Summing up Pete’s solo catalogue

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Looking back, it’s hard to believe I was so nervous about getting into Pete’s solo work. For the longest time, I was afraid of committing to an album of unfamiliar songs, and preferred to know all or most already from the radio. If I hated it, I’d have wasted my money.

When I queried the ladies on my estrogen Who lists, Chinese Eyes and Empty Glass were unanimously recommended as ideal starting points, and they were right. You can’t go wrong with either.

Pete’s solo work is so intensely personal, saying “This is who, how, what, and why I am, so love me or leave me.” I love how he wears his heart on his musical sleeve, and cares less if people deride him as pretentious or not commercial enough.

“And I Moved” is a quintessential example of why he got so many female and gay male fans as a solo artist! Pete has more guts in his pinky finger than most male artists for choosing to sing a song about a sexual encounter from a female POV after Bette Midler’s handlers rejected it without showing it to her.

Over eighteen years after I first heard that song, it still gives me goosebumps, particularly the lines “And I moved/And his hands felt like ice exciting/As he lay me back just like an empty dress.”

I used to play Empty Glass every single day! That’s how much I adore that album. And after almost two decades, Side Four of Another Scoop never fails to emotionally transport me back to being a heartbroken 22-year-old.

The order in which I got Pete’s solo albums:

All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, 21 November 2001. I later bought a vinyl copy on 24 May 2002.

Empty Glass, bought 1 December 2001, first listen 19 December 2001, after finally getting a record player as an unbirthday present to myself. (Long story about how the Residence Director of the UMass Hillel House totally forgot about my birthday, and I didn’t finally have a party till the Senior Service in May!)

ScoopAnother Scoop, and Rough Mix, 27 January 2002

Psychoderelict, 16 February 2002

Who Came First, 2 March 2002

White City, late July/early August 2002. I first listened to it on 3 August after winning it on eBay.

Rough Boy bootleg, 18 September 2002

Iron Man, 23 March 2003

Deep End Live!, 19 May 2003

Scoop 3, about the spring of 2019 (via Spotify)

I’d personally recommend White City after Chinese Eyes and Empty Glass. They’re the classic triumvirate of Pete’s solo style. Scoop and Another Scoop are good choices to round out your first five.

Psychoderelict is awesome, though some people prefer the music-only version and don’t like the radio play version. I personally can’t imagine it without the dialogues tying all the songs together, since they’re an integral part of the story, though others feel much differently.

I’d recommend Who Came First and Rough Mix for about this point in your journey into Pete’s solo work, since they were made before he started recording as a solo artist in earnest. It took awhile for WCF to fully grow on me, and RM is half Ronnie Lane’s album, not just Pete’s. You’re getting two for the price of one, and need to like Ronnie’s music too.

If you like Pete’s music enough to keep going, Scoop 3 might be a good addition at this point. Since many of the songs are instrumentals, of a more experimental nature, and not Who demos, it’s more geared towards serious fans of Pete’s solo career instead of newbies.

Getting certain albums too early can turn one off, even if the music itself is awesome. You need to be at a certain place in your fandom to love and appreciate them.

I was really disappointed by Deep End Live!, and would recommend it for last. It’s not so much bad music, just presented poorly. There were 27 songs at this show, with eighteen on the video, and those were the ten songs chosen for the album?!

Only four of those songs are what I consider standouts. The rest are so disappointing. The entire live show was finally released on CD in 2004, which I’m long overdue to listen to!

The much-derided Iron Man made a better initial impression on me! It’s hardly one of Pete’s greatest records, but it’s intended as a children’s story, not deep, timeless, adult music. You also don’t want to miss John Lee Hooker singing “Over the Top” and “I Eat Heavy Metal.”

For almost twenty years, Pete’s solo albums have meant so much to me, on top of his songs for The Who being one of the predominant soundtracks of my life. They hold up so well, and listening to them for the first time in a very long time last year felt like the first time all over again. (My LPs are in storage 900 miles away, so I have to use Spotify for almost everything!)

I’m so glad I took a chance and stepped out of my comfort zone to discover such a special catalogue.

