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The Who By Numbers album cover
3.51 | 240 ratings | 19 reviews | 11% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 1975

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Slip Kid (4:32)
2. However Much I Booze (5:03)
3. Squeeze Box (2:42)
4. Dreaming from the Waist (4:09)
5. Imagine a Man (4:04)
6. Success Story (3:24)
7. They're All in Love (3:03)
8. Blue, Red and Grey (2:50)
9. How Many Friends (4:07)
10. In a Hand or a Face (3:25)

Total Time 37:19

Bonus tracks on 1996 remaster:
11. Squeeze Box (live) (3:13)
12. Behind Blue Eyes (live) (4:39)
13. Dreaming from the Waist (live) (4:57)

Line-up / Musicians

- Roger Daltrey / lead vocals, percussion
- Pete Townshend / guitars, ukulele, banjo, accordion, keyboards, percussion, lead (2,8) & backing vocals
- John Entwistle / 4- & 8-string bass guitars, brass, co-lead (6) & backing vocals
- Keith Moon / drums, percussion

- Nicky Hopkins / piano (1,5-7,9,10)

Releases information

Artwork: John Entwistle

LP Polydor - 2490-129 (1975, UK)

CD MCA Records - MCAD-37002 (1985, US)
CD Polydor - 533 844-2 (1996, Europe) Remastered by Bob Ludwig/remixed by Jon Astley, w/ 3 bonus Live tracks recorded at Swansea Football Ground, Wales on 12 June 1976, previously unreleased

Thanks to nuncjusz for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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THE WHO By Numbers ratings distribution

(240 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(11%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(40%)
Good, but non-essential (39%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

THE WHO By Numbers reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by fuxi
2 stars I love "Squeeze Box", no matter how silly others may find this track. Pete Townshend's deadpan banjo solo always brings a smile to my face. But the remainder of BY NUMBERS is a real downer. Prior to this release, the Who came up with three of the most exuberant albums in rock history. Now their main songwriter had lost most of his energy and courage. What were they do do?

If you play all of THE WHO BY NUMBERS in a single sitting, it feels dispiriting. Most of the songs reflect Pete Townshend's bitterness and despair. That doesn't mean they aren't beautiful. "Slip Kid", "Imagine a Man" and particularly "Blue, Red and Grey" are exquisite. Two of these tracks, together with an excellent live version of "Dreaming from the Waist", can be found in the box set 30 YEARS OF MAXIMUM R&B, which definitely seems a better buy than this album, since it also provides you with the best tracks from WHO's NEXT and WHO ARE YOU, and from the Who in the 1960s.

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars I guess that it is normal that after such a creative period (69 - 73) full of endless touring The Who could not be on par with their previous albums. No great anthems here. Just a bunch of good rock songs, without any great moments. Somewhat a disillusion of course. This album is definitely not a must have in your Who discography (but the same remark applies to their "sixties" work (with the exception of "Tommy" of course). In these days, Pete has drowned into alcoholism. It is also a return to the roots : more straight-forward compositions. The first five songs of the album are not bad at all, although I do not like "Squeeze Box" that much. Too childish. It sounds as the early Who. But "Slip Kid" and "Dreaming From the Waist" are very pleasant (especially the latter which is my fave here).

During "However Much I Booze" Daltrey leaves the vocals to Pete. He found that the lyrics were referring too much to Pete to sing it himself : "I see myself on T.V., I'm a faker, a paper clown. It's clear to all my friends that I habitually lie, I just bring them down. I claim proneness to exaggeration, But the truth lies in my frustration. The children of the night, they all pass me by. Have to drench myself in brandy, In sleep I'll hide. But however much I booze, There ain't no way out".

The album weakens somewhat with "Success Story" which is just another rock song like there are thousands out there. Only lyrics are rather funny (and even autobiographic when one can hear : "I may go far if I smash my guitar"). It is the story of young guy dreaming of becoming a rock star. The whole of the story is really interesting (you can easily get the lyrics out there on the Internet. It is really worth) but what a pity that the music is not as strong as the lyrics. It is the only song written by Entwistle.

The next two songs are really not worth and are absolutely not on par with Who classics. Both are dull rock ballads. Press next to reach "How Many Friends" which is again a good Who ... number.

"In a Hand Or a Face" is again on par with the first part of the album. Above average, I would say. There are three bonus live tracks on the remastered edition, which makes it a bit more interesting. They were recorded at the Swansea Football Stadium (June 16th, 1976). Like usual an average studio number ("Squeeze Box"), gets another dimension while played live. "Behind Blue Eyes" also gets a special treatment (especially the second part featuring a great Keith on drums).

Even if this album is not great, The Who were able to chart with it (number 7 in the UK and number 8 in the US). The sleeve was designed by John Entwistle.

Three stars for the remastered edition. If you want to get the essence of their work, just grab a "Best Of". For maniacs, "Tommy", "Live At Leeds", "Who's Next" and "Quadrophenia" are of course essential.

