can be found on the rarities collection Who’s Missing. I also love “Success Story” on The Who by Numbers (where he does the deep Boris voice), “One at a Time” on It’s Hard, “905” on Who Are You, “Cousin Kevin Model Child” on the Odds and Sods bonus tracks, and “The Quiet One” on Face Dances. He also played several different types of horns on the band’s songs.

My first Who album was Tommy, in September 2000, after years of casually liking and being interested in them. At first, I couldn’t even tell the three dark-haired ones apart, and only knew Roger since he’s the only blonde. I somehow correctly guessed their voices when listening to that album for the very first time. I obviously knew Roger, since he’s the lead singer, and then I guessed Pete might be the one with the high-pitched voice. It was basically process of elimination to figure out John was the third one.

If you’re interested, you can check out the bio I wrote for John at Find A Grave. I had to grab his interment before anyone else could write a better biography.

Requiesat in pace, my sweet Ox. It was an honor to share Planet Earth with you for 22 years and six months.

RIP, Ox

(If you’re here for Horny Hump Day, please scroll down!)

This was the picture I had on the opening page of my old Angelfire site, with the words “In loving memory of John Alec Entwistle, 9 October 1944-27 June 2002, patron saint of spiders and bass god extraordinaire.”

It’s hard to believe it’s now been an entire decade since rock’s greatest bassist was taken away from us, at only 57. I wrote about John, his death, and my feelings about it for over a month in my journal of the time, Athena. This is primarily a writing-based blog, so I haven’t really gone into too much length here about my love for The Who and my journey from casual fan to serious, hardcore fan over the course of fall 2000 into the spring of 2001.

Even though John is my third-favorite member and not my fave rave (that’s always been Pete, hands-down), I’ve always had a great love and admiration for him. There are so many parallels between him and George Harrison, like how they were both The Quiet One of their respective bands, were very underrated musically, and had to beg to be thrown a bone or two each album. My estrogen Who lists were very active in the early Aughts, and it was very unusual when we got a John girl. Usually our members preferred Pete, Keith, or Roger.

John had a great sense of dark, quirky humor after my own macabre heart, and he loved one of my favoritest animals, spiders. I even have a cute stuffed wind-up spider on a keychain whom I named Boris, after one of his signature songs, “Boris the Spider.” I’d love to have a pet tarantula someday, though unfortunately I’m allergic to one of their diet staples, cockroaches. Not only that, but he was also a fellow amateur artist. And he was so musically talented, able to play the French horn, trumpet, piano, and many other instruments in addition to bass guitar.

His musical contribution to The Who formed their backbone. He helped to turn the bass guitar into a lead instrument. Just listen to his playing on a song like “Dreaming from the Waist” or “Heaven and Hell.” It was a great loss when Keith died, but when John was gone as well, half of their signature sound was lost. I honestly feel the band should’ve retired shortly after John’s death, and I haven’t bought the “new album” they later released. I never even wanted them to release a new album when John was still alive. As unpopular as certain older guy fans find it, I’ve always loved 1982’s It’s Hard and think it’s a perfect swan song. As far as I’m concerned, that IS their swan song.

I still remember it was a Thursday when he died, the same way I still remember it was a very rainy Friday when I found out George Harrison had died, and now I’ll always remember it was snowing on Leap Year when my darling Davy Jones was taken to the other world. He was too young to go, still so much left to give.

At the time he passed on, I had moved away from Reform and was going to Conservative services, but I still had some leftover Reform views and customs. One of them was saying “ha-kol” instead of “meytim” in the Amidah (the long standing prayer in the middle of services). The line praises Hashem for resurrecting the dead (meytim), but the Reform Movement changed it to ha-kol, saying that Hashem gives life to all. But after John died, I stopped saying ha-kol while everyone else said meytim. It just felt so comforting knowing that Hashem gives life to the dead when someone I loved so much had just gone to his eternal home. I’ve never said ha-kol since, not even on the rare occasions I’ve found myself in a Reform shul.

Rest in peace, dear Thunderfingers. The world is a better place because you were in it, and I’m so honored we got to share Planet Earth for 22 and a half years. Ever since you passed on, I hear you playing the bass when there’s a thunderstorm. It often seems to rain and thunder around your Jahrzeit, and even though I know the general reason behind thunder and lightning, it’s nice to imagine you’re up there giving a concert.