Tag Archives: Keith Moon

Great Album Retro Review: Quadrophenia By The Who

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I should say that I’m no musical expert. I’m not some music critic who can dive deeply into the artistry (or lack thereof) of a musician’s work and poetically explain its merits to the reader. But, I know what I like. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d start a (perhaps monthly) series of retro reviews of what are some of my favorite albums.

Here’s my plan: Pick an album, give a brief overview on why I think it’s great, and then give an even more briefer review of each song on that great album. Sound like a plan?

I’ll start with my favorite album by my favorite band: Quadrophenia by The Who.

Released in 1973, Quadrophenia is the second rock opera released by this seminal band. It is the follow up to their classic Who’s Next (1971) and the use of a synthesizer, introduced on Who’s Next, continues to play a large part in the band’s sound. Quadrophenia also continues with the harder rock style that would influence the heavy metal of the later 70s and 80s.

Quadrophenia is also the only Who album entirely composed by Pete Townshend. He had always been the main songwriter, with John Entwistle as the second songwriter of the band, but this one was all Pete. That may contribute to why it’s my favorite.

The story is about a teenager who is having an identity crisis. The main character, Jimmy, is a Mod (it was a British thing dealing with fashion, drugs, and a certain attitude) who is staring ahead at adulthood. And he’s scared. He doesn’t know who he is, what his life is about, where he’s headed. He doesn’t know why he should care.

Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

I know. Wrong band, but it still applies.

According to Townshend, Jimmy may be messed up, but he gets better.

This album helped me out as a young adult and I’ll always be grateful to Townshend and the boys for that.

Now the tracks! It’s a double album, so be prepared.

I Am The Sea – This isn’t really a song. It’s an intro using the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks, in which we can hear snippets of Jimmy’s four personalities. These¬† personalities are expressed through four theme songs, each of which also represents a member of the band, which are peppered throughout the album.¬†This is the first time The Who had used sound effects on an album. The sound effects (crashing waves, rain, trains, birds, etc) were recorded by Townshend.

Sitting on one of the rocks, Jimmy is at a crisis point as he contemplates his life…

The Real Me – Damn! What a great song! It has the fantastic bass work of Entwistle, Roger Daltrey’s voice is in fine form, and Keith Moon is out of his mind. In fact, listen closely, you can hear Moon shouting as he plays, something The Who have included on several songs, beginning with Substitute. The song presents Jimmy’s self-perceived craziness, his anger, and his frustration. And it rocks!

Quadrophenia – The title track is the first of two instrumental songs on the album. The synthesizer comes into play as this song explores the musical themes we’ll be hearing as we listen to the rest of the album.

Cut My Hair – The lyrics set up the conflict Jimmy was having with himself and with his parents. Townshend works in lyrics from early Who and High Numbers (an early name for the band) songs to help bolster the Mod connection. He does this throughout the album. And great drums with Moon yelling as he plays.

The Punk And The Godfather – Fighting against the system is difficult, because the system has all the power. Again Townshend uses early Who lyrics, this time from their legendary hit My Generation.

I’m One – This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Townshend takes on the lead vocals as Jimmy acknowledges his shortcomings, but declares he will overcome them. “You’ll all see!”

The Dirty Jobs – Townshend’s ode to the working man. Some nice use of violin (or is that synthesizer?) And, seriously, Moon ought to get a backing vocal credit for all the shouting he does on this song.

Helpless Dancer – Listed as Roger’s theme, this song continues the theme of working against the system. It’s the struggle of the common person against the power. Nice piano and acoustic guitar.

Is It In My Head? – Ever conscious of his band’s history, Townshend precedes this track with a snippet of The Kids Are Alright, another early song from The Who’s catalog. The song describes a particular low point for Jimmy as Daltrey sings about numbering all those who love the protagonist and “finds exactly what the trouble is.”

I’ve Had Enough – This is the moment Jimmy breaks from his life and hops on his Vespa scooter to revisit places that remind him of better times. And, for the first time since the intro, we hear the phrase “love reign o’er me” from the final song of the album.

