Tag Archive: The Who


Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway - 11/18/1974

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – 11/18/1974

In 1973, Peter Gabriel was concerned about including some sort of English conceit in the title of Genesis’s next album. He was aware that there was a sentiment among their English fandom that they were getting too American. I’m not really sure what that looks like, but I think I can imagine what getting too British might be. If Bruce Springsteen were to suddenly take an interest in cricket or start saying “bloody hell” in more than an ironic sense, I might get suspicious.

In reaction, Peter and the rest of Genesis doubled down and made their 1973 record Selling England By the Pound particularly and conspicuously British. The cover art was by a British painter, the first two songs had a British feel to the lyrics, and the title both had “England” in it and was drawn from a contemporary English political slogan. There ya go – English fans sated.

13 months later, that concern was apparently all gone. Just as their 5th album had “England” in the title, their 6th had “Broadway” in the title. What American isn’t familiar with Broadway? And just as Selling England featured Britain and British attitudes, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway centers on New York City and things Americans understand. The main character of this concept album lives in Manhattan! The story starts in Times Square! If Gabriel is still trying to soothe his British fans into thinking he’s still British, he’s doing a really crappy job.

artwork from The Amory Wars saga

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is a concept album, which as I’ve explained before is a mostly useless term. In The Lamb, however, it finds its most useful definition, as well as other albums like it. The term “rock opera” better describes The Lamb and other albums like it (Quadrophenia and Tommy from The Who, Snow by Spock’s Beard, The Hazards of Love from the Decemberists, as well as the multiple Amory Wars albums by Coheed and Cambria). They do more than simply tell a story – Sgt. Pepper and Ziggy Stardust do that, but they’re not really in the same division as rock operas.

The Lamb is one of the only rock operas I like. The rock opera is fraught with peril – when you write one, you’re balancing on the razor edge between legitimate and ridiculous. What’s meant to be serious can very easily come off as stupid. The slightest miscalculation on your part, and your audience becomes aware it’s all a show, and starts to laugh. When that happens, you’ve lost them. It’s like a marionette show – the best ones are the ones where you can’t see the strings.

On The Lamb, Genesis plays some pretty risky games with plot and characterization (like the only cure to a horribly disfiguring disease being castration…), but it comes out clean on the other end due to… I’m not really sure what. The only explanation I can come up with for my high regard for it is that I first experienced it when I was a teenager, after my gaga-for-Genesis phase, but before I became a really critical thinker. I still swallowed some things whole, and Genesis still had that sugary candy coating. And I guess it’s still there in my stomach, unlike most other rock operas which sped through my system quite quickly.

But I also love The Lamb because it’s so fascinating. Every inch of it takes deep analysis and concentrated study to understand, and even then you only scratch the surface. In that way, it’s very similar to T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”; isn’t it ironic that what draws me in about The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is the same thing that keeps me at arms’ length from “The Waste Land”?

Next: Rael, Imperial Aerosol Kid

Honorable Mentions: 1960s

Now that I’ve covered the 60s, I should take a moment to acknowledge important artists from the era whose albums didn’t make the cut.

The Who

The Who, while a great band, have made relatively few songs that really reach out and grab me. They’re somewhat less accessible than fellow 60s heavies despite their super-famous status. Alas, that status probably comes less from their actual musical merits and more from their sheer volume, instrument-smashing antics and wild, crazy behavior, especially of drummer Keith Moon. For his part, Moon was one of the most brilliant and innovative rock drummers to ever to bless this earth, but it seemed his flame just burned too brightly; it quickly burned out.

Pete Townshend, on the other hand (and I may get in trouble for this) is severely overrated. Sure, he’s written some great tunes; “Baba O’Reilly” is a great little slice of adolescent recklessness. But point me to even one Who song that displays guitar prowess that couldn’t be precisely duplicated by a 7th-grader

Tommy

The Who’s boldest, most notable statement is Tommy, a two-disc rock opera which would work just as well as a Broadway musical as an album. Obviously I’m not the first to think so, since the musical theater version of it premiered in San Diego in 1992. It’s the story of a young boy who, after witnessing the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, becomes deaf, blind and mute. He suffers abuse from various family members, including his sadistic cousin, moronically religious parents and pedophilic uncle. It’s eventually discovered that he has an affinity for pinball, and this (for some reason…) leads people to think he’s some sort of messiah. Honestly, that’s where the story loses me; that idea is too ridiculous for me to reconcile. The plot after this point becomes messy, undirected, and pretty stupid. Some of the music is pretty awesome, but for the most part, it’s pulled down by Tommy’s harebrained story.

