WHO'S EXHAUSTED? Is "Too Much of Everything"... too much?

I have known Tony Fletcher since the mid-1980s when he wrote his first book for Omnibus Press, on Echo & The Bunnymen. He's since written many more, of course, among them Dear Boy: The Life Of Keith Moon, also published by Omnibus, which many regard as among the greatest rock biographies in print. Most recently Tony has posted some of the interviews he did for Dear Boy on Substack, which can be accessed here: https://tonyfletcher.substack.com/

Tony has also written a great review of the recent Who's Next Super Deluxe box set which he has suggested might find a home on Just Backdated, so with his approval I have posted it below (web link:https://tonyfletcher.substack.com/p/whos-exhausted). 

Back when I was writing Dear Boy, tracking down rare recordings by The Who was detective work, and I loved it. On the days that someone would send me a cassette in the mail of something never officially released, I’d have an extra spring in my step. Alternate versions were a bonus elitist treat, though I had a more humbling discovery when I found a collection of just about every UK Who 7” single ever at a shop in Newquay, bought the lot – they were fairly priced and in excellent condition - and quickly discovered that the “I’m A Boy” and “I Can See For Miles” that I had grown up with on the seminal compilation Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy were not, in fact, the original 7” versions.

After the book was published, tapes started showing up more regularly. A very good person with a very generous heart and possibly the most extensive collection of Who live recordings on the planet took it upon himself, as a mark of gratitude for my contribution to Whodom, to send me VHS tapes of rare shows, including Tanglewood 1970, and the San Francisco Cow Palace 1973, legendary filmed concerts both, though for very different reasons. But then he moved onto CDs, and my mailbox started to groan under the weight of new packages containing home-burned live Who discs. While it was wonderful to feel so appreciated, I eventually had to beg him to stop; even in my late 30s, I knew that there just weren’t enough eight-minute blocks left in my life to listen to yet another live version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”…

…Which is probably how even the most ardent of Who fans felt upon seeing that a new Who’s Next/Life House (Super Deluxe) package was to drop in mid-September, with a 10-CD plus BluRay plus 172 page graphic novel plus 100-page extensive liner notes book with contributions from Pete Townshend but of course as well as from Andy Neill and Matt Kent, plus various so-called souvenir paraphernalia for those who have around $250-$300 to spare, and with all nine-and-a-half hours of music nonetheless provided on the streaming platforms for those of us who don’t. Me, I have spent a lot of money on the Who over the years – contrary to what you my think, the limits of my relationship with the group is that I occasionally get access to their own block of prime-seating concert tickets, which of course comes at a prime-seating price – and I balked at the prospect of shelling out this kind of lump sum for physical copies of bonus recordings that I may or may not already own, even if there was the prospect that somewhere within that 172-page graphic novel and 100 pages of liner notes, we might all now finally discover what Lifehouse was meant to be all about.

Certainly, nobody but Townshend himself knew at the time, and it was incumbent upon producer Glyn Johns to insist to the band’s composer and all-round genius visionary that he climb down from his lofty ambition of a cosmic rock opera to topple Tommy and instead, with his bandmates’ full-throttled endorsement and encouragement, get on with selecting and recording the best dozen or so songs from an extensive catalogue of demos and abandoned Kit Lambert productions in New York (more of which later), go into Olympic Studios in London for a fresh session, and see where it left them.

Where did it leave them? Only with the Greatest Rock Album Ever, of course. Just nine songs eventually, clocking in at what was then a maximum hi-fidelity LP’s length of 43 minutes and 45 seconds. Nothing superfluous, no bonus cuts, no over-riding concept, not even a gatefold sleeve, just a  picture of four blokes pissing against an obelisk and with it, a new blueprint for rock. We should leave it there in turn.

