17.7.15

THE WHO: BBC SESSIONS


  
In February of 1998 I was asked by George McManus, then the back catalogue marketing manager at Polydor, to produce a feasibility report for a proposed album made up from recordings by The Who for BBC radio shows transmitted between 1965 and 1970. George gave me a cassette tape containing 31 tracks and asked me to ‘review’ them so that any forthcoming CD would contain the cream of the crop, so in effect I was acting as quality controller for him.
         I’d done a bit of research into this when I was compiling tracks for 30 Years Of Maximum R&B, for which I was hoping to include at least two BBC tracks, ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ and ‘Happy Jack’, and possibly a third, ‘Man With Money’, as it was quite unusual and very rare. The BBC gave me short shrift, prompting me to write in my box set liner notes: “It was… my original intention to include some interesting tracks recorded by The Who for BBC radio shows… but intransigence on the part of the BBC Transcriptions Department meant that this was impossible.”
         In the event it wasn’t until February 2000 that The Who BBC Sessions CD, containing 26 tracks, was released. These were ‘My Generation’ (as a Radio 1 Jingle), ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’, ‘Good Lovin’, ‘Just You And Me, Darling’, ‘Leaving Here’, ‘My Generation’, ‘The Good’s Gone’, ‘La La La Lies’, ‘Substitute’, ‘Man With Money’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, ‘Disguises’, ‘I’m A Boy’, ‘Run Run Run’, ‘Boris The Spider’, ‘Happy Jack’, ‘See My Way’, ‘Pictures Of Lily’, ‘A Quick One (While He’s Away)’,  ‘Substitute’, ‘The Seeker’, ‘I’m Free’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’/’Spoonful’,  ‘Relay’, ‘Long Live Rock’ and ‘Boris The Spider’ (another Radio 1 Jingle). Due to publishing complications the US track listing eliminated ‘Man With Money’ and edited out the few lines from ‘Spoonful’ contained in ‘Shakin’ All Over’. Also in America, initial copies of the CD came packaged with a bonus disc of BBC tracks that was available only through the Best Buy chain. These were ‘Townshend Talks Tommy’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘I Don’t Even Know Myself’, ‘I Can See For Miles’, ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘The Seeker’ and ‘Summertime Blues’.
         Here’s the report I wrote up for George, a genial Irishman who sadly died in 2014.

