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Rough Boys was made up on the studio floor. Entirely. I just made it up as I went along, and Kenny Jones played along. I had a synthesizer guitar which was running into two synthesizers-an ARP and a Roland, two primitive guitar synthesizers. I used the Roland to generate the bass part with my thumb. I played ragtime. Thechords were played with the middle three fingers and a melody of sorts was played with my little finger on the top string, all of which went to different synthesizers, each of went to a huge Hiwatt stack in the middle of Wessex studio, so I stood there on my own with Kenny bashing away on the drums, and produced this huge noise , which sounded like about thirty guitars, and what we actually added to record the bass, and what you hear is me going totally nuts in the middle of the studio. But the reason it's to complicated at the end harmonically is because I was just playing anything that came under my fingers. I got my friend Ralphel Rudd to come over and do the brass part at the end. Anything that did not work, we snipped out with a pair of scissors. Risk and trust, they call it. It works.
Let My Love Open The Door is one of those songs where you end up shooting to write something really deep and meaningful, and what you end up coming up with is something that appears to be froth. This was a song about love, but this is actually about divine love. It's supposed to be about the power of God's love, that when you're in difficulty, whether it's major or minor, God's love is always there for you. But I suppose, because I used the royal 'we'- I sang with God's voice-it became a song about, you know. "Hey, girl, I'll give you a good time, if you're feeling blue, come over to my place, and we'll catch a movie," very much a soap opera version of what it was about, but few people have picked it up.
Misunderstood was a song which I expect to flown past The Who at some point, and probably Roger said something like, "Well it's great Pete, but it's obviously yours, isn't it? I don't know that I can sing that". It's not actually a song about how I felt particularly. I was just writing a song about that kind of James Dean syndrome- you know, I would much prefer to be confused and gorgeous than as I really am (laughs). Which is, as I think I say in the song, fairly easy to penetrate, but that's another kind of sub-teenage angst all of it's own. A lot of the White City tracks were done in very simple form.
Give Blood was one of the tracks I didn't even play on. I brought in Simon Phillips, Pino Palladino and David Gilmour simply because I wanted to see my three favorite musicians of the time playing on something and, in fact, I didn't have a song for them to work on, and sat down very, very quickly and rifled threw a box of stuff, said to Dave, "Do one of those kind of ricky-ticky-ricky-ticky things, and I'll shout 'Give Blood!' in the microphone every five minutes and let's see what happens." And that's what happened. Then I constructed the song around what they did.
A Friend Is A Friend is the center piece song from The Iron Man, which was the musical I wrote based on Ted Hughes children 's story. There's a point in the story Where the Iron Man has been trapped in a pit that's been dug for him by the hero of the story, this little boy called Hogarth, and as they're throwing earth onto his face, his eyes meets the little boy's, and the little boy realizes that there had been a friendship developing between him and this iron giant, and he's worried that he's betrayed it. So it's just a song about the nature of childhood friendship, and what happens when you say to somebody when you're a little kid, "I'm going to be your best friend for ever and ever and ever", whether that is actually true, or can be true. And if it turns out not to be true, how does it make you feel?
Sheraton Gibson grew out of a really interesting writing session that I had. I was in a hotel-I don't think it was the Sheraton Gibson, but it might have been-and I'd been out and bought Bob Dylan's Self Portrait, which was a double album, and it was a bit of a dip in and see record, lots of different styles, and I was inspired by it. And I thought, this guy is a great genius, no question about it, but he's prolific and humorous and mischievous, and what would happen if I just sat down, put on the tape machine- I had an early, primitive cassette machine with me-and just put myself on the spot and made songs up as I went along? How many could I come up with? And I came up with eight. I totally made them up, start to finish, every detail, nothing added, nothing taken away, and what you hear is what I wrote. So it uses the kind of chords that fall under the fingers, but what the song actually does evoke is how I felt at the time.