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Four and a half stars to be sure!! 1975 yielded yet again another fantastic album and this time from The Who. The fine balance that By Numbers delivers in terms of sheer quality, plentiful tunes, melancholic ballads and just pure Brit culture all muddled together in a stew of numeric bliss baffles me as to why it gets such mediocre ratings so far, albeit four previous reviews. Opinions respected of course.The album opens with the addictive ' Slip Kid'. Roger Daltry at his normal 101% self in terms of passion and effort. Entwistle as usual emphatic with the bass lines.' Squeeze Box ' is another great track. ' Imagine a man' kind of enforces why The Who have been rightly included on the Prog Archive forum. A dreamy melancholic prog ballad, beautiful in it's vulnerability.' Success Story' is another fine track with Townsend as usual tops in the lead guiar department.' Blue, Red and Grey' another ditty of a song but beautiful again in it's simplicity and naivity. Only the 70's epic bands could get away with it. By Numbers for me is The Who at the absolute best and perhaps their peak at 1975.I would recommend earlier Who work first to new enthusiasts to then later truly appreciate the vintage release that By Numbers is.
Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars As much as people seem to think this album as a letdown after Quadrophenia, I find it hard not to rate The Who By Numbers a masterpiece. The thoughtful, introspective lyrics and the clever, catchy songwriting create a very moving and powerful listening experience. Many also see this album as a potential suicide note from Pete Townshend, who expresses his problems, concerns, addictions, and wariness of life itself through the vivid and highly personal lyrical content. Not all is so depressing, though, John Entwistle provides a rollicking number amidst the chaos and confusion that Townshend creates through the rest of the pieces on this album.

Although I love every single song on this album to bits, I feel that I should only talk about a few of the pieces. Dreaming From the Waist wouldn't have been too out of place on Quadrophenia, with lyrical references to the beach and having uncontrollable sexual urges, not unlike most youth. Entwistle's bass performance on this song is incredible, his ascending basslines intertwine perfectly with Townshend's sharp rhythm work and melodic lead work. They're All in Love is a more melancholic tune that has some beautiful piano work from Nicky Hopkins and some very strong vocal performances from Roger Daltrey. Blue, Red, & Grey, which may well be my favorite piece on the album, has Townshend playing lone ukulele and lead vocal duties, but Entwistle adds some vibrance to the piece with majestic and sparse horns to add color to Townshend's uplifting and cheery ballad.

I don't really feel like I've given justice to just how wonderful this album is. I feel it's a perfect successor to Quadrophenia, and while it doesn't hit me as personally as Quadrophenia did, I certainly find a lot to relate to in this album. This would be the last great Who album in my mind, proceeding albums didn't hit the same stride or have the same consistent quality of songs. I can't see any reason why I couldn't give this album 5 stars, it is very expressive, personal, and it has some of the best songwriting that Townshend ever committed to record. It's a must have for Who fans.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This seventh album by The Who is a solid one in terms of songwriting, performance as well as production. When I compare this production in 1975 compared to their first two albums in mid 60s, the sound production is totally different. This has made the music sounds better, overall. As an album this "By Numbers" charted no. 7 in UK. As far as my personal experience (in the past) with this album, "Success Story" is the most memorable song. It's written by Entwistle and I salute him for the overall composition of this song especially on its simple riffs that serve as main rhythm section and played repeatedly throughout the singing of Daltrey. The riffs have in some way influenced Led Zeppelin's fourth album as it sounds similar, even though the song melody is different.

All songs contained in this album are excellent including the acoustic-based "Imagine a Man" where the acoustic guitar works serves brilliantly throughout the song, accompanying wonderful singing by Daltrey. The song seems like a ballad but the flow is quite dynamic. "They Are All in Love" is also another great song where the band brought in a piano session player "Nicky Hopkins" whom the piano playing flows brilliantly throughout the song. This song has a logical connection with the next (and my favorite when I was teenager - even until now) "Blue, Red, and Grey". It's great enjoying powerful voice of Daltrey backed by only banjo instrument. "How Many Friends" is also a great composition with dynamic basslines by Entwistle and nice piano playing by Nicky Hopkins. The guitar fills are also stunning especially at the background or during transition pieces. "In a Hand or a Face" is a straight rocker with, again, great bass lines.

The bonus tracks are also great, especially with good communication to the crowd, just before the band' single and hit "Squeeze Box". Observe how Entwistle plays his bass guitar - it's so dynamic and energetic! It includes Daltre's nice "Behind Blue Eyes" which is performed better during live version here. The last track "Dreaming From The Waist" is also a nice and energetic song.

Overall, every home must have this excellent album by the Who!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Review by Chicapah
4 stars By the time a man gets to be in my age bracket surprises come fewer and farther between. But finally discovering how good "The Who by Numbers" is after all these decades is not only a surprise but a shocking revelation for this Who fan. Allow me to explain. In the mid 70s I conceitedly thought my taste in music had grown to be so sophisticated that rock groups of this ilk (that I once adored) were beneath me and only spectacular, flashy bands like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever were worth my notice. What a snobbish, idiotic dolt I had become! The truth is that right under my upturned nose this talented foursome was continuing to challenge themselves and their audience with involved songs that were introspective and relevant not only in terms of their own lives, but also in the life of the generation they heralded. So don't make the mistake that I made for entirely too long and wrongly identify this album solely with "Squeeze Box," the overplayed piece of pop fluff that became its vanguard. Inside its cartoon wrapper lays a wealth of treasure. It contains strong tunes that rank right up there with their best and proggers would be just as foolish as I was to overlook it. There's a lot of prog going on here, just not the kind that you're used to hearing.