5:15 – This classic rock radio standard is fantastic. The horn fills provided by Entwistle give this song an extra punch right into your ears. It starts with the sound effects of Jimmy at the train station at the beginning of his journey to find himself. This one kicks ass!

Sea And Sand – Jimmy arrives at the beach on which he had participated in the riots between gangs of Mods and Rockers. A time of triumphant fun, but now he’s thinking of his hypocritical parents, his unrequited love, and his failure to be a leader in his gang. Lyrically Townshend again draws upon early Who and High Numbers songs.

Drowned – This was a sleeper track for me. It just didn’t grab me at first, but after multiple listens it became a stand out track. That rolling piano provided by English session musician Chris Stainton (he also plays piano on The Dirty Jobs and 5:15) is infectious. It’s a rollicking song about Jimmy contemplating drowning himself. I love it!

Bell Boy – Adding to Jimmy’s feelings of depression is this song in which he discovers his hero, a Mod leader in the days of the riots, is now a lowly bell boy, resigned to the job to earn a living. Well, what are ya gonna do? Gotta pay the rent. The song features Moon’s wonderful Cockney vocals as Jimmy’s fallen hero. Keith was never much of a singer, but he doesn’t do too badly on this his theme song on the album.

Doctor Jimmy – This is John’s theme and it’s my least favorite track. I still like it, but it’s a bit too long. The song is filled with blustery bravado as Jimmy tries desperately to convince himself that he is strong, but his self-doubt continues to plague him.

The Rock – We’re back on the rock surrounded by the crashing sea for this excellent instrumental. Will Jimmy give into despair? Will he take his own life? Is he going to be OK?

Love Reign O’er Me – Of course, Pete reserved this song to be his theme. Daltrey’s vocals are at their peak on this cathartic song, in which Jimmy has a break through. He realizes he needs to allow himself to love and to be loved. He is worthy. What do you know? The kid’s going to be alright.

After all, love is all you need.

I know! Wrong band, but it still applies.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

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Full Moon: A Crazy, Tedious & Sad Book

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William Morris and Company, Inc. (1981)

Not long ago, I was going through a box containing two of my youthful obsessions. The box was filled with books, magazines, posters, and other paraphernalia related to Farrah Fawcett and The Who. My obsession with Farrah may have waned over the years, I did feel some of those warm stirrings for that stunning blonde from Texas rising again as I looked at her posters, but it’s not about her I’m going to write. Nor am I going to write about The Who (still a strong obsession). This blog is about the greatest drummer in rock history. More specifically, this blog is about a book detailing the drug and drink fueled antics of Keith “The Loon” Moon.

As I paged through the book, I was trying to recall why I had started but didn’t finish reading it when I bought it in the mid 80s. All I could recall was that I had some problem with the writing. My son encouraged me to give it another shot. Well, far be it from me to not do everything my son encourages me to do. I cracked on in to Full Moon: The Amazing Rock & Roll Life of Keith Moon by Dougal Butler with Chris Trengove and Peter Lawrence.

One paragraph!

That was was all it took for me to remember why I put the book down, leaving it to be packed away in that box all those years ago. The book is a collection of stories demonstrating the madcap, maniacal mayhem for which Moon was so famous (or infamous) as told by Dougal Butler, the drummer’s Man Friday from 1967 to 1977. The problem was that, with three people working on this book, no one thought that telling the old stories virtually entirely in present tense might be confusing and frustrating to the reader.

Here is that first paragraph: “At the time I first meet up with The Who they are not quite the most famous rock and roll band in the world. It is roughly 1966/67 … a time when I am working as a Customs & Excise clerk at Heathrow Airport, London, England. This is by no means the most exciting job in the world and it is especially unappealing to an immaculately suited, short-haired Mod, which is what I am at this time.”

See what I mean? What time period is he talking about? Is he saying he was an “immaculately suited, short-haired Mod” working at Heathrow back in 1966/67, or at the time he wrote this book?

The entire book is written in this fashion. So, in order to read it (and I was determined to read it) I took a red pen to it and made every verb tense correction that should have been made before the book was published in 1981. 260 pages! You should see all the markings!

