Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 21 Jun 11 10:41
Inkwell welcomes a return visit by San Francisco resident Richie Unterberger, the author of several rock history books, including "Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll"; a two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"/"Eight Miles High"; "White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day"; and the topic of our discussion, "Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia." His book "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film" won a 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research. There's more information about his books on his website,www.richieunterberger.com. An embarrassment of riches: we have not one but two leaders for this conversation, both of whom have been active in discussions about the Who on the WELL. John P. McAlpin is a reporter and editor who's covered government and politics for over 20 years. The first LP he bought was the Beatles' "Help!" Since that purchase, he hasn't stopped enjoying and exploring his love for music and the arts of performing and recording. He lives in Bucks County, Pa. with his wife and daughter. And he is forever grateful to the woman who gave him and a friend those "miracle tickets" so many years ago. Kevin Wheeler, a chemist, is also a musician and sound engineer based in Austin, Texas. As a child, part of a musical family, he formally trained on piano and flute, and he taught himself guitar. He grew up in Houston and Austin, and was part of Austin's vibrant 80s punk scene, making and recording music there, and later in San Francisco for fifteen years. Clips of his Austin music are at http://www.jetbrown.com/PastClips.html, and clips of music he made in San Francisco are at http://www.jetbrown.com/NewCd.html. He's also written chamber music, which you can sample at http://www.well.com/user/krome/SQCD1/. He was a rabid fan of The Who's Quadrophenia, and he loved Tommy and Who's Next. In the battle between the Beatles and the Stones, he always sided with The Who.
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 22 Jun 11 06:39
Hello, Ritchie. I'd like to start by asking about the scope of the book. What was it that attracted you to this narrow portion of the band's career, arguably home to its greatest peak and a failure that seems to have dogged Pete Townshend for decades? Townshend's capacity for interviews -- and with that his drive to talk through his works in progress -- gave you a staggering amount of primary sources for this time period. But Townshend was notorious for "talking out loud" and contradicting himself during these interviews. What was it like reading through all of that material and what were you thinking knowing how complicated it was for Townshend to explain "Lifehouse" to the public, his band and even to himself? Townshend was prolific in his home studio and in the vanguard of recording technology. He was literally a one man band while part of a super rock group. But it never struck me until reading the book that Townshend's isolation in the studio -- and his ability to get a song nearly, but not quite all there by himself -- may have hurt him. Do you think his isolation, literally shutting himself inside a studio to work out "Lifehouse" may have added to the reasons why he could never fully realize the concept? I've got more questions, a few along the lines of Townshend's relationship to the group at this time as well as the use of cutting edge technology by the band -- technology that worked and a good deal that didn't. Any way, great book, great subject, and looking forward to the conversation.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Wed 22 Jun 11 11:28
Hey, Richie. First just want to point out that I was born in '65 so all my impressions of some records (Tommy and Who's Next) are from someone for whom they have always existed. I was surprised to read that 'Pure and Easy' wasn't released on Who's Next but found that I recall it from the out-chorus of 'The Song is Over'. Was 'The Song is Over' originally to be part of Lifehouse(of which I never heard until this book)? I was almost 7 when Quadrophenia came out and it seems, in retrospect, that it spoke to me instantly and then repeatedly as I grew up among the same sort of inter-tribal forces in a very different place(Houston, TX:proto-punks and punks vs. new wavers vs. the frats and jocks and top-40 radio). There was a cultural shift going on when Quadrophenia came out especially WRT American radio programming(see Elvis Costello's 'Radio Radio', Joy Division's 'Transmission' and even my own 'Radio V8') which was codifying everything it decided it liked for the day and blocking out the rest. What are your thoughts on these changes in popular perception of music and their apparent effect on the popular and cultural appreciation for Quadrophenia? I don't know many who have ever owned the album but many who have seen the film and perhaps even bought the record after seeing it. The only number from this record I can immediately recall hearing on the air is 'Love Reign O'er Me'. Was the rest of it just too far from the modern style? I mean, were the radio and the record buyers just not interested in that period of almost recent history? Were we too busy reaching for the future at that point now that we had made it through the 60s? I recall Jethro Tull's 'Too old to Rock and Roll' being similarly dismissed by some I knew perhaps because it was a backward glance. Looking forward to getting more reading done.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Wed 22 Jun 11 11:55