The opener, "Slip Kid," sports an undeniably infectious groove built atop a unique percussion loop and features a sharp, dynamic arrangement to die for. Guest Nicky Hopkins' piano, Roger Daltrey's boisterous vocal performance and Pete Townshend's intricate guitar work (including some tasteful controlled feedback) make this a stellar track all the way through. Lyrically Pete is preaching to the younger rock & rollers following in his footsteps, doling out unsolicited advice about how "There's no easy way to be free" but the slap in the face comes on the bridge when they answer him with a curt "Keep away, old man/you won't fool me/you and your history won't rule me/you might have been a fighter/but admit you failed/I'm not affected by your blackmail..." Townshend candidly acknowledges his feelings of irrelevance here and this naked, humbling self-appraisal is a harbinger of what the tone of most of the album will be.

"However Much I Booze" is a case in point. Never before had The Who painted a song canvas with more contrast as the cheerful, uplifting music stands in stark opposition to the dark harshness of the words being sung. Pete's light, happy finger-picking belies the gut-punch impact of his emotion-filled vocal, especially during the brilliant middle eight section when he confesses ".the night comes down like a cell door closing/suddenly I realize that I'm right now/I'm on the scene/while sitting here all alone with a bottle/and a head a-floating/far away from the phone/and the conscience going on at me." (Maybe it's just as well that I didn't buy this record in 1975 because lines like that would have struck unbelievably close to home, I'm afraid. Every aspect of my life was in shambles that year and this LP would've never left my turntable.) It's a fantastic tune about your soul being pitted in a cage match with your ego and dealing with the fact that "there ain't no way out."

"Squeeze Box" follows and, while it doesn't make me cringe, there's no doubt that it's their shallowest ditty since the silly "Magic Bus" and hardly fits in with the deep, psychological themes being presented on either side of it. But, since it cracked the top 20 singles chart and eventually became a mainstay of classic rock radio, it fulfilled its intent. Next is the intriguing "Dreaming from the Waist," a song that just wouldn't work without Keith Moon's unique drum rumblings stalking in the background and John Entwistle's fluid bass lines twining around the main melody. Here Pete poetically describes the never- ending battle raging between his spiritual side that gallantly aspires for enlightenment and his animal, pleasure-hungry id. "I've got that numb-to-a-thumb, overdubbed feeling/social when the world is sleeping/the plot starts to thicken/then I sicken and I feel I'm cemented down/I'm so juiced that the whorey lady's sad, sad story/has me quietly weeping/but here comes the morning/here comes the yawning, demented clown." Roger sings.

The mood drastically changes on the poignant "Imagine a Man," an acoustic guitar and piano-based ballad where Daltrey shines like a star on the vocal. There's not a regular drum track but Keith's subdued, tympani-like additions give the song some needed tension on the choruses. The words describe Townshend's yearning for a simpler, plain existence where he can clearly see the the eventual end of his earthly journey. "Imagine a road so long looking backwards/you can't see where it really began" and "Imagine a man, not a child of any revolt/but a man of today feeling new." Roger wistfully relates. It's a beautiful four minutes to spend. However, I can't say the same for what comes next, the forgettable "Success Story" written by Entwistle. Moon has always had a tendency to play behind the beat but here he just drags the number down to a slog through the muck. The Ox penned some fine tunes during his career but this isn't one of them.

"They Are All in Love" is yet another splendid example of artistic dichotomy. The lovely lilt of the melody augmented from below by Hopkins' flowing piano acts as a soft underbelly for the rough, scaly texture of the acrid words that literally spew viciously from Daltrey's mouth. "Hey, all you punks/stay young and stay high/hand me my checkbook/and I'll crawl out to die/like a woman in childbirth/grown ugly in a flash/I've seen magic and fame/now I'm recycling trash." he snarls. It seems that Pete resents the world going on as usual despite his sarcastic, deprecating observations. I spoke of surprises earlier and none show up any more unexpectedly than at this juncture in the form of the quaint "Blue, Red and Grey." Townshend's Dr. Jekyll personality suddenly emerges to perform solo on a tune brimming with universal love and optimism over a lone ukulele and a subtle brass section. The great thing is that it works, due in no small measure to Pete's admission that he's ".completely crazy/I even shun the south of France/the people on the hill, they say I'm lazy/but when they sleep I sing and dance/some people have to have the sultry evenings/cocktails in the blue, red and grey/but I like every minute of the day." It's a side of the man's genius that he rarely reveals and it is wholly refreshing when he does.