But we won’t. Because naturally, and if only because The Who means more to me than any other band on earth, I have waded through all eight hours and 45 minutes of new Super Deluxe bonus material, and found that sure enough, amidst the music that was never intended for original release, and amidst all that which has trickled out on other previous Deluxe packages though now assembled in correct contextual place, there are enough absolute gems to merit a 12-song playlist –a Single Bonus CD if you can find one that will run 84 minutes. (The Spotify playlist follows at the end of this article.) My thanks to the person who sent me Andy Neill’s extensive track-by-track notes for six of the nine additional discs, which has helped me dig down and cherry-pick from the following categories:

1: Pete Townshend demos: For the most part, Townshend was a consummate enough songwriter and musician that he typically supplied the band with completely finished arrangements, requiring of the rhythm section only that they improve upon his rudimentary playing – and being that the rhythm section was John Entwistle and Keith Moon that wasn’t a tall order. When it came to the vocals, however, there was always the awkward truth that Townshend was (and remains) a superb singer, and that for many listeners, his softer, more yearning tone, if not always preferable to Roger Daltrey’s, certainly supplied the crucial counter to the front man’s classic roar. Where would “Baba O’Riley” truly be, for example, without Pete singing the “teenage wasteland” breakdown?

Indeed, for all those who refer to that song as “Teenage Wasteland” because it seems so obviously the song’s natural title, it turns out that Pete originally felt the same way. Intriguingly, his early demo of the song that would become Who’s Next’s opening track starts not with the defining organ refrain, but piano and acoustic guitar, the “Out here in the fields” opening verse afforded an entirely different melody, as is that eventual middle section “Don’t cry, don’t raise your eye…” Indeed, the song is halfway through its seven-minute workout before we finally get a recognizable Who’s Next melody – the “Sally take my hand” line. Until then, it is effectively a different song entirely, albeit one with familiar lyrics.

Only later did Townshend develop the metronomic, arpeggiated refrain on his Lowry organ (not on an ARP synthesizer as commonly believed) that would become one of the most recognizable riffs of all time. And when he did, he blissed out on it – wouldn’t you? - laying it down as a 13-minute instrumental entitled “Baba O’Riley” that is mind-blowing for being so far ahead of its time, Townshend toying with EQ filters about twenty years before the first techno DJs and artists took such ideas onto the nightclub dance floors.

Listening to the two demos back-to-back, as I place them on my playlist though they come at opposite ends of CD2 on the Super Deluxe package, offers a fascinating insight into the songwriting process, for at a certain point it obviously occurred to Townshend to set the former composition to the latter’s arrangement, change tunes accordingly, and edit that lengthy bliss-out into something more closely resembling a rock song. The rest, as they say, was history.

Also on these two discs is a beautiful, and remarkably complete demo of what was then simply called “Too Much,” a song performed live at the time of the sessions, duly recorded for Who’s Next, but not released (as “Too Much of Anything”) until Odds And Sods in 1974. In case you didn’t already know or merely guess as much, the song’s concluding chorus line “Too Much of Everything… is too much for me” served to inspire this article’s subtitle.

Pete’s early demo of “Behind Blue Eyes” also merits inclusion because of its tenderness and for how, my earlier comment about finished arrangements aside, the song does not kick into fourth gear with the famous middle section (“When my fist clenches…”), but rather continues in the same gentle vein, Pete harmonizing with himself where Daltrey later soared solo. Historically, it is hard to argue against a Who’s Next rock rendition that formed part of the 1970s rock canon and my own musical education with it, but there are reasons to claim that this is a more emotional and satisfying rendition.

2: Unreleased Songs: There’s an obvious temptation to say that if Townshend’s songs weren’t good enough to make it into the studio or live show at the time, they probably weren’t good enough, period, and in the cases of “Mary,” “Greyhound Girl” and perhaps even “There’s a Fortune In Those Hills,” I am tempted to agree. But “Finally Over” – not to be confused with “The Song Is Over” – is an absolute treasure, proof that Pete Townshend’s toenail clippings are better than most songwriters’ career masterpieces and, perhaps, an opportunity missed.

3: Record Plant recordings: This is the supposedly disastrous week-long session in New York, with manager/producer Kit Lambert ostensibly at the controls but emotionally AWOL. Again, the argument against releasing this these cuts (though many already have seen light of day on earlier Deluxe packages) is that if the Who rejected them at the time, why subject us to their confessed failures this far down the line? And it’s true, most of these preserved takes – the pick of the week’s crop, according to the sleeve notes - are inferior to Who’s Next, lacking cohesion, concentration and drive.

Nonetheless, I actually prefer this rendition of “Love Ain’t For Keeping” with Leslie West on lead guitar along with an uncredited organ player from Patti LaBelle’s band: it’s harder, more direct, less frivolous, evidently benefiting from being recorded live-to-tape.

