“Without your match, there is no flame”

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Released 14 June 1982, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes was the first of Pete’s solo albums I bought (on 21 November 2001), after exhausting The Who’s studio output. It’s amazing to think back on how nervous I was about dipping my toe into his solo catalogue!

Pete has been my favorite bandmember since February 1994, long before I became a serious fan, because I felt a soul connection to him from the first time I read about him. All these years, he’s remained my fave rave, unlike how I’ve had three different favorite Beatles. But solo work was uncharted territory, as much as I adored his voice and everything else about him.

What if I hated it or just couldn’t get into it? I had to start with an album I’d heard overwhelmingly positive things about on my estrogen Who lists instead of something only completists or hardcore fans would want.

For a long time, I was extremely conservative re: my musical tastes, preferring a small group of favorite artists over a huge, constantly-changing list. If I weren’t familiar with an artist, I’d be so nervous about committing to an entire album beyond greatest hits or songs I already knew from the radio.

And then I listened to Chinese Eyes, and was so impressed I proceeded to buy Pete’s entire solo catalogue within about a year and a half. The one album I couldn’t find in used record stores, White City, I got on eBay.

Chinese Eyes reached #17 in New Zealand, #26 in the U.S., #32 in the U.K., #33 in Norway, and #41 in Australia. Always one for brutal honesty, Pete later said he should’ve won a Stupid Title of the Year Award for this album. I can only imagine the baying mob coming to cancel him if he released it today!

Pete also released a companion video, featuring music videos of seven of the eleven songs. Unlike the record, the video was out of print for years. Pete put the videos up on his website in 2000, and they’re now available all over the Web.

Some of the themes in these songs crop up in Horse’s Neck, a rather strange short story collection Pete published in 1985.

Most critics excoriated this album, calling it pretentious, overthought, intricately meaningless, “an ambitious failure,” overindulgent, “a mess of contradictions,” convoluted, “nearly impenetrable,” and a whole host of other negative appellations.

Committed fans, however, have always loved it. I chose this as my first of Pete’s solo albums because it was so highly recommended by other ladies in the fan community. And speaking of ladies…

When Pete officially started his solo career in 1980, with Empty Glass, he was quite surprised to pick up a huge amount of two new kinds of fans—women and gay men. While he never stopped doing more traditional hard rock songs, going solo gave him free range to do a lot more songs channelling his sensitive, gender-atypical side.

Can you really picture Roger belting out a song like “And I Moved,” “Somebody Saved Me,” “Stop Hurting People,” or “Was There Life”? Even in The Who, Pete tended to sing the more tender, sensitive songs like “Sunrise,” “Blue, Red, and Grey,” “Our Love Was,” and “Cut My Hair.”

Pete had to do these songs solo instead of giving them to the band. They’re so deeply personal, only he could’ve done them justice. Despite priding myself on being so gender-defiant, I’m with the majority of female fans (both of The Who and Pete’s solo career) who adore songs guy fans typically trash.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks on the 2006 reissue:

“Stop Hurting People”
“The Sea Refuses No River”
“Face Dances, Pt. #2” (#15 and #105 on two different U.S. Billboard charts)
“Exquisitely Bored”
“Stardom in Acton”
“Uniforms (Corps d’Esprit)”
“North Country Girl” (written by Bob Dylan)
“Somebody Saved Me” (also a bonus track on the reissue of Face Dances, as a live Who performance)
“Slit Skirts” (probably the best-known song)
“Man Watching”*
“Dance It Away”*

My favorite songs are “Stop Hurting People,” Uniforms,” “Somebody Saved Me,” and “North Country Girl.” Unusually for my collection, this album was made in my lifetime!

An underrated collaboration

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Released 16 September 1977, Rough Mix reached #44 in the U.K. and #45 in the U.S. It was recorded during a hiatus for The Who, and after Ronnie Lane’s band The Faces (who evolved from The Small Faces) split up. Ronnie originally wanted Pete to produce his next solo album, seeing as how Pete’s home studio was one of England’s most advanced at the time. He also wanted to co-write songs with Pete, but that idea was met with disinterest.

Ronnie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during the making of the album, which he didn’t publicly reveal. Since Pete had no idea what was going on with his mate’s health, he thought Ronnie was coming to the studio drunk, and really chewed him out about it. They also once had a fight related to Ronnie’s emotional issues regarding MS. When Pete discovered the truth, he felt really bad about how he’d treated poor Ronnie.

