The beginning of the 70s was the effect of Tommy weighed heavily on Pete Townshend’s shoulders. How on earth would he and The Who top such a successful and important album? The guitarist-songwriter felt obliged to take his music and its conceptual traits one step further. He began to write a futuristic fable that went beyond the usual conventions of modern music. A film, a play, a concert, a mega multimedia and brain experience – this is what Townshend called his new project House of life. And although House of life would remain frozen on the blocks for another 30 years, its seeds sprouting the most coherent and consistent effort of the Who, Who’s next?.
How Townshend’s ambitious follow-up ended up being Who’s next? is not easy to spot. After several false starts and a break with Who manager / mentor Kit Lambert, the record was finally saved and coined by producer / engineer Glyn Johns. Much of Townshend’s vision was contained in his extensive demos – parts of a loosely constructed plot set against experimental melodies and simple backbeats. The album’s opening track, “Baba O’Riley,” was originally a long cycle of synthesizer loops. What came out of it was an anthem highlighted as a “teenage wasteland” by a stormy build, Dave Arbus’ sprawling violin, and Roger Daltrey’s acclamation. The thunder is carried by the contagious “bargain” – now, like so much in Who music, a commercial jingle. “Love Ain’t For Keeping” chugs against a heavy acoustic rhythm, while John Entwistle’s only contribution to “My Wife” remains one of his most electrifying songs. “This Song Is Over” contains the incomparable piano work of Nicky Hopkins and ends with a refrain from “Pure And Easy”, the central number of House of life who didn’t manage to make the final cut, but three years later on the Odds and ends Compilation.
The theme is kept on “Getting In Tune,” reintroduced by Who on their last tour, and “Going Mobile,” a track with Townshend on lead vocals, narrating a few House of life‘s characters driving the streets in a Cadillac. The two singles on the album form the crowning glory. “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are powder kegs filled with adrenaline that capture the Who in its most original form. Keith Moon’s drumming is as wild as ever, but stable over time. Entwistle’s powerful bass and Townshend’s barking guitar rise and shift as Daltrey’s signature scream exudes emotion and authority during the climax. This is arguably one of the greatest triumphs ever recorded. And undeniably one of the most defining moments in all of rock’n’roll.
~ Shawn Perry