In answer to part of my own question, I am listening to Quadrophenia for the first time in awhile and it is definitely too distopian, gritty and proto-punk for what I remember of 1972 radio and attitudes.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 15:49
Hi John, Kevin, and all readers, and thanks for having me on Inkwell again. I'm going to first answer John's questions one by one. I focused on this particular part of the Who's output because the book's publisher was looking for books about a particularly interesting, specific period of a major artist's career. I found the Who's work in the early 1970s of particular fascination because they tried, not just once but twice, to follow up "Tommy" with a rock opera/concept album of equal or greater ambition. One attempt, "Lifehouse," failed to reach completion, although it supplied the bulk of their 1971 album "Who's Next" and various other tracks that have surfaced on other collections. The later attempt, "Quadrophenia," was completed and both commercially and artistically successful, though not without its problems both in getting made and working as a concept album. The "Lifehouse" project was especially interesting to me because it's possibly both the most ambitious rock concept album ever attempted, and (with the possible exception of the Beach Boys' "Smile") the most interesting classic rock album that was never finished. Although the story of how "Lifehouse" was launched and why it failed to be completed is discussed in several books about the Who's entire career, my book allowed me to go into greater depth on Lifehouse and this period of the Who's career than had been possible before. "Lifehouse" is also of particular interest to me because it wasn't just an album. Pete Townshend intended it to also be the basis of a film, and for that film to probably include scenes of the Who, in concert and otherwise. He also hoped for some of the songs and story to develop out of their interaction with audiences during concerts over a several-month period. It was a multimedia project that was ahead of its time, and for that reason and many others, proved impossible to do with the technology that was available in 1970 and 1971. The conflicts between his idealistic visions and practical realities that got in their way makes for a very complex and dramatic story. "Quadrophenia" is of equal interest to me as a fan and a writer, in part because it makes for such an interesting contrast to "Lifehouse." "Lifehouse" was almost a futuristic science fiction scenario. "Quadrophenia" was far more down-to-earth and rooted in the Who's own history, reflecting as it did the mod movement and audience that vaulted them to fame in the mid-1960s, through fictional characters (especially the opera's troubled protagonist, Jimmy). One key reason I think it was artistically successful, and able to be more easily completed than Lifehouse, is that Townshend and the Who were writing, singing, and performing personal material that was very much about themselves, even if was sometimes acted out by invented characters and personas. It's not quite autobiographical in a literal sense, but it's very much about their fans, people they knew, and in some senses their own lives.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 16:02
Going through Townshend's interviews of the period (1970-74) was fascinating. In part that's because he was a very interesting and (mostly) articulate interviewee. In part it's also because many of the interviews have not been republished and have been difficult to access (especially the ones that appeared in the British press). It is amazing how many interviews Townshend gave in the early part of his career, especially the early 1970s, and especially 1970 and 1971, when he was formulating and trying to explain "Lifehouse." In part this reflects how much more accessible some superstars were to the press back then. It's unbelievable from today's perspective, for instance, that he wrote a monthly column for the British weekly Melody Maker for almost a year, and would actually invite the staff member who picked it up from his house in for tea. It's also unbelievable that he'd make himself available for a huge three-part interview in an underground paper (The Los Angeles Free Press) with limited circulation compared to the general newspapers and popular rock press, and personally congratulate the writer of the story soon after the first installment appeared. John, as to your particular question about how Townshend would sometimes contradict himself or at least often state what he had in mind with his projects in different ways as it changed shape in his mind, it was very interesting if complicated to trace how his ideas evolved. When he's discussed his work (including "Lifehouse" and "Quadrophenia") in decades subsequent to the 1970s, his opinion has often flip-flopped as to those works' strengths and weaknesses. Because