PETE TOWNSHEND – ” Who Came First “

Posted: March 20, 2022 in MUSIC

Originally released in October 1972, The 45th anniversary reissue of Pete Townshend’s debut solo album, “Who Came First“, came out April 2018.The original album collected together tracks from Townshend’s private pressings of his tributes to his then-guru Meher Baba, “Happy Birthday” and “I Am“, as well as demos from the unrealized concept album “Lifehouse“, part of which became The Who’s classic “Who’s Next” album.

The original album contains Townshend’s early versions of such favourites as “Pure and Easy,” “Time is Passing,” “Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action)” and “Sheraton Gibson”.

After the Who unleashed the barnstorming wee-wee on the wall that was “Who’s Next” in August 1971 There was excitement and confusion that accompanied “Who Came First” when it finally arrived in October 1972. With Pete standing on the front cover glaring out with violent intent to his recruits in what appeared to be a car mechanic’s freshly-cleaned overalls sporting a badge on his lapel of some grinning moustached Indian Guru geezer whilst standing on a platform of un-hatched chicken eggs in Doc Martens – I was intrigued and frankly a tad suspicious.

Housed in its glossy gatefold sleeve and sporting a natty foldout ‘Wave’ poster within it’s essentially a bunch of outtakes from the Lifehouse Project (tracks that had formed the guts of “Who’s Next”) with some new stuff and cover versions thrown in – Pete’s first solo album seemed weirdly low-key almost. But on repeated listens of this PT solo record, its music stood alone his ideas too. This was also a more leisurely sounding project – Folksy – Country and Americana – more melodic in its approach.

Some of the tracks on “Who Came First” misses the dynamic of the Who band members especially Roger Daltrey’s distinctive vocals that somehow elevated everything PT wrote. The opening side 1 piece “Pure And Easy” was written and recorded by The Who for the Lifehouse Project in 1971 and has been a CD Bonus Track for “Who’s Next” reissues in 1995 and the 2003 Deluxe Edition 2CD set. But that version is the New York Record Plant Sessions mix of 4:30 minutes – here Townshend uses his own Home Demo version at 5:32 minutes. Up next is the thematically fitting, truly lovely and evocative Folk melody of “Evolution” with the Faces Ronnie Lane on Lead Vocals. Here he covers one of his own songs called “Stone” (re-named “Evolution” ) that first turned up on Side 1 of the Faces March 1970 debut album “First Step”. Its lyrics wittily talk of consciousness evolving over millennia – a spiritual theme central to Baba teachings. Lane and Townshend were not just good friends but a singer-songwriter match made in musical heaven They would do a celebrated duet album together released October 1977 called “Rough Mix” on Polydor Records all fabulous stuff – and an LP that once again returned to both Country and Americana tunes and styles something that clearly both men loved and were steeped in. Lane was also a BM follower at the same time as Townshend and the Live Version of “Evolution (Stone)” on Disc 2 at his Memorial Concert in 2004 is seriously charged stuff (sung by Pete. You can feel it in the band, the audience and Pete’s awkward but emotional spoken intro about consciousness.

Even better is “Forever is No Time At All” written by Billy Nicholls and Katie McInnerary (with Nicholls at the microphone). Both followers of Meher Baba – Ronnie Lane and Billy Nicholls also shared a musical connection between them. Nicholls had done an ultra-rare withdrawn LP for Immediate Records in 1968 called “Would You Believe” (on Immediate IMCP 009). This hallowed and revered beast because the players on it are liable to send most collectors into hysteria – John Paul Jones pre Led Zeppelin, Steve Marriott, Ian McLagan, Kenney Jones and of course Ronnie Lane of the Immediate period Small Faces, Caleb Quaye of Elton John’s band and Hookfoot alongside ace piano sessionman Nicky Hopkins. Townshend rated Billie’s opinions and Nicholls also had an extraordinarily expressive voice – something wonderfully British about it – a little like Ronnie Lane.

The records most famous song has a history all to itself as well. The full 6:15 minute album-version of “Let’s See Action” ending Side 1. I’d agree with most fans by saying that the edited and more punchy single mix of “Let’s See Action” issued a full year prior as a stand alone band 7” single (Track 2094-012, October 1971) with Roger Daltrey on lead vocals – is way better. But any number of variants on this track is all right by me. Over on Side 2 the cover version of Ray Baker’s “There’s A Heartache Following Me” is a Country Strum that predates the whole sound achieved on “Rough Mix” six years later. Maud Kennedy’s poem make up the lyrics to “Content” – clearly one of Pete’s faves on the album – a song that is both pretty and somehow sad too – alone with the truth – trying to be brave settling for being contented with his lot. With all of its fawning and swooning towards Baba – “Parvardigar” kind of makes me cringe but if you’re a fan – the Audio is fantastic.

Opening the Bonus Tracks CD is “His Hands” – an instrumental that was recorded for the third and last Meher Baba magazine disc in the Goring-On-Thames converted studio Pete purchased in 1971. Lovely and so apt to this project – that leads into “The Seeker”. Not as good in any way as the officially released WHO single – it’s still a thrill to have any variant of it over and above. Both “Day Of Silence” and “Sleeping Dog” again were on the Ryko CD – the first track referring to 10 July – a day where Baba followers observe ‘silence’ all day as he had done every year since 1925. “Sleeping Dog” reflects the domestic bliss he was feeling at the time (wife and kids in bed while he recorded). Can’t say any of the Edits impressed but the near 10-minute “Baba O’Riley” is an absolute blast – here the “Who’s Next” opener given free reign. Just when you expect “…out here in the fields…” to come roaring in you get more of the opening and then that riffage. It then layers more and more keyboards with a WHO twist – fab. And despite the sudden break at the end of “Nothing Is Everything” the shorter guitar and vocals demo already displays brilliance and I can see why he included it.

The anniversary edition was remastered by long time Who collaborator Jon Astley using the original master tapes. CD1 is the original album as it was released. CD2 includes unreleased tracks, alternative versions of many of the songs and live performances.

The 2-CD expanded version of the album features eight previously unreleased tracks (including a breath-taking and nearly 10-minute instrumental version of “Baba O’Riley”), new edits, alternative versions and live performances.

Also included in the eight panel digipak are new sleeve notes provided by Townshend himself, the original poster from the 1972 release and a 24-page booklet which contains rare images of Meher Baba and Townshend in his recording studio. The cover photo of Townshend, taken by Graham Hughes (who also shot the cover of The Who’s Quadrophenia), was updated for the release.

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