Saturday, October 3, 2015

40 Year Itch : No Easy Way To Be Free

Always a sort of musical practical joker, Townshend has now pulled the fastest one of all, disguising his best concept album as a mere ten-track throwaway.
-Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone

The Who : Success Story

   On October 3, 1975 The Who released The Who By Numbers. Listening to the album on my drive home this evening, this aging rocker hears the album in a different way than I did in my teens. I hear, in Townshend's lyrics, fear, paranoia, and maybe even a form of exhaustion that was actually best summed up by Entwistle in my favorite song on the album, "Success Story" : Take know this used to be fun.

  The first song I ever heard from the album might surprise some of you. It's the ukulele tune "Blue Red and Grey", which was played by my dad's favorite radio station, WWYZ, the Natural 92. In college, I put the opener "Slip Kid" on a mix tape I played over and over. I never cared for "Squeeze Box" even after I was old enough to get the joke. Life in the spotlight moves faster than it does for those off stage so maybe that's why songs like "How Many Friends" (How many friends have I really got?/That love me, that want me, that'll take me as I am?) and "However Much I Booze" (I lose so many nights of sleep worrying about my responsibilities) have the lines that mean the most to me now.

 For that deeper meaning we sometimes find with albums that become part of my life, I'll use these words from Dave Marsh's review:

  The Who by Numbers isn't what it seems. Without broadcasting it, in fact while denying it, Townshend has written a series of songs which hang together as well as separately. The time is somewhere in the middle of the night, the setting a disheveled room with a TV set that seems to show only rock programs. The protagonist is an aging, still successful rock star, staring drunkenly at the tube with a bottle of gin perched on his head, contemplating his career, his love for the music and his fear that it's all slipping away. Every song here, even the one non-Townshend composition, John Entwistle's "Success Story," fits in.

  Townshend would write at least one more great album from that point of view, Empty Glass.


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