Ambition and enthusiasm are great things, but sometimes you need to understand your limitations. Since The Who had released the cracking concept double album Tommy, Pete Townshend had come up with his next big idea for the next Who album, but he was unable to explain it properly to his band mates and other interested parties. Undeterred, Townshend pressed on developing what he called Lifehouse, a mind-bogglingly complex slab of science fiction concept that he had convinced himself was going to be the biggest thing ever. Yet as good as they idea was, he never really had the ability to share his vision, and eventually he was convinced by everyone else concerned that it was probably best to just record the best songs he had prepared for the project as a straight-ahead rock album and throw the storyline out. Goodbye Lifehouse, hello Who’s Next.
Despite its difficult and convoluted beginnings, Who’s Next was The Who’s most direct and streamlined album to date, and as such is packed with classic material by the band. With Townshend was at his peak as a writer and the whole band at a live performance peak. Townshend’s disappointment at failing to get his pert project of the ground aside, confidence levels were high after the success of Tommy, as the band had matured as musicians and the songs weren’t being compromised by trying to fit them into a storyline.
Who’s Next starts off with one of the band’s best numbers, the splendid “Baba O’Riley”, with it’s hypnotic synth opening and tales of teenage wasteland. Then there runs a rich seam of great rock songs through the centre of the album, the best of which are Entwistle’s brilliant “My Wife”, and the fan-favourite “Behind Blue Eyes”. The album ends the same way it began, with one of The Who’s all time great numbers, the towering “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, an eight and a half minute epic which condenses everything that’s great about The Who into its run time.
Who’s Next is nine tracks of prime period Who, and along with Tommy, would remain the pinnacle of the band’s career, regardless of what the misty-eyed fans of Quadrophenia would try and tell you. It demonstrates what a great rock band The Who could be, particularly when they ditched the convoluted concepts and just concentrated on individual songs. Sure, there are those that will bellyache about it not being true to Townshend’s original vision, but those folk can listen to the version of Lifehouse that was finally released in 2000 under Townshend’s own name and lasts for over six hours. For those of who don’t have the luxury of that amount of time on our hands, Who’s Next is a great rock and roll album and the best album to start with for a newcomer to the band.