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The Who - A Quick One CD (album) cover


The Who



2.95 | 160 ratings

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3 stars After tearing up so much expensive equipment in their concerts that they were well into the red financially, The Who's publisher made them a deal. If each band member would write at least one or two new songs for their second album they would each receive a sizeable cash advance, helping them out considerably. Unfortunately, it was a rather absurd idea because neither the drummer nor the singer had ever written a note of music and the bass player was still a novice. The result was a mish-mash of unrelated styles and varied influences that made them sound like a group in desperate search of an identity. The good news is that Pete Townsend was just starting to come into his own as a gifted songwriter as evidenced by several superb tunes included here.

The album opens with "Run, Run, Run," a driving number that Pete had written and produced for a fledgling group called The Cats. It has a strong energy about it but it never really goes anywhere, becoming monotonous in a hurry. One of the many stories behind John Entwistle's infamous "Boris the Spider" is that when Townsend asked him to sing one of his required compositions John said "sure thing" and hummed the first stray melody that popped into his head. This entertaining song about a creepy-crawly arachnid is the result and, in those days when you were lucky to even hear the bottom end on a record, Entwistle's huge bass guitar tone blew every bassist in the world away. What a fat sound! Keith Moon's amateurish "I Need You" is next and it is predictably lame. At the end you can't help but notice guest Nicky Hopkins' odd C&W noodling on the harpsichord.

"Whiskey Man" is one of my favorite tunes by John. In addition to his cool French Horn solo, I admire its smooth, simple melody and eccentric lyric about a drunkard's imaginary friend who has to be left behind when the old sot goes in for detox. Their unremarkable cover of "Heatwave" by Martha and the Vandellas follows and the fortunate thing for us Yanks is that it was replaced with their popular radio hit "Happy Jack" when the LP was released stateside in April '67. (Sadly, it's not substituted for it on this CD). The group's infectious and unfailing sense of humor fueled by Keith's wild spirit and unfettered imagination combine to produce the joyful instrumental "Cobwebs and Strange." To get the sound they wanted they paraded around the mike in the studio playing bass drum, cymbals, tuba, penny-whistle, trombone and trumpet like a high school marching band on acid. I love how Pete continually ups the tempo ante on his guitar for Moon to answer on drums. It's a frivolous but fun track that I adore.

I've always been bewildered by so many English musicians' fascination with American country & western music. It seems like everyone from The Beatles to The Stones and even Sting has tried to imitate it and here you'll find Pete the mod giving it a go on "Don't Look Away." I'm sure it's one he'd like to forget he wrote. Roger Daltrey's lone contribution is "See My Way," little more than a rough demo put together at Townsend's basic home studio with Keith's drums dubbed in later. It's the low point of Roger's limited writing career. Next you're treated to the best track on the album, "So Sad About Us," a powerful song that Pete originally wrote for The Merseybeats. At a time when hard rock was barely in its infancy, this intense ball breaker provided a fitting soundtrack for every hyperactive teenage air-guitarist of that day and age, including myself. No intricate finger-picking on the Rickenbacker 12-string here, just Townsend banging out big, beautiful chiming chords over John and Keith's kickass rhythm section. It still rocks today.

"A Quick One" is just one example of why this group belongs on the archives. Pete wanted to take the stuffy, arrogant atmosphere of high-brow opera and poke more than a few holes in the snooty genre by adapting the concept to rock & roll and, in the process, he paved the way for others to explore the untapped world of extended tracks. This tongue-firmly-in-cheek, daytime TV drama storyline about doubt, loneliness, adultery, guilt, confession and eventual forgiveness is a hoot and their let's- not-take-ourselves-too-seriously, over-the-top performances throughout all six sections bring a smile to my face every time I indulge in this landmark epic. Sure, it's flawed but it was 1966 for heaven's sake! Let your hair down and enjoy the ride.

That's where the original LP ended but on the 1995 re-issue some rarities and B-sides were added on. Their covers of "Batman," "Bucket T" (a surprise hit in Sweden) and "Barbara Ann" are goofy diversions. The quirky "Disguises" is weak pop despite its enormous bass sound, the LOL "Doctor, Doctor" (about a hypochondriac who even thinks he might be shrinking) is shrilly, "I've Been Away" (yet another attempt at country & western) is forgettable and "In the City" is just an off-night studio ditty that has only John and Keith on it because Pete and Roger were not informed about the session. Their refreshing acoustic version of "Happy Jack" doesn't reveal any new wrinkles but it does further prove what a great song it is. Their dubious take on the Everly Brothers' "Man with the Money" is a true rarity in that it hasn't appeared anywhere else that I know of. The finale is a very rough combination of "My Generation" and Edward Elgar's regal "Land of Hope and Glory" from a never-released EP that is, as you would guess, quite insane.

Special note should be made of Alan Aldridge's sleek Pop-Art cover. It's one of the classics of that and any era. Most likely many copies of the LP were purchased because of this eye-catching cover alone.

Aside from the groundbreaking mini-rock opera of "A Quick One" and the overall unbridled, free atmosphere of creativity I won't try to argue that there's a plethora of progressive rock to be found on this album. But this confident, force-to-be-reckoned-with band was steadily improving as they headed further and further down the road into rock and roll infamy and this collection of early songs and experiments is still one of my favorite relics from the 60s. Its appeal may not extend farther than prog historians and Who fans like me when all is said and done but it definitely rates a solid three stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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