The apex of the album is the magnificent "How Many Friends," a dramatic and devastatingly frank number that every person on the planet can relate to at one time or another. Everyone in the studio for that session is amazing on this track. Nicky's understated piano, John's deft bass runs, Keith's unfettered ferocity, Roger's spirited singing and Townshend's inspired guitar lines all add up to create a supercharged atmosphere that only the great ones achieve. The words are as true today as they were then. "People know nothing about their own soft gut/so how come they can sum us up/without suffering all the hype we've known/how come they bum us up?" Daltrey inquires. And who among us hasn't sulked on the throne of despair and disillusionment and asked "How many friends have I really got?/that love me, that want me, that'll take me as I am?..." If you haven't, then consider yourself fortunate. The final song, "In a Hand or a Face," is a throwback to a sound when the band was younger and wielded a keener edge and it's very effective. Pete pokes tongue-in-cheek fun at the then-popular belief in reincarnation with clipped lines like "Ain't it funny how they're all Cleopatra/when you gaze into their past/when you find out about their birth signs/you realize there was no need to have asked." But he also seriously wants to know if we're, indeed, trapped in a cycle of futility whether we approve or not. "I am going round and round." the chorus endlessly repeats without resolution. And so it goes.

The trio of live bonus tracks on the reissue is a nice perk. While "Squeeze Box" is nothing more than a straightforward rendition of the tune Townshend once referred to as being "devastatingly simple," the versions of "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Dreaming From the Waist" (where Entwistle blazes like a wildfire through the ending) are both entertaining and technically well-recorded snapshots of the original group in concert, complete with humorous stage patter being carried on between the members on and off the microphones.

If not for a blatantly commercial detour and a sub-par inclusion from Mr. Entwistle, this would be a masterpiece on the same level as "Who's Next." But what really blows me away is the intimacy of the lyrics on display here. While their previous endeavors presented stories of generational isolation and/or defiant, rebellious rantings against society and its outdated traditions, "The Who by Numbers" is a startling portrait of a man who has realized that he may not die before he grows old, after all. It's about human frailty and moral weaknesses. It's about owning up to personal responsibility. It's about confronting one's own significance or lack thereof. Combine those weighty themes with music that's highly creative, full of imagination and virtuoso performances and definitely not run-of-the mill and you have an album that stands the test of time. 4.4 stars.

Review by The Quiet One
3 stars The Who explores the acoustic-realm....

Who would have thought a so acoustic and playful record after Quadrophenia? By Numbers is The Who's take on Zep's III, leaving their famed fierceful rockin' sound, to give space to their quietest desires, while still doing some rockin' here and there, but generally a acoustic-rock-driven album.

On comparison to Quadrophenia, this album is definitely a stinker, however let's try not to take in account this, and rate the album for it's own merits.

By Numbers makes The Who go backwards in time, ignoring almost for completely their impressive progression from Tommy up to Quadrophenia. Now to some songs:

There's barely bad songs all through the album, but to be honest, there's almost any memorable songs as their were in their previous efforts. The ones that are memorable here to some extent, are surely the opener, Slip Kid, with it's catchy sort-of percussion with the claps and subtle drums, and then developing a quite rocky style; the beautiful They're All in Love, with it's enchanting piano chords, and enjoyable sing- along chorus; the last track is the other memorable song, with it's powerful riff, and catchy chorus. The rest of the songs, belong to the forgettable songs tag, while not bad as I noted before, they definitely don't shine out, nonetheless they're enjoyable, and makes the acoustic/softer feel of the album possible. However, The Who hadn't really changed to a mellower band, the bonus tracks are proof of that, a live version of Squeeze Box and Dreamin' From The Waist, just tell you the band could still boody rock out loud live!

All in all, a decent effort by The Who, nothing really outstanding from the masters of ''outstanding powerful-rock''. The Who fans will surely find something to enjoy, and probably will think similar to me, while not being energetic nor featuring powerful guitar riffs with Keith's incredible drumming and John's killer bass lines, it still is a good record.

Review by Sean Trane
2 stars 2.5 stars really!!

After three incredible strikes and hits, could we expect The Who to eternally give us major works like Tommy, and Quadrophenia? Well the group certainly chose to let off steam and produced another concept album, and this one's goal was to relax and take it easy and quit with the pretension and ambitions of the previous projects. Instead we are given a bunch of songs, apparently unrelated, but the lyrics are pondering the group's different (Pete's mostly) moods and draw a bittersweet conclusion about success and loneliness. It came with an amusing artwork, but ultimately everything about this album is meant to be a breath- catching phase.

Indeed the two hits that came from the album are fairly shallow and under par: both Slip Kids and Squeeze Both tracks are too slick and lack depth in the music (compared to the Quadro's sophistication or Tommy's borrowings to classical), even though the lyrics seem of a very personal nature. It's hard to fault only the songwriting here (all Townshend except the noisy under-par Entwistle-penned Success Story), but it's more that the group didn't seem to believe in them and didn't arranged the song's frame and even regular guest Nicky Hopkins sounds restrained on the first track. However I Booze is one of those tracks where it's evident that Townshend is anything but happy (despite Daltrey's singing) and the semi- country rock guitar is anything but pleasant for progheads, but the "middle section" (where Pete sings) is much finer-tuned. In the slow acoustic Imagine A Man and Blue Red & Grey, one has to wonder what this is doing on a group album instead of a solo album, especially the later and Pete's banjo or ukulele.