I know, I’m weird.

I made it through and I have a few things to say.

Butler has a very poor attitude toward everyday people. He also seems to think that; unless the place he is in at any given time is London (but not the East End), New York, or Malibu; most places of the world are backward, nothing worth noting cities and towns. Why would anyone live there? Oh, yeah, they’re rubes. However, judging by his use of lower class British and Cockney rhyming slang he doesn’t quite come off as the sharpest knife on the tree.

He attempts to draw back from his negative statements now and then by admitting that he might be wrong in his assessment of some of the people he and Moon encountered. For instance, the time he and Moon and two of their friends, a gay couple, all stopped in for drinks (oh, so much drinking) at a pub in Wales patronized by coal miners, all men and presumably straight. Butler was shocked that those low fore-headed rubes had no problem with the couple, even with one wearing a dress.

Butler certainly doesn’t come off as what anyone would consider a feminist. His attitude is that women are good for one thing. And only the good looking “bints” at that. Unless, that is, he imbibed in enough drugs and alcohol (which he calls “medicine” throughout the book) to make those “slags” look good enough to shag. In a moment of self-blindness, Butler essentially accuses Moon of the same poor attitude toward women. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Then there’s all the medicine-induced mayhem. Destroying hotel rooms, crashing cars, crazy stunts were what cemented Moon’s reputation as a loon. It was done in his all-consuming pursuit of thrills, laughs, and Hedonistic pleasure. This was the main point of the book. Butler wasn’t going to dive deeply into Moon’s psyche to discover why the Loon acted as he did. No, this was supposed to be a riotous collection of all that craziness. And that, aside from not understanding verb tenses, is the main problem with this book. Story after story of predictable, and not always believable, mayhem becomes incredibly tedious. Tee-deee-us!

Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. On and on and on…

It is amusing at first, but after the 40th tale of drunkenness it’s just… Well, you know.

The book isn’t all bad. It does have a few moments when Butler comes close to humanizing Moon. There were times when the drummer would show some generosity to a down-and-outer when he thought no one was watching. There was the moment when Moon deeply regretted alienating and driving his wife, Kim, away. He treated her so very poorly, it’s a wonder she stayed with him as long as she did. And finally, at the end, Butler realized he couldn’t keep that kind of life going. It was time for him to escape the madness. Moon was terrified of losing his constant companion to the point of lashing out both verbally and physically at Butler, and ultimately ended up in a heap of tears. But, these moments are not enough to redeem this book.

I’m going to mention something Butler did not. In 1970, Moon was invited to a new pub. He attended with his entourage, which didn’t include Butler, and the brandies flowed. As the night progressed, members of his hangers-on noticed a group of skinheads who seemed displeased with the rich rock star. Repeated urges to leave early were ignored by Moon while the skinheads got drunker and angrier. Time was called and the group of angry skinheads decided to harass the rock star and his entourage as they tried to drive away in Moon’s fancy car. Moon’s driver and close friend Neil Boland got out of the vehicle to attempt to clear away the mob and a scuffle ensued. In the confusion, Moon ended up behind the wheel and drove the car away. He didn’t realize Boland was trapped underneath and dragged him to his death.

It was declared an accident.

Hey! We can’t include that story in the book. That would spoil the fun. It’s bad enough Moon dies in the end. Let’s not pile on, eh?

I know those who knew Keith Moon and worked with him loved him very much. They undoubtedly knew him to be more than he is depicted in this book. No one is that one dimensional. In the end, all that mindless attention-seeking and drunken madness was not hilarious to me. It was just sad.

Packing peanuts!

Update 7/14/17: It has been brought to my attention that although Dougal Butler was associated with The Who, specifically John Entwistle, he was not working for Keith Moon at the time of the accidental death of Neil Boland. This would explain why Butler did not include the tragic event.

Also, I’ve been told Butler is a nice man. That may well be, but he doesn’t exactly come across that way in the book.

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The Who Ranked By Me!