Sadly, both of Ronnie’s brothers and his mother also had MS. As a child, doctors assured him it wasn’t hereditary, but when he was diagnosed at 31, the doctor allowed that it tends to cluster in families. Ronnie passed away at only 51, in 1997.

The eleven songs sound neither like The Who nor The Faces, but British folk rock. In addition to Pete and Ronnie, Rough Mix also features John Entwistle, Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart, and Ronnie’s band Slim Chance. Pete’s then-father-in-law Edwin Astley also did some of the orchestral arrangements.

Though the album only had modest chart success, critics generally rated it positively. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice praised some of the songs as Pete’s “keenest in years.”

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“My Baby Gives It Away” (Pete)
“Nowhere to Run” (Ronnie)
“Rough Mix” (co-written instrumental, one of the rare times Pete co-wrote anything)
“Annie” (Ronnie)
“Keep Me Turning” (Pete)
“Catmelody” (Ronnie)
“Misunderstood” (Pete)
“April Fool” (Ronnie)
“Street in the City” (Pete)
“Heart to Hang Onto” (sung by both)
“Till All the Rivers Run Dry” (written by Don Williams and Wayland Holyfield; sung by Pete)
“Only You”* (originally released on Ronnie’s final solo album, 1979’s See Me)
“Good Question”* (instrumental; also found on Pete’s 1983 double album Scoop as “Brr”)
“Silly Little Man”* (originally released on Ronnie’s third solo album, 1976’s One for the Road)

A 1996 collection of Pete’s greatest solo hits takes its title from a line in “Misunderstood,” coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking. (Yes, that’s supposed to be all one word.) “Street in the City” is also, hauntingly, famous as one of three songs Pete wrote in this era with lines about jumping or falling off of a ledge (the others being “Love Is Coming Down” and The Who’s version of “Empty Glass”).

My favorite tracks are “Annie,” “Keep Me Turning,” “Street in the City,” and “Heart to Hang Onto.”

Spiritual solo sounds

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In celebration of the one and only Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend turning 75 this month, I’m devoting May’s posts to reviewing his solo albums which I haven’t previously reviewed. Let’s kick things off with Who Came First, his first official solo album, released October 1972. The review I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site around 2002 is in bold. My edits are fairly minimal.

This is a very spiritual album that reflects a large influence by Meher Baba. Unfortunately, soon after I got this album, my backup record player temporarily went to pot (the sound got worse than usual; it was a child’s Cabbage Patch player, after all, and a real waste of money), and I wasn’t able to play any of my records for another month or so.

Even then, it still took quite a number of listens to kick in, really kick in, and I was able to start enjoying all of it, not just some of it. People who aren’t into spiritual music probably won’t like it that much. That said, once it grew on me, I really liked the songs, esp. the spiritual ones.

I sound like a broken record, but Pete’s version of “Let’s See Action” is worlds better than The Who’s. Different lyrics, it’s longer, and it’s softer and slower. He never should’ve surrendered that song to them or changed the lyrics!

“Pure and Easy” is also slightly different from the band’s version, softer and slower, with some changed lyrics. They both sound way more spiritual here.

There’s also his version of “Time Is Passing,” which for many years was the only version available. The Who’s version was on a badly damaged tape that (as of 1995) was too corrupt to operate on so it might be included as a bonus track on the remastered Who’s Next. It was saved, however, and in 1997 was issued as one of many bonus tracks on the remastered Odds and Sods.

It all depends on your outlook. If you like underrated and spiritual stuff, you might like to bring this into your collection early on. This was my seventh solo album of his, and even then I was a slight bit nervous about acquiring it, as I hadn’t heard much about it, either good or bad.

It’s not well-known like Empty Glass or Psychoderelict, but it has a lovely spiritual dimension you won’t find in any boygroup monkey’s “solo career.” And because of the underrated nature of this album, coupled with the fact that it was just done on the side in a recording interim, most people don’t feel Pete’s solo career began with this album, but rather with Empty Glass in 1980, eight years later.

Prior to WCF, Pete released solo work on collaborative albums Happy Birthday (February 1970) and I Am (1972), both of which were tributes to Meher Baba. Due to poor-quality bootlegs of the limited-run, privately-distributed LPs, Decca asked Pete for permission to publicly release them.