Ditto “I’m In Tune” as it was then known, for similar reasons. Additionally, there’s a particular melodic vitality to John Entwistle’s bass playing on these New York sessions that I would argue is superior to the eventual recordings at Olympic Studios in London. Compare this cut with the “Getting In Tune” from Who’s Next and tell me you don’t agree.

4: Alternate edits: There’s a good reason that most songs have vocals on them, and there’s an equally good reason that some are edited down. Still, for those of us who came of age marveling at the majesty of Nicky Hopkin’s piano playing, being afforded a version of “The Song Is Over” stripped of all vocals allows that majesty to shine with all due regality. And for those like me – and admittedly there may not be many – whose first exposure to The Who was the 1972 single “Join Together” and who then was subjected to a ten-year quest to find a physical copy of the non-LP 45, having an extra 90 seconds of music here makes up for lost time. A little.

“Join Together,” btw, was just the third in a series of once-a-year non-LP singles that started with “The Seeker” in 1970, added “Let’s See Action” in ‘71 and concluded with “Relay” in ‘73, though you can factor in “Long Live Rock” too, which was recorded in the same period and eventually released in 1979 to promote the documentary The Kids Are Alright. All five A-sides and their generally excellent B-sides are included here in various official and bonus forms. “Join Together” is still the only Who cut I have ever dared to DJ for a nightclub dancefloor – and only once at that; where was the 13-minute “Baba O’Riley” instrumental when I needed it?

5: Live recordings. By this point in their unending career, we the dedicated followers of fashion have surely had enough official Who live recordings to take us through not just the rest of this life but the next one, too. Nonetheless, four of the nine bonus CDs here are culled from two distinct, lengthy concerts. The first was at the Young Vic Theatre in Waterloo, London – not the rehearsal shows with which Townshend originally hoped to cement his vision of audience engagement, but rather one consigned to tape via the Stones’ 16-track mobile studio on April 26, 1971, halfway through the recording process as an attempt to document their current state of play. Reviews I’ve read of the box set have repeated Andy Neill’s sleeve note assertion that the performances are “tentative” and to an extent that is true, but the actual arrangements are far more developed already by this point than that might lead you to believe, and the fact that they have not yet reached the Epic, Classic Rock status is occasionally a winning argument.

As proof, I offer up both “Naked Eye” – a song that just failed to make the album at the time – and, perhaps controversially, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” I really like this version: it is more relaxed, loose, and raw than it would soon become, not yet acknowledged by an arena-sized audience as an Anthem of a Generation, and there is a reason to adopt it as a personal keepsake going forwards; the definitive studio recording version will show up on your local classic rock station soon enough anyway.

The last two CDs are given over to a concert at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco eight months later, on December 13 1971, parts of which have been released officially over the years, and which in its entirety here is already being held aloft as a peak period piece, The Who at their early-1970s unrivalled in-concert best. It’s hard to disagree – the band are absolutely on fire  and for all that I have had a copy of this concert on the aforementioned gifted CDs for the last 25 years or so, it turns out mine was only a truncated edit of the show, absent much of Tommy (which is not relevant to this particular conversation) and the truly incendiary nine-minute version of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Baby Don’t You Do It.” A live staple at the time, and one that showed up on the back of “Join Together” in deftly edited fashion, it serves to remind everyone that for all the legend around the writing, recording and performing of Who’s Next/Life House, at heart The Who were an R&B band brought up on Black American music, and that nobody, but nobody, butchered it – in the most professional sense of this vegan’s reluctant used of the verb – better.

And with this, we can only hope that The Life House Song Cycle Saga is, indeed, finally over. Whatever Lifehouse was imagined to be, and however much Pete Townshend may have felt his inability to capture it at the time represented some sort of Epic Fail, he can now hopefully retire in the knowledge that he put everything out there eventually, 172-page graphic novel and all. His extensive efforts at the time to rewire popular music were hardly in vain: not only did they give us Who’s Next, the Greatest Rock Album Ever, but a series of non-album A-sides and B-sides equally unrivalled during the early 1970s. Along the way, The Who transformed additionally into the Greatest Live Band Ever as well, and it’s to the Super Deluxe package’s ultimate acclaim that, despite its frighteningly obsessive and overwrought breadth and depth, it renders these claims not so much of a subjective opinion as an objective fact.