he gave so many interviews, however, I think these provide a more reliable record of how he actually felt about what he was doing at the time and the ideas that were coming and going, rather than the fuzzier accounts (from both factual and opinionated perspectives) he gave in later years. Because he never really succeeded in explaining "Lifehouse" too coherently in his interviews, you do get a sense of how much more frustrating it must have been for people in the Who and their inner circle to follow it than it was for even hardcore fans. The Who, their managers, and their associates (like producer Glyn Johns) had to both worry about how to translate this into something popular and comprehensible, and to confront Pete (as both Roger Daltrey and Glyn Johns sometimes did) with the cold reality of how it might not or ultimately couldn't work in the way Townshend envisioned. Townshend's longtime friend Richard Barnes summarzied the dilemma best: "There were two groups: people that understood 'Lifehouse,' and people who didnt. The people who understood Lifehouse included one, Pete Townshend. The people who didnt was everybody else he ever tried to explain it to, and the whole rest of the human race, which was about four billion at the time.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 16:18
John, I actually wouldn't say that Townshend's isolation in the studio and ability to get a song nearly, but not quite all there by himself hurt him too much or at all. Remember that he'd been doing home demos since the mid-1960s, all the way back to the "My Generation"/"The Kids Are Alright" days. These were more elaborate one-man-band-type productions by the time of "Lifehouse," of course. But he'd done similar home demo/pre-production of sorts for "Tommy," and would do it for "Quadrophenia" as well, though less of his "Quadrophenia" demos have surfaced (officially and unofficially) than "Lifehouse" ones. The Who were used to working with Townshend's demos as templates, and I think both Pete and the rest of the band realized the advantages of working this way. Townshend could work out the arrangements in fine detail, yet Daltrey's vocals, Entwistle's bass (and sometimes horns), Moon's drums, and some harmonies and other ideas were necessary to get the most out of the material. "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" were complicated concepts in their own way, yet the band were completely behind those and completed them relatively quickly and straightforwardly (at least compared to "Lifehouse"). Some of the chief problems with "Lifehouse" weren't even to do with the songs themselves, almost all of which the band and the Who's managers/producers admired. The difficulty, I think, was more that the songs didn't cohere into a story, or even tunes that fit together in mood and theme, nearly as well they did in "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" (though the plots and narratives of both of those were sometimes hard to follow). Compounding this was that the "Lifehouse" songs were supposed to be the foundation not just of an ambitious (probably) double LP, but also a feature film; the Who's live repertoire for a year or two (much as "Tommy" had been their core concert repertoire for much of 1969 and 1970); and scenes in which the Who themselves would probably have appeared in the feature film, as characters and/or playing live or staged concerts (none of this seemed ever to have been explicitly spelled out). There was too much to juggle and keep afloat/intertwined at once. Combined with the pressure the band felt to get an album out and get on the road, the compromise, with which Townshend was never entirely happy, was to make a single non-concept LP, many (though not all) of whose songs could be played in concert to promote the album in the last half of 1971.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 16:29
Kevin, one of the challenges in dissecting "Lifehouse" and why it didn't or might have worked is that it's never entirely been clear what songs would have gone on it. Almost certainly they would have included eight of the nine songs on "Who's Next" (every track except John Entwistle's "My Wife"). That includes "The Song Is Over," which most likely would have been near the end of the album/film, probably near or at a bittersweet climax of the "Lifehouse" concert in which people opposed to a neo-fascist regime were supposed to assemble in an act of rebellion. My educated guess is that "Pure and Easy" didn't make "Who's Next" because it was felt, by Glyn Johns and possibly others, that the use of some of its key lines in "The Song Is Over" might have made "Pure and Easy" seem repetitious and redundant. This doesn't totally hold water, because both "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" have various motifs and lyrics that recur/are reprised in numerous songs. But Johns and others might have felt that if the decision had been made to make a non-concept album, there shouldn't be room for reprises, and that indeed they might have come off as rather confusing. It's ironic that "Pure and Easy" didn't make the album, however, since it more than any other piece was the song from which the core theme of "Lifehouse" (the discovery of a note that transforms the world) evolved. Fortunately, good versions by both Townshend (on his first solo album) and the Who (on Odds & Sods) were made commercially available within a few years of "Who's Next"'s release.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 16:43
