If you know me at all, chances are pretty good that you know The Who is (are? I never know which to use) my favorite band. They have been since October 2, 1982. I can pinpoint it because that was the day I first saw them in concert. (I go into the story in much more depth here.) From that day to today, The Who have held an esteemed place in my heart. And their leader Pete Townshend is the focal point of my love of this band.
Townshend turns 74 this month (May 19). Waitaminute. Wasn’t there something about dying before getting… Oh, never mind…
Anyway, in honor of his birthday, I thought I’d do a retro review of his first “official” solo album – Empty Glass. There had been other non-Who Townshend projects before. At least one album that was originally only intended for other followers of Pete’s spiritual guru Meher Baba – Who Came First from 1972 – and another with musician Ronnie Lane – the excellent album Rough Mix (1977).
In April of 1980, Pete released this album of solo material. It was a tumultuous time for Pete. It hadn’t yet been two years since his bandmate Keith Moon had died, there were strains in his marriage to Karen, eleven people had been crushed to death attempting to get into the venue The Who were playing in Cincinnati the previous December, and he wasn’t doing well in his struggle with booze and drugs.
But despite all this, or maybe because of it, he produced what I think is a brilliant album.
Rough Boys – Dedicated to his daughters and the Sex Pistols, this song fueled much speculation as to whether or not Townshend was coming out as bisexual. Folks focused on the “I wanna bite and kiss you” line when he was singing about rough boys. Maybe, but so what? This is a fantastic opening track. It’s rough and aggressive with plenty of windmilling power chords. Great horns at the end.
I Am An Animal – Townshend always had a knack for great melody. Even unusual ones. This one is great. It soars and it wallows. It’s self-critical and it’s proud. And no one drops an F-bomb quite as well as Pete. This is my favorite track on the album.
And I Moved – This is another possible admission of bisexuality (again, who cares?), which is much more explicit. What I’ve read about the song was that Pete had written it for Bette Midler, but she turned it down, so he recorded it himself without changing the gender reference. That’s cool. And the cascading piano by John “Rabbit” Bundrick is terrific.
Let Me Love Open The Door – This was Pete’s one hit as a solo artist. It made the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100. His intent for the lyrics was that God was imploring us to allow His love to open our hearts. But listeners chose to believe it to be a song about a person attempting to romance someone who might not be ready for love. I think of it as the latter.
Jools And Jim – In an answer to certain rock critics who were underwhelmed by Keith Moon’s greatness and his death, Townshend recorded this scathing critique of critics. This song seems to have been an attempt to pick up on the aggression expressed by the Punk Rock movement, of which Pete had been a strong proponent.
Keep On Working – This is a pleasant ditty about the pleasures of working, having children, and being a bit in the red. There’s a video for this song in which Pete looks like hell. He’s pasty, emaciated. He looks as though he hasn’t slept in days as he wanders around a dingy apartment, drinking some kind of booze right from the bottle, while wearing a very lived-in bathrobe. And, yet, his sense of humor still comes through as he writes the lyrics of the song on a chalkboard. Check out the video here.
Cat’s In The Cupboard – This is a pretty straight forward rocker about freeing cats trapped in cupboards. I think. Some good guitar riffs and plenty of harmonica.
A Little Is Enough – The story as I know it goes like this: Pete’s wife had told him she no longer loved him. Ouch! But he did get her to admit that she did still love him a little. When he sought spiritual advice on his marriage, he told his advisor of Karen’s “a little” remark. His advisor reacted, “Ah! Well then a little is enough!” Song inspired!
Empty Glass – This title track was actually recorded earlier by The Who during the Who Are You? album sessions. I prefer this version. This is another song in which Pete seems to knocking on himself while still proudly puffing out his chest. There’s lots of slashing power chords as Pete rips through this one.
Gonna Get Ya – A call and response rocker to close out this great album is bluesy and bombastic and a bit overlong. At six and a half minutes it drags a little, but it’s still a good closer for this excellent record.
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