When Pete and Roger announced The Who’s upcoming 50th Anniversary Tour at Ronnie Scott’s Club on June 30 last, Pete dropped teasing hints about how the show they present might contain a few oddballs from their back catalogue and not just the true and tested favourites.
Now I know I’m not alone in believing that there have been far too many compilation albums of The Who’s best known songs released over the years and, as I wrote in my guide to their music back in 1994, this has resulted in only a relatively small percentage of their total output being widely known. “This is a great shame,” I said, “because there’s far more depth and enjoyment to be found in The Who’s catalogue than ‘My Generation’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and the ten or so other Who classics that are endlessly recycled by most radio stations, especially in the US.”
To a certain extent Roger’s tour that featured Tommy in its entirety and The Who’s recent Quadrophenia shows have alleviated this problem, albeit only as far as these two conceptual albums are concerned. Elsewhere in the catalogue there are still plenty of fine songs that don’t seem to get an airing and which I know are much appreciated by fans who know their way around it. This much can be gauged from a couple of ‘music of the Who’ style albums I have by various artists, most of them much younger bands who love their Who and sometimes choose lesser known songs to cover.
At present the principal Who hits compilation is 2002’s 2-CD package The Ultimate Collection, which contains a whopping 40 tracks but the vast majority have appeared on ‘best of’ LPs or CDs before, and although there are some lesser known songs (and rather too many from the post-Moon era for my liking), they are mixed up with the usual suspects so that those fans who already bought the previous ‘best of’ CD are forced to duplicate big time if they want the extra songs. That previous CD was a single album, My Generation – The Very Best Of The Who, with 20 tracks, which I had a hand in compiling (and a gold album for which adorns the wall in our downstairs loo at home). This was released in 1996 to complete the catalogue upgrading programme undertaken around that time and, curiously, sells on Amazon in the UK for £13.15 while the more extensive Ultimate Collection sells for £8.32 (which reminds me of the old joke in which the first prize in a competition is one week in some godawful holiday resort and the second prize is two weeks).
When Abba Gold revitalised the Swedish quartet’s fortunes in 1992, the group released a second album, More Abba Gold, one year later with lesser known tracks, many of which hadn’t even been released as singles at all, so were hardly ‘gold’ in the sense that they qualified for a gold record. Nevertheless, this “volume two” release notched up total sales of over two million copies, more than most acts sell of their premier greatest hits collections. So, applying the same kind of thinking to The Who, how about they release an albums of tracks that have never appeared on any hits albums but which, to my mind, demonstrate not only their great diversity but also that their catalogue contains many more terrific songs than just those found on the hits albums? In the modern era, with sales of individual tracks on iTunes eclipsing actual albums, it makes good sense since, if nothing else, it at least draws attention to them. I’d call it The Who – Hidden Gems.
To this end, and purely as an exercise, I’ve picked 20 tracks that will hopefully fit onto a single CD, and I make no apologies for including nothing from after By Numbers. Almost all of these appeared on the 30 Years Of Maximum R&B box set, of course, but the market I’m aiming for is somewhere in between that and the two existing compilations; for the fan who wants a bit more Who than the compilations offer but doesn’t want to shell out £35 or whatever for the box.
Here’s my selection:
1. The Ox
3. So Sad About Us
5. Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand
7. Our Love Was (Is)
10. Amazing Journey
13. Love Ain’t For Keeping
14. Song Is Over
15. Going Mobile
16. The Punk And The Godfather
17. Bell Boy
18. Dreaming From The Waist
19. Blue Red And Grey
20. Naked Eye (live, from Young Vic, April 26, 1971)
I’ve road tested this ‘album’ by turning it into a playlist on my iPod and it works pretty well. ‘The Ox’ acts as a sort of Overture and, apart from ‘Disguises’, the earlier tracks demonstrate The Who’s poppier, more melodic side but still have that edge you won’t find with less spirited groups. The inclusion of ‘Rael’ and ‘Sparks’ adds a nice touch of melodic continuity to the heart of the collection and although there are no songs by John, ‘Dreaming From The Waist’ sees him shine on bass and Keith gets a look-in on ‘Bell Boy’. Pete as vocalist is also well represented with ‘Sunrise’, ‘Going Mobile’ and ‘Blue Red And Grey’, and my selections from Tommy and Quad were chosen on merit, not the best known but all impressive songs, especially ‘Punk…’ which neatly references ‘My Generation’. It’s sequenced chronologically apart from ‘Naked Eye’, the only live track, which I think offers a fittingly dramatic conclusion after the poignant charm of ‘Blue Red And Grey’.
The sleeve is a virtual reality conception designed by my wife (no relation to John’s song). Other suggestions welcome.