Kevin, when you asked about how "Quadrophenia" was exposed on the radio and how that affected its public perception, I think you're in part asking whether increasingly tight mainstream commercial radio formats might have hurt the record, with the material's greatest exposure coming after the film based on the record came out in 1979. Feel free to elaborate or correct me if that's not what you meant. I was 11 years old when "Quadrophenia" came out in late 1973. My recollection thus isn't as detailed as it might have been, but I really don't think it was overlooked or that limited in its airplay. "Love Reign O'er Me" probably got the greatest radio exposure, but I do remember certain cuts, like "The Real Me," "5:15," and "Bell Boy," getting a fair amount of airplay too. Those were back in the days when commercial radio stations would sometimes play major popular albums in their entirety, and I do think "Quadrophenia" was spun from beginning to end on some occasions. And certainly it did sell a lot of copies, making #2 on the charts in the US, UK, and Canada. However, I think there *was* a perception that it was a bit of a letdown after "Tommy," and just didn't have the staying power or abundance of memorable in-isolation tunes that "Tommy" had. This has been reassessed over time, now that "Quadrophenia" has been reexamined and reappreciated over a period of decades, and often esteemed nowadays to be in the same league as "Tommy." But it wasn't as immediately accessible, and didn't stay on the radio and charts for seemingly forever, as "Tommy" had. In part that's why the Who (with the Keith Moon lineup) only made "Quadrophenia" the core of their concerts for a few months in late 1973 and early 1974, rather than for a year or two as they had with "Tommy." Although I like the film very much (though it's not discussed in too great a depth in my book), it did come out a good six years after the original album. Certainly it introduced the material to many listeners too young to have heard or properly appreciated the album when it was first released in 1973, and thus boosted sales retroactively. But I do think the bulk of the album's commercial and audience impact did take place upon and shortly after the original 1973 release, not in the wake of the film.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Wed 22 Jun 11 16:53
I suppose I'm glad that Who's Next wasn't a concept. I would hate to think what kind of pigeon hole the band might have been shoved into. And if that concept hadn't worked we might never have gotten Quadrophenia.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 17:03
One issue that might have weakened "Lifehouse," had it been made into a double album, is one that's not often mentioned by rock critics, although I do go into it in the book. This might seem like a controversial assertion, but I really feel the best half of the "Lifehouse" songs are *far* superior to the lesser half of the "Lifehouse" songs. If the two dozen or so songs that have fairly reliably been reported to have been in the running for "Lifehouse" all been placed on the same album, the record would have been pretty uneven in my view. Even the "placeholder" songs on "Tommy" that were there mostly to move the plot along had their merits, as did the instrumental link tracks on "Quadrophenia," although these songs don't hold up too well outside of the concept album context. But some of the lesser "Lifehouse" songs would have dragged the momentum much more than the lesser songs on "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" did. However, I do think that at least a couple of the songs that didn't make the cut for "Lifehouse" were very good. The obvious one to cite is "Pure and Easy," of course, but the folk-rockish "Mary" is very good too (and also important to what would have been the "Lifehouse" story, as "Mary" was the character that would have supplied the plot's romantic interest). After that, to my ears, the quality in the "Lifehouse" extras goes down noticeably.
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 22 Jun 11 18:24
I agree about the merits of "Pure and Easy" and "Mary", and very glad that song is included in all of the "Lifehouse" demos released as part of the box set some years ago. I also remember hearing more songs from "Quadrophenia" on the radio in the late '70s and early '80s. But, as you quote Michael Tearson in the book, nearly every song on "Who's Next" was played on the radio (and I grew up hearing Tearson do just that). In the book, Townshend talks about how the Who would see any bit of aggression in a demo and amplify it greatly, with "Behind Blue Eyes" as the example. I got that from comparing the demo versions from "Scoop" to the full band versions. What I didn't really get until you laid it out in the book, Richie, was how well the band acted as editors for those songs, particularly those that did not make the cut on "Who's Next". Could you talk a bit about what you heard when comparing the demos to the official recordings?