English Boy was the focus for almost the entirety of the Psychoderelict album, which is the last studio album I made, And "English Boy" and Psychoderelict both represent a kind of a break for me with the old style, and therefore there's a very real sense of looking back at not just who I am and where I came from, but where the band's brief came from, where my brief as a composer came from-the street, the stuff that goes on on the street, the conflicts, the difficulties, the feeling that you know who you are if you're a football fan by reading the papers. It's about being commentated into existence, and the way that young people become almost parodies of themselves. Something about being a teenager is that there's this temptation to become a parody of your worst self. You think, "Well, everybody's carrying knives and sticking them in people, so I'll do it," wheras in actual fact this is still, or should be, a very isolated situation.
One of the things that happens today is that, because of the incredible effectiveness and the huge appetite for the media for sensational stories, a tiny incident that might happen eighty miles away becomes as significant to me as though it happened in my own neighbourhood, and this song is about that, and we allow it to make us afraid when we're walking down the street. We should only be afraid if we've got experience of something. If some old lady's been banged on the head in your street, then be afraid, but if she hasn't then don't be afraid until it happens. Don't go looking for it. So it's about paranoia fed by misinformation and by sensation, but primarily about the way that it effects the society of the young , and the way it marginalises the disenfranchised. Or disenfranchises the marginalised. (laughs)
Street In The City is a song about walking through a city and picking up paranoia everywhere, which I'd written about before, example, with 'Who Are You' and I'd done it with '5.15' on Quadrophenia. I'd written them deliberately going somewhere like Oxford street and picking up feelings from people and writing them down quickly. And I did that with 'Street In The City', only this was a more distant view, it was looking up at people up on buildings and looking at people in office blocks, and trying to get a sense of, you know, "That man over there painting that wall-I wonder what he's like in bed with his wife," and "That priest-I wonder what his childhood was like," trying to project and create characters.
At the time, Kit Lambert and I were talking about a project which would eventually embrace his father Constant Lambert's unrecorded catalogue of compositions, and we wanted an orchestral with a series of experiments orchestrating compositions of mine, and I suggested my father-in-law Ted Astley, who had done film music, and this was the first thing we tried. The whole thing was an experiment to see if you could make an argument that there was a form of songwriting where the orchestra was absolutely necessary. And what we, of course , proved was that it wasn't-that it was fascinating and wonderful and interesting, but it wasn't essential, that used to support a human voice, the string orchestra becomes decorative.
Pure And Easy is a very pivotal track for the Lifehouse project, and it begins," There once was a note, pure and easy," and this was inspired by a piece of writing by the Sufi teacher, Inayat Khan, who was also a musician, so a lot of his writing was about vibration and music, about the spiritual search being wrapped up in the idea that we're looking for a note which suits us all. And at some point this got misinterpreted by people that what I was writing about was the lost chord. I don't know what the lost chord is (laughs). A minor 7th with the 5th augmented, I expect-and it's probably a good thing that it's lost. This was a track that I recorded entirely at home. The Who did a good version of this, but I like this version.
Slit Skirt is about getting to that place in middle age where you really feel that life is never going to be the same-you're never going to fall in love again, it's never going to be quite like it was-and it's a song about getting drunk, about being maudlin and sentimental, and looking back, and, as always, the irony of the intention was lost on most people. I got very, very upset when people said, "This sounds like a song that Pete Townshend wrote when he was getting drunk," (laughs) and I'd carefully stayed sober in order to write it, so that I could get drunk to listen to it. It evokes that feeling that sometimes I have at my age, which is that one minute I'm sitting there looking at some old crap on TV thinking, "If I was just ten years younger, Id probably be in a nightclub right now," and suddenly you get to the end of the song, and you go from that reflective pseudo-tragic piano motif to the "Slit skirts, slit skirts, we're rocking out now-more champagne!" The futility of it, the bathos of it, and it's not unlike how I was living, when I was working on the record.