To George McManus, Polydor: BBC Who Tracks Report

Firstly, I should point out that like most Who collectors I am already familiar with these tracks and that this tape is neither comprehensive nor in chronological order. To the best of my knowledge the chronological order – and therefore the order in which they should be sequenced on any forthcoming CD – is as follows, together with the shows for which the songs were originally recorded. However, many of The Who’s BBC recordings for one show were repeated on other shows a week or two later. I believe that the shows below are the first broadcasts of the songs. The first five sessions were recorded on BBC premises, the final two at commercial studios.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on May 24, 1965.
Just You And Me
Previously unreleased (in any form) Who cover of 12-bar blues soul shouter written and recorded by James Brown under the title of ‘Just You And Me, Darling’. Roger on great form but not so Pete who contributes a lame solo. Sounds very early Sixties ‘beat-groupish’.
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
This is a knockout live version of The Who’s second single which I had wanted to include on the box set. Indeed, after I played it to Roger Daltrey at Trinifold’s office in 1993 he remarked, “It’s better than the bloody single.” Indeed it is. Killer solo too.
Leaving Here
Hot and unquestionably live version of R&B song first released on the box set which was recorded at the same sessions as the two High Numbers’ singles, in June 1964. Lots of reverb on backing vocals, which distinguishes it from previously released version, and Moon (who celebrated his 19th birthday the previous day!) is outstanding.
Good Lovin’
Previously unreleased (in any form) Who cover of US hit by The Rascals, circa 1966. Bluesier than the original, and interesting insofar as it’s not a song The Who would be expected to cover.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on November 22, 1965.
My Generation
Unusually restrained and accurate reading the band’s then current hit single with additional handclaps, presumably supplied by audience. An excellent bass solo and the prolonged climax is terrific – a wild freak-out!
The Good’s Gone
Brian Matthews’ introduction – ‘Welcome to pop art group, The Who’ – is almost worth the price of admission alone but the group sound a bit uninspired on this live version of a track from the forthcoming first album. The solo sounds very experimental.
La La La Lies
Another Brian Matthews’ intro to a good to average live reading of another track from The Who’s upcoming debut album. Back-up vocals are outstanding on a song requiring skilled vocal harmony.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on March 3, 1966.
Substitute
An incredibly fast live version of their current hit, very lively, very tight, although the guitar cuts out a bit towards the end. Lacks the power of the live ‘Substitute’ on Live At Leeds, but still a remarkable performance for 1966.
Man With Money
This is a restrained version of The Everly Brothers’ song that was in the Who’s current live act and which we added as a bonus track to A Quick One, this being the first time The Who’s version of the song was ever released. A great example of power pop with Keith Moon on terrific form; a shame they lose the momentum slightly during the lead into the otherwise fine middle eight, probably due to lack of rehearsal. This song was originally recorded for the Everly’s Beat‘N’Soul album, released in August 1965. It also appeared on the B-side of the Everlys’ single ‘Love Is Strange’ later that year, which is probably where The Who first heard it.
Dancing In The Street
Brian Matthews introduces an initially restrained (for The Who) version of the great Tamla hit for Martha & The Vandellas which wasn’t released by The Who until May 1988, and that a version recorded live from Philadelphia on 13 December, 1979. There’s a wild solo – pop art meets Motown, not a common combination! – and the band are a bit loose towards the end, again probably the result of lack of rehearsal. The vocals are excellent throughout.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on September 13, 1966.
Disguises
‘Disguises’ was a superb, unusual song given a fine performance here. The recording is heavily echoed with prominent bass guitar, great drumming and a power-chord guitar solo. The arrangement differs from the later released version on the Ready Steady Who EP, with the ringing, droning guitar figures being more pronounced. This was The Who’s first leaning towards psychedelia, and it bore a similarity to The Kinks single ‘See My Friend’ released a year earlier.
I’m A Boy
A faithful reproduction of the hit single, interesting insofar as this version was recorded (live) in April 1966, and The Who didn’t release it as a single until August, a full four months later, a time lag that was most unusual in 1966. Lacks the confidence of the live version we added to Live At Leeds as a bonus track.
So Sad About Us
A disappointing version of this standout track from A Quick One, The Who’s second LP. The vocals are mixed far too low and the dominant bass makes the track far too muddy. The drums on this recording seem too low in the mix. Although a simple pop song, the band give it a brash, harsh sound compared with the version finally released, and include a final coda of “last night” sung over the closing bars, which were later omitted.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on Tuesday January 17, 1967.  The Who re-recorded tracks from their last album for this session.
Run Run Run
Brian Matthews introduces a lively, assured and enthusiastic version of the track from The Who’s second album. There’s a great solo and the song is extended beyond the timing of the original recorded version. It adheres closely to the original, but Roger’s singing seems weaker, and the heavy, distorted guitar solos much more extended, although it lacks the feedback.
Happy Jack
A truly superb version of The Who’s then current hit single and the second of the BBC tracks that I had wanted to include on the box set. Everything here is perfect, the band’s tight synchronisation, the sharp, clear vocals, the hugely intelligent drums. Although this follows the arrangement of the single very closely, the main difference is the ending. Instead of Pete calling “I saw ya!”, this version has John Entwistle intoning the phrase in his deep “Boris” voice. Probably the best track on the whole BBC tape.
Boris The Spider
A faithful, clean reproduction of the Quick One LP track by John Entwistle, more echoey than the record and John’s vocals are less abrasive, resulting in a slightly less menacing atmosphere than the original.
See My Way
Again, a nicely performed version of a song from their recently released Quick One album. Good power pop with excellent bass/drum sound and more attack than the original recorded version. Townshend’s distorted guitar riffs give this version a more earthy R&B feel which made the song’s potential more apparent.