A double album full of eclectic goodies

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Released autumn 2001, Scoop 3 is the last of Pete’s double albums in this series, unless he decides to surprise us with a fourth installment after all these years. Owing to its fairly recent vintage, most of the material dates from the late Seventies through 2001 instead of mining the deep vault. Most of the songs are also from Pete’s solo career instead of Who demos or later revisitings of Who songs, and many are instrumentals.

As Pete explains in his liner notes, he wrote fewer songs with lyrics as of 2001, owning to not being under contract for either The Who or his own solo career. Thus, he had complete freedom to pursue a more experimental type of music, and different types of music than he had when he was obligated to produce albums.

He didn’t entirely stop writing lyrical songs, though. He simply chose to keep them unpublished in case he recorded with The Who or as a solo artist again. (To date, I’ve not listened to either of the albums Pete and Roger made after John’s passing, and have no desire to ever do so.)

Pete also started doing a lot more piano and keyboard music because he seriously hurt his wrist in a 1991 bicycle accident, and using those instruments was wonderful physiotherapy.

Amazingly, at least 27 of the 34 tracks were made in my lifetime!

Disc One:

“Can You See the Real Me” (1973)
“Dirty Water” (1979)
“Commonwealth Boys” (1984; later became closing track “Come to Mama” on White City)
“Theme 015” (1987)
“Marty Robbins” (1984)
“I Like It the Way It Is” (1978)
“Theme 016” (1987)
“No Way Out (However Much I Booze)” (1975)
“Collings” (2000)
“Parvardigar” (German version) (1971)
“Sea and Sand” (1972)
“971104 Arpeggio Piano” (1997)
“Theme 017” (probably 1983, given it was intended for the aborted final Who album Siege)
“I Am Afraid” (1990)
“Maxims for Lunch” (1983)
“Wistful” (1991)
“Eminence Front” (1995; obviously not the demo version!)
“Lonely Words” (1985)

Disc Two:

“Prelude 970519” (1997)
“Iron Man Recitative” (1993)
“Tough Boys” (1979; later became “Rough Boys”)
“Did You Steal My Money?” (1980 or 1981) (“The true story behind this doesn’t make anyone look good—especially me. It is not the time to tell it.”)

“Can You Really Dance?” (1988)
“Variations on ‘Dirty Jobs'” (recorded 1997, fully orchestrated 2001)
“All Lovers Are Deranged” (1983)
“Elephants” (1984)
“Wired to the Moon, Pt. 2” (recorded on piano 1997; strings and vocals added in 2001)

“How Can You Do It Alone” (1980) (“I quite liked The Who’s rendering of this song. Roger sang it really well. But it is probably one of those songs that needed my acidic tone to work without awkwardness. Whichever version is your favourite [and you may hate both of them] it’s good to be able to compare.”)

“Poem Disturbed” (1994) (“You can hear my phone ring. I knew who it was: my then girlfriend. These were strange times for me.”)

“Squirm Squirm” (1990)  (“At last, a song with a happy inspiration. One day I was holding my new-born son Joseph and singing him to sleep. It came into my mind that seen from high above we humans must look just like insects, or worms. As he wriggled in my arms I sang to him about the messages we all believe we get sometimes from above. At the time I was gathering material for Psychoderelict, which was—among other things—about the loneliness and collapse of a once famous and beloved rock star. The song seemed to contain and reflect both the peace and safety of this child in my arms, and the chaos and danger that surrounded us out there in the crazy world.”)

“Outlive the Dinosaur” (1990) (“The word dinosaur was of course first used to describe ageing rock stars with vicious irony and I use it here with vicious irony redoubled.”)
“Teresa” (1980; later became opening track “Athena” on It’s Hard)
“Man and Machines” (1985)

“It’s in Ya” (1981) (“Not much to say about this song. A woman I vaguely knew sent me a letter rightly complaining I was getting self-indulgent [after the release of the Who Are You album] and it later sparked this song about what makes the magic of rock ‘n’ roll. It isn’t the musician—it’s the listener.”)

I only listened to this album for the first time in 2019, on Spotify, despite how long it’d been out. I personally would recommend the first two Scoop albums to a new fan first, since a lot of these songs seem more geared to longtime, serious fans.

While I’ve not listened to Scoop 3 nearly enough to be familiar with all the songs, I’d count “Lonely Words,” “I Like It the Way It Is,” and the German “Parvardigar” among my favorite tracks.