On the positive side, there are one or two tracks where the group still struts their stuff: and Dreaming From The Waist is one of them, with Moon's incessant drum attack and Townshend excellent guitar work. The other is How Many Friends, a track that wouldn't be out of place on Who's Next, with finally plenty of dynamics, just what they'd gotten us used to. Good stuff, but nothing worth writing home about, but worthy of a selection on a home compilation. I'll also mention the closing In A Hand that's reminiscent of Quadrophenia and Moon's crazyyyyy drumming.

Certainly not on par with the three predecessor (and even more, IMHO), Numbers is a strange transitional album that was to signal the end of mega who projects and it would be followed by a lengthy 3 years silence. Personally I think this album is less interesting than Odds & Sods, because the way both album's track spectrum is the same (ranging from 68 to 73), thus allowing the comparison) and BN suffers from being the rest of the "bottom-of-drawer" of O&S. Certainly not essential, not even for fans of the group, but probably not a tad better than I remember it either.

Review by Conor Fynes
4 stars 'By Numbers' - The Who (7/10)

After a quadrilogy of highly ambitious albums that would make up the girth of The Who's golden material, the band was evidently tired from touring, and the obvious strains associated with constantly pushing the musical envelope forward. The band's seventh album 'The Who By Numbers' was a representation of this frustration, and like most bands who reach their artistic potential, they decided to strip down their sound, or 'unplug'. Quite naturally, this would led to some polarized views of the album, especially among those who favoured the band's more progressive leanings. Quite ironically however, 'By Numbers' is an album that takes quite a bit long to grow and really sink in. Granted, the musical quality is not quite as good as what they had done before, but if the album has anything going for it, it is arguably The Who's most sincere statement in music.

As with much of The Who's output, the album is written and fueled mostly by the heart and soul of guitarist Pete Townshend, and as a result, 'The Who By Numbers' is very much an album that reflects his attitudes and mindset. As one could likely ascertain from the lyrics alone here, Townshend was certainly not in a good state of mind during this period, and the album works as something of a confessional, in which he writes about the laments of stardom, alcoholism, and just about anything else that was pissing him off at the time. While someone with less conviction and grit to his name could have turned this approach into something saccharine and whiny, Townshend's problematic existence and the lyrics here are easy to relate to. The bottom line is that The Who was about as far away from the early lyrics of teenage love as they possibly could by this point, and it is the lyrical honesty of 'By Numbers' that is the album's greatest strength.

Speaking musically, there are no complex compositions here, or any form of progressive mentality to the music. Instead, these are straightforward rock songs, doing rock 'by the numbers' so to speak. Although they lack the flash and shock of the earlier material, the songs here are quite well-written, they just took a little longer to grow than what I am typically used to from The Who. Upon first listen to the album, I found the songwriting fairly uninviting and bland, but- with the exception of the silly single 'Squeeze Box'- this is some of the grittiest material that The Who ever released. That can be taken either way, but from a personal stance, the feeling behind these songs makes it well worth the listen, even though there isn't a track on here that particularly impresses or dazzles me.

'The Who By Numbers' may be an alum that continues to polarize fans of The Who, but if a listener gives this record the same open ear that they might give one of the more involved records, there is indeed some great enjoyment and catharsis to be experienced from the music.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "No easy way to be free"

By the mid 1970s Pete Townshend had taken his band to the lofty peaks, only to discover not only didn't it feel as good as it should, but that gravity was creeping in. His singer was barking at him in the press. His drummer was literally dying right in front of them. His own substance abuse was no longer fun and beginning to wreak havoc on his body. He was 30 years old and starting to question what else The Who could possibly accomplish after the exhausting (yet brilliant) Quadrophenia. He feared repeating himself and he loathed the idea of becoming a parody of himself. He was not happy in The Who yet apparently too insecure to leave. While it would be a couple years before Keith Moon would sink the classic Who for him, Townshend somehow managed to take the turbulent situation around him and with it craft the last truly great Who album.

"There ain't no way out!"

While Townshend describes the album as the Who's most "negative,", I don't think that's the right word. Yes, it replaces the grandiosity of Tommy and Quadrophenia with personal honesty in the form of sometimes dark and difficult lyrics, but musically the album ranges from lighthearted to energetic to downright triumphant in feel. The pain comes through in the words but the music remains that which transcends. The songs themselves come off their high horse and offer economical (yet still passionate) playing with an emphasis on wonderful melodies. Every song is a success here with about half the tracks ranking right up there with the band's strongest material. Great guitar work and a strong Daltrey performance are accented by wonderful vocal harmonies and John's fluid bass. "However Much I Booze" takes the rage/fear of Pete falling out of love with his best friend (the bottle) and contrasts it with an almost country flavored acoustic pluck. While classic rockers like "Dreaming from the Waist" and "How Many Friends" are oft mentioned, the plaintive "Imagine a Man" and the downright cuddly "Blue, Red and Grey" give the album real depth. The latter features Pete playing a uke and singing with innocence as if serenading a girlfriend in the moonlight.

"I like every minute of the day..."

