Who's Next

Who, The

album cover

Rock Rebellion Writ Large

Take all the gazillions of well-intentioned rock anthems written since this came out in 1971. Load them into boom boxes and press Play at the same time. The mass of sound won't get anywhere near the earth-rattling righteousness of Roger Daltrey singing "Won't Get Fooled Again" with guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon clanging mightily behind him.

One of the great rock albums, Who's Next almost didn't happen. Attempting to follow up the band's massive 1969 hit Tommy, Townshend wrote a sprawling suite of somewhat futuristic songs he called Lifehouse, which he intended as another opera. It fell apart. Townshend suffered a nervous breakdown. When he returned, he revisited a few of the Lifehouse pieces, writing new songs from them. Who's Next is what emerged. It's the moment when Townshend arrived at a balance of brute power and oppositional provocation that was unlike anything in rock before. It was loud and at the same time learned. Its feistiness made it an inspiration for much that followed: Without this, there would be no U2. No Clash. No Pearl Jam.

Every track on Who's Next is its own universe. Starting with the synthesizer-studded "Baba O'Riley," a lament about the "teenage wasteland" that is arguably the greatest album-opener in rock history, the Who charges through a series of amazingly disciplined and totally visceral songs. One, "Love Ain't for Keeping," wrestles with the meaning of commitment. Another, "Behind Blue Eyes," complains about being forever misunderstood. Townshend's focused writing keeps the rhythm section perpetually on the verge of volcanic eruption, while Daltrey, CEO of Indignation Incorporated, stands like a sentry on the precipice, warning the members of his tribe about the perils ahead. No matter how many times you've heard these songs on the radio, it's impossible to listen casually: By the time the final blitzkrieg, "Won't Get Fooled Again," hits, you're part of the army, ready to battle duplicity wherever it festers.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1971, MCA
Key Tracks: "Baba O'Riley," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Bargain," "Won't Get Fooled Again."
Catalog Choice: The Who Sell Out; Live at Leeds (original version)
Next Stop: U2: War
After That: Pearl Jam: Vs
Book Pages: 859–860

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#1 from Julian Herzfeld, Philadelphia, PA - 03/08/2012 8:54

The handbook on “How to make a Rock Record.”

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