Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"They All Played Lead"


I've just finished two of the three discs of a collection called "Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who." It brought me back to my otherwise uneventful teenage years and made me fall in love once again with the band that was always competing for the position of "my favorite" between the ages of 12 and 18 (usually against... shock of shocks... Led Zeppelin).

Insights from this documentary:

- The Who were originally called The Detours, and in the original lineup, Pete played rhythm and Roger played lead. (That is the single most shocking fact of the series.)

- More sad drummer stories... the original drummer was nixed for Keith Moon, and Moon's posthumous replacement, Kenny Jones, still seems utterly depressed over his experience. "There will only ever be one drummer for The Who," he says. "Well there you go."

- The Who were filmed very early (and with shockingly good quality) in their career, because their management team wanted to document how well they could take a band from obscurity to stardom. In this early era, Roger Daltrey idolized Elvis and sang like a tired old black man (his words, not mine).

- Another case of the primary songwriter becoming engrossed in a form of eastern transcendentalism. In Townshend's case, he never even met his mentor, Meher Baba... a man who didn't speak for the last 44 years of his life.

Disc Two features the likes of The Edge, Eddie Vedder and others diagnosing the musical prowess of each band member. Excellent insights include:

- Moon did many things no other drummer had done before (besides filling his bass drum with explosives and taking elephant tranquilizers). Most drummers hit the kick drum with their right foot (if they're right-footed), and then if they want to add accents with a second kick drum, do so with their left foot. Moon used the right kick on 1 and 3, but then switched that function to his left foot to hit accents using his right. A knowledgeable drummer likened this to a guitarist flipping his guitar in mid-solo and playing left-handed.

- Entwhistle was just plain sick. This has been well-documented and requires no further comment.

- Daltrey didn't come into his own until "Tommy," when he decided to take on the role of Tommy himself... which changed his singing style.

- Townshend was (and is) a far more versatile guitarist than I had realized. As Edge points out, his acoustic playing was heavily influenced by flamenco, which makes sense now that I think of it. He is said to have invented the "crash chord," which is a term I had never heard before. When his brother Simon explains how Pete took out the third in many chords, I thought, "That's called a power chord, and it was invented by Dave Davies."

- Speaking of Dave Davies, there's a moment where Roger speaks a little arrogantly about how The Who took songs in different directions than bands like The Kinks. Minutes later, as the film lauds the originality of "My Generation," I realized that Townshend's riff is the same two major chords as "You Really Got Me," just played in a different rhythm... one year later.

But the best insight of all comes from Noel Gallagher, who points out that, "They all played lead, didn't they? Pete played lead guitar, but there you had John playing lead bass, Keith playing lead drums, and Roger singing lead vocals."

That style shouldn't work on any level, especially with four musicians competing against each other to fill every space. But with The Who, it did work. Somehow, it most definitely did.

7 comments:

Mike said...

I've always loved The Who. Your assessment hits it right on the head: They all played lead.

"Who's Next" is a masterpiece, but "Quadrophenia" is vastly more satisfying than "Tommy."

Re: ripoffs of The Kinks...well, who didn't back then?

And....discuss.

Marc Conklin said...

I wholeheartedly agree on Quadrophenia vs. Tommy. I've never been a huge Tommy fan, but I'm willing to give it another go after watching the DVD. An underappreciated album is "Sell Out," which is friggin' brilliant. And I've always had a soft spot for Who Are You, which doesn't have a bad song on it.

mike said...

Also Townsend started out strong in solo work: "All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes" "Empty Glass" and one of my favs, "White City." The guy's a freakin' genius.

Anonymous said...

For me the best bit in the Who doc is Noel Gallagher mimicing Entwhistle's bass solo from "My Generation" and declaring w/the sort of insouciance only a British rock star can muster, "Brilliant that, put it on on your tombstone, yeah?"
DK

Vegas Gopher said...

No surprise that you put the Who up against Zeppelin in your teenage pantheon of rock gods. As Klosterman pointed out in "Fargo Rock City," every teenage boy goes through his Zeppelin phase, even today. The 16-year-old son of one of Kris' co-workers is currently enthralled with Mr. Plant and co. And he didn't get introduced to them through Allison Krauss, either.

The Wordman said...

>In Townshend's case, he never
>even met his mentor, Meher Baba...

is that why he thought his last name was O'Riley?

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