A has-been in search of a comeback

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Released 15 June 1993, Psychoderelict is, to date, Pete’s final studio solo album. Though he’s since released a number of other albums, they’re all compilations and live shows instead of new material. Most critics hated this album, though loyal fans have always held it as a criminally underrated masterpiece.

Many casual listeners also hated the radio play structure, with dialogues placed between songs and linking them together. To placate these whiners, Pete released a music-only version. That still wasn’t good enough for the unwashed masses, and sales continued to be poor.

Psychoderelict tells the story of washed-up Sixties rocker Raymond Highsmith (Ray High), who hasn’t had a hit in ages and is now an alcoholic recluse running out of money. His manager Rastus Knight is on his tail to produce something, anything, new, but Ray is convinced the public will hate it.

Ruth Streeting, a radio music critic whom Ray hates, comes up with a very dangerous plan to lure Ray out of retirement and into making new music. Rastus is delighted to hear this, and says they could shift millions if Ruth is successful. He’ll also cut her in on the deal.

Ray receives a letter from 14-year-old aspiring singer Rosalind Nathan, along with a naked photo of her on her mother’s grave. That definitely piques his interest, and he begins a penpal correspondence with her. Ray feels Rosalind is a kindred spirit, since “we both share complicated problems.”

He promises to tell her the secrets of stardom, so long as Rosalind doesn’t tell anyone what he says in his letters. In addition to very personal letters, Ray also sends her a tape of “Flame,” a song he wrote for his secret Gridlife project, telling Rosalind to prove her singing skills by recording it.

Scandal erupts when Ruth airs “the porno penpal story” and excoriates Ray as a nasty slimeball who took advantage of a trusting young girl who opened her heart to him and trusted him. She accuses Ray of soliciting the naked photo and using Rosalind “to test out his weird theories.”

However, the public isn’t that morally outraged, since Ray’s record sales immediately begin surging upon his catalogue’s rerelease. Rosalind’s début album, produced by Ruth, also becomes a huge hit.

Instead of being thrilled at his replenished fortune and being “back in calculator country,” Ray is outraged at Ruth for her role in the situation. When he goes to confront her, he discovers she’s having an affair with Rastus.

Will there be a happy ending to this story? And will Rosalind ever make an appearance?

Track listing (with dialogues running between all songs):

“English Boy”
“Meher Baba M3”
“Let’s Get Pretentious”
“Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box)”
“Early Morning Dreams”
“I Want That Thing”
Dialogue introduction to “Outlive the Dinosaur”
“Outlive the Dinosaur”
“Flame” (demo version)
“Now and Then”
“I Am Afraid”
“Don’t Try to Make Me Real”
Dialogue introduction to “Predictable”
“Predictable”
“Flame” (written by Pete’s baby brother Simon, a talented musician in his own right)
“Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi)”
“Fake It”
Dialogue introduction to “Now and Then (Reprise)”
“Baba O’Riley” (demo)
“English Boy (Reprise)”

In 2006, the album was reissued with bonus tracks “Psychomontage,” “English Boy” (long intro), “Early Morning Dreams” (demo; alternate vocal), “Uneasy Street,” and “There Is No Message in a Broken Heart.”

I’ve loved this album since I first listened to it in February 2002. I was so excited to see it in the used CD section of Mystery Train Records! My fave tracks are “Now and Then,” “English Boy,” “Predictable,” “Don’t Try to Make Me Real,” and “Fake It.”

The dialogues have so many awesome lines, like:

“Rumour has it the sad old lush can’t do it anymore. I mean make records.”

“Only four nipples? Poor underprivileged kid.”

“That’s all it was, my life on the road, prostitution.”

“That cow wrote that I’m ugly.”
“Well, you are ugly.”

“If you must be introspective, at least do it in public.”

“Remember, you don’t have to bury the past or the pain. You can use it.”

“It’s her job to hate your guts. She’s a journalist.”

“Insecurity is the principle driving force we performers share.”

“Her disgust is the most powerful motivator of the artist in me.”

“Although Ray High’s albums have been rereleased this week, decent, normal people will be more interested in young Rosalind.”

“I can’t wait to see Ray’s face.”
“Well, I can’t wait to see Rosalind’s fucking face.”

“Careful what you’ll say, I’ll print it.”
“I don’t give a smorgasbord about that load of old bollocks you churn out.”

