THE WHO thought they were going downhill! by John Emery
THE WHO, as a group, have great potential. They haven't copied anyone. They have had the courage to put together a wild and dynamic stage act that no one would have dreamed of, and they match this colourful form of presentation by wearing equally colourful clothes.
Without a doubt, they are in a class of their own.
But, until their latest release rocketed up the charts, they were worried.
'The entry of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" into the lower regions of the charts, disappointed them. To quote Pete Townsend they thought they were going "downhill" and this was the reason for the reported misunderstandings and arguments within the group.
"I was getting frustrated because of the limitations of the line-up", says Pete. "The only melody in our music was the guitar and three voices, All sorts of discussions went on as to whether or not to expand. There was even talk of having two drummers at one time!"
Now it seems to be sorted out. Pete feels better about the over-all sound because he uses his Rickenbaker 12-string ALL the time, not just here and there. This gives the group a much fuller sound.
I asked co-manager Kit Lambert why it is that The Who have had a sort of delayed reaction. "Besides the mediocre success of their discs", he said, "I feel it had a lot do so with some of their appearances outside London. At the beginning they couldn't go wrong at The Marquee and places that where they knew many people, and the audiences understood what they were trying to put across.
"Then they started travelling -- and many venues in the North, not particularly the clubs, more the ballrooms, didn't catch on: It seemed a bit beyond them.
"This affected the boys very much. They're not a group who play for themselves, but rely completely on audience reaction and if they're not appreciated, they are tremendously brought down about the whole thing."
The sales of their new single, of course, have cheered them up. Peter wrote "Talkin' 'Bout My Generation" on a train going to Southampton a few months back and made a demo of the song on his own.
He did it all in his flat in Belgravia. With the equipment he has there— the group's old amplifiers, tape recorders and microphone, etc. — he sang the lyrics, double-tracked the guitar, played bass and even supplied the backing voices!
Pete played it over to the boys and the next step was for all of them to attempt it. Another demo was made at a smallish studio in London (which they'd rather keep secret) and yet another at Lansdowne. The result at Lansdowne was a "bit watery" said Pete, so they did the fourth and final one at IBC in Portland Place.
It was a late session, starting at midnight and continuing into the early hours of the morning.
A and R man was Shel Talmy, and the single was "in the can" in no time, leaving them time to record another, 'The Kids Are Alright", also written by Pete.
This is the group's new release in the States-- which brings us lo another touchy point with the boys. They are very displeased with the way they are being promoted — or rather NOT PROMOTED -- over there.
Their discs go out on American Decca and so far ''! Can't Explain" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" have been released. "They didn't do anything at all, except in Detroit, because they had practically no promotion at all. If it was Brenda Lee then it would be a different matter — they'd probably hold a National Brenda Lee Week to promote her new single."
DION – EVERLYS ERA
What about The Who's stage act? Have they changed it at all?
"We haven't added anything in presentation", said Pete, "But we're going to start using different types of songs. It's a drag scene at the moment. Everyone's playing the same stuff—James Brown, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. It's stalemate! So we're going right back to dig up some old numbers from the Dion-Everlys era.
"There was some good stuff out then that we could adapt to our style. And it's just the right time."
They arc heading in this direction already, including two Everlies numbers in their act, "Man With Money" and the newer "Love Is Strange". They still feature "Heatwave", although a lot have latched on to the idea since they first introduced it—after Martha and The Vandellas, of course.