Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Who Songs Span an Era of Experimentation

Cover of "Tommy"Cover of Tommy

The Who Songs Span an Era of Experimentation by Vince P Platania

The Who songs can be viewed as the fascinating creation of a band which metamorphosed from their original, radio-friendly style into a more complex, cohesive form of self expression that focused on telling a larger story than could be fit into an individual track.

The 60's were an interesting time for the record industry, in the sense that artists were beginning to explore the idea of making more than just 3 minute singles. At that time, and even in our modern age, radio was very resistant to playing songs that were longer than this standard. Since radio was the primary promotional avenue employed by record companies to get their 'product' out to the masses, label pressure was great when it came to forcing artists to fit their musical ideas into a specific amount of time.

Many artists chafed at this restriction, not the least of which was The Who. While their early records were chock full of radio-friendly unit shifters like 'My Generation' and 'Happy Jack', as time went on Daltrey and Townshend became increasingly frustrated by the limitations of chart-oriented music.

'The Who Sell Out' was an important turning point for the band in this respect. The album had been put together based on the concept of a pirate radio broadcast, and the band had recorded many vignettes that served as interstitial tracks between each of the songs. The album also contained the single 'I Can See For Miles", which was a huge smash in the United States but only made it to #10 on the UK charts. This perceived slight caused Townshend to give up on trying to write what he thought the public wanted, and he devoted himself full time to exploring his own personal musical concepts.

The immediate effect of this decision was the 'rock opera' 'Tommy'. The Who songs on this record were designed to function together to tell a complete story, and the double LP was a major milestone for serious rock music. Despite specifically working against the expectations of popular music promotion, 'Tommy' actually spawned several of the most popular songs by The Who.

'Pinball Wizard' and 'I'm Free' are staples of classic rock radio to this day. Interestingly, it was burnout following an unsuccessful attempt to create a second rock opera that led to the recording of the 'Who's Next' album which collected some of the best Who tracks ever: 'Baba O'Riley', 'Bargain', 'Behind Blue Eyes' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again'.

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1 comment:

  1. Lovely article, Vince. Great insights. You're clearly a well researched Soul. Probably also a good player of music for being such.

    I sit back with a glass of Australian Chardonnay with a feeling of having been educated.

    Cheers, Vince.

    Justin Sheedy