Longtime fans will recognise a lot of Pete’s own life in the story of Ray High, including the parallels between his magnum opus Lifehouse and Ray’s Gridlife. Eerily, there also ended up being parallels with “the porno penpal story” when Pete (along with thousands of other innocent people) was falsely accused of the unthinkable during the severely mishandled Operation Ore in 2003.

Since this album bombed so badly, Pete decided not to make any new albums. Ironically, many people have since pestered him for something new besides compilations. What did they expect would happen after panning so many of his solo albums as pretentious and not commercial enough!

Read more in Pete’s own words

A double album of gourmet chocolate and fine wine

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Released 8 July 1987, Another Scoop is the second of Pete’s three double-albums of demos, outtakes, and unreleased songs, both for The Who and his own solo career. I bought it the same day I bought Scoop, in late January 2002, on the $2 wall at Mystery Train Records in Amherst.

Though I love both albums, I’ve always slightly preferred Another Scoop. Whereas the songs on Scoop have a really fun, cute feel, like candy and soda pop, Another Scoop feels more mature and polished, like fine wine and gourmet chocolate.

As with the first installment, Pete wrote liner notes for each song, some very funny. Unlike the first album, Another Scoop provides dates for every song. Ten of the 25 tracks were recorded in my lifetime.

Pete dedicated this album to the memory of his dad, jazz musician Cliff Townshend (28 January 1916–29 June 1986).

Track listing:

LP One:

“You Better You Bet” (1980)
“Girl in a Suitcase” (1975; a rejected Who by Numbers track)
“Brooklyn Kids” (1978)

“Pinball Wizard” (1969; infamously written and recorded only to butter up music critic Nik Cohn. Mr. Cohn, a huge pinball fan, had panned a sneak preview of Tommy, and Pete wanted to ensure a much better review upon its official release.)

“Football Fugue” (1978)
“Happy Jack” (1966)

“Substitute” (1966) (“Interesting that in eulogizing two of my most important influences [and ripping off a few ideas] I should end up with one of the most succinct songs of my career.”)

“Long Live Rock” (1972) (“At one point I had a whole concept album planned called LONG LIVE ROCK, UGH. This is an innocent, bouncy little demo that contains enough cynicism to make it bearable.”)

“Call Me Lightning” (1964) (“The song is a very clear example of how difficult it was for me to reconcile what I took to be Roger’s need for macho, chauvinist lyrics and Keith Moon’s appetite for surf music and fantasy sports car love affairs.”)

“Holly Like Ivy” (1982) (“Written and recorded in Dallas after a post-show party at some restaurant at which a girl called Holly shook hands with me. I received a very large shock of static electricity at the same time. I think I stood on her hair.”)

“Begin the Beguine” (1969; written by Cole Porter)
“Vicious Interlude” (Pete warns one of his daughters not to put something on the wall and says she has a mischievous look in her eyes)
“La-La-La-Lies” (1965)
“Cat Snatch” (1982–83; instrumental; planned for the aborted last Who album, Siege)

LP Two:

“Prelude #556” (1982; instrumental) (“This short prelude was written, recorded and mixed in Florida while the other guys in the band were playing hockey with a load of schoolgirls. I felt superior at the time. After all, I was writing a prelude. This should really be described as a fanfare:
‘… for the entry of Roger Daltrey in a gym-slip!'”)

“Baroque Ippanese” (1982; instrumental)
“Praying the Game” (1978)
“Driftin’ Blues” (1981; always been my least-fave track; written by Charles Brown, Eddie Williams, and Johnny Moore)
“Christmas” (1968)
“Pictures of Lily” (1967)
“Don’t Let Go the Coat” (1980)
“The Kids Are Alright” (1965)
“Prelude: The Right to Write” (1983; instrumental)
“Never Ask Me” (1977; intended as an alternative ballad for Who Are You)
“Ask Yourself” (1982–83; planned for Siege)
“The Ferryman” (1978; written for an amateur production of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha)
“The Shout” (1984)

Side Four, which begins with “Prelude: The Right to Write,” took on great emotional evocation for me after my third love Jason broke my heart in October 2002. From that first haunting, insistent, pounding piano note, I’m gripped by an aching, yawning heartache that lasts through the last song, as though I’m back in Massachusetts and a heartbroken 22-year-old again. Every single time for almost eighteen years.

