on December 31, 2001
In 1965-1966, mainstream rock-pop in England (non-mainstream rock was already forming in the US, in the form of still unknown bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane) was taking a very steady course; The Beatles, more or less alone at the top, were leading and creating the mainstream, slowly leading it into new realms. The Rolling Stones, always one step behind them (having pretty much abandoned the bluesy attitude of their first releases and not yet found their own sound; that would only happen in 1968-69), always trying to out-do the Beatles. And dozens of other bands, slowly dragging behind them.
It's obvious to me from this very first album that The Who, despite the appearence of the album cover and its dry, meaningless title, were never a mainstream group, never Beatles or Stones imitators. True, they did have enormous commercial success from the very beginning; but they somehow managed to remain in and out of mainstream at the same time, recording mass-selling singles which were bound to sell the albums as well, no matter how sophisticated and experimental the albums really were. Of the songs on this first album, of the three singles released, two - The Kids Are Alright and La La Lies - were quite msinstreamly Beatle-esque, and therefore sold well; the third, My Generation, one of the Who's most brilliant songs, is an oddity, and I'm not sure how it became such a huge hit as early as 1965. It did, though, and good for them. The Who were never a pop group, despite what their second album, 'A Quick One', may suggest. Their semi-mainstream persona opened the way to many other important musical phenomenas; Punk, Grunge and Alternative rock are all part of The Who's legacy. No wonder their music was so often covered in concerts by bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
The Who were more mature in their music and lyrics than most English pop bands of the 60s, and Pete Townshend was in every aspect a professional songwriter, as much as he was one of the most creative guitar-players of his time, even if not the best techniqually. And while I'm on the subject: instrumentally, The Who were the very best, their only competition in England being the legendary Cream. Roger Daltrey had one of the best recognizable, most imitated voices in rock; Keith Moon's fierce, violent drumming is by far the best in that time, and had influenced all rock drummers who came after him, including Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Mitch Mitchell and the Muppets' Animal (and I'm certain that Keith is the direct inspiration to Animal's character); and John Entewistle, who remains the finest bass player in rock history, supplying some of the most amazing bass-solos I've ever heard. Note that throughout their career, The Who maintained their four-man lineup almost religiously. The Stones were a six-man band from the very beginning, and The Beatles were always happy to bring in guest musicians, whether it's a flute or trumpet player, a string quartet or an entire orchestra. The Who were always very purist in their instrumentation, though the sounds they could make with these instruments were truly astonishing. Though the Beatles were and remain my favorite band, the Who were, basically, much more of a rock band (and much more of a band, really.)
The Who's debut album is an incredible, energetic masterpiece of a rock album, with several songs that are amazing in their experimentations and original sound and techniques. Most notable are 'Out In The Street', with Pete's odd guitar experiments, making pretty much every sound possible with a guitar (including smashing and breaking, of course); 'It's Not True', a fantastic typical example of Pete's witty, sharp songwriting; 'Instant Party (Circles)', a superb, semi-progressive song, introducing John Entwistle's trademark french horn; and 'The Ox', a big, impressive instrumenal segment the likes of which no other band at the time could make.
Whether or not this is The Who's best album it's impossible to determine. True, it's not as comlex and polished as Tommy or Quadrophenia, and it's not half as clever as the wonderful 'The Who Sell Out'; but it certainly has a magic of its own, more than the debut album of any other band of the Who's generation. A timeless classic, an essential CD.