Little did I know when I posted this on April 12, 2006, that exactly eight years later I would be going to see Simon Townshend — whom I had just interviewed for The Somerville Times — at Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA.
For many, the end of the 60s came with the break-up of The Beatles in April 1970. For others, it came shortly before that, at the disastrous Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969. Or, in the political world, it may have occurred in 1968 – which author Jules Witcover called “The Year the Dream Died” – with the election of Richard Nixon.
But whether it was marked by a musical event or a political event, the fact is that at some point the glorious 1960s ended, and not simply by virtue of the fact that it eventually became the 1970s. The 60s were defined as much by attitude as they were a calendar.
Released in 1971, Who’sNext was Pete Townshend’s farewell to the previous decade, and all that it encapsulated. 26 years of age when the record was released, Townshend had survived the first five years of his band’s career with both massive popularity and the accompanying scars to show for it. Who’s Next sounds like the result of a songwriter who had taken stock of his life and the world around him, and in doing so, cleared his mind and soul enough to make his greatest album to date, and probably of his entire career, even 35 years on.
And while it was initially intended to be an ambitious concept album like Tommy and Quadrophenia, the finished product ended up achieving an epic scope at least as great as its predecessor and successor.
The most obvious eulogies for the 60s come at the very beginning and very end of the record. While just two years earlier The Who was rocking Woodstock, the disc’s opening track “Baba O’Riley” finds them surveying the wreckage of a “teenage wasteland.” Such a masterful phrase brings to mind unmistakable images of the site of a cultural milestone which had probably not yet recovered from from the event which was a generation’s last hurrah.
On the other end of the record, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is more straightforward in its recognition of the end of an era. The new boss – Nixon – is the same as the old boss – Johnson, and the parting on the (political) left is now parting on the (political) right. Yet there is still hope, and thus the prayers that “we don’t get fooled” again. (Yeah, I know that I am focusing on events in America, but if only Pete Townshend knew at the time what awaited the US in the 1970s.)
In between these bookends, Townshend seems to be putting himself together emotionally – “getting in tune,” as he might say – with some of his very best songs as the result. The fact that Roger Daltrey never sounded better certainly doesn’t hurt. (I mean really, who knew the guy could sing so well?) These songs are divided between straight-ahead rock songs and slower ballads, the latter featuring the always superb piano work of – who else? – Nicky Hopkins. Bassist John Entwistle also contributes his morbid black humor on the genuinely great song “My Wife.”
“Going Mobile” also references the ethos of the previous decade, with its wah-wah guitar solo and its air-conditioned hippie gypsy protagonist. I am guessing that Townshend may have had his tongue in his cheek when he wrote this one. Then there is “Behind Blue Eyes,” a virtuoso performance by Townshend and Daltrey, with the latter flawlessly capturing every iota of the former’s vulnerability and anger, and probably tossing in a bit of his own while he was at it.
This song and the equally beautiful “The Song Is Over” are the most plaintive songs in the band’s repertoire. “Bargain” and “Love Ain’t For Keepin’,” meanwhile, are classic Who rock songs.
Who’s Next tamed and perfected the elements that had made The Who one of the greatest and most popular bands of the 60s. Without being the lead vocalist, Pete Townshend proved himself to be as capable of composing in the singer/songwriter mode as any of those who were famous for doing both.
Roger Daltrey, as mentioned, sounds spectacular, and more like a great singer than he ever did. (Not that he ever sounded bad, but here….whoa.)
John Entwistle and Keith Moon
Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon, who made up The Who’s infamously combustible rhythm section, keep themselves finely in check on this record, and earn their spurs by being more musical, rather than more rackety, than ever. In short, each member of the band emerged sounding like rock ‘n roll musicians, rather than rock ‘n roll players. And lyrically, one should obviously not take Townshend seriously when he claims, on “Getting In Tune,” that he “can’t pretend there’s any meaning hidden in the things I’m saying.” This is a classic rock CD that you will continue to appreciate long after you have outgrown classic rock.
The Who would create five more records over the next decade of their career, each, alas, bringing diminishing returns. After breaking up in 1982, they would eventually come together solely for the sake of lucrative tours.
But perhaps such tours are the band’s reward for being a great singles band (“Substitute,” I Can’t Explain”), albums band (The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Quadrophenia), and one of the loudest and most influential rock groups ever. Who’s Next will forever survive as a testament to everything that was great about this band.
(Having said all this, however, I am still a bigger fan of The Kinks, who were — as Pete and Roger themselves have acknowledged — a major influence on The Who. Too bad that there will never be any chance for them to charge $200 per ticket.)
Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone, left, and keyboardist Rod Argent
When keyboardist and songwriter Rod Argent was in his 19th year of life (1964), his band The Zombies charted two top 10 singles: “She’s Not There” (#2) and “Tell Her No” (#6). When he was 23, The Zombies hit #3 with “Time of the Season” despite having split a year-and-a-half earlier.
