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C.A.T.: Who’s Next

The Who – Who’s Next (1971)

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but somehow we’ve written 100+ Classic Album Tuesdays and yet we’ve never done one from a band that all of us at Mildly Pleased have been fans of for a long time — The Who.  I pretty much love every single Who album from their debut up until Quadrophenia, but Who’s Next in particular has always had a special place in my heart.  So forgive me if I get ridiculously nostalgic about an album that came out nearly two decades before I was born.

I can distinctly remember having just turned 14 years old and going to Fred Meyer to buy a copy of Who’s Next.  I don’t know what compelled me to buy the album, as I knew very little about The Who apart from a couple songs and their appearance on The Simpsons.  Anyways, I got home, popped in the CD, and effectively had my mind blown.  I hadn’t really ever heard anything like it.  It just seemed so powerful and bursting with energy, but also so introspective and confessional at the same time.  And even when I listen to it now, I still get an inkling of that feeling, since the songs and the execution are just that good.

Many of the songs on Who’s Next came out of a bigger project that Pete Townshend had been planning called Lifehouse, which was conceived as an even grander follow-up to the 1969 rock opera Tommy.  Of course, the Lifehouse project was eventually abandoned and Pete Townshend came up with an album that was not a rock opera, but just a bunch of really good songs that stood on their own.  Even if Who’s Next didn’t top Tommy in ambitious scope, it’s still an amazing achievement just in that it really catches The Who at the top of their game collectively.  Townshend’s songs are as anthemic as ever, and the fact that he introduces synthesizers to The Who’s raunchy sound makes the album somewhat of a groundbreaker considering basically no rock bands were using synths yet.  And on top of that, you’ve got some of Entwistle’s most masterful basslines, Moon’s most brilliantly manic drumming, and Roger Daltrey reaching the full depth of his powerful range.

I guess it also speaks volumes to The Who’s brilliance that I still love this album even though there isn’t a whole lot of arena-bound classic rock music that I still listen to, even though it was a big part of my listening habits as a youngster.  But I think Pete Townshend’s songs lend themselves to a kind of resonance that transcends the classic rock genre, even if each new CSI show threatens to destroy that resonance.  It’s got to be in my top five albums of all time, easily.

Favorite Tracks: “Baba O’Riley”, “The Song Is Over”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

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