THE WHO - Track Singles

Last month I was commissioned by Universal to write the notes that will appear in the booklet accompanying a forthcoming box set of 15 7-inch singles by The Who, all of them on Track Records. This follows on from a Brunswick Box containing eight singles (including ‘I’m The Face’ on Fontana), released at the beginning of April, and a soon to be released Reaction box with five discs.
              Here’s what I wrote about the first two Track singles, ‘Pictures Of Lily’ and ‘The Last Time’. More to follow.

A. Pictures Of Lily
Written by Pete Townshend. © 1967 Fabulous Music.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

B. Doctor Doctor
Written by John Entwistle. © 1967 Essex Music.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

Originally released as Track 604 002 on 21 April, 1967, it reached Number 4 in the British charts.

Recorded at Pye Studios, London, on April 5, 1967, ‘Pictures Of Lily’ was The Who’s first release on Track Records, established earlier in the year by their managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Unlike many subsequent labels set up essentially as vanity projects by artists or their management, Track was a genuine independent label in search of fresh talent and its first signing, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, signalled their intention to seek out innovative new artists. Indeed, Hendrix recorded Track’s first hit, ‘Purple Haze’, which reached the UK charts in March 1967, beating The Who by one month. The much discussed rivalry between Hendrix and The Who was certainly exacerbated by their sharing a brand new pioneering record label headed by The Who’s own managers.
              ‘Lily’ sees Pete Townshend entering what John Entwistle sometimes referred to as The Who’s ‘blue’ period. Not to put too finer point on it, it features Pete’s observations on onanism, written from the point of view of a young lad whose father sympathises with his son’s raging hormones and offers relief in the form of soft-core pornography to hang on his bedroom wall. Naturally he falls in love with Lily, a scantily dressed pin-up, only to learn to his deep regret that she died long ago. Quite daring for its time, even today ‘Lily’ might generate a ban from sensitive radio stations and, on a quiet news day, a lurid headline in the prurient tabloid press. During the solo John steps forth on the French horn, which he played in a Boys’ Brigade band in his early teens.
              John: “It’s all about wanking... Townshend going through his sexual traumas – something that he did quite often. I suppose you could say this record represents our smutty period, or to be more refined, our blue period.”
              Keith Moon famously played a Premier drum kit adorned with pictures of ‘Lily’ who, judging from her demeanour, seems to have been abducted by The Who from a music hall in the Roaring Twenties.
              ‘Lily’ was a welcome addition to the set list for the ‘Who Hits 50’ tour in 2014 and 2015.
              Recorded at Ryemuse Sound, London, circa April 5-6, 1967, ‘Doctor Doctor’ continues what would become a Who tradition of John Entwistle B-sides on which his name was spelt incorrectly, with an ‘h’ after the ‘w’. In this, one of the bassist’s best ever sixties songs, the composer sings disconsolately about his various illnesses in a high-pitched voice to a lively rock melody. 

A: The Last Time
Written by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards. © 1965 Mirage Music.
No producer credited.

B: Under My Thumb
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. © 1965 Mirage Music.
No producer credited.

Originally released as Track 604 006 on 30 June, 1967, it reached Number 44 in the British charts.

Recorded as a gesture of support to Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who between June 28-30 at Chichester Quarter Sessions were imprisoned briefly on drugs charges, The Who released these cover versions of two Stones songs while the trial was in progress. A cause célèbre of the day that pitched the hedonistic glamour boys of the counter-culture against the stuffy British Establishment, the issue was settled in part by a now legendary editorial in The Times newspaper in which Jagger’s fate was likened to “breaking a butterfly on a wheel”, a line borrowed from a 1735 poem by Alexander Pope.
              With remarkable swiftness, The Who and Kit Lambert recorded the two songs at De Lane Lea studios on June 28, with Pete playing bass because John was away on his honeymoon aboard the QEII. In a full-page advert published in the London Evening Standard they announced their intention to record Stones tracks until Mick and Keith were released “to keep their work before the public”. “It’s just a simple gesture,” said Lambert. “We are not trying to cash in at all. All royalties will go to charity.” Fortunately for all concerned, the errant Stones were sprung before The Who got around to recording any more.
              The Who’s version of ‘The Last Time’ is far from sloppy with clanging guitars, a chaotic solo and an upward key change towards the end but despite following the Stones’ arrangement almost note for note it lacks the menace of the original. They are better suited to the nimbler ‘Under My Thumb’, a song from the Stones’ notorious but short-lived misogynistic period in which The Who inject a touch of their own style, eschewing the catchy little riff in favour of acoustic rhythm, galloping bass and some Who-ish harmony vocals. Still, it was the thought that counted. 

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