The Who are a band that have been appraised and re-appraised constantly over the years. Consisting of Pete Townshend (lead guitar), Roger Daltry (lead vocals), John Entwistle (Bass) and Keith Moon (Drums), the band first surfaced in the mid sixties (when they were instantly and incorrectly labelled as mods) as a pop band drawing on R&B and tamla influences, before reasserting themselves the premier rock and roll band of the time in 1969 with the ‘Tommy’ album. Along the way they gained a reputation for their wild, unpredictable stage shows which frequently ended with thoroughly expensive damage caused to equipment, particularly Pete’s guitars. While most casual fans (and most of the greatest hits and best ofs) tend to favour later material, The Who’s talents were apparent even at the very beginning of their career when they were a singles band. ‘Meaty Beaty...’ was the first time these singles had all appeared together on one album when it was released in 1970.
1. I Can’t Explain
An inspired opener. So much so that The Who still begins shows with the song to this day. A shamelessly Kinks inspired riff and impressive drumming herald this simple tale of teenage romantic frustration. Pete’s lyrics are actually fairly original considering the record’s release date (1964?) and the high backing vocals are a trademark of the era. Jimmy Page plays the solos (he was a session musician at the time). Strangely, The Who rarely recaptured the magic of this primitive recording in their live set.
2. The Kids Are Alright
A pleasant, short song, largely based around two arpegiated chords. Roger’s vocals sound a little dated but the melody is excellent and thoroughly catchy. Pete’s dainty lyrics deal with the subject of choosing between love and success (“But I know sometimes I must get out in the light”) in a touching way, talking about the importance of leaving your girlfriend in a place where “The kids are alright”. However, the song is painfully short and a little repetitive.
3. Happy Jack
The song on the album that really shows the age. The Who’s incredibly capable rhythm section take centre stage for this track about a hermit from the isle of man called Jack. The lyrics are funny and somewhat strange (“...they rode on his back in their furry donkey”?), and Daltry’s near monotone delivery is almost haunting. A harmless, fun song.
4. I Can see for Miles
The Who’s most potent dabbling in psychedelia. Pete’s airy, loose rhythm playing gives Roger’s confident vocals plenty of space to manoeuvre. The piercing bends in the chorus add interest and the solo, while consisting of only three notes adds to the song in a tasteful manner. John and Keith are reliably good, and the song’s coda sounds awesome as leads slowly snake up the neck. The only downer is the rather throwaway lyrics, no doubt conceived while under the influence of some mind altering substance or another.
5. Pictures of Lilly
A funny song about a boy whose dad willingly introduces him to masturbation as an insomnia remedy. The song shows Pete’s continuing growth as a songwriter, with some clever ascending/descending bass note guitar work and a hard hitting power chord breakdown. Keith Moon’s drumming is wild but perfect as ever. The high chorus vocals (Similar to “I Cant Explain”) suit the song’s mood perfectly. One of my favourites on the album.
6. My Generation
As many people have pointed out, The Who would be famous and much revered if this was the only song they’d ever released. Pete’s comment on the nihilism of the middle aged concerning their younger peers features the now highly ironic lyric “I hope I die before I get old”. One of - possibly the very first song on record to feature a bass solo, this cut is one of few Who recordings to go some length towards capturing the sheer adrenaline of their live set. All the instruments and vocals are suitably unhinged, including Roger’s memorable stammering in the verses. A classic.
7. The Seeker
A forgotten gem. Pete’s lyrics are vivid and original, and his chord choices are excellent. The solo has amazing drive to it and is more than just a wig out at the twelfth fret area. However, the real star on this track is Roger, who seems to have finally found his voice. The delivery is spunky and confident, and the blueprint for his bombastic vocals on later material such as “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
8. Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
Pete and Roger’s only song writing collaboration to this day seems a bit of a step back after the self-assured aura of the previous track, but enjoyable none the less. Defiant lyrics are matched with a poptastic melody and more of Pete’s excellent chording. Featuring a gloriously messy, feedback drenched breakdown over the top of some nimble piano work (Probably by Pete). Features a very good bass counter melody.
9. Pinball Wizard
A lone cut from Townshend’s first full length rock-opera. The story of the deaf, dumb and blind Tommy who, despite his disabilities ‘sure plays a mean pinball’ only came into fruitation when Pete hastily composed a song to impress Nic Cohn, critic and pinball fanatic. Unwittingly, Pete wrote one of the band’s signature tunes which would remain in their live set long after tracks such as ‘I’m Free’ and ‘The Acid Queen’ had been dropped. From the subtle chords at the start, to the awe-inspiring sixteenth note strumming, power chord refrain and emotive key change at the end, Townshend’s guitar work is utterly flawless. However, the rest of the band shine as well, particularly Daltry and Entwistle. The former’s voice adding gusto to silly lines such as ‘From Soho down to Brighton/I must’ve played ‘em all’.
10. A Legal Matter
A marked comedown from the previous three tracks. The riff is, for want of a better word, crap (And sounds suspiciously like the Doors “Break on Through (To the other side)”) and the verse chords are little more than a standard I, IV, V progression in A. Pete sings, and his vocals sound timid and underpowered. A far cry from his singing on later tracks, such as the work he did on Quadrophenia which sometimes outshined the more seasoned voice of Roger. The lyrics sound incredibly out of character (“I just want to keep doing all the dirty little things I do”? Is this The Who or Muddy ***ing Waters?). My least favourite on the album.
11. Boris the Spider
John’s only writing credit on the album is short and not exactly deep, but a lot of fun none the less. A thundering descending bassline begins the story of Boris the spider, an arachnid who met ‘his’ maker courtesy of a book. The other instruments sound good without drowning out the bass, and John’s voice is very funny during the lower-than-low chorus. Silly but enjoyable.
12. The Magic Bus
Awesome, Bo Didley inspired rhythm playing on acoustic guitar provides the backing for this rather odd tale of a ‘magic’ bus. Roger’s voice is in a similar vein to ‘The Seeker’ and ‘Pinball Wizard’ and sounds very good. The bass is simple but works. Keith is relegated to woodblocks for the majority of the song, but lets rip spectacularly near the end. I really like the shouted backing vocals on this track.
This track was recently introduced to a whole new audience via Jack Black’s film ’School of Rock’. Featuring some clever (and some controversial) rhymes, it is the kind of song that could have only been written by Townshend. Despite the instantly recognisable riff, the song is predominantly bass driven; and Entwistle sheer volume is enough to make the track move at a pleasing rate. Roger’s vocals are a bit less self-assured than on ‘The Seeker’, but fit the song’s light subject matter well. The acoustic/electric guitar layering in this song is excellent.
14. I’m A Boy
An interesting concept (gender selection on the part of a child’s parents) is juxtaposed in this song with a fairly boring arrangement for the last song of this album. Telling the story of Bill, a boy who was born after the parents asked for 4 girls, it deals with parents wanting their child to be something they aren’t in a light-hearted and amusing way (“Paint your nails little Sally Joy/Put this wig on little boy”). The song features a very boring, slow moving breakdown, but is saved by an irresistibly catchy melody.
+ Fascinating to compare to later material
+ Some excellent song writing and musicianship
- Sometimes too throwaway
- Lacks excitement of live set
- Sometimes a bit silly
A fantastic introduction to the parents and grandparents of monster tracks such as ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, most of which can hold their own without relation to later material. A worthy purchase if you just want some fun and a lesson in simple but excellent song writing.