I think somebody described The Sea Refuses No River as a suicide note. In actual fact, what it is is a song of acceptance. This is another one of those songs that grew out of my interest, not just in Meher Baba, but also in the poets that Meher Baba enjoyed when he was a young man in his thirties. His interest in this poetry, led me to go and look at it. He was often quoting bits of it, but I went to examine it, and I was very struck by the use of wine as an analogy for God's love, and therefore by association that the tavern is the heart. The tavern is the place where you receive God's wine, and what you have to do is you have to hold up an empty cup-which is where I got the title of my first solo album-in order to receive. Anyway, this song is about all of the different qualities of love, and I remember once Meher Baba freely interpreting a poem about the fact that if God's love is wine, then human love is like water, and lust is like just the stuff that runs into a sewer, but that in the end it all combines in this huge ocean which is the infinite presence of God, and therefore it's al subsumed and mixed and one. And that's what this song is about.
A Little Is Enough is a really great favorite of mine, and would have to be on any 'best of ' collection I put together. It's really about how love changes in relationships, how your drawn together by romantic passion, and then what happens is that everything changes, and I was, in a sense, trying to use words to celebrate the decline of love in a young relationship. Around the time when I was making this record, I was having my first difficulties in my marriage and feeling that I'd allowed my career to take far much priority in my life. My wife had warned me I was talking on too much, and I just wasn't really listening to her, and one day I came back from the studio or gig or maybe even from a party, weeping, crying-' This is all to hard, I'm depressed, I can't do it, I can't handle show business, nobody loves me, they're not giving me enough money, they're giving me to much money, I'm to big, I'm too small," whatever it was-and I may have said, "Do you love me? Nobody else seems to." And she said, "No" (laughs) Anyway, I went to somebody called Adi Irani, who was Meher Baba's secretary for a long time, and he was doing a lecture tour over here, and he said " You look a bit sad" And I said, "Well I'm going through my first real hiccup in my marriage," and he said "Oh, what's it about?" And I said, " My wife doesn't love me any more." And he said , "Well, she's there, isn't she?" And I said, " Yeah," and he said, " Then she must love you a little bit," and I said "Yeah, yeah, she probably loves me a little bit." And he said "Well, when you're talking about love, which is in itself by nature infinite, then a little is enough." And it solved my immediate problem, but also seemed to me to be a very, very wise thought, and a very romantic thought too, you know, if you only have a moment of love in your life, It's enough, because it never evades you and it always returns.
Face The Face was done on a new keyboard, which was a form of DX7, and I was very keen to get something very, very fast and upbeat knocked out, and I knocked out a few sections that I couldn't play all together. I could play bits of it, but try and do it all together and it confounded me, so I did a bunch of building blocks and said to Rabbit, "I want forty of them"-this is a Mozart technique-"five of those, six of these, seven of those," and he wrote it all out and played it to a drum loop that we got from a box, and that became the beginning of the track. This was very much a new age type of recording, and that's why it sounds pretty modern, I think. Simon Phillips overdubbed the drums, we later overdubbed the brass, we overdubbed backing vocals, we overdubbed everything. It was all overdubbed onto Rabbit's synthesizer playing.
Uneasy Street was supposed to be on Psycoderelict and was set to one side. There's a very difficult area on Psycoderelict, which is unexplored, which is the notion if ' English Boy ' is about the exaggeration of evil in society, that there is also real evil in the world, and it's important not to forget this. There is real evil at work. It tends to express itself through the individual, who indeed, if charismatic, can inspire masses of people. But ' Uneasy Street ' was supposed to be about that moment when the hero of the story, Ray High, suddenly realizes his sexual passion, his desires to be seduced by a glamorous woman that he meets-and the reason the song's not in is that I wrote her out of the play in the end-is a bowing to something in himself which is incredibly self-destructive. In other words, this is not romance, this is not true love, this isn't even lust, this is like, " I am going to destroy myself, I am going to go out in the world and find a spectacular woman, and give myself to her, and let her do what ever she wants." It's about the fact that this does sit very uneasily in modern life, that if you're talking about a women doing this it's more common, it's easier to accept somehow, and that in the song this guy meets a beautiful woman, finds her very attractive, and then at the very last minute she whips of her mask, and whips of the mask underneath the mask, and it turns out to be Satin himself, and that a contract has been written somehow, and the contract is that, you know, "Yes, I am prepared to destroy myself, " which is the ultimate evil act. Heavy stuff, but a nice little ditty.
Pete Townshend in conversation with John Pidgeon, January 1996
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