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 22 Jun 11 18:34
And is there something to the production of the two albums that makes it a bit more difficult for "Quadrophenia" to get a fair shake? "Who's Next" is a sonic masterpiece, with a spectacular drum sound and a completely novel and genius use of the synthesizer. But "Quadrophenia" is a double LP with many repeating musical themes, sound effects and a great deal going on in the mix. Daltrey has never been a fan of that album's sound, long complaining about his vocals buried in the mix. One observation from him that you cited stood out to me, where Daltrey said that people had to sit down and listen to "Quadrophenia" and it wasn't album that jumped out at you when you played it.
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 22 Jun 11 18:46
And Kevin, my thoughts exactly about the concept album trap they could have been in had "Who's Next" been one or carried that label. I've often wondered if the word "opera" and all it's cultural implications was a bit of a millstone around Townshend after "Tommy".
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 18:55
Hey John, that's interesting, I grew up hearing Michael Tearson (on WMMR in Philadelphia) too, though I've been living in California (mostly San Francisco, where I now live) since 1983. It was cool when he emailed me a couple of years ago (not about the Who, about something else I wrote) and I was able to tell him that I heard him on his night shift for years starting in junior high school. To amplify a comment in an earlier post, here are a couple striking things about Townshend demos of Who songs. They are usually *very* close in arrangement to the familiar Who versions, down to little incidental riffs and backup vocals. While elaborate one-man or one-woman demo (or even official studio) recordings are not uncommon these days, forty years ago they were relatively rare, at least to the polished extent that Townshend did them, playing all of the instruments (including then-exotic synthesizers) and singing everything. The biggest difference between them and the Who versions, naturally, is that Townshend is doing *all* the singing, where Daltrey did most of the leads with the Who, with Townshend taking only occasional lead vocals. At times the demos are so precise and thought-out that you might think, "Why does he need the Who?" Well, for numerous songs, especially the louder and more aggressive ones, Daltrey's vocals were more suitable. But also, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were such virtuosos of rock bass and drums respectively that they really did add enormous punch, even if they were playing similar or even exact riffs and patterns. Townshend's drums do sound a little rudimentary and hamfisted compared to Moon's, which is not a criticism; these were initially intended as demos, after all, even if many of them were eventually officially released (usually on special-interest/archival compilations). Townshend had the framework, and a pretty elaborate one, but the Who brought it to more vivid life, and no musicians *besides* the Who could have brought this specific material to as vivid life. Sometimes there are notable differences, however. As you note, John, the Who were good "editors." Some of Townshend's demos, such as "Pure and Easy," really did go on way too long, not to any great purpose, ending up being more repetitious than the songs deserved. The Who's studio versions usually cut off the excess fat to the essential bone. They *weren't* so good, in my opinion, at doing this in live performance, where the songs were often allowed to meander and lengthened with improvisations in excess of what was justified in concert.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 18:56
Sometimes there are also pretty notable interesting differences between the demo and studio versions. Here are a couple of the most striking examples: "Behind Blue Eyes" is an extremely familiar "Who's Next" staple of classic rock radio, and was also a small US hit single. Most of us reading this can probably hear in our sleep how it veers between pensive, folky verses and a very aggressive hard rock bridge, forcefully sung by Daltrey with pounding drums by Moon. This and numerous other Who songs from the era, incidentally, seemed to be a prototype for the soft-hard-back-to-soft approach used in mainstream rock in "power ballads" and in alternative rock in grunge bands, though I haven't seen many writers note this. The demo of "Behind Blue Eyes," however, is very folky the whole way through, making it sound like much more of a vulnerable, melancholy tune. I think Townshend's capacity for playing both electric and acoustic guitar well is a little underrated and overlooked (Jimmy Page and Stephen Stills are two other major guitarists who can do this too). In this version, you hear more of his folk side, as a tender singer, but also as a guitarist who might have been influenced by major British acoustic guitarists such as Bert Jansch. I can see why the band and Glyn Johns thought the more powerhouse approach on the "Who's Next" version would have been a lot more commercial, but I prefer the more personal quality of the demo myself. From "Quadrophenia," "Bell Boy" is in my view the album's most