Ranking The WHO
The Who are just one of those bands, you know? I devoured so much of their discography during my youth that I hardly listen to them anymore, but when I do I am always blown away by their individuality and musicianship. They were one of the few rock dinosaurs that were on the punks “do not diss” list back in ’76-’77, and it’s little reason why. They were bombastic, destructive and stayed true to their mod roots even as they epitomized The Stadium Band, unlike some other bands I won’t mention here (*cough*cough*Rod Stewart*cough*cough*). Plus Townsend is such a unique individual. His personal issues are well documented in his songs and in the mainstream press, and that makes the Who in general more approachable and ‘real’, in my opinion anyway. Plus, the band wasn’t adverse to some experimentation here and there, being one of the very first rock bands to embrace the possibilities of synthesizers.
So here are my picks for the best of the Who, in reverse chronological order, if for no other reason than to make you scroll down to find out which one I deem worthy of #1 status.
#11: It’s Hard (1982): A dud of an album overall, but is slightly redeemed by the incredible Eminence Front and the vastly underrated little pop gem Athena, a song the band seems to have disavowed since its release.
#10: Who Are You (1978): A not bad album (I mean, how could it be with that blistering title track??), but certainly not even close to their best. Sister Disco’s ok, New Song’s pretty great and Had Enough is Who by the numbers. So, just an ‘ok’ album, then.
#9. A Quick One (1966): Notable for the 9 minute A Quick One (While He’s Away), this album was a fairly massive move forward from the trad rock and roll of My Generation, but far less exciting and vital.
#8. The Who By Numbers (1975): An underrated little gem. Take Squeeze Box out of the equation and it starts to make sense. It’s Pete’s Plastic Ono Band album, and intensely personal it remains. Plus, I just love Slip Kid!
#7. My Generation (1965): All the ingredients are here. The bombastic guitars, Moon’s improvised drumming, Entwhistle’s dominant and deep bass. Only Roger’s vocals are a tad fey, as yet to reach their full potential. A solid effort, especially for their first.
#6. Face Dances (1981): Most may bristle at me choosing Face Dances over My Generation, but it was one of the very first Who albums I bought with my own money. First, I fell in love with the cover. Abstract portraiture has never been better used on an album cover. Second, the songs are weird, weird, weird! Even the ‘hit’, You Better You Bet sounds strange. Did You Steal My Money, Don’t Let Go The Coat and How Can You Do It Alone stand as some of my favorite Who songs to this day.
#5. The Who Sell out (1967): Other than I Can See For Miles there are no real ‘hit songs’ on this record. But it is one of the very first concept albums, with each song liked via real and fake radio commercials. A very interesting album, this. It contains some great songs, especially Armenia City In The Sky, Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand and Tattoo. Another great cover, too!
#4. Live At Leeds (1970): The only live album by the Who you need. Actually it’s just the only live album you’ll ever need, period. Full throttle Who, right before they went stratospheric. You need this.
#3. Who’s Next (1971): Whaaaaaa? Not #1? Nope, not in my book. Great songs of course, but it has always seemed to me what it really is: a hodgepodge of songs from an abandoned concept piece that made no sense. Hey, it’s still my #3. Chill out!
#2. Quadrophenia (1973): Their mod masterpiece, and the one Who album that hasn’t dated at all in the…gulp…39 years since it was released. If you can, get the remastered version. It sounds fantastic and contains some essential demos that really up the funk factor!
#1. Tommy (1969): Ok, commence screaming. “Uncle E, how can you rate such a silly, dated sounding so-called ‘concept’ piece the best of the Who’s oeuvre?” Listen, I spent a shitload of time as a young teenager in my bedroom, in total darkness, with some big-ass headphones on listening to this album. It’s in my DNA now. I know it backwards and forwards, top to bottom. It still resonates to me. The fact that no orchestra was employed to make this album (listen again to Overture and Underture and try to remain unimpressed!) gave me great admiration for the musicianship of this band. It is an incredible listen.