It's personal and from the heart, a fresh Who sound devoid of excess, and it allowed the band to find a spot to stand their ground during a difficult period. In some ways the album compares well to "American Beauty" by the Grateful Dead. It was a departure with a somewhat sparser semi-acoustic sound than the band was known for, yet the songwriting and arrangements were among the band's finest. "American Beauty" found more acceptance, perhaps because a large part of The Who audience wasn't ready to tone down the party yet, but "By Numbers" is an album which decades later holds up better than most Who works. It was Townshend finding the perfect overlap between a more mature body of work while still firmly in what I see as his most creative period. Eventually all rockers grow up and release more mature works, but usually by that time the real spark and stardust has been replaced by a more boring middle aged "career sound." There's nothing boring or phoned-in about the ironically titled "By Numbers." I find the material here more compelling than Who's Next or Tommy and would place it behind only Quadrophenia if ranking their albums. Solid 4 stars, maybe a bit more.

Review by Warthur
2 stars After producing a string of influential hit albums, nobody could begrudge The Who the opportunity to kick back a bit and just play some straightforward rock numbers - especially considering that lead songwriter Pete Townshend was mired in alcoholism and, if songs like How Many Friends are anything to go by, mired in depression with it. A few more upbeat numbers like Squeeze Box mix up the pace a bit but there's no changing the fact that The Who By Numbers is exactly what it says on the cover: the band going through the motions for the sake of getting new product out there. Sadly, it would seem that the high points of Who's Next and Quadrophenia represented a peak the band would never be able to reclaim, and Who By Numbers is the album which made that obvious.
Review by Einsetumadur
4 stars 12.5/15P. Pete Townshend's ultimate cathartic record of perfectly crafted art rock - less bombastic than the huge Quadrophenia, but moodier and more personal - and not a bit less rewarding. And I love the sound of the drums and Townshend's unusually smoky lead guitar tone!

Admittedly, I've never been a great fan of Quadrophenia. The Dirty Jobs and The Real Me are excellent, but parts of the second LP (Sea And Sand or Drowned) somehow sound as if Townshend had been unable to cope with these lots of lyrics, ending up accompanying some of them with cliché rock power chords. Listening to the complete double LP at a stretch is a damn tough task for me, and this assessment comes from a big fan of Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans!

The Who By Numbers abandons the quasi-operatic recurrence of vocal motives and the dominating synthesizer arpeggios, but rather focusses on the radically honest expression of a rebel's grief, anger, fears and - most importantly - change in attitude towards life. The rebel is, needless to say, Pete Townshend. At that time he perceives himself as a drunkard ('and however much I booze, there ain't no way out'), unsure to which degree to believe in his social surroundings ('how many friends have I really got?', 'goodbye all you punks (...) hand me my checkbook and I'll crawl off to die'), still on spiral ways searching for freedom and self-fulfillment (in the cynical Slip Kid) and stuck in an early midlife crisis ('I'm too old to give up, but too young to rest') - and this rebel wears his heart on his sleeve.

I know that the term 'emotional authenticity' is often used in reviews to embellish a lack of substance, but this album drives all the way through chords and melodies which are so inspired that I actually forget to analyse it to pieces while listening to it. Slip Kid is motored by a rattling and shuffling rock groove (including cowbell, clapping and shakers) and stomps along to Roger Daltrey's ferocious shouting, concise four-part backing vocals by Townshend in the chorus and Nicky Hopkins' rolling piano playing. The whole atmosphere seems to me like a slowed-down answer to Deep Purple's Chasing Shadows until the brief and unexpectedly artsy middle part creeps in with classicistic piano patterns and quietly fading guitar chords, always staying on that hypnotic drum groove.

Imagine A Man defines another angle of Townshend's interests, namely balladesque folk music, which previously had been hinted at in songs like the droning The Good's Gone and the intricately picked Sunrise. Indeed, Daltrey's heavenly rising vocal lines and the shimmering acoustic guitar arpeggios seem to echo III-era Led Zeppelin or even early Pentangle, but Townshend manages to make the number completely his own without turning it over to genuine British folk territories. Keith Moon, who pauses during the first three quarters of the song, enhances the ending of the song a lot with some powerful but unobstrusive drum fills. Furthermore Nicky Hopkins' piano and John Entwhistle's playful bass lines entangle Townshend's acoustic guitar, which results in a beautiful carpet of sound. And the choice of words in the verses imagine a girl (...) [with a] body of chalky perfection and truth has fascinated me since I first took notice of that.

How Many Friends is another immaculate rock song. It feels as if the massive sustain of the continuously soaring lead guitar is just a few degrees away from total amp feedback while John Entwhistle drives through incredibly busy bass lines much like a lead (bass) guitarist. And not only guitars are quite fuller and rounder than on Quadrophenia, but also the drum sound. The snare is sweetly balanced in the mid-range frequencies, the metal snares are audible as a relatively low rattling and the decay time is increased compared with the previous album. The thunderous punch of the toms and the crash cymbal ably compensates the delicacy of the snare mix and, well, simply get this album if you want to listen to the playing of a tamed and refined Keith Moon who was in top form at that time, arguably even more concise than ever before.

