John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Fri 24 Jun 11 18:23
Richie, what is it about the long-form song cycle and "rock opera" that has kept Townshend at it through his career? Yes the band took a break after "Quadrophenia", but he returned to it in earnest in his solo career and even included a "mini-opera" on the "Endless Wire" album.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 24 Jun 11 23:33
If the Who had workshopped the material live and made "Quadrophenia" the center of a spectacular stage show, my gut feeling is that wouldn't have quite been enough to make it equal the commercial impact of "Tommy" or "Who's Next." The songs simply weren't as accessible or individually memorable, though collectively just as impressive given time to digest. I *do* think they should have given "Quadrophenia" material more than just a few months as the core of their live show. Over time, the songs would have sunk in, via both repeated listening to the album and repeated exposure onstage. However, the Who seemed impatient when the material didn't make a splash in concert right away, and easily frustrated by obstacles (the trouble syncing backing tapes to the live music, the audience's unfamiliarity with the songs) that have been eased or overcome with some more time and dedicated effort. Because they didn't play much live at all between early 1974 and late 1975 as they got distracted by the "Tommy" film and various individual projects, however, it might be that their heart wasn't in doing too many concerts as a group after the burst of late 1973-early 1974 "Quadrophenia" shows anyway. The Who did try to develop a spectacular stage show for "Quadrophenia" that would have used film footage as a backdrop at concerts. The group would have played in front of three giant screens. They didn't end up doing this, in part because it was too hard to build screens big enough with 1973 technology. It also would have been more spectacular if the synthesizer parts could have been played live, instead of the clunky incorporation of backing tapes, which sometimes screwed up onstage. In these respects, 1973 technology just wasn't sufficient to do what the band envisioned for ideal concert presentations, rather like 1971 technology wasn't up to realizing the multimedia spectacular that Townshend might have liked "Lifehouse" to have been.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 24 Jun 11 23:41
It's hard to say what drew Townshend to the opera/concept album format time and again. But I think at least some of it's due to the influence of Who co-manager Kit Lambert, an opera enthusiast (and son of composer/conductor Constant Lambert), who was urging Townshend to incorporate classical/operatic concepts into his songwriting as far back as the mid-1960s. This ignited Townshend's enthusiasm for elevating rock from pop music to art music, using operas and concepts as vehicles. This predated "Tommy" by several years, although "Tommy" was the Who's first complete rock opera. Their 1966 UK hit single "I'm a Boy" was originally intended as an opera called "Quads" about a future in which couples could choose the sex of their child. "A Quick One While He's Away" was a nine-minute mini-opera, though not a very sophisticated one in comparison to "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia." "Rael," the closing track on their 1967 album "The Who Sell Out," was intended to be the basis of an opera, but recorded before it could be expanded into one. More generally, however, I think Townshend is a natural storyteller in song. Even numerous early Who songs that didn't belong to any operatic concept were (very short) stories of sorts, from "A Legal Matter" and "Happy Jack" to "Pictures of Lily," "Tattoo," and "Dogs." He likes the challenges and accolades that comes with making or at least attempting works on a grand operatic scale, but also I think simply likes using songs to tell stories.
David Julian Gray (djg) Sat 25 Jun 11 06:14
just joining and catching up - thanks all it shoukd be mentioned that townsend's extended story telling started quite early on with"a quick one while he's away" regarding multi-media - my ontroduction to "tommy" was seeing it performes live a few weeks before it was released in the us - i'm not sure i followed it completely but this presentation was quite powerful and organic, i'm sure townsend wasn't satisfied, because it appears he never is... ... i completely missed quadraphenia ... by it's release my interests had shifted and i paid little attention to what we'd call "rock' n'rool" for about the next decade, but i believe i own it somewhere, and will definitely catch up for this discussion ... maybe even watch thw film, which i've attempted and abandon three times already...