Always one to beat to his own drum, Pete instead significantly overhauled the track listings and transformed those two albums into his first real solo album. Also on WCF were Lifehouse demo tracks and some new songs.

Pete recorded the songs in his home studio, which was one of England’s most advanced at the time. One dollar from each sale went to charity.

Track listing:

“Pure and Easy”
“Evolution” (written and sung by Ronnie Lane of The Small Faces)
“Forever’s No Time at All” (written by Billy Nicholls and Kate McInnerny; sung by Mr. Nicholls)
“Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action)”
“Time Is Passing”
“There’s a Heartache Following Me” (written by Ray Baker)
“Sheraton Gibson”
“Content” (co-written with Maud Kennedy)
“Parvardigar” (Meher Baba’s beautiful Universal Prayer)

2006 bonus tracks:

“His Hands”
“Sleeping Dog”
“Day of Silence”
“The Love Man”
“Lantern Cabin”
“Mary Jane”
“I Always Say”
“Begin the Beguine” (written by Cole Porter)

2017 bonus tracks:

“His Hands”
“The Seeker”
“Day of Silence”
“Sleeping Dog”
“Mary Jane” (Stage A, alternative take)
“I Always Say”
“Begin the Beguine”
“Baba O’Riley” (instrumental)
“The Love Man” (Stage C)
“Content” (Stage A)
“Day of Silence” (alternative version)
“Parvardigar” (alternative take)
“Nothing Is Everything” (earlier take)
“There’s a Fortune in Those Hills”
“Meher Baba in Italy” (instrumental)
“Drowned” (live in India)
“Evolution (Stone)” (live at Ronnie Lane Memorial, Royal Albert Hall, 8 April 2004)

My favorite tracks are “Content” (so ethereally gorgeous!), “There’s a Heartache Following Me,” “Let’s See Action,” and “Parvardigar.” I used to have the words of “Parvardigar” taped up on my dorm doors.

Happy 30th birthday to White City!


WC Front

White City, released 11 November 1985, was Pete Townshend’s fifth solo studio album, and fourth official solo album altogether. A number of the albums in my dinosaur collection have landmark anniversaries in 2015, like Help! and Under a Raging Moon, but WC is so criminally underrated, and I love Pete’s solo work so much, it just deserves as much love as it can get.

Pete got a huge amount of two new kinds of fans when he went solo, which really surprised him—women and gay men. It weren’t as though he suddenly stopped doing traditional rock songs, but rather that he was free to channel his gender-atypical feelings once he was only making music for himself. Let’s be honest, no one familiar with The Who could picture Roger agreeing to sing a song like “Somebody Saved Me,” “Stop Hurting People,” “And I Moved,” “Hiding Out,” or “Sheraton Gibson.”

When I became a serious Who freak in late 2000, I began realizing I might not be quite as gender-atypical as I’d always felt myself to be. Since the majority of fans have always been men, I was able to pick up on how many of us on my estrogen Who lists had much different reactions and tastes than the men on the notorious Odds & Sods and the less intense but still testosterone-saturated IGTC list. For example, we loved songs like “Sunrise” and “A Man Is a Man,” while most guy fans derided them. To say nothing of how I refuse to hate It’s Hard and Face Dances for not being exactly like their Seventies hard rock.

WC Back

However, since I’ve always been rather gender-nonconforming and considered myself more masculine than feminine (though not in terms of physical presentation), I’m attracted to Pete because he’s so in touch with his feminine side and more feminine than masculine. Psychologist Daryl Bem’s Exotic Becomes Erotic Theory says we tend to be attracted to qualities we don’t have, the other, the foreign. Of course, nowadays a certain exploding trend is making it nearly impossible to raise gender-neutral or gender-nonconforming children, but I’ve got a huge rant planned on that in the new year!

Pete being Pete, he seriously billed WC as a novel. You’ve gotta love how pretentious the man can be, and to his great credit, he’s totally up-front about his pretentious inclinations.

