Welcome back to another list for Top “Ten” Tuesday with my most ambitious list so far. Today is Pete Townshend’s 75th birthday, and I wanted to do something special for it seeing The Who is one of my favorite bands.
The Who is an English rock band formed in London in 1964. They developed from an earlier group known as The Detours consisting of Colin Dawson, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Harry Wilson. In 1962, Pete Townshend added the lineup on lead guitar and Doug Sandom replaced Wilson on drums. In January of 1963, Gabby Connolly replaced Dawson on lead vocals only to leave by December of that same year. In April 1964, Keith Moon replaced Sandom on drums and gave us our final lineup until September of 1978. The name was changed from The Detours to The Who. They established themselves as part of the pop art and mod movements, featuring auto-destructive art by destroying guitars and drums on stage. They had a string of UK Top 10 singles when they were first starting out finally getting their first Top 10 single in the US in 1967. In 1969, the band created their first rock opera, Tommy, an album that tells the story of a blind and deaf boy and his various trials in his life. Townshend wrote a follow-up rock opera to Tommy known as Lifehouse, but the idea was abandoned. Some songs, themes, and ideas were carried over into their next three albums, Who’s Next in 1971, Quadrophenia, their second rock opera released in 1973, and The Who By Numbers in 1975.
They continued touring for large audiences, while at the same time overseeing the film adaptation to Tommy. They semi-retired from live performances at the end of 1976. Who Are You was released in August 1978, but the album was overshadowed by the death of Keith Moon only three weeks after the album’s release.
Kenney Jones of The Faces replaced Moon as their new drummer. With Jones, the band released a film adaptation of Quadrophenia and a retrospective documentary, The Kids Are Alright. The band released two more albums, Face Dances in 1981 and It’s Hard in 1982. Townshend became weary of touring and the group split in 1983, though did reunite for a few live performances including Live Aid in 1985, a 25th anniversary tour in 1989 and a tour of Quadrophenia in 1996-1997. They resumed regular touring in 1999 with Zak Starkey on drums (son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr). In 2002, John Entwistle died which delayed their plans of a new album. Townshend and Daltrey continued as The Who and released Endless Wire in 2006 and continued to play regularly with Starkey and Pino Palladino, their bass player from 2006-2017, and Jon Button their current bass player. The band is sometimes joined by Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother as a touring guitarist. In 2019, they toured with a complete symphony orchestra that supported the release of their twelfth album, Who (I sadly haven’t gotten a chance to listen to this yet).
The Who has been around for 56 years so far and are very important to me. That is why I wanted to make this list. This list will broken into two sections, so come back next week for the second half. This list is the first half of my Top 50 Who Songs, covering songs 50-26.
#50-Black Widow’s Eyes-Endless Wire
Endless Wire is a good album and I wanted to still include something from it however while the songs are good, they don’t hold up to their albums they’ve released 1982 and back. I would say ‘Black Widow’s Eyes’ is my favorite off this album. Other songs I recommend from this album would be the second half of the album that forms the ‘Wire & Glass: A Mini-Opera’ medley.
#49-Slip Kid-The Who By Numbers
This is the opening track to their 1975 album. The song was originally written as a warning about the music business, though Townshend has pointed out the song’s relevance in different contexts including complaints about how it is impossible to avoid responsibility.
#48-Armenia in the Sky-The Who Sell Out
The song starts off with brass blaring while a robotic voice says the days of the week before the music jumps in. This is the only song on the album not written by a member of the band, instead written by a friend of the band Speedy Keen, who sings co-vocals with Daltrey. The song is incredibly psychedelic with backwards guitars, raga drones, feedback, and backward horns. This track starts off the 1967 concept album of a pirate radio station called Radio London.
#47-The Quiet One-Face Dances
A great song written and sang by John Entwistle. This song starts off with a great guitar riff that launches the song. The song is the B-side to the album’s first single, ‘You Better You Bet’ (See #39). The song reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100, #1 on the Billboard Top (Rock) Tracks, and #9 in the UK. The song was written to replace ‘My Wife’ from Who’s Next as he got tired of singing that and ‘Boris the Spider’ and was looking to replace one of them with a new song.