Squeeze Box, a playful rock'n'roller which doesn't get a bit of its famous sexual innuendo until the middle 8, could have become a less essential tune on By Numbers. But this time it's Pete Townshend who saves the song with some sublime twangy country licks and proficient multi-instrumentalist work on banjo and accordeon. The slightly droning 'in and out', including fine vocal interplay between Daltrey and Townshend, is also kind of an unorthodox choice for a song like this. An absolutely good little ditty it has become, similar in its humour to earlier pieces like I'm A Boy or Tattoo, and I like it a lot. (At this point I may mention that Townshend demoed most of the The Who songs at home before the sessions, playing drums/keyboards/guitars/vocals/FX himself. How good these demos already sound is further proof that this man is one of the great creative minds of rock music!)

Blue Red And Grey is kind of an oddity as the only completely unplugged piece in the The Who discography. As an untypically positive piece of singer/songwriter-style chanson, however, it is a most welcome addition to the album. First of all it's a Townshend-Entwhistle duo piece; Keith Moon and Roger Daltrey didn't participate in the session whilst Townshend plays the ukulele and sings and John Entwhistle - having received classical training on trumpet and horns - provides a calm multi-tracked brass band backing which arguably is the most quintessentially British thing this band ever tracked. Pete Townshend, equipped with a nasal but tender and reliable voice, wonders why people tend to find a fly in the ointment instead of simply enjoying themselves. Townshend already raised the question of contentment and inner peace during the Lifehouse Project, searching for music which sums up the essence of certain persons, but never before you could listen to a Pete Townshend of such an even temper.

However Much I Booze, the second Townshend-sung song on By Numbers, begins similarly positive, but leads into a slower and reflective stanza part after its upbeat intro riff. Actually, the riff doesn't make you feel good anymore after the 5 minutes because it's so fast-paced and restless. But that's what the song is actually about: a pretty chastening analysis of Townshend's constitution at that time, and that's what also made Roger Daltrey make Townshend sing this one on the record. He describes himself as a faker, a liar, an alcoholic, a person who is locked in destructive habits and distracting behaviors. Unlike many other rock songs this piece gets by aptly over the five minutes with just a handful of chords, thanks to the effortlessly fitting melody, a set of well-coordinated guitar tracks and a spine-tingling middle 8 at around 2:44 which in its slow tempo appears like a period of exhaustion after the manic verses.

They're All In Love is on the first sight a pretty casual ballad in 6/8 time, and it's the stable and empathic band interplay which lifts this song to a higher level. For example, listen to how Roger Daltrey sings the first verse: his voice is deliberately frail and he stretches the syllables, at least until the second stanza in which the voice becomes angrier and more biting. Keith Moon is in top form again, too, he sports an inventive fill at any suitable place and provides extra brilliance with the high-frequent chiming of the ride cymbal. Nicky Hopkins' piano is perfectly embedded in the mix and comes up with a lovely instrumental part around 1:31-2:10 which, after some soft vocal sheets by a multi-tracked Townshend voices, initiates the anthemic last part of the song which I have already quoted from in the second paragraph of the review. The denunciation of the punk rebellion as a possible source of commercial input is still a 'problem' in the current scene, as recent debates about the punk pop of Green Day prove.

John Entwhistle's Success Story is a bassy and droning rock'n'roll thing, basically describing the show business in a cynical way and with lots of quirky musical twists and turns such as an inevitable Boris The Spider-like growled verse, a glam rock middle-8 and Pete Townshend's interesting vocal cascades before the stanzas. And these few sung words seem to be the only thing Pete Townshend contributes to this piece because the piece is Entwhistle's showcase of the rarely used 8-string bass guitar, which is actually the bass pendant to the 12-string guitar with its doubled, octave-tuned strings. I wouldn't mind the whole thing being called psychedelic judging by the mantraic riff which Entwhistle performs on that instrument. A pretty cool affair which totally suits the Townshend-penned rest of the album like My Wife also did on Who's Next.

Dreaming from The Waist is the most hard-rocking song on the album, driven by more high-speed bass lines, masterful guitar riffs, maniac drum bashing and Roger Daltrey roaring his soul out into the microphone. But of course the band won't rock off for four minutes without bringing in a dynamically restrained part, and this 'dreaming' part enters first at 1:25 and is revisited once or twice during the course of the song. Not a lot more to say about this song, except for that it is as damn good as any other one on the album.

The rousing In A Hand or A Face is a further revisitation of the band's sound of the late 1960s and an incredibly intelligent way to finish this record. It took me lots of listens to take note of how the song transforms the slightly atonal Tommyesque 'round and round' chorus to a more hymnal affair simply by changing the chords a little bit. In the end, the chords modulate back to the grittier version of the chorus - I don't know why - but it's that catchy hymnal part which sticks to your mind. The result of that little twist? The album temporarily ends on a positive note. But it doesn't open out in some kind of cognition or resolution, but in an ecstatic feel of vertigo - but a vertigo which, propelled by an energetic and recognisable guitar riff, seemingly doesn't only feel endurable, but even enjoyable.