Pete’s music is that powerful, truly a soundtrack of my life.

My fave tracks are “Girl in a Suitcase,” “Brooklyn Kids,” “Football Fugue,” “Holly Like Ivy,” “Praying the Game,” and the abovementioned Side Four.

Pete turns 75 tomorrow, 19 May. May he have many more happy returns and continue blessing us with such wonderful music!

A double album of musical candy and soda pop

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Image used solely to illustrate subject for an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

The day I got back to Amherst after winter vacation, in late January 2002, I walked down to Mystery Train Records in the hopes of finding some awesome new vinyl for my collection. Among the loot I found were both of Pete’s Scoop albums, Scoop and Another Scoop, on the $2 wall. I finally had a record player, and I couldn’t wait to listen to them!

Though Scoop was released in April 1983, it contains material from as far back as 1965. Since all my records are sadly still 900 miles away in storage, I can’t pull it out to review Pete’s liner notes, but thewho.net thankfully transcribed them.

The 26 songs are demos Pete made for The Who, as well as discarded solo songs. It was quite strange at first to listen to him singing songs I was so familiar with Roger singing. On some of them, Pete is clearly straining to reach notes Roger hit with no problem, since he didn’t write those songs for his own voice.

Track listing:

LP One:

“So Sad About Us” (1966; opens with a spoken intro)
“Brr” (instrumental)
“Squeezebox” (“…a poorly aimed dirty joke….Further incredulity was caused when it became a hit for us in the USA”) (1975)
“Zelda” (recorded during the making of Face Dances, about Pete’s niece; I named my ninth journal after this song) (1981)
“Politician”
“Dirty Water” (also recorded during the making of Face Dances) (1981)
“Circles” (1965)
“Piano: Tipperary” (instrumental)
“Unused Piano: Quadrophenia” (instrumental) (1973)
“Melancholia” (Pete’s comment “I’m pretty sure The Who didn’t even hear this song” became infamous after the song appeared on the boxed set Thirty Years of Maximum R&B. His memory lapses are legendary and hilarious!) (1967)
“Bargain” (1971)
“Things Have Changed” (1965)
“Popular” (later became “It’s Hard”) (1982)
“Behind Blue Eyes” (1971)

LP Two:

“The Magic Bus” (1968)
“Cache, Cache” (retch, retch) (1981)
“Cookin'” (“A chauvinistic little ditty, but I’m chauvinistic towards men as well so it’s OK isn’t it?”)
“You’re So Clever” (1980)
“Body Language” (a discarded track for All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, using the fusion of “streamed poetry with straight lyrics” also found on “Communication”) (1982)
“Initial Machine Experiments” (synthesizer instrumental, with a very trippy, spooky feel)
“Mary” (one of the two namesake songs of my current and twelfth journal) (1971)
“Recorders” (instrumental; 1973)
“Goin’ Fishin'”
“To Barney Kessell” (instrumental; always been my least-fave track)
“You Came Back” (the album’s crown jewel, in my opinion)
“Love, Reign O’er Me” (1973)

Pete released this album to try to put a stop to people bootlegging, stealing, and copying his demos, noting that such fans would welcome this addition “to their stockpile of obsessive memorabilia.” More than that, he liked how it testifies to the power of home recording to evoke moods and music which could be created in no other way.

Above all, writing and recording music gives Pete real joy, particularly when created away from the prying eyes of the public and demand to be as polished and refined as possible. He wanted to share that joy with others.

Though Who fans will recognize eleven of the songs, they sound much different than the band’s versions. Not only is there a different vocal, there are different arrangements and stylings as well. It’s kind of like how Charles Chaplin described each viewer bringing one’s own outlook to the viewing of a silent film, no two people imagining the same words for the scenes without intertitles.

These songs are so cute and fun, hence the descriptor “candy and soda pop.” They’re also a contrast with the songs on Another Scoop, which feel like gourmet chocolate and fine wine (more about that on Monday).

My favorite songs are “You Came Back” (which is about reincarnation), “Zelda,” “Cookin,'” “Mary,” “Politician,” “Circles,” “So Sad About Us,” and “Unused Piano: Quadrophenia.”