#46-Boris the Spider-A Quick One
Speaking of ‘Boris the Spider’ here’s another great John Entwistle song, a single from the band’s second album, which is claimed to be Entwistle’s first composition. Entwistle wrote the song after going out drinking with Rolling Stones’ bassist Bill Wyman. They were making up funny names for animals when Entwistle came up with naming a spider Boris. The song was written in six minutes and is considered a horror song. Entwistle sings the chorus in basso profundo mimicking the Spike Milligan character, Throat, from The Goon Show. During the middle eight section, the “creepy crawly” part was sung in falsetto.
This is the opening track for their 1982 album. The song was originally going to be called ‘Theresa’, written for the actress Theresa Russell after seeing Pink Floyd perform The Wall with her and Bill Minkin, Townshend was rejected by the actress when he attempted to romance her. Townshend said, “The song was written after I had been to see The Wall with my friend Bill Minkin and the actress Theresa Russell who was about to marry the film director Nic Roeg with whom I hoped to work on a new version of Lifehouse. I got drunk as usual, but I had taken my first line of cocaine that very evening before meeting her and decided I was in love. When I came to do the vocal on the following day [Feb. 15, 1980] I was really out of my mind with frustration and grief because she didn’t reciprocate.” Despite the name change, Townshend felt it was too personal, claiming, “it was just too revealing.” Daltrey however disliked the song for this change. He said, “No, I never liked that song. It’s a great record. I think what happened with that song, it was originally called “Theresa” and then Pete was talking to me about Nic Roeg’s girlfriend and how he fancied her, and that song was written about her – but then it changed into ‘She’s a bomb’ and I think I’ve got a psychological problem with it. I listened to it on the record the other day, and it’s a great record; there’s so much energy on that thing but I still don’t think there’s a center to that song. The fact that he changed the title in that and didn’t stick to what it was supposed to be lost its center to me.” The song saw moderate success reaching #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US reached #40 on the UK Singles Chart. This is also the band’s last UK and US Top 40 single.
#44-Cache Cache-Face Dances
One of only two songs from the album never performed live, along with ‘You’. The song is catchy with Townshend and Entwistle backing up Daltrey with “Whoa”. It’s a great track that needs more recognition.
#43-Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands-The Who Sell Out
The song is a typical pop song about a pretty girl, but doesn’t describe how she’s pretty rather focusing on her hand tremor. The reason why her hands shake is not clear but a lot of people have interpreted the lyrics to be of sexual nature, “What they’ve done to a man, those shaky hands.” The melody was described by Allmusic’s Mark Deming as “charming” and “a tune you couldn’t forget if you tried.” The song ends with a radio commercial advertising “Premier Drums” before moving on to the next song on the concept album.
A great acoustic song from the band’s first rock opera, backed with piano. The song in context of the album is after Tommy regained his senses and realizes who he is. The song was based on a sexual attraction that Townshend had to a fellow Baba follower in Australia but he changed the song to fit the context of the album. It’s a great, short song but even better in the context of the album.
#41-The Dirty Jobs-Quadrophenia
A great song from the band’s second rock opera. Jimmy, the main character from the album meets a couple characters stuck in dead end jobs. One person complains about his job taking care of the pigs (possibly a reference to the Prodigal Son), and the second person is a bus driver. Jimmy tells the characters that they’ve let them do this to them by not standing up for themselves.
#40-I Am the Sea/The Real Me-Quadrophenia
Still on Quadrophenia, we’re going up to the album’s opening track, beginning with waves crashing on a beach. The track sets up the theme of the album with the beach and ocean. About 30 seconds in, there is a slight whispering of the title, “I am the sea”. The track also sets up Jimmy’s four personalities, The Romantic, “Is it me, for a moment?”, followed by The Beggar, “Love Reign O’er Me”, then The Lunatic “Bell Boy” and ending with The Tough Guy. Most listeners are slowly cranking up their volumes to try to catch the subtle sounds, before the track ends with Roger asking, “Can you see the real me? Can ya? CAN YA?” Pete Townshend’s guitar is then blaring, blowing out your eardrums as ‘The Real Me’ starts! It’s a brilliant two part song beginning quiet before becoming a loud rocker.