Tony Fletcher, October 2023.

[i] Of the various reviews I have read to help me along, Alexis Petridis on Super Deluxe Edition – yes, there is a website of that name – sums up the confusion surrounding Lifehouse best. “Retold in the box set’s 100-page book, the saga of Life House’s making is so extraordinarily convoluted and confused, so filled with cross-purposes, misunderstanding and – occasionally – straightforward sabotage, that this writer confesses he ended up frantically taking notes: not as preparation for this review, but just in a desperate attempt to try and keep up with what was going on… The best moment in the book may come when Townshend furiously protests that “when people say I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about, what they’re actually doing is revealing their own complete idiocy because the idea is SO FUCKING SIMPLE”, which, with all due respect, sounds remarkably like something you’d say if you had succeeded in completely confusing yourself.”


THIS GUITAR HAS SECONDS TO LIVE: A People’s History Of The Who by Richard Houghton

It’s a poster, a t-shirt and now a book cover. This Guitar Has Seconds To Live is the name bestowed upon a famous photograph taken at an infamous Who concert. The photographer was Nigel Dickson who was on hand at the Odeon Theatre in Newcastle on November 5, 1973, Bonfire Night no less, to witness a Pete Townshend meltdown of colossal proportions. Incensed at the failure of the Quadrophenia backing takes to function to his liking, Pete demolished everything in sight, tapes included, and assaulted long-suffering soundman Bobby Pridden, causing a 25-minute stoppage before the concert resumed, Quadrophenia abandoned.

Also on hand were Who fans Bill Monks, Peter Smith, Jim Robson, Ian Potts, Colin Petersen, Brian Dickinson, Brian Goulden and John Robson, all of whom offer their accounts of the concert and its aftermath in this book, which is in fact a new edition of Richard Houghton’s The Who: I Was There, published by Red Planet in 2017 and reviewed on Just Backdated here: https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-who-i-was-there-by-richard-houghton.html

Of all the fans, the most loquacious is Peter Smith who reports that during Quadrophenia, “[They] got as far as ‘5.15’ [about half way through – CC] when things started to go wrong. The backing tapes they used to play along with weren’t working correctly, and apparently not at all during ‘5.15’. Pete went crazy, totally losing it. From upstairs we could see him shouting at someone to the side of the stage; he then started punching the guy and smashed his guitar to the floor of the stage. He started ripping wires out of their equipment. Roger, John and Keith were just staring at him, wondering what on earth he was doing. The theatre obviously realised that something was going seriously wrong, and they dropped the big white safety curtain.

“We sat in darkness for 15 or 20 minutes until the band reappeared. The Who launched into ‘Magic Bus’ followed by a lengthy jam and finished by playing ‘My Generation’ for a second time. Pete was in a wild, strange mood, swearing at us all, calling us ‘fucking bastards’. I recall being very upset with him and shouting back at him, as did many others. He then smashed his Gibson guitar, threw one of his amps to the ground and Keith crashed through his drums, knocking them all over the stage. They received thunderous applause as they left the stage.

“It had been a strange, surreal and brilliant night. We went home on the train, everyone talking about what they had just witnessed.”

By all accounts Bob Pridden walked out of the theatre after the incident, hotly pursued by manager Bill Curbishley and lighting man John Wolff who persuaded him to return. To add insult to injury, Pridden was obliged to stump up for a new Gibson Les Paul because he was the only one in the entourage with sufficient cash on him to buy one from a Newcastle instrument shop. 

The following night Pete and Keith appeared on the local TV show Look North, confirming that the two other shows booked at the Newcastle Odeon would go ahead as planned. Pete was a bit sheepish and didn’t say much but when Keith was asked if he felt that fans were disappointed, he replied: “Well, nobody asked for their money back, did they?”

The new, retitled edition of The Who: I Was There is much improved, a large format hardback with 368 pages, printed on art paper which enhances the photographs, many of them carried forward from the old book. 