Although the band was dead, its popularity was still very much alive.
If you haven’t heard any of the aforementioned Zombies songs, which is impossible, then maybe you remember “The Way I Feel Inside” from the movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
No? Well then you’ve heard Rod Argent playing piano on the theme to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Rod Argent and his longtime bandmate Colin Blunstone will be undead only in the sense of being very much alive when the current incarnation of The Zombies creeps into the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Sunday. Argent spoke with me about his life and career, past and present.
When did you and Colin Blunstone decide to start working together again?
We got back together again because in 1999, I did a charity concert for a jazz musician friend of mine called John Dankworth, who was building a new theater and was trying to raise money for it. Colin was in the audience, and he come [sic] up and just sang on the spur of the moment “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There.” We had such a ball going it that afterwards he said, “Why don’t we just put six gigs together for fun?”
So we put a fabulous band together, and it was so nice that, completely unplanned, that has turned into 13 years of touring around the world. No planning at all. It just grew to that, which is extraordinary.
Was the audience expecting it? What was the reaction?
Oh, they loved it, they really did. And it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and they absolutely loved it.
It’s got to the stage now where it’s very important to us to actually get excited about new material. For the last album [2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In] to get really great reviews both in the US – people like Huffington Post – and in the UK was very gratifying, actually.
The young Zombies (l to r): Rod Argent, Chris White, Paul Atkinson, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy
Have there been any covers of your songs that have particularly impressed you?
I think the obvious one is the Santana version of “She’s Not There,” which I thought was absolutely great. And that completely knocked me out because I’ve always loved Santana, and the fact that that song brought them back to Hit Parade status, chart status, again after quite a few years without a hit gave me a kick.
Dusty Springfield did a version of one of my songs called “If It Don’t Work Out,” which I thought was terrific as well, on the Everything’s Coming Up Dusty album. I wrote it for her. We were on tour with her in the UK. At the end of one week she said to me, “Would you write me a song?” And I wrote it that weekend and played it to her. She loved it. It turned out to be the first track on the album but it was never a single.
Is it true that you had difficulty entering the United States back in the early days of The Zombies?
Oh yeah. The unionization of the music business in the States was enormous at the time. It was extremely difficult to come over, and it had to be in exchange for other musicians. I know one point we came in exchange for Duke Ellington who was really – is still – one of my heroes, actually. I thought that was amazing.
When did it sink in that Odessey and Oracle (1968) was considered to be a classic in some circles?
It started about 12, 13 or 14 years after it came out. People started to talk about it, and it gathered momentum.
Paul Weller, when he was #1 with The Jam and the punk explosion, completely floored us by saying that it was his favorite album of all time.
About a week ago he was on Radio 4, which is a pretty up-market radio station in the UK. He was talking about Odessey and Oracle and he said the same thing again, and he played “Beechwood Park” from it. That was really nice.
And many people started saying similar things about it – emerging artists and well-known artists. Tom Petty wrote in the Zombies box set (Zombie Heaven) that if The Zombies were around today, they’d rule the world, or something really, really nice.
Dave Grohl, from the Foo Fighters, last year on a Scandinavian television show was asked, “What is the track that changed your life?” And he thought about it and he chose “Care of Cell 44” from Odessey and Oracle.
It goes on and on. The Vaccines, who are a very hot teenage indie band in the UK, last year made a 45-second video on the Net saying that it was their favorite album.
How large does the legacy of your post-Zombies band Argent loom?
We always play “Hold Your Head Up,” and that’s a really highlight of the set, actually. The majority of that song was written by Chris White, the bass player for The Zombies, who became sort of a silent member of Argent, in the sense of being a co-producer and a co-writer. He actually wrote “Hold Your Head Up” out of an idea from when he heard us playing a version of “Time of the Season.” We played a sort of experimental version of “Time of the Season” and took it into a different improvised area. He was in the audience and loved what he was hearing and wrote a song around it. That song became “Hold Your Head Up.” It has a real link with “Time of the Season.”
Al Kooper, who was a vocal champion Odessey and Oracle when CBS Records wanted to pass on it, lives in Somerville, a town next to Arlington. Will you be seeing him while you are in town?
Very possibly. He supported us about a week ago in Philadelphia. It was the first time that we ever played together. It was lovely seeing him, and he said that might well be coming up to the Arlington show.
Without Al, [Odessey and Oracle] wouldn’t have been known by anybody. He took it to Clive Davis and said, “Whoever’s got this album, you’ve got to buy it and release it.” [CBS president] Clive Davis said, “Well we’ve got it, but we passed on it already.” [laughs] Al said, “Well you can’t. You have to put it out.”
So he had everything to do with that album coming out.