The songs:

“Give Blood”
“Brilliant Blues”
“Face the Face”
“Hiding Out”
“Secondhand Love”
“Crashing by Design”
“I Am Secure”
“White City Fighting”
“Come to Mama”

WC Sleeve

WC was also released as a 60-minute film, though the last I heard, it still hadn’t been transferred to DVD. Protagonist Jim is a grownup version of Jimmy from Quadrophenia. The story is set in, naturally, White City, the northern part of Pete’s native Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood of London. Jim has come home to the projects where he grew up, and discovers you can never really go home again. Along the way, he deals with other issues including racism, frustrated love, bleak memories, and the hopeful, idealistic dreams of his Sixties youth.

My favorite tracks are “Brilliant Blues,” “Give Blood” (which some people criticise for having such a long intro), “Face the Face,” “White City Fighting,” and “Come to Mama.” The album finishes with such a perfect flourish, really summing up the angsty, bittersweet, emotional journey we’ve just gone on with Jim. The ending rather reminds me of that of “In a Hand or a Face,” the closer on The Who by Numbers, which has been compared to water being sucked down a drain.

If you’re interested in Pete’s solo work, definitely give this one a try. You’ll soon see why his solo persona is like night and day compared to his Who persona you’re probably familiar with.

Empty Glass review

EG front

Released 21 April 1980, Pete Townshend’s first proper solo album, Empty Glass, is now 35 years old and still stands up as an awesome, timeless, quintessentially perfect classic. It’s one of those albums which is so awesome, I’d rate it a 6 out of 5 stars. I love this record so much, I used to listen to it every single morning, and often played it multiple times a day.

The album starts with the gritty classic “Rough Boys,” whose lyrics suggest homoeroticism to some. Pete typically hasn’t helped the matter by his rather ambiguous statements about it over the years, which can be interpreted more than one way. However you choose to read it, and whether or not Pete falls anywhere on the bisexuality spectrum, it’s still an awesome song. I frankly don’t care whether or not he’s ever slept with another man, or how many or few. It’s all about the music, not what he may or may not have done in his intimate life!

“I Am an Animal” deals with our conflicting dual nature, at times vulnerable and at other times animalistic. I always used to smile at the lyric “I am an angel,” since Pete really did have, in my opinion, the voice of an angel in his vocal prime.

“And I Moved” is such a gorgeous, erotic song. Pete has more guts in his pinky finger than many modern-day singers for singing such a song, let alone writing it. He originally wrote it for Bette Midler, since he was told she liked dirty songs. Her handlers never even showed it to her, and told Pete, “This isn’t dirty, it’s smutty.” Not one to let great material go to waste, Pete proceeded to sing the song himself, even though it’s about a sexual encounter from a female POV. Can you imagine many other guys voluntarily singing lyrics like “And I moved/And his hands felt like ice exciting/As he lay me back just like an empty dress”?

Most people know “Let My Love Open the Door,” his biggest (and most overplayed) solo hit. It reached #9 in the U.S. It’s definitely more poppy and upbeat than the other songs on here.

“Jools and Jim” is about gossip-mongers and their clacking typewriters, people who don’t care about the real lives of their subjects. In this song, Pete ably demonstrates his ability to sound both angel-sweet and more traditionally masculine.

EG back

“Keep on Working” is an awesome little rocker, showing he was capable of solid rock songs as well as just personal, introspective numbers. “Cat’s in the Cupboard” is also a great rocker.

“A Little Is Enough” is about Pete’s difficult marriage to his now-ex-wife Karen, with whom he had enjoyed one of rock’s longest-lasting marriages. It was also inspired by a conversation he had with Adi Irani, the secretary of Pete’s late guru Meher Baba. It’s one of my favorite songs from the album.

“Empty Glass,” the title track, is such an anthem for Pete in this period of his life. He felt so out of control regarding his alcoholism and depression. This is also one of three songs from this time period with lyrics about falling or jumping off of a ledge (the others being “Love Is Coming Down” and “Street in the City”). The demo version included as a bonus track on the remastered Who Are You contains the line “Killing each other, then we jump off a ledge,” though by the time of the solo album, it had been changed to “Killing each other by driving a wedge.”

This is just such an awesome song about Pete battling his demons and winning, and celebrating what really matters in life. “Don’t worry, smile and dance/You just can’t work life out./Don’t let down moods entrance you/Take the wine and shout.” This is also another fine example of Pete alternating between his angelic tenor and a more traditionally masculine range.

The album closes with “Gonna Get Ya,” which shows him in a totally manly role, no more ambiguity about his sexuality or feminine-leaning nature. It’s an awesome rocker and perfect closer.