All in all there's not much I can criticise about this album, but rather so many things which functioned absolutely well. And this also includes the rewarding booklet of the reissue with new liner notes to each song, lots of photos and a running text about the complete album - plus a set of three live bonus tracks in perfect sound quality. Among them you find a mighty version of the classic track Behind Blue Eyes with thunderous bass lines both in the ballad and in the rock part and Townshend, Daltrey and Entwhistle singing some gruff, but beautiful harmonies together. The two By Numbers tracks stay true to the original, but have some of the slender sophistication of arrangement replaced by some more vigour and strength much like we know it from Live At Leeds. The big advantage of the original album is that everything on this pretty hard-rocking mélange is thoroughly stripped of all pretentiousness and pop appeal, and not many of the mid-1970s hard rock bands managed to replaced the shallow toughness and masculinity of the hard rock genre that consequently with honesty, introspection and admissions of faultiness. The lyrics are a treat, each piece has at least one delicately arranged part which is totally different to the rest of the piece, and every music listener who enjoys rock music which rewards concentrated listens with new insights should enjoy this album at least half as much as I do. I'm sure that this album isn't the reason why this band was added to this website, but I wholeheartedly give it a good 4-star rating - and I dump the few rating percents not because it's not enough prog or because I don't like a song or two, but (irrationally) because it feels more equitable. Buy it anyway!

Review by Guillermo
4 stars Well. It seems that by 1975 THE WHO had to record another studio album having worked a lot since the release of their "Quadrophenia" album and the tours to promote it between 1973 and 1974. Bands worked hard in those years. They were expected to release studio albums each year and to do tours to promote them. In 1974, the band also participated in the "Tommy" film and also recorded a soundtrack album for that film version with guest musicians too. All the members of the band (including Keith Moon) have recorded some solo albums until then too. So, by 1975 they had to record another studio album as a band which became "The Who by Numbers". By that time, Pete Townshend, the main songwriter in the band, was having a hard time trying to write songs for this album, saying that the band practically recorded all the songs he wrote for this album. And this album is just another album without a concept or without being another Rock Opera. It is just a collection of songs with mostly introspective lyrics which have relation to Townshend`s `personal experiences at that time. So, the songs are very personal but very good anyway, despite most of them are really not showing "happy feelings". But the album as a whole in fact is very good.

John Entwistle also wrote one song for this album, the rocker "Success Story", which also is one of the best from this album and it also has some humour in the lyrics. And not all the songs which were composed by Townshend are introspective, because "Squeeze Box" is also a song with some humour in the lyrics. But for the most part, the songs are introspective. In six of the ten songs from this album the piano parts were played very well by the very good and famous late session musician Nicky Hopkins, who also worked with the band in "Who`s Next" in 1971.

The best songs from this album are "Success Story" (with very good bass guitar playing by Entwistle), "Squeeze Box", "Imagine a Man", "They are all in Love" and "How Many Friends". "However Much I Booze" is so personal that it was sung by Townshend and not by Roger Daltrey, who wanted to distance himself from the content of the lyrics. Keith Moon`s drums playing is very good in this album, and as a whole the band still was playing very well. So, as a whole this album, while being very introspective in most of the lyrics from the songs, still is very enjoyable.

The cover design was done by John Entwistle. Some people don`t like it, but I think that the cover design is very good and very original.

Latest members reviews

4 stars The Who By Numbers is a charming album. It is known to be the band's most personal and you can hear they've matured somewhat, sometimes revealing a cynical side which is interesting. On the whole, Pete Townsend's most gorgeous and inspiring melodies are here, providing a consistently solid, enjoyabl ... (read more)

Report this review (#753054) | Posted by Frankie Flowers | Monday, May 14, 2012 | Review Permanlink

3 stars First of all, let me say how much I CANNOT stand "Squeeze Box". From the time I first heard it to now, it has never ceased to annoy me. Probably my least favorite Who song. However, the album it is taken from, BY NUMBERS, is an interesting piece of work. It is far from being the concept greatn ... (read more)

Report this review (#440023) | Posted by mohaveman | Thursday, April 28, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is certainly an anomaly in The Who's recording output. Since A Quick One While He's Away there had been a gradual development in sound, experimentation in material and conceptual ideas, and well simply maturity. The first attempts at artistic flair came on The Who Sell out, where the group a ... (read more)

Report this review (#289443) | Posted by mr.cub | Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars "The Who By Numbers" is absolutely the most deep and reflective album by The Who. Sadly, at the time, the audience reaction to the album was pretty cold, due to its expectations for something more aggressive and nearer to what "Who's Next" had been. The release is not apparently a concept album, ... (read more)

Report this review (#261168) | Posted by Malve87 | Saturday, January 16, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I think age is a very high price to pay for maturity (Tom Stoppard) We should perhaps be eternally thankful that the young Pete Townshend overreached himself so spectacularly on both Tommy and Quadrophenia as the Who's legacy, richer in so many other neglected areas, rests stubbornly upon th ... (read more)

Report this review (#203975) | Posted by ExittheLemming | Sunday, February 22, 2009 | Review Permanlink

3 stars One of the more little known WHO albums from the 70's this one. Many more casual fans, dont even know about this one. Following the 3 hugely succesful studio albums, expectations were probably high and the pressure on to produce a mastepiece. Sadly this one just didnt follow suit. Townsend has a ... (read more)

Report this review (#130058) | Posted by kingdhansak | Tuesday, July 24, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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