Shepherd's Bush who recorded the best damn rock 'n' roll forty-fives in the whole wide world. The Beatles? Certainly not. First off they were from Liverpool, and secondly by '66 they were no longer playing rock 'n' roll but rather the sort of effete art-school crap that made the girls scream and the guys yawn. The Rolling Stones? Good guess, but they were trying too hard to be a American southern blues band, in between fits and starts of trying to catch up to The Beatles. Then who?
No one else could capture, in two minutes and thirty seconds, the raging, incoherent anomie of being a teenage male in the 1960s like Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle, and Keith Moon. No band could get as much sheer noise out of one guitar, a bass, a drum kit, and four voices, while somehow still managing to sing close harmony amidst the chaos and destruction. Alice Cooper got close a few years later, but only once, with "I'm Eighteen," and a half-generation later another bunch of lads from Shepherd's Bush almost got it right again, and called themselves The Clash. But those original four: somehow they could even take a tired old second-rate rockabilly song like Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and turn it into an anthem for a generation.
Well I'm a-gonna raise a fussFunny how they could never quite seem to pull a studio album together, without dropping in a clunker or two like "Mary-Anne With The Shaky Hands." Funny how for a time they were considered England's answer to The Monkees, but thankfully their TV show failed to launch. Funny how they could take a piece of pure pop nonsense like "Happy Jack" and turn it into an international hit, or suddenly switch the drums and electrics out for claves and an acoustic guitar and deliver "The Magic Bus," whatever that was about. True, there was that overdone load of pretentiousness called Tommy, which sold adequately well and spawned a few good hit singles, but on the whole, they were a singles band.
I'm a-gonna raise a holler
'bout working all summer
just to try to earn a dollar
And then they took the stage at Woodstock, and thanks to the documentary film of the festival stood the world on its collective ear—and then followed it up with a vinyl atomic bomb called Live at Leeds. Best. Live. Rock. Album. Ever.
I have friends who saw The Who live at Woodstock, although as the saying goes, if you can remember Woodstock, you weren't part of what was happening. What got me hooked was their next album, titled, fittingly enough, Who's Next.
To tell the truth, I never liked synthesizer music. Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman? Yawn. They may have had Moogs the size of telephone exchanges on stage, but they played them exactly the same as they played their bleedin' Hammond B3's. Switched-on Bach and all the stuff of that nature? Worse. I have other friends who knew Walter (later Wendy) Carlos, and there are stories...
For another time. I'd been listening to Morton Subtonick, Terry Riley, Isao Tomita, Margouleff & Cecil; while I appreciated their technical genius, the actual music itself didn't move me in any kind of emotional way. Then I dropped the needle on Who's Next, Side One, Track One, and inside of five minutes, my whole world changed.
"Baba O'Riley." Townshend had been listening to Terry Riley, too—why did you think that song had that strange title?—and he had found the secret of white-hot fusion. The album just kept getting better and better, track after track. Well, okay, there was "Going Mobile;" Townshend being Townshend, he had to slip one clunker in there. But all was absolutely forgiven when eight minutes and thirty-one seconds of "Won't Get Fooled Again" erupted from my hopeless inadequate Knight-kit speakers.
To say that that album changed my life is, actually, a fair cop. At least it explains why I wound up very happy with a cherry red Gibson SG Special while everyone else I knew was either playing Telecasters, buying Les Pauls, or hunting the pawn shops for D'Angelicos and Strombergs. It definitely explains how I wound up with all those ARPs, and if you know anything at all about me, you know that that's where this whole Original Cyberpunk thing began.
I wore out the grooves on my first copy of Who's Next. Ditto for Quadrophenia. I'm probably the only person in the world (besides perhaps Townshend himself) who liked the Tommy movie soundtrack more than the original album, despite the presence of Oliver Reed's so-called singing. Techno, punk, this strange fusion of anarchic rock 'n' roll energy and complex high technology that among other things launched my career; it all starts here.
I saw The Who live on their '75 tour. Had to hitchhike 250 miles in a sleet storm to do so, but that's another story. I saw them again in 1980, when "live" had taken on a tragically ironic meaning following Keith Moon's death. I had tickets to see them on their 2002 tour, but a medical emergency prevented my going—as one did for John Entwhistle, permanently.
And now they are two, and the lads from Shepherd's Bush who once poured all the fury and conviction of their whole generation into seven rash words—
"Hope I die before I get old!"—now are old, and not only that, they're playing the half-time show at this Sunday's Superbowl. I expect it'll be just like the old days for them: thirty seconds of "I Can't Explain," forty-five seconds of "Pinball Wizard," a half-minute of "I Can See For Miles," and then to cap it off—oh, what's the name of that song? You know, "The Theme From C.S.I.?"
What a long, strange trip it's been.
And what a long, long, long write-up this has turned out to be, for what was supposed to be just a simple Ultimate Geek Fu question. Superbowl half-time acts: who are your picks? The best, the worst, the weirdest or most pathetic?
Let the arguments begin
ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to email@example.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.