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.”