The WHO – ” A Quick One ” Released December 9th 1966

Posted: February 28, 2019 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC
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The inarguable beating heart of The Who’s discography is the run from “The Who Sell Out” (1967) through The Who By Numbers (1975). Across five albums—including “Tommy” (1969), “Who’s Next” (1971), and “Quadrophenia” (1973)—the group built an inimitable sound while pushing rock & roll to its aesthetic and conceptual limits. The album that comes just before that incredible run – the album that we’re celebrating today —is pretty often forgotten. It isn’t their barnstorming debut, it isn’t part of their iconic period, and it’s not part of their tragic decline. It’s just… there. “A Quick One” (1966) both foreshadows the band’s illustrious career and represents an alternate universe where they fizzle out on novelties and competent but not world-changing music.

When I first saw The Who perform on “The Kids Are Alright” movie soundtrack. The performance was electric. I liked the studio version but the live versions they push the song a little harder. The song didn’t chart being so long. The album “A Quick One” peaked at Number 4 in the UK charts. The hit song of that album was “Happy Jack”. “A Quick One” finds the song writing burden distributed throughout the band. This experiment might be the reason that this is not the band’s strongest record; some of the non-Pete Townshend tracks (particularly Keith Moon’s “I Need You” and John Entwistle’s two songs) could carry some more heft. “Boris the Spider” is fun, but Entwistle did much better later on. Still, stretching the band’s sound away from Maximum R&B through this song writing experiment helped set the stage for later work.

Speaking of experiments: “A Quick One While He’s Away” is a monster. It’s the one standout from “A Quick One”, the song that we can definitively say had a meaningful influence on The Who’s direction. A nine-minute track comprised of several shorter songs, the narrative experimentations that defined the band got a trial run here. Townshend found rock music capable of delivering something narrative and cerebral. You can also sense Townshend’s talents for combining seemingly disparate movements together, which would be perfected on “Quadrophenia”, in the abrupt-yet-satisfying transitions of “A Quick One While He’s Away.”  

Of course, the definitive version of the song is not the recording on “A Quick One”, but rather the unhinged reading from “The Kids Are Alright” (1979), recorded in 1968 at the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Still, the studio version represents a massive leap forward for Townshend and a stepping stone toward the band’s career-defining experiments.

The Who had 10 minutes left to fill on the album. Kit Lambert, The Who’s manager, suggested to Pete Townshend that he write “something linear… perhaps a 10-minute song.” Townshend responded by saying that rock songs are “2:50 by tradition!” Lambert then told Townshend that he should write a 10-minute story comprised of 2:50 songs.

The song was a “mini-opera,” paving the way for the other mini-opera “Rael” and eventually full-length rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.

The plot of the story is simple. A girl is sad that her boyfriend is away. Her friends suggest that she take a substitute lover, Ivor The Engine Driver. When the boyfriend returns, she confesses her infidelity and is forgiven.

The Who performed this on the Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus, which was going to be a TV special. It never aired on television but it was released on VHS in 1996 and DVD in 2004. The Who’s performance of this was included in The Kids Are Alright, a 1979 film about The Who.

According to legend, Rock And Roll Circus didn’t air because the Rolling Stones felt that they were showed up by The Who. Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithful, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell all appeared on Rock And Roll Circus.

A live version of this song appears on Live At Leeds and the soundtrack for The Kids Are Alright.

The Who wanted to put Cellos on the track but Kit Lambert said they couldn’t afford it. So they sang “cello, cello, cello, cello,” where the Who thought they should go. >>

There are two other shining lights on “A Quick One” The first is “So Sad About Us,” a rollicking song that doesn’t sag momentum-wise like a lot of tracks elsewhere on the album. Here, The Who lean into that “Maximum R&B” sound that made them distinct from other blue-eyed soul acts like The Rolling Stones.

The song’s peak is a daring key change in the final seconds of the bridge, which creates massive tension right before a resolution in a final, joyous chorus. There’s not a lot of joy in The Who’s catalogue and finding it on a song called “So Sad About Us” makes it unpredictable and exhilarating. Criminally underrated, this track deserves to be thought of as one of the group’s early masterpieces, along with “I Can’t Explain” and “I Can See For Miles.” 

The other crowning achievement is Keith Moon. We know that Moon is a standout drummer.

Happy 55th Anniversary to The Who’s second studio album “A Quick One”, originally released December 9th, 1966

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