I know the Who is one of the most touted rock bands ever, holds the record for loudest concert, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility; I know all that. But I listen to most of their music and just shrug. Most of it seems too dramatic, too forced, or too operatic.

Cream

Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton

I was 15 when I first started playing guitar, and that was when I was in the throes of Smashing Pumpkins fandom, among other modern rock interests. My dad cringed a little at my musical tastes, but his response was one of the most positive things possible: he pointed me towards “real” guitarists, and hoped that they would shape my guitar style rather than my more modern heroes. In part, it worked. I got a Cream greatest hits CD the same Christmas I got my first electric guitar. On the first spin of that album and the first time I heard “Sunshine of Your Love,” my ears pricked up in interest, which is what my dad thought would happen.

Cream’s biggest personality was Eric Clapton, though saying it was Clapton’s band is doing a grave disservice to the 2 other astounding musicians in that group. Jack Bruce pioneered the idea of bass guitar being used as the main rhythm method (no rhythm guitar). Then there’s Ginger Baker. He and Keith Moon serve as inspiration for Animal from The Muppet Show When I listen to the Wheels of Fire version of “Toad,” I can just see him going crazy on his kit. He must be using his head to crash the cymbals.

But the greatness and godhood of Clapton can’t be denied. He was the first guitar deity I ever prayed to, the first leader to win my allegiance. Though the height of his powers was the magical and heart-wrenching Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos, the genesis of his fame lies with Cream.

Even so, Cream had too short a history to make an album that was worth being on this list. If they hadn’t broken up when they did, the rock renaissance of the 70s would have lifted them up to the golden heights, and they may have brought a new definition to what rock music could be, could say, and could stand for. But as it stands, they’re an interesting footnote at best, with sadness at unfulfilled potential as their hallmark.

The Doors

My entrance into college life was achingly stereotypical. I packed up all my stuff in my family’s SUV, and my dad drove with me and my mom the two hours east to Quincy, MA. They moved me in, they dropped me off, they gave me hugs, and they left. But during move-in, I met my first college roommate, named Colin. He had sideburns, a smile that said he was up to something, and wore a Blues Brothers style hat and sunglasses; he looked like John Belushi, only not as fat. We only lived together for about a week before I moved out due to irreconcilable differences, but he remains one of my friends.

Colin was a Doors fan, and before then, I hadn’t really been exposed. He insisted that the Doors were a blues band, pointing to “Roadhouse Blues” as a principle example. Blues they’re not, but what they are is one of the most psychedelic bands ever to walk/talk/tour. When you hear a Doors song, you know it, mostly because of Jim Morrison’s mix of southern drawl and screaming howl, or Ray Manzerek’s distinctive organ-playing.

Jim is one of the major members of the 27 Club, a group of musicians who died at the age of 27. He’s the only member of the club whose death still remains a bit of a mystery. He was found by his longtime girlfriend in the bathtub, and no autopsy was performed. Alcohol or drugs or both are popularly thought to be a contributing factor, Jim’s history being what it was, but no one actually know save his girlfriend and the coroner who handled his body. Some even doubt he’s really dead….

Bob Dylan

I know, I know; Bob Dylan’s a legend. He’s a pioneer, he’s foundational, and about 90% of today’s musicians simply wouldn’t exist were it not for him. I know all that. But with the exception of 2 or 3 songs, I don’t like him. His voice sounds like a geriatric duck squawking while a pickup truck repeatedly runs it over. I fully recognize that he’s written some of the greatest songs that have ever existed. I wish by all that is holy that he would NOT try to sing them. Mr. Zimmerman, I’m not trying to malign you as a person, but for God’s sake take a vow of silence. Thank you.

The Mothers of Invention

Frank Zappa must have been an alien. That’s the only way to explain his totally original thinking, his utter lack of conformity, and his daring, nothing-is-sacred attitude about musical norms and styles. When my friend Mike played me to “Call Any Vegetable,” there are many words to describe my emotions: shocked, confused, irritated, intrigued, dismayed, amused, and weirded out start to cover it. The only thing I can say is that The Mothers of Invention (Frank’s band), are among the most – scratch that – THE most original band of the 60s – scratch that – of the 60s and 70s – scratch that – EVER. (Footnote: “original” doesn’t always equal “good”)

The Beach Boys

According to my parents and sister, I got would regularly get up on the coffee table when I was 3 and dance my heart out to the Beach Boys, sometimes pretending it was a surfboard. I question the veracity of these claims, but that is neither here nor there. The fact remains that the Beach Boys more than an early musical influence to me; they very well may have been the first music I ever heard.

