PETE TOWNSHEND – ” The Solo Work “

Posted: March 7, 2015 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Pete Townshend Solo Goes Digital

Pete Townshend’s solo work is almost as prodigious as his work with The Who, The 11  album releases cover “Who Came First”, his 1972 album and his first away from The Who. The album is a collection of music dedicated to Meher Baba, Townshend’s spiritual master and includes fellow Baba followers, including Ronnie Lane and Billy Nicholls.

Townshend’s first proper solo album (following two tribute albums to his spiritual adviser Meher Baba) features demos he recorded for the Who’s ‘Lifehouse’ project, which turned into 1971’s ‘Who’s Next.’ Songs from the earlier solo records — which were collaboration LPs with limited distribution — are also included. Before the various ‘Scoop’ albums and the expanded versions of Who LPs that include early sketches of songs, ‘Who Came First’ was the closest peek inside Townshend’s songwriting process.

In “Rough Mix”, he teamed up with Ronnie Lane on what is a fine record that features Eric Clapton, John Entwistle and Charlie Watts that includes material written by Townshend and Lane. Among the standout tracks is the beautiful, ‘Heart To Hang Onto.’ Co-credited to Ronnie Lane, the Small Faces bassist who earlier had worked with Townshend on the 1970 Meher Baba tribute LP ‘Happy Birthday,’ ‘Rough Mix’ started as a Lane solo album that was supposed to be produced by Townshend. They eventually found themselves in a full collaborative project that also includes help from friends . The result is more of a folk-rock record by the two vets used to more aggressive forms of rock ‘n’ roll. A curious but enjoyable detour.

Empty Glass included ‘Let My Love Open The Door’ as well as ‘Rough Boys’, ‘Empty Glass’ and ‘A Little Is Enough’Townshend was going through a lot when ‘Empty Glass’ was released in 1980: the death of Who bandmate Keith Moon, a fractured marriage, a drinking problem and the fact that punk was making groups like the Who obsolete. He pours it all out on his best solo album, the first to include all new material written specifically for a project. He confronts all of his demons here; he came out with scars and a Top 10 single with “Let My Love Open the Door.” His best work since the Who’s 1973 LP ‘Quadrophenia’ and his most personal ever.

1982’s All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes includes ‘Face Dances pt 2’ and ‘Uniforms (Corps D’Espirit)’ and a companion promotional video featuring seven of the tracks was made for the fledgling MTV Network. Between 1980’s ‘Empty Glass’ solo outing and this LP, the Who released ‘Face Dances’ and were wrapping up work on one final album (before a reunion LP nearly a quarter century later) and then mounted a farewell tour (that turned out not to be). So Townshend, working as a solo artist with few band commitments to weigh him down, made a record that indulged in his winding wordplay and his sometimes impenetrable cultural theories and criticisms. It’s every bit as heavy-handed as you would expect from a guy whose rock ‘n’ roll dissections often went over the heads of the average Who fan.

Townshend solo
For White City, Pete returned to the concept based song cycle that had utilised in The Who. The album tells the story of life on a working class council estate in Pete Townshend’s old West London stomping ground. The songs deal with lost love, racial tension and broken dreams.  this one based on a real-life London district from his childhood. He doesn’t paint a pleasant picture: brewing race wars and crushed dreams are commonplace. David Gilmour adds some bite with his guitar, but ‘White City’ doesn’t have a whole lot to say, and sorta just spins in place once it gets moving. Like many Townshend solo LPs, the music seems like an afterthought to the narrative.

The Iron Man is Pete’s version of the Ted Hughes story of the same name. Townshend’s Who bandmates Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle join him on two songs from this musical adaptation of Ted Hughes’ 1968 sci-fi novel. Released in 1989 Pete had met Hughes when he was working at the publishing house Faber and Faber. The album features contributions from music luminaries Nina Simone and John Lee Hooker (who performs as the eponymous ‘Iron Man’).

1993’s Psychoderelict is a multi-layered concept album featuring dialogue harking back to his ‘Lifehouse’ project. It’s another concept album by Townshend, ‘Psychoderelict’ centers on a washed-up rock star who returns to the spotlight after a press-grabbing controversy is cynically hatched. Like ‘Empty Glass,’ the album digs deep into Townshend’s personal life, but the story is kind of a mess — which led to a new version of the album to be released without the interlocking dialogue pieces. Characters here would resurface on the Who’s 2006 album ‘Endless Wire.’The resulting tour featured actors performing alongside the live band.

The critically acclaimed “Scoop” series of albums gives the listener a privileged peek behind the scenes of one of popular music’s greatest songwriters. The albums showcase Pete’s demos for both The Who and his solo recordings. Scoop, was released in 1983 and includes versions of Who classics such as ‘So Sad About Us’, ‘Squeeze Box’, ‘Circles’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. Another Scoop followed in 1987 and includes demos of ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Substitute’, ‘You Better You Bet’ and ‘Pictures of Lily’. Scoop 3’ surfaced in 2001 and included Pete Townshend’s initial versions of the classics ‘The Real Me’, ‘ Sea and Sand’ and ‘Eminence Front’.

In February 1985 Pete performed two charity shows at London’s Brixton Academy. The sold out shows benefitted the ‘Double O’ charity, which was formed by The Who in the 1970s. The band, performing under the banner ‘Deep End’, featured Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. They performed ‘I Put A Spell On You’ and ‘Barefooting’ as well as more contemporary songs like The Beat’s ‘Save It For Later’ as well as classics such as ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ also make an appearance on the album, Deep End Live.

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