Scott Underwood (esau) Sat 25 Jun 11 07:31
You mention "the band" and "they" above when discussing decisions about he music and the shows, but how much of this all was a collaborative effort? How much were the other members Pete's sidemen, even given John's arranging talents?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 08:30
While Pete Townshend had by far the most input and say about the music and overall vision of the group's projects, the rest of the band did make substantial contributions and have some sway over the decision-making. One of the most interesting things that came up in my research was when the band's publicist, Keith Altham, explained to me that Roger Daltrey had quite a bit of power in the group, more than outsiders realized. This was, Altham felt, wielded in that Daltrey was a crucial reality check for Townshend's mighty and at times flighty ambitions. Altham saw the dynamic between Townshend and Daltrey as crucial to the band's success, even as it caused much tension and even a well-publicized fistfight between the two during "Quadrophenia" rehearsals. As Altham told me: The whole creative aspect of the band was really largely Petes bag, I guess, because he was the writer and came up with all the ideas.But I pretty soon learned a lot of that stuff really only was rationalized by Daltrey, and that his role in the band was much more important than I thought it was on the first impression. Pete would come up with these amazing cosmic, universal concepts, and would say, Ive got an idea, well conquer the universe with this. And Roger would say, Well, lets start with Shepherds Bush [the modest West London neighborhood where The Who had formed and built their following]. And it would get done; it would get turned into something that could actually be utilized by the media and put into practice. Because if it had been just left to Pete, I think a lot of these things may not have actually made it into everyday use. Pete had amazing ideas, all the creative intellectual capacity in the world, but very little common sense. Roger had all the common sense, and the practicality. Thats why they were so good for each other, and why they were so often at war with each other. Because theres nothing a creative person hates worse than somebody saying, Well, look, you cant do it that way. You got to do it this way. You know, at least we can do a bit of it. But I saw why they needed each other, and I still do. Its exactly that friction and that kind of editing that goes on between them that has made The Who what they are.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 08:39
Musically, I think the substantial nature of the rest of the Who's role in the band is demonstrated by comparing the numerous Townshend one-man solo demos to the group versions, as I noted in an earlier post. Townshend himself realized the group's value at the time, telling Sounds magazine in the early 1970s: Roger would be the only one to say that the group probably relies on me, thinking it to be true when in fact it isnt. Roger feels that perhaps hes unsuccessful when it comes to creative things. Its got a lot to do with enjoying painting and writing compositions in school. I dont think Roger was ever like that and I dont think today, because hes in a rock band and probably expected to come up with the odd song, that hes automatically going to be able to write. I mean, his talents are elsewhere. And its not just standing holding a mic, its in firing The Who, and he does it in a way nobody would understand. ... I dont think Ive got control over The Who. I do feel I have a certain amount of responsibility but at the same time the group would well overreact if I said I had control, and I think rightly so. ... Keith has as much control, because where would any of us be without him?" In the business and image sense, the rest of the Who had some influence as well. One of the primary reasons "Lifehouse" was abandoned and essentially cut down to "Who's Next" is that the rest of the band were impatient to tour rather than wait indefinitely for Townshend to figure out what he wanted to do with it. Certainly that was partly because they wanted and needed the money, but perhaps equally or more importantly, they thrived on live performance and couldn't stand to be away from the stage that long. The Who were more concerned with projecting a colorful image than most bands, and the rest of the group were essential to this, as their four distinct personalities added up to something greater than the parts, more so for the Who than with any other band except the Beatles. Also, although Townshend was renowned as probably the most interesting media interviewee in rock, Moon was very important as well in being accessible to and good copy for the media, especially in keeping them in the press between albums and tours. Daltrey was also interviewed quite a bit and at times the spokesman for updating the media on the Who's plans; Entwistle had much less of a role in all this than the other three, but he did do interviews.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 08:46
Finally, I think the importance of the Who working together as a group was also demonstrated by the relative artistic and commercial failure of their solo projects. Although Daltrey had a bit of commercial success with his solo efforts, nothing the other three did on their own was going to match the Who, especially as Daltrey and Moon barely wrote, and Entwistle's writing talents were stretched to cover entire albums. In that sense, they needed Townshend far more than Townshend needed them. Yet while Townshend would seem to thus be the only one in a viable position to have a solo career, when he did put out a solo album between "Who's Next" and "Quadrophenia" ("Who Came First"), it made barely any commercial ripples, despite getting generally good reviews. I like "Who Came First" and Townshend's other released and unreleased early-1970s solo work (some of which was initially put out on limited-edition LPs aimed toward Meher Baba followers). But because he was so identified by most rock listeners with the sound of the Who, and maybe because Daltrey rather than Townshend's lead vocals were identified with the sound of the Who, it didn't seem like his solo work could attain the success of, say, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison's solo albums did in the years following the split of the Beatles. In that respect, Townshend did need the Who, and there's no indication that he wanted to split from the Who or was reluctant to keep on working with them. He did view himself as very much a part of the band, and the Who as his main outlet for creative work, even as he initiated side projects for material that didn't fit so much into the Who's framework.
Scott Underwood (esau) Sat 25 Jun 11 08:49
Moon is so interesting, because I think he was as limiting (musically) as he was, um, liberating and visual to the band's image. Where would Pete have gone musically if he'd had a less explosive, more beat-oriented drummer? I'm sorry I haven't gotten far enough in the book to see how you've addressed this, but what was the role of Pete's interest (devotion?) to Meher Baba and sufism on the storylines? As well as its effect on the band members personally? This was essentially parallel with this period, no?
