[Today: The Who ditch the opera and rock out…]
The songs that eventually became Who’s Next were actually pieces of a conceptual album/theatrical production/motion picture that Pete Townshend was calling Lifehouse. Ultimately the narrative strings holding Lifehouse together proved to be too frail for Townshend’s multi-media ambitions, and he and the group handed the songs over to producer Glyn Johns to see if he could turn them into an album.
Johns did, and how – Who’s Next would go on to sell 3,000,000 copies in the 70’s alone. Album opener ‘Baba O’Reilly’ – with its flighty synthesizers and “Teenage Wasteland” refrain – is one of the most recognizable tunes of the rock era, even if it didn’t chart in the States. Album closer ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is a perennial protest song that will ring true as long as governments stand. In between those highlights sit no minor songs, no filler, nothing less than arena-sized rock & roll. ‘Bargain’ and ‘Love Ain’t For Keeping’ are two of the group’s very best tunes, and ‘The Song Is Over’ is a surprisingly tender turn from a band who fancied themselves a bunch of hooligans.
During a February 1971 interview with Keith Altham, Townshend admitted to the crisis of confidence he was having with the Lifehouse material. “I’ve thought of having it released under a pseudonym but that’s no answer – not because I couldn’t bear it if it was a flop because I’m sure it would be, but because it is very personal material.” What he didn’t realize was that the conceptual baggage of the rock opera model had only served as a barrier to The Who’s music, and free from the puppet strings of Lifehouse, the intensely personal nature of Who’s Next made it their baddest and best album.
Listen: Love Ain’t for Keeping
Listen: Won’t Get Fooled Again