Whenever I’m involved in the age old debate as to which was the better rock band: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? My answer is always the same, “That’s easy! The Who.”

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Since October 2, 1982, the night I saw The Who in concert for the first time, I have viewed the world through Who-colored glasses. They are my favorite band of all time. And Pete Townshend is my favorite songwriter, singer, and guitarist of all time. Hence my answer to that debate.

The Who have turned 50 recently and, to celebrate that achievement, they’ve released another “best of” compilation and have embarked on a North American tour. (The tour is on hold until Spring 2016, due to Roger Daltrey having a wee bit of the viral meningitis. We’re told he is doing well, but needs to rest a while before resuming the grueling task of performing live in front of thousands of adoring fans, of which, this coming May, I will be one.)

The British music magazine NME recently ranked the ten best albums by The Who. That struck me as odd, because The Who released a total of 11 studio albums, so why not rank them all? You know, this list goes to 11. Get it?

However, their list would have to go to 12, if they had featured them all, because they included the band’s seminal live album Live At Leeds (1970).

These kind of lists can’t help but be a little controversial. Not everyone will agree with the ranking choices. (Really, NME? Tommy number one? How pedestrian.) My listing will probably do the same for other Who fans, but it’s my list so I get to pick ’em!

I will include Live At Leeds, but none of the many, many compilations the band has released over the years. Most notable among them are Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy (1971) and Odds And Sods (1974). Both are excellent, but I will not include them here.

So here it is: My ranking of the albums released by the Greatest Rock Band in the World!

12) Endless Wire (2006): This album feels more like a Townshend solo project with Daltrey doing most of the singing. With John Entwistle not being involved due to a wee bit of a case of death, this feels less like The Who than their early 80s, post Keith Moon albums. It does have plenty of good stuff on it though. ‘Black Widow’s Eyes’, “God Speaks Marty Robbins’, ‘We Got A Hit’ are all very good. Roger’s voice has aged, but Pete’s seems ageless. Maybe it’s just me.

My favorite track: ‘Endless Wire (Extended)’

11) It’s Hard (1982): This and Face Dances were criticized unfairly. Yes, the manic drumming of Moon was replaced by the steadier beat of Kenney Jones, but Townshend was still churning out some great tunes. Daltrey’s voice was in excellent shape and Entwistle’s writing contributions were very good. ‘Athena’, ‘Dangerous’, ‘One At A Time’, and ‘Cry If You Want’ all make this album an enjoyable, if uneven, listen.

My favorite track: ‘Eminence Front’

10) Face Dances (1981): Fans probably weren’t sure what to expect with this first album since Moon’s untimely death, but the opening track, for me, is one of the best of The Who’s albums’ lead off songs. Still a bit uneven, but I think it’s much better than some critics were willing to admit. ‘The Quiet One’, ‘Daily Records’, and ‘Another Tricky Day’ are all stand outs.

My favorite track: ‘You Better You Bet’

9) My Generation (1965): The title track was the song that made it likely that if The Who had never produced another song, they would still be remembered as making one of the strongest, angriest, spit-in-the-facest songs ever recorded. The rest of this debut album demonstrates The Who’s early maximum R & B sound. Aside from the title track there are a few other gems worth checking out including ‘The Good’s Gone’, ‘A Legal Matter’, and the driving instrumental ‘The Ox’.

My favorite track: ‘The Kids Are Alright’

8) Who Are You (1978): This was to be the last of the “real” Who albums, and for me it feels a bit disjointed. The title track was written after a drunken encounter by Townshend with members of the Sex Pistols. At the time, Townshend was a great fan of Punk Rock as he felt that the kids could now take care of Rock’n’Roll while he could explore different ideas in music. He did that on this and future albums. Some of the songs play almost as Broadway theater fare. Stand out tracks are ‘Had Enough’, ‘Sister Disco’, and, of course, the title track.