However, they don’t make the cut. Their early output is just beach-oriented airwave filler, and I’m frustrated that, like early Beatles and Stones records, it takes them awhile to get the concept of a unified album. But more than those things, they simple aren’t people I look back on through the annuls of history and say, “I love those guys.” That, and I can’t stand “Kokomo;” every time I hear it I want to bludgeon someone to death.

Canned Heat

Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Bob “The Bear” Hite

A lot of people know the “Goin’ Up the Country” song, but have no idea who sang it. I’ll set the record straight; it was Canned Heat, a simple and no-frills blues and boogie outfit that saw its best days in the late 60s. It’s kind of a shame that “Goin’ Up the Country” is their most famous tune, since it’s most certainly not their best. It also doesn’t feature Bob “The Bear” Hite on vocals, their main singer, a dynamic and charismatic frontman. The lead is instead sung by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, the lead guitarist and sometime singer.

Where the Bear was rotund and a husky tenor, Blind Owl was pale and pretty, with a reedy alto voice. What could have made Canned Heat great was if they used the interplay between the two singers. I think it could have been very interesting had the Bear and Blind Owl taken duets or back and forth, but as it was, they just traded off songs; sad.

Alan Wilson is yet another member of the 27 Club, though far less well known. He died of a drug overdose in 1970. The reason he doesn’t get the play other Club members get is that he was an unobtrusive member of a semi-famous band; also sad.

Once again, Canned Heat could have been awesome had circumstance allowed them to continue unhindered, but God obviously had other plans for Blind Owl. For the Bear, as well; he died in 1981.

On Monday: A visit from the red guy with horns; he’s bringing his pitchfork.

The 6 string electric guitar had been an icon in rock and roll for over 40 years when I got my hands on it, and I took for granted that it always was as it currently is. To a trained ear, the sound of the guitar had gone through somewhat massive metamorphoses over the decades, but that didn’t matter when I was 13. When something first enters your life at that age, it has no past. Everything about it is fresh and new, and it has all come into being just now. I soon figured out that the electric guitar is much older than I am, and my partnership with it was just one of many partnerships it had. It’s a player; it had broken the hearts of many young lads before me.

This universal aspect the guitar has to it just makes what Jimi Hendrix did that much more mind-blowing. Jimi played the player. He took the 6-string and mastered it. His was the reverse of my relationship with it; I did its bidding, but it did his.

The story of the 6 string took a major and permanent turn when Jimi got a hold of it. It took on a power, force and volume that no one had heard from it before. It was rather simple, but most genius innovations involve a simple idea. He knew that there was more potential for power to run through the guitar, so much that one amplifier couldn’t hold it. Jimi’s idea broke down into “why don’t we just use more than one amp?”

Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix

Pete Townshend of the Who told a story about when he met Jimi Hendrix for the first time. Jimi had come to a Who show and liked it very much. Their wild abandon and lack of restraint appealed to him. When Jimi introduced himself to Pete after the show, they were talking shop for a bit. Jimi asked Pete what kind of amp he used, and Pete told him about his model. Jimi nodded his head and said, “I think I’ll give it a try.” Later, Pete went to a Jimi Hendrix Experience show. He found that Jimi had taken him up on his recommendation, but he wasn’t just using one of his amps; he was using four – at the same time.

This was where the idea for the Marshall stack came from. One amp was no longer enough for those who could afford it. Marshall amps (I don’t know why it was that particular brand; I don’t think that was the brand that Pete and Jimi were discussing) were just run one into another, and the multiple amps were “stacked” one on top of the previous  ‘til they became a literal mountain of sound. It was both sonically powerful and visually intimidating.

Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced - 5/12/1967

That power and charge are present from the very first second of Are You Experienced. That’s the most remarkable thing about “Purple Haze.” It’s a splendid lead-off track because it’s an indicator to the rest of the album. It has a kind of wild abandon from the beginning. Jimi is singing lyrics that say he’s out of control, lost, blind, and in unknown territory. But he sings them with an excited and even victorious voice, and says he’s just gotta “kiss the sky.”

“Manic Depression” follows; the power is different but not lesser. It’s a nervous, tension-filled power. In harmony with that emotional tone, the lyrics are about a mental anguish that can only be relieved by music. While the lyrics speak of a man in turmoil, Jimi’s voice suggests something different. He’s laconic and breezy, like he’s not quite taking this seriously.

On Monday: Jimi’s goin’ down to shoot his ol’ lady…