Recorded on Tuesday October 10, 1967 at De Lane Lea Studio, London.
NB: The Who wanted to continue with session appearances on BBC radio but had long tired of re-recording material in BBC studios. In an unprecedented move, the band negotiated with the BBC to provide master tapes of material recorded in non-BBC studios for exclusive BBC use. In some cases, they continued to offer completely alternative takes of songs, while other material that they felt couldn’t be easily re-recorded was simply remixed from the same masters that were used for their records. In order for the BBC to have “exclusive” rights to a master, however, the remix had to be noticeably different in some small way. It seems the band here prepared a number of tracks and jingles for broadcast on the newly-formed Radio 1 over the following few weeks on Top Gear (October 10 and November 11) and Saturday Club (October 28).
The tracks are as follows:
Pictures Of Lily
A very tight, muscular and enjoyable version of this hit single with a more prominent bass line. A Hammond organ which doesn’t appear on the hit single version has been added to the track, presumably played by Pete. 
Summertime Blues
Brian Matthews introduces a lively version of what was by this time a fairly common cover version played by The Who. Not as confident as the outstanding version on Live At Leeds, and probably therefore not worthy of release in its own right. That said, no other UK band were playing live rock as fluently as The Who at this time – and here’s proof.
I Can See For Miles
Exactly the same as the brilliant single and Sell Out LP track apart from a different bass line which is noticeably louder than it should be, which suggests that John Entwistle did the remix.
Relax
Different, inferior, mix from LP track (vocals lower).
Our Love Was
Features a Roger Daltrey vocal but sounds generally inferior to the album take with a country and western feel.
I Can’t Reach You
Virtually identical to track on Sell Out LP, but with a more prominent piano.
A Quick One
An accurate live reading of this lengthy piece, very tight. Although well performed, it adds little to the original on A Quick One or the far better version added as a bonus track to Live At Leeds. It’s much better than the rather tentative Monterey version seen on the 30 Years Of Maximum R&B Live video.
See My Way
A nice, flowing version, with prominent rhythm track and more variation in dynamics than the recorded version.
Jingles
These are Radio One promotional jingles set to the tune of their hits, as recorded by The Who at IBC Studios, specifically to the tunes of ‘Happy Jack’, ‘My Generation’ (“Talking’ ‘bout my fav’rite station”!), ‘Boris The Spider’ and ‘The Ox’ (“Top Gear”), the instrumental from their debut album. 

Recorded on Monday April 13, 1970 at IBC Studios, London, for use on BBC Radio 1’s Dave Lee Travis Show (April 19) and The Johnnie Walker Show and Dave Symonds Show (both May 25).
NB: The same circumstances apply to these recording as those explained above.
Heaven And Hell
Almost the same as the studio version later released on the B-side of ‘Summertime Blues’, with a terrific guitar solo by Pete that sounds better than the original to me.
Substitute
This second version of ‘Substitute’ is a tight and energetic, acoustic performance in the manner of recent stage arrangements of the song. Keith counts in the band, and the track fades early, omitting the final verse. Unusual, to say the least, but not as interesting as the earlier version of this song recorded for the BBC.
Pinball Wizard
Identical to Tommy LP track in every way, with the usual double-tracked guitars.
Shakin’ All Over
This is not quite as accomplished as the track on Live At Leeds but still excellent by any standards. Midway through, the band segue into the blues standard ‘Spoonful’ (as they usually did on satge around this time but this was edited out on Live At Leeds), which would make it a worthwhile and interesting addition to any Who collection.
I’m Free
Noticeably different take from original on Tommy LP with tougher feel, two guitars (electric and acoustic) and tambourine. Sounds like the same drum track and same back-up vocals.
The Seeker
A re-recording of the single with an acoustic rhythm guitar rather than an electric.

Summary

The quality of the tracks varies considerably. A handful are excellent, so good that is a crime they remain unreleased. Others add little to existing versions. Nevertheless, there is no question that a worthwhile Who CD could be compiled from these tracks, though it is unlikely the result would be as interesting or as commercially viable as the recent Led Zeppelin At The BBC album or, more especially, the 1994 Beatles At The BBC double CD. Nevertheless a hard-core of Who fans would all buy it, even though many will already own these tracks on bootleg. In the hands of Jon Astley or any other engineer, the sound quality could be improved immensely, offering further incentive for hard-core fans who already own them to buy them again.
         The dilemma you face is whether to include all the tracks, thus making it ‘The Who’s BBC Sessions Complete’* (see footnote), or whether you include only selected tracks. It does seem rather pointless to include those tracks that are identical to, or differ only slightly from, the existing and already available tracks from The Who’s back catalogue. I haven’t actually timed the tracks but it might be that there are too many anyway, in which case a cull of some kind would be necessary. If called upon, I could certainly advise you on which tracks to omit – though the above analysis probably makes those decisions for you anyway.
         Either way, I would be happy to stay involved in this project as far as selecting tracks, doing photo research and contributing proper liner notes.

(Footnote: *Actually, I don’t think it would be complete as I believe some songs done for the BBC prior to May 24, 1965, are missing from their archives, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some later ones have gone astray as well. Also, of course, there were brief interviews with the band, almost always Pete, which would have made interesting links between the tracks, but these are probably lost too.)

* * *

PS: Despite writing this analysis for Polydor, without payment, I wasn’t asked to help with the album when it was eventually compiled or mentioned anywhere in the liner notes, not even in the thanks. There’s gratitude for you!




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  1. Most helpful and interesting as I will revisit my collection with a plan. Thank you Chris!

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