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Article Archive › Liner Notes from "Who's Missing" (1985)

THE WHO -- Who's Missing

Sometime in 1964 I gave a young hitch-hiker a ride. We got into some deep car talk. I told him that I wanted to find an old "Yank" (British slang for an American car). He said that his car-dealing father had a good one: a black 1956 Lincoln Continental Mk 2. It cost me #300. When I drove it to the Marquee Club, parked it outside for one of our regular Tuesday night R&B nights there, a few mod girls looked on appalled. The Count, the American born court jester in Jimmy James' VAGABONDS who often supported us, told me: 'The Lincoln is the Rolls Royce of the United States man. Heavy car!"

The ownership of an object so grossly American said more about me than is at first obvious. Our band was in the business of taking the best of American culture and selling it on to the British. Young Brits conspired with us. The Mods wore Campus-inspired clothes; people like me drove gas-guzzling cars; The WHO (and dozens of bands like us) played American urban blues - black R&B. America was still a distant and evocative IDEA to us, full of mystique. Remember we were all war-babies. brought up on free chewing gum handed out by clean-cut grinning G.I.s.

The British black population were all Caribbeans. Their clubs, their drugs, their music and dancing they freely shared - but they were too close to influence us very deeply. They had a self-contained life-style; they were good people, suspicious of young Whites who saw something special in simply being black.

American country blues appeared in Britain with new venom in the early sixties. Artists like John Lee Hooker. Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley had long since electrified their heart-felt calls for attention and respect. There was an anger, boastfulness and pride in their music. It seemed to imply that the American Dream, as we saw it, might be a bit distorted. A part of this collection provides a window through which we can observe recent history.

For despite the fact that I had already written a hit song (Can't Explain) when these tracks were recorded, we still paid homage to our 'roots' . Without urban R&B there would have been no Rolling Stones, Beatles, Kinks or Who. No Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck. Intelligent music lovers of today listen to the original records we covered. It's fashionable today to decry the European whites of the early sixties for their enthusiasm for black R&B; absurdly perhaps, we felt a kinship with these exploited people. Our parents and grandparents had fought in two world wars, they were heroes. As their heirs, our heritage was the loss of an Empire and the gift of (seen in retrospect) an easy life. Denied the right to suffer, perhaps we identified with the suffering of others. No doubt a lot of us grew up to become closet liberals, even hippies; romantics with a yearning for darker times, we had little understanding of what real sacrifice was all about.

Roger's voice moans over the first four tracks, deep and sad, but full of passionate aggression. He was influenced by James Brown, a self-styled sex machine' . We learned very early in our career that we must appear threatening. I don't quite know why, but it worked. Suddenly the threat becomes rather perverse as Keith Moon's voice enters singing lead on BARBARA ANN. We only played surf music to humour him; he believed in the Dream until the very end; the year he died he owned a beach house in Malibu. (When we arrived for our second tour of Sweden in 1966 our version of Jan and Dean's BUCKET-T was number one in the charts there. For two weeks Keith's dream was realized as thousands of blonde girls with sculptured Nordic heads screamed at him.)

On side two the rest of the stuff punctuates the slow and eccentric rise of The Who to its zenith in the very early seventies. The B-sides offered here (HEAVEN AND HELL. HERE FOR MORE, WHEN I WAS A BOY) illustrate how each band member grasped for a voice. Entwistle's songs, always overshadowed and rarely allowed to develop, are often described as "dark", but he too was writing about manhood and a society in transition.

The writer John Swenson must be one of the few to take the trouble to analyse John's writing as deeply as my own. A live track closes this collection. In 1972 The Who were at their best, and possibly deserved the epithet: 'The best live rock band in the world'. BARGAIN heard here sets the skin tingling. Performed ten years later on the last tour the song would prove more polished perhaps, but less abandoned, less real. Abandonment is the key to good rock. We all go to concerts to lose ourselves, to discover real abandonment. Once we lose ourselves we ironically find our REAL selves.

Life is quieter now in 1985, maybe even happier. But, listening to WHO'S MISSING I realize that many of us will always be - missing The Who.

Pete Townshend, August 1985

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