Scott Underwood (esau) Sat 25 Jun 11 08:50
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 09:06
We might differ in our view of Moon's musical contributions. I think he was absolutely essential to defining and powering the Who's sound, and served Townshend's songs and the Who's overall vision extremely well. While Townshend wouldn't claim his own placeholder-type drumming on his solo demos to be great, by listening to those you get a sense of how the songs might have sounded with more conventional beats. I don't think Townshend's music would have been too much different if he'd been working with a more beat-oriented drummer, but the arrangements would have been less gripping and the overall impact diluted. You also get some sense of this in the 1972 Who single "The Relay," where Moon's drumming is unusually basic and controlled, and the track in my opinion not among the Who's more memorable.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 09:16
Pete Townshend's involvement with the Meher Baba faith in the late 1960s and early 1970s was of course a big influence on his life and, to some degree, his music. However, on the records by the Who from this era, its influence was fairly subtle, not overt. And fortunately, Townshend didn't use the records as a vehicle to proselytize, incorporating his spiritual messages with grace and respect for the listener. In that way, the affect of his religious beliefs on his music is similar to that of George Harrison's religious beliefs on the "All Things Must Pass" album, though Harrison's specific beliefs were more apparent from some of the songs. Naturally, you can hear some specific influence of Baba on "Lifehouse" and even "Quadrophenia" songs if you have the right background. The "Baba" that "Baba O'Riley" was named after was Meher Baba (the "Riley" was composer Terry Riley), though otherwise Meher Baba doesn't seem to have too great an influence on the song. One of the more interesting discoveries in the numerous obscure archive quotes I dug up for the book is the heavy use of beaches and water in the second half of "Quadrophenia" was influenced by Meher Baba, especially in "Drowned." As Townshend said in the songbook "A Decade of the Who," "Drowned" "s a love song, Gods love being the Ocean, and our selves being the drops of water that make it up. Meher Baba said, I am the Ocean of Love. I want to drown in that ocean, the drop will then be an ocean itself. In Rock magazine, Pete told Bruce Pollock that the song had actually been written shortly after Tommy as a kind of tribute to something Meher Baba had said ... like God is like the ocean and that individuals are like drops of water. They think theyre separate, but once theyre in the ocean, they know theyre an ocean but so long as theyre a drop of water, they think theyre a drop of water. And thats what Drowned was about ...being a tear or whatever.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 09:24
Moving on to Sufism, the book "The Mysticism Of Sound And Music: The Sufi Teaching Of Hazrat Inayat Khan" was a very big influence on Pete Townshend and "Lifehouse" in the early 1970s. The whole idea from which "Lifehouse" sprung, which made its way into what would have been its keynote song ("Pure and Easy"), was that a certain musical note could transform the world. Here are some passages from Khan's book that could have directly influenced Townshend in this regard: "Each person has his peculiar note in which he speaks, and that particular note is expressive of his lifes evolution, expressive of his soul, of the condition of his feelings and of his thoughts. This could have influenced Townshends first discussion of the idea that lead to "Lifehouse," in Melody Maker in late 1970: Theres a note, a musical note, that builds the basis of existence somehow. Mystics would agree, saying that of course it is OM, but I am talking about a MUSICAL note. According to Khan, All races, nations, classes, and people are like a strain of music based upon one chord, when the keynote, the common interest, holds so many personalities in a single bond of harmony. Townshend could have been thinking of this when he wrote, in the same Melody Maker article first laying out the seed of the idea for "Lifehouse," that the key to this unexciting adventure that Im leading you on is that everybody hears it. Moreover I think everybody hears the same note or noise. Its an amazing thing to think of any common ground between all men that isnt directly a reflection of spiritual awareness. The note its there, gently breathing and saying annoyingly that it was there all along undisturbed. Being whole again, however, you dont mind listening and enjoying. Its a note, its notes, its music the most beautiful there is to hear. Another passage from the book states: "All the trouble in the world and all the disastrous results arising out of it all come from lack of harmony. This shows that the world today needs harmony more than ever before. So if the musician understands this, his customer will be the whole world. Townshend actually had a means of reaching the whole world or at least the Western world and much of the rest through popular albums, concerts, radio, and (he hoped with "Lifehouse") film. The passage could have fired his inspiration to change the world by doing a project like "Lifehouse."