My favorite track: ‘905’

7) A Quick One (1966): This was The Who’s second album and their label thought that since The Beatles were writing all their own songs The Who should, too. They asked that each band member write two songs for their new release. Townshend and Entwistle had the gift, but Moon and Daltrey weren’t quite ready. (Roger only managed one and that was with Pete’s help.) The result is slightly uneven, but there is some nice stuff on here. ‘Run Run Run’, ‘Boris The Spider’, ‘Cobwebs And Strange’ and ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’ are very satisfying. The song ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’ is a nine minute track that is made up of separate parts and helped lay the groundwork for Tommy.

My favorite track: ‘Sad So About Us’

6) The Who Sell Out (1967): One of the first concept albums in rock music, Townshend’s idea was to link the songs together as though this was all part of a pirate radio station’s playlist. There are commercials and announcements woven in between the tracks with some of the tracks themselves being commercials. The concept tails off in the second half of the album which includes the song ‘Rael’. That song has many musical elements that Townshend would later use on Tommy. Some of the best tracks are ‘Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands’, ‘Tattoo’, ‘I Can’t Reach You’, and ‘Sunrise’. I recommend getting the deluxe version of this album as it pulls off the concept more thoroughly than the original release.

My favorite track: ‘I Can See For Miles’

5) Tommy (1969): This was the release that made the band rock superstars and finally got them out from under the debt accumulated from all that instrument smashing. The album sounds a little under-produced, but it’s the under-produced nature of this album that made it more suitable to be played live. The story of Tommy (a blind, deaf, and dumb boy) is meant to take the listener on a spiritual journey. I’m not sure it worked out that way, but with such tracks as ‘Christmas’, ‘The Acid Queen’, ‘Go To The Mirror!’, ‘I’m Free’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, Tommy became a landmark album.

My favorite track: ‘Pinball Wizard’

4) Live At Leeds (1970): This is the best live album I have ever heard! The Who are at their height of musical exploration. The track for their song ‘My Generation’ lasts nearly 15 minutes as Townshend wends his way through a monster guitar solo. The original release contained a mere six songs, but it managed to show the world this is what a live rock album should be. Half of the songs are covers including ‘Young Man Blues’ and ‘Shaking All Over’. Again, I recommend getting the deluxe version. It has much, much more! Plus it gives the listener a chance to hear the band members bantering with each other as they introduce the next song to be played. Damn! I wish I could have seen them then.

My favorite track: ‘Summertime Blues’

3) The Who By Numbers (1975): This is kind of the forgotten Who album, but I think it is outstanding. Much less ambitious that all those concept albums and rock operas that had gone before, this collection of songs finds The Who a bit quieter and coming to terms with getting older. At the time, there were some who worried this might be a sort of suicide note from Pete. Apparently, they didn’t listen much to the uplifting ‘Blue, Red, and Grey’. Lots of good stuff on here including ‘Slip Kid’, ‘Squeeze Box’, and ‘Success Story’ (a great Entwistle tune). Let’s try to remember this one, OK?

My favorite track: ‘However Much I Booze’

2) Who’s Next (1971): This album was the leftovers from Townshend’s very ambitious and confusing project Lifehouse. The project sent Pete into an emotional spiral and it had to be put off. (Pete has never completely given up on it, though.) So, Who’s Next was put together. And, wow! These are leftovers? Townshend’s early embracing of synthesizers led to their greatest opening track ever! This album is full of great rock moments. ‘Bargain’, ‘My Wife’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ all became staples of rock radio.

My favorite track: ‘Baba O’Riley’ (Still gives me goosebumps!)

1) Quadrophenia (1973): Tommy be damned! This is The Who’s greatest album! Completely composed by Townshend, this brilliant album has helped a lot of young people deal with the awkward times of their lives when they just didn’t know who the f@#k they were. As a concept album, Quadrophenia is the most fully realized effort by The Who. There was some criticism that the album was over-produced, but that doesn’t matter to me or the many, many other Who fans who pick this one as their favorite. Its stand out songs include ‘The Real Me’, ‘I’m One’, ‘I’ve Had Enough’, ‘5:15’, and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. This is an album that must be listened to from beginning to end.

My favorite track: ‘Drowned’

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50 years of The Who. Not too shabby.

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