#39-You Better You Bet-Face Dances
This is the opening track to their 1981 album. Roger Daltrey sings lead vocals with Townshend and Entwistle sing backing vocals. The song was written by Pete as a love song for his girlfriend at the time. He said, “I developed it over several weeks of clubbing and partying. I had gone through a lean period in my marriage and was seeing the daughter of a friend of mine. I wanted it to be a good song because the girl I wrote it for is one of the best people on the planet.” It became one of their most recognizable songs and reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also reached #1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart for five weeks beginning April 4, 1981. It was their last single to hit the Top Ten in the UK, at #9.
A quiet piano and acoustic guitar driven song. It was called ‘You Didn’t Hear It’ on the original MCA LP and CD pressings. Pete Townshend, reflecting on the album in later years, realized there were some years from his childhood he didn’t remember making this song a subconscious autobiography. Throughout the song, Tommy is told “You didn’t hear it” and “You didn’t see it” and Tommy would respond with “I heard it” and “I saw it” giving the song very interesting dynamics between the characters in the song. The song is about Tommy’s father who wasn’t killed in the war, comes home to find his wife with another man. Tommy’s father murders the boyfriend and then tells Tommy he didn’t see anything. The movie reverses the roles and has the boyfriend kill the father. The traumatic experience leads to Tommy withdrawing into himself, cutting out all stimulus from the outside world.
#37-Another Tricky Day-Face Dances
This was the first song of The Who I heard from the ‘80s. Townshend claims their touring keyboardist John Bundrick inspired the song. The lyrics claim there is no social crisis, saying that this so called dilemma is just another tricky day. Steve Grantley and Alan Parker, authors of the book “The Who By Numbers: The Story of The Who Through Their Music” compare this song to The Rolling Stones song ‘You Can’t Alway Get What You Want’ saying the track is “Still a pragmatic and optimistic note on which to end the album.”
#36-Pictures of Lily-Single
This is a non-album single released in 1967. It was later put on various compilation albums starting with Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. Townshend coined the term “power pop” when describing the song in a May 1967 interview with NME. The character in the song can’t sleep, so his father gives him pictures of Lily and he can sleep better. Soon he desires for Lily to be a real person instead of a photo and asks his father for an introduction. His father says Lily has been since 1929. Townshend wrote in the 2006 book “Lyrics” by Rikky Rooksby, “The idea was inspired by a picture my girlfriend had on her wall of an old Vaudeville Star-Lily Bayliss. It was an old 1920s postcard and someone had written on it ‘Here’s another picture of Lily-hope you haven’t got this one.’ It made me think that everyone had a pin-up period.” However in 2012, Townshend mentioned Lillie Langtry, the music hall star and mistress of Edward VII as the inspiration, who did die in 1929 whereas Bayliss died in 1937.
#35-Don’t Let Go the Coat-Face Dances
This song was released as the second single from Face Dances. It didn’t achieve the same success as ‘You Better You Bet’ only reaching #47 in the UK and #84 in the US but it has been released on several compilation albums, and Pete Townshend released an alternate version for his album Another Scoop. The lyrics are referring to Meher Baba who told his disciples, “hang fast to the hem of my robe,” referring to his teachings. The music has been described as having a country rock flavor with guitar work similar to that of The Pretenders.
This is one of Pete’s vocal spots on Quadrophenia and has since become a fan favorite. The song has an acoustic opening followed by the rest of the band (minus Daltrey) joining in. Pete said, “When I was a nipper I felt that the guitar was all I had. I wasn’t tough enough to be in a gang, I wasn’t good looking enough to be in with the birds, not clever enough to make it at school, not good enough on my feet to be good football player, I was a f***ing loser. I think everyone feels that way at some point. And somehow being a Mod – even though I was too old to be a Mod really – I wrote this song with that in mind. Jimmy, the hero of the story, is kinda thinking he hasn’t got much going for him but at least he’s one.”
The song was primarily inspired by the 1965 soul single ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Pete Townshend became obsessed, particularly, with the line, “Although she may be cute/she’s just a substitute” This has then led Townshend “to celebrate the word with a song all its own”. The riff came from a 1965 single by Robb Storme and The Whispers called ‘Where Is My Girl’. Townshend later recalled this while reviewing singles for the Melody Maker’s ‘Blind Date’ column. A couple things to note with this song is Entwistle plays the guitar solo. He said, “I played a Gibson SG medium scale bass with wire-wound strings. When it got to the solo, because we were recording and mixing it virtually live, I thought, yeah, this should be a bass solo, so I turned my volume up and they couldn’t mix me out, so it ended up as a bass solo.”
