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Who's Next

Who's Next (1971) is frequently reckoned to be The Who's most notable album.

After Lifehouse

Who's Next is the flotsam of the disastrous Lifehouse project, which Peter Townshend envisioned as a live-recorded concept album with the vital statistics of audience members fed into the controller of an early ARP analog synthesizer to create continuo tracks for the music. (Lifehouse is alternatively described as a scripted film project, without any of the spontaneity implicit in the previous description.) The project proved to be intractable on several levels, caused a great falling out between Townshend and The Who's producer Kit Lambert, and as described in his own words in the liner notes to the remastered Who's Next CD, led Townshend to the verge of a suicidal nervous breakdown.

After recording some of the Lifehouse tracks in New York and then falling out with producer Kit Lambert, The Who went back into the studio with producer Glyn Johns and started over. The recent publication of some of the New York recordings as extra tracks on the remastered CD show that Johns deserves a great deal of credit for the quality of the album. A number of Townshend's Lifehouse demo recordings have also been published, giving an rare view of the evolution of the songs and sounds that went into a classic album.

Arrangements

The music features a wall of sound arrangement. The album also fortuitously fell at a time when great advances had been made in sound engineering over the previous decade, and also shortly after the introduction of music synthesizers. The result was a sound that was absolutely stunning at the time, and unlike anything that had been heard before (and that not necessarily a good thing in the minds of the traditional Who fans of the time). However, as full and brash as the sound is on most of the album there are contrasts with finger-picked acoustic guitar, and Roger Daltrey's swaggering vocals alternate with quieter introspective moments.

One way Townshend "played" the ARP synthesizer was essentially a matter of programming it to produce pulsing patterns, and in that mode it was used to create continuo parts for two of the most notable songs on the album, "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again". (This has been disputed recently, suggesting that Pete may have used a Lowrey home organ. For more information, visit Rich Rowley's site.) Elsewhere Townshend used the synthesizer in a more delicate role, as in the introductory notes to "Bargain", or as a playful noisemaker, sounding almost like a boiling teapot on "The Song is Over". Townshend also used an envelope follower to modulate the spectrum of his guitar on "Going Mobile", giving it a distinctive squawking sound that degenerates into a bubbling noise at the end of the song. (Townshend had previously experimented with recordings played backwards as a sort of ad hoc synthesizer in one song on Tommy, and the band's playful use of sounds had shown up earlier when they sang a chorus of "Cello, cello, cello" when the could not afford a real string section for their mini-opera "A Quick One While He's Away".)

The album also features piano by Nicky Hopkins and a violin solo by Dave Arbus on "Baba O'Riley".

Cover

The album cover shows a photograph of the band having just urinated on a large concrete piling protruding from a heap of mining refuse; the photo seems to be a reference to the monolith discovered on the moon in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been released only about three years earlier. This 'monumental' disrespect may also, like the album's title, be symbolic of the band's refusal to spend the rest of their career playing Tommy.

An earlier cover design had featured photos of grotesquely obese nude females and has been published elsewhere, but never actually appeared on the album.

Track listings

The original track list is as follows. All songs were written by Peter Townshend except as noted.

The remastered CD features these additional tracks. The repeated titles are from the earlier New York session with Kit Lambert.

The Lifehouse tie-in shows up musically in a couple of cases. The introductory line to "Pure and Easy" which Townshend has described as "the central pivot of Lifehouse" shows up in the closing bars of "The Song is Over". There is also a handclap pattern of one clap on beat 2 and two claps on beat 4, which shows up in "Bargain", "Pure and Easy", and a few other Lifehouse songs released in other contexts.

It was consistently voted as one of the best Rock albums of all time by both critics and consumers, back when comparing Rock albums was still a going concern. Several tracks are still enshrined as warhorses of the Classic Rock format.