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 09:31
Although the rest of the Who seemed fine with allowing Townshend's faith to color some of their songs, especially since the material was so fine and the influence not so overt, they themselves weren't interested in Meher Baba, sufism, or religious/spiritual pursuits in general. In fact, if one account is to be believed, they even mocked them on occasion. Rock critic Nik Cohn accompanied them on the road for a while in late 1971 in the US, and wrote the following in Cream magazine (sic; not Creem magazine, but Cream, a different publication that was issued for a while in the early 1970s): Townshend locked himself in his hotel room and talked to no one. Onstage he moved and played like a zombie, in dressing rooms he crouched in corners, deadeyed, drained, and twitched whenever anybody came close or touched him. The rest of the group enjoyed this immensely. Baba has always made them sick and now was their chance of sweet revenge. So they took up the avatars basic slogan Be Happy Dont Worry and rubbed Petes nose in it. A shattered shambling wreckage, he tried to back off but they pursued him, harried him relentlessly. Be Happy, Keith kept chanting, exultant, flinging it out like a scarlet rag. Dont worry, be happy, dont worry, be happy. Pete made no response. Just sat there and continued to suffer. That particular incident might sound insensitive, but in a way, the rest of the Who might have been a useful reality check keeping Townshend's spiritual inclinations from getting too spaced out or out of hand. He knew he couldn't get too preachy or pretentious in his music for the Who, who would have had none of it. Townshend also had the wisdom to separate his most Baba-influenced songs from the Who and onto his solo work of the period, on "Who Came First" and the limited-edition Meher Baba organization albums. This also allowed him to use more low-key, acoustic-oriented arrangements than would have been suitable for most of the Who's records.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sat 25 Jun 11 09:37
And I may be permitted a brief commercial interruption, for those in the San Francisco area who might be interested: Tonight (Saturday, June 25) from 7:30pm-9:30pm, to mark the publication of my book, the band Mushroom will play an entire set of material from "Lifehouse" in concert at the Make-out Room at 3225 22nd Street in San Francisco. I'll be there to sign copies of the book that will be available for purchase. I'll also read a couple brief passages from the book to intro Mushroom's performance. Admission is $6.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Sat 25 Jun 11 10:28
As I was reading the comments about the band being necessary for full exploration and power into Pete's music,I am listening to Melancholia off The Who Sell Out. I would like to point our readers there to hear a perfect example of why he needed(and desired) Keith on the kit. If the demos' percussion sounds as boxy as I've heard, Keith makes this tune as he did many others.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Sat 25 Jun 11 20:40
I would just like to note that I had no problem finding a torrent DL of Tommy but can't find one of Quadrophenia which leads back to the original question of lack of popular appeal.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 26 Jun 11 05:58
It's available, I have been told.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Mon 27 Jun 11 05:14
Just read Pete's explanation of how the Baba O'Reilly synth rhythm was cut together. Thanks for including that. I never knew how it was done. Likewise I never knew how much he was playing around with synthesizers. It is apparent that Townshend was planning for Lifehouse to be a transformative experience for others as R&R was/is for him. It's a very young and romantic notion that I may have even shared long ago. Listening to Baba O'Reilly again. I can't even imagine how many times I have heard that number come on the radio and every time it does I smile. Not many numbers on medium/heavy rotation do that for me.
Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 27 Jun 11 12:42
I remember being really bored by Quadrophenia when it came out. It was probably among the least-played LPs in my collection at the time. But, today, it is easily the album I am likeliest to listen to. Tommy, alas, is so over-exposed for me that I may never own a copy again.
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Tue 28 Jun 11 16:58
Kevin, have you ever heard the symphonic version of "Baba O'Reilly" or the nine-minute demo version? Both take the rhythmic interplay of that intro to interesting places.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Tue 28 Jun 11 18:02
Haven't. I'll look on You Tubes but any are welcome to send over.
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Tue 28 Jun 11 18:19
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Tue 28 Jun 11 18:33
Both of them seem to be done after the fact. Pete talks about establishing the rhythm with splices much as was done with the Money track on Dark Side of the Moon.
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Tue 28 Jun 11 22:43
I have been following this conversation with interest, but haven't yet had a chance to check out the book (not yet available on Kindle). Despite being born a little late to have heard the Who's rock operas as they came out, I was helped along by the not-so-tender mercies of older brothers with loud stereos and I was properly indoctrinated into the rock classics. I didn't start buying Who albums for myself until the 80s, and had no idea about the Lifehouse project or it's connection to Who's next (always my favorite Who album, and a favorite album, period). Considering that it was written for the Lifehouse project, how did Baba O' Reilly fit into the [plot/story/theme] of Lifehouse? 'Teenage wasteland' seems to fit so well with the spirit of Quadrophenia too.
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