underrated song, and one of Townshend's best lyrics. The demo is pretty similar to the Who arrangement, but with a key difference. One thing that makes "Bell Boy" great is how Keith Moon takes over the part of the "bell boy" character with comic relish when the lyrical perspective shifts from the opera's protagonist (Jimmy) to the bell boy he idolizes, and then back and forth again. On the demo Townshend sings the "Bell Boy" part, and he just isn't nearly as effective (or funny) as Moon. When Moon sings/speaks it on the album/Who version, he fits the role perfectly. For all the reports of how the Who squabbled with monumental egotism, here's an example of how they were prepared to set aside egos to bring out the best in the song. Townshend had written the lyric, but he knew that Moon was the guy to sing the bell boy part. The band also likely knew that although it's Moon's only vocal on "Quadrophenia," it was a cameo that added enormous color, both to the studio track and the stage version, which gave Keith a chance to song to the great merriment of both the band and the audience. He was not a great singer, to put it mildly, but when there was a chance for his persona to be showcased (as it was in "Tommy" with "Tommy's Holiday Camp"), the band seized it.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 19:04
I'm not so sure the production to "Quadrophenia" meant it didn't get a fair shake. It's more like "Who's Next"'s production was so slick, for hard rock certainly, that it almost defined how the most commercial hard rock sounded on the radio in the 1970s. I think "Quadrophenia"'s production is good, and more interesting in some ways than "Who's Next"'s (certainly in its use of sound effects, which is brilliant and still not as discussed as it should be, though I go into them in depth in the book). But it's not nearly as radio-ready as "Who's Next." The sound is denser and to some ears murky (although "My Wife" from "Who's Next" has to my ears a very murkily mixed vocal -- still a controversial assertion among many Who fans). It takes more to appreciate, and does benefit from being heard on headphones - big bulky things when I was growing up, of course, though now listening via an iPod would be the usual equivalent. Daltrey has complained about the vocal mix, though it doesn't bother me. In my interview with "Quadrophenia" engineer Ron Nevison for the book, this came up, and Nevison was pretty unfazed, noting that he'd heard these kinds of complaints (whether from singers or instrumentalists) on virtually every record he's worked on. He also noted, aptly I think, that the record was not about Roger, but about the Who. A record with far more synthesizer, horns, and sound effects than "Who's Next" was almost bound not to have the vocals as upfront, I think, because it wasn't as much of a fit for the material. It was an interesting comment when Daltrey said that people had to sit down and listen to "Quadrophenia" and it wasn't album that jumped out at you when you played it -- almost like that was a bad thing. I think it's a *good* thing to have to sit down and listen to an album to get the most out of it, at least when such effort is rewarded by appreciation of a work of "Quadrophenia"'s complexity. It's great when an album can be enjoyed in the background or as a sit-down intellectual exercise (like "Tommy" could, much more than "Quadrophenia"), but I don't think it's an insult to a quality album if you have to concentrate to "get it" instead of just playing it in the background.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 22 Jun 11 19:44
While there might have been a danger of the Who being pigeonholed as a concept album band or rock opera creators if "Lifehouse" had appeared instead of "Who's Next," I do think that operas/concept albums are definitely what Townshend and the Who wanted to do. They did actually start, not once but twice, non-concept albums during this period that were unfinished. In 1970, between "Tommy" and "Who's Next," they recorded about half a dozen tracks with a mind to working toward an album, but were unsatisfied with them and didn't feel they were leading to something special enough, either individually or as a collective whole. Much the same thing happened when they recorded about a half an album in spring 1972, deciding to abandon that in favor of pursuing "Quadrophenia," and thinking the approach was too much just a continuation of what they'd been doing with "Who's Next." The Who being archivists proud of their history even at that stage, the tracks from those 1970 and 1972 sessions weren't just consigned to cold storage. A bunch of them showed up on singles, and then later on archival compilations, especially "Odds'n'Sods."
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Wed 22 Jun 11 20:29
I will just note that Quadrophenia does not and never did make me feel like sitting down. Quite the opposite.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 23 Jun 11 14:22
(Just a note for those of you who are reading this, but are not members of the WELL. If you have a comment or question, we'll make sure it's posted here - just send via email to email@example.com.)
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Thu 23 Jun 11 15:19
Inspired interviewer choices, I must say.