Here is the first song I’m bringing up from the 1971 album. The song is a love song but intended to be toward God rather than a woman. Townshend said the lyrics were influenced by Meher Baba. It’s a very popular song making it to several compilation and live albums as well as several of Townshend’s solo projects. The song starts off with acoustic guitar with a drone playing in the background. The energy picks up with Keith Moon’s drum fills and Townshend’s rhythm guitar chords before Roger Daltrey begins to sing the lyrics. Daltrey sings most of the lyrics but Townshend takes care of the middle section before leading into an ARP synthesizer solo. The song ends with more synthesizer at the foreground with drums, guitar, and bass backing it up. It’s a great piece all the way through, fully deserving of being on a “Who Greatest Songs List”.
#31-Trick of the Light-Who Are You
A great song written by John Entwistle. The song was released as the second single for the album, backed with another Entwistle song, ‘905’ but the B-Side didn’t chart. The song’s lyrics are about the fear of being inadequate in the face of prostitute. Pete Townshend described his guitar to be like a “musical Mack truck” along with a heavily dominated bass track from Entwistle (which makes sense considering he’s the one who wrote it). While I like the song, Daltrey said it was not one of his favorites who complained it went “on and on and on and on.”
#30-Magic Bus-Magic Bus: The Who on Tour
This song was supposed to be released on their debut album, but wasn’t recorded until 1968. It became one of the band’s most popular songs and has been a concert staple, although when it first came out, it only reached #26 in the UK and #25 in the US. The song features unique instruments known as claves, which is a Latin percussion instrument consisting of small wooden sticks that make a distinctive high pitched clicking noise when struck together.
#29-However Much I Booze-The Who By Numbers
This is the second track from their 1975 album. Townshend claimed that he wrote this song on the night he gave up drinking. Daltrey refused to sing this song, possibly because the song is too personal. It’s also possible that Daltrey wanted to make it clear that Townshend had the drinking problem, rather than himself. The song addresses themes of loneliness the illusion of reality within the entertainment world and Townshend’s own feuding with Daltrey. The grim subject matter is contrasted with a cheerful melody thanks to Moon’s and Entwistle’s energy.
This song starts the final “story arc” in Tommy’s story. Tommy invites his followers to come to his house so he can preach to them. The song starts off quiet as Tommy invites his new guests. About a minute and a half into the song we are greeted with a great piano and bass solo with some whispering underneath the music. A harmonica comes into the foreground leading into the next verse of Tommy inviting followers. As Tommy is preaching, someone walks up to him and says “Excuse me sir, there’s more at the time”. Townshend sings “There’s more at the door”. Tommy then says they need to make an extension that leads into to following track “Tommy’s Holiday Camp”.
Here’s another great song released as a single before being released on the Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy compilation album. The lyrics mention high profiled people in pop culture at the time including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Timothy Leary. Townshend says the song is loosely based on Divine Desperation or possibly just Desperation.
#26-The Song Is Over-Who’s Next
Our last song I’m talking about in this section of the list, is from their 1971 album. The piano at the beginning is played by Nicky Hopkins while Pete Townshend sings the first part. Once the drums kick in, so does Daltrey’s vocals. Pete Townshend said the song provides a “mixture of being sad and wistful but at the same time a high point.” The two vocals contrasting is the song’s strongest point in my opinion but Moon’s energy elevates the song to a new level too. The song was originally part of the Lifehouse project, taking place after the police invade the Lifehouse Theatre and the concert goers disappear.
What do you think of the list so far? Is your favorite song not featured yet? Don’t worry, there is a whole other half to this list so be sure to come back next week to see the rest of the list with the Top 50 Who Songs (Part 2 (1-25)). Also don’t forget to like Awesome Albums on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe on BitChute and YouTube. You don’t want to miss out on the rest of this list! I will see you next week in another Top “Ten” Tuesday.