IMMEDIATE – The Rise & Fall of the UK’s First Independent Record Label by Simon Spence

The major theme of this book about Andrew Oldham’s Immediate Records bears a striking resemblance to the rise and fall of the Tory government led by Boris Johnson. In charge of both were reckless, over confident ne’er do wells who arrived with the wind in their sails, squandered vast amounts of money and goodwill, and left with their tail between their legs. Both relished disorder, made enemies galore and had a lasting impact, not necessarily for the better, on the milieu in which they served. And both profited enormously from the mess they left behind. 

“Oldham was terrible,” says music journalist and PR Keith Altham. “He was rude, obnoxious, bad-tempered. He humiliated people and he was dreadful.”

Much the same thing, of course, can be said of man who occupied 10 Downing Street between 2019 and 2022. The big difference is that while Johnson has left behind a heap of nothing, Oldham’s legacy is a heap of great music. 

        Andrew Loog Oldham – the Loog was the surname of the father who was killed before he was born, Oldham his mother’s name – shook up the complacent sixties British record industry by throwing two grenades into its midst, then sat back to watch the chaos he engineered. He threw the first by promoting The Rolling Stones, whom he managed during the early part of their career, and then, even more impishly, threw another when he and his partner Tony Calder launched Immediate Records, the UK’s first truly independent exclusively pop-focused record label, the precursor to them all – Track, Chrysalis, Island, Charisma, Stiff and many others. Fearless and unrestrained, Oldham changed the record industry from a comfortable berth for middle-aged men in suits to a free-for-all populated by rebels like him, spivs in their twenties, duckers and divers, free thinkers and free loaders, and brilliant mavericks with nowhere else to go.

        Simon Spence’s very readable book, which explains how all this came about, has had an erratic publishing history since it was first published as a large-format illustrated title in 2008. Simon updated it in 2012, and it will soon be available again, text only, through Backstage Books, a small publisher specialising in music titles in which he has a vested interest. It is immensely detailed insofar as it mentions just about every record that Immediate ever released, and chronicles in equal detail the irresponsible behaviour that brought about the label’s downfall. It features a cast of luminaries from the world of rock from Mick and Keith of the Stones on down, not least Jimmy Page who was for a time Immediate’s A&R man and go-to guitarist for studio work, often alongside arranger John Paul Jones. Then there’s the saga of The Small Faces, covered equally well in All Or Nothing, Simon’s warts-and-all oral biography of Steve Marriott, and other hit makers like Chris Farlowe, Amen Corner and PP Arnold.

        Oldham’s motive for launching Immediate was his dissatisfaction with the UK’s major labels, principally Decca to whom the Stones were signed, which reflects the origins other indies insofar as The Who’s managers launched Track, Jethro Tull and Ten Years After’s managers launched Chrysalis and The Nice’s manager launched Charisma. Unlike the men behind those labels, however, Oldham was unable to bring to his label his biggest client, the Stones, and thus ensure a solid foundation. Instead he went out and signed everyone and anyone that caught his ear, with the result that the label’s policy seemed scattershot; adventurous certainly but hardly likely to bring in the cash that commercial success would ensure. For that he relied on his own ability to gather up funds wherever and however he could, not always with probity uppermost on his mind. 

        Oldham’s dreams and schemes are the meat of Simon’s book. While it’s all very commendable to read about all the acts and their records (and the numerous detailed biographical footnotes), it is Oldham’s erratic, often cocaine-fuelled behaviour, aided and abetted by the more restrained Calder, that make this a page turner. What’s more it didn’t pay to cross him. During the sessions for Own Up, an ambitious album by an Oldham hopeful called Twice As Much, members of a string ensemble were overheard disparaging the group’s work in the toilet. Writes Simon: “Oldham obtained all their names and booked them again on a really hot day, turned the air con off and had nothing for them to play. He just sat in front of them for three hours.”

        This is but one of many eye-opening anecdotes recalled in the book. Oldham would blame Immediate’s ultimate demise on everyone around him, mostly the inability of Columbia Records to promote the label’s acts sufficiently in the USA, but the truth was he was out to lunch most of the time, let potential stars slip through his fingers and threw good money after bad. “Oldham was never a dishonest person, just nutty,” says Ken East, manager director of EMI at the time Immediate went under. “He was just so up in the air about everything.”  

        Just like that straw-haired PM.