Barry Smolin (shmo) Thu 23 Jun 11 21:53
Hey, Richie. Barry Smolin here. As we discussed once upon a time, Quadrophenia, much more than any other Who album, presented lyrical problems, not only for American kids but also for young Britons circa 1973. The detailed references to Mod culture on Quadrophenia were foreign to most of us (I was 12 when Quadrophenia came out), and at that time we couldn't just go online and google the allusions. Although the booklet that came with the album helped those of us who were enthralled by the music envision what "Mods" looked like and how they dressed, I think the lyrical content might have partially held the record back from mainstream radio airplay. That said, I heard Quadrophenia in its entirety broadcast on KMET in Los Angeles in 1973, secretly listening way past my bedtime and fell in love with it. But I totally understand why it didn't reach a large American audience.
Scott Underwood (esau) Thu 23 Jun 11 22:02
I really didn't understand Quadrophenia until I saw the movie; even now, I couldn't say how closely it follows the plot of the album. Also, though I see reference to repeated musical motifs, they didn't seem as obvious or as "operatic" as Tommy. (Years later, now, Tommy interests me much less than Q, though that may just be fatigue.)
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 23 Jun 11 22:25
Barry's actually quoted about the Britishisms of "Quadrophenia" in the book. I agree it might have held it back a little from mainstream radio airplay, but also think it might have helped the album in the long run. Even though the Who were superstars and "Quadrophenia" was a high-charting album, it took some effort for young Americans to decode the mod references. No doubt quite a few thought the whole mid-'60s mod thing was too obscure to be worth the trouble to understand, especially as there wasn't much of an equivalent mid-'60s youth culture in North America. But for those who did make the effort, it felt a little like being a cult band follower, getting rewarded with insight that less hip listeners were too uncool to bother with. Much like, in fact, the relatively few US fans who made the effort to fish out the Who's imports and non-hit singles felt about the Who band in the mid-'60s, before they started to break through in the US in 1967 with "Happy Jack" and "I Can See for Miles."
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 23 Jun 11 22:32
Although the movie does make the plot easier to follow (as well as taking some liberties with the plot that's conveyed in the album), I think the booklet and Townshend's short story on the inner gatefold makes "Quadrophenia"'s scenario a lot more vivid than it would have been just by listening to the music in isolation. In that way, "Quadrophenia" is a modest multimedia album of sorts, using a large-format booklet that's almost like several dozen still shots from an actual movie to flesh out the story, and using a short story told in the protagonist's voice by the actual writer of the songs for similar purposes. I feel that in some respects, "Quadrophenia" used multimedia far more effectively than the more ambitiously multifaceted (film, concerts, audience interaction) "Lifehouse" would have. Like the music itself, it accomplished more and reached completion in large part because the scope of the multimedia, if you want to call it that, was much more manageable, down-to-earth, and achievable. Famously, "Quadrophenia" could have been much more of a multimedia production. The album's title was a pun on quadrophonic sound (as well as a reflection of the four-sided personality of the protagonist), which the industry hoped to hype as the next big thing in stereo equipment. The original plan was to make "Quadrophenia" the first major album commonly available in quadrophonic sound. For various reasons detailed in the book, this proved impractical to execute with the technology of the period, and Townshend and the Who wisely decided not to gamble on putting out a "quadrophonic album that would have sounded inadequate and not been playable on many home systems.
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Fri 24 Jun 11 18:20
Barry, what a nice surprise it was to be reading along and seeing a quote from you in the book. That section on the "Britishness" of "Quadrophenia" and the band's concern that it would be misunderstood by the American audience stood out to me. I got deep into the album after having been into the band for a bit, and taking the time to learn everything I could about the Who, the group's origins and personalities. So I was already willing to do the work to get all of the details -- and search for clues in the photo set. It is interesting that Townshend and to some extent Daltrey felt the need to explain, in some cases over explain, the songs during the tour. Add persistent technical problems with backing tapes to that the sense that audiences weren't getting the material, and it makes sense that the band never really performed many of the songs from the album until the complete shows in the late 1990s. I wonder if they had workshopped the material live and made "Quadrophenia" the center of a spectacular stage show, would it have been able to equal "Tommy" or "Who's Next" in the wider public's mind?
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