John talks about the tracks from Odds & Sods
While the quadrophenic rockers await the debut of their ‘Tommy’ film, Who fans can get a taste of their tantalizing past.
The joke buzzing around Track Records this month is that if Nixon had these tapes in his possession he’d have a gold record on his hands instead of a lawsuit.
The tapes at Track aren’t recorded phone conversations. These thousands of feet of mag tape belong to The Who, and on them are nearly a decade of never-before released Who songs. The songs aren’t discards, but rather odd-man-out cuts that didn’t make it onto one of The Who’s albums of the past ten years. The collection, compiled and remixed by Who bassist John Entwistle, has appropriately been dubbed Odds and Sods, (on MCA Records.)
"Sod is a swear word over here," Entwistle told a Circus Magazine correspondent in the hallway of his home outside London, as the sun, dyed rainbow colors by the stained glass windows, flooded the marble floors. "When the word’s used in the respect of Odds and Sods, it means bits and pieces. You know, rubbish, stuff that’s been gathered from everywhere and stuck together."
"We thought we’d just have a go at some of these bootlegs," Entwistle explained. "They release really bad bootlegs of these songs all the time. I’ve heard three of them which were made in the States and they’re really bad quality. They obviously will last only about three plays before the acetate disintegrates. We thought it was about time we released a bootleg of our own."
Individuals or a unit?: Although Odds and Sods had its predecessor with Meaty, Beaty Big and Bouncy, this LP’s release comes at an almost awkward moment in the history of the group, further confirming fearful rumors that have been buzzing through the Track Record office as often as those Nixon jokes. Since the release of Quadrophenia, The Who have gone into virtual retirement as an operating unit. Except for a five day appearance at New York’s Madison Square Garden, an effort that helped increase sales on Quadrophenia, The Who have not appeared or worked together for over a year, and their next footsteps may take them down the same path as The Beatles.
"Obviously we’ve all gone into our own separate things now," Entwistle admitted.
"Roger’s been asked to make another film with Ken Russell, based on the life of Chopin. Pete’s very much into Eric Clapton at the moment. And I believe that Keith Moon is in L.A. for good. He’s recording a solo album there."
The Who have enjoyed an existence far beyond the life span of a typical rock group, which only lasts three years on the average. Part of the reason for their longevity, besides wild commercial success, was the fortunate way the diverse personalities within the band reacted to each other and their communal achievements. Examining the individual makeup of The Who, one finds a unique, egoless group full of delightful eccentricities, understanding and tolerance, and a maturity unknown in other rock units.
Lambert to Rudge: The Who were originally "discovered" by an out-of-work film producer, Kit Lambert. In 1963 Lambert began to whip up press hysteria about the group in much the same way that Andrew Oldham did for the Rolling Stones. Lambert produced The Who’s records up to and including Tommy, after which he retired, in 1968, to a villa in Venice. He left Peter Rudge, once an office boy at Track Records, in charge of this most fascinating crew of musicians.
Keith Moon, for example, became a legend in his own time—not for his ferocious drumming but for his antics offstage. He reportedly lost his front tooth in Flint, Michigan—the hard way; he drove his limousine into a Holiday Inn swimming pool. Moon also exploded a door off the hinges at the Gorham Hotel in New York. The maniacal drummer owns at least 10 cars, none of which he can drive himself. Onstage Moon flays at his skins like a berserk monkey, while at home he listens to surfing music and drinks brandy.
Townshend Detoured: Moon is a perfect foil to Peter Townshend, possibly the most important creative force to emerge from contemporary music. The biggest nose in rock—perhaps the biggest in the entire entertainment business—Townshend’s snoot gave him tremendous problems with the young ladies when he was in school. Consequently he turned his energies and frustrations on the guitar and mastered the axe with a style that had never been seen or heard before.
Townshend joined the group when it was called the Detours, and was lead by a tiny, muscular lad named Roger Daltrey. One night during a gig, Townshend accidentally broke the neck of his guitar and The Who’s most famous trademark was born.
Townshend used to be into drugs, but he turned to Meher Baba in 1968 as a more sensible and permanent lifestyle. He’s also been hailed as the hero in the saga of Eric Clapton’s heroin struggle. Onstage Townshend is the most fascinating guitarist in the business. He jumps, vaults and writhes, never missing a chord as he spins them perfectly off his arm.
Then there’s Daltrey, a tiny Greek god. Roger Daltrey is easily one of the best showmen in the rock field. Originally the sharper Mod member when The Who were born, Roger’s strutting and boasting attitude from that period wears well on stage today. At home, married to his second wife who is an American model, Daltrey lives in a vast countryside manor and rides horseback in his spare time. His voice is unmistakable, but his image and personality become lost sometimes as he seems possessed by the characters he created. Daltrey and Tommy will always be the same person.
Of course there is John Entwistle, still pacing back and forth in his hallway, which is probably the most movement Entwistle’s made in years. He usually wears black onstage, and it’s somehow a befitting color. His solo album was entitled Rigor Mortis. The album has a death theme, and the bassist often writes songs about dirty old men, young virgins and spiders. He has a collection of over 50 guitars. When his own brand, a Gibson Firebird, was discontinued by the manufacturer, Entwistle jetted to New York and bought the last dozen available.
Trouble from ‘Tommy’: Ironically enough it .was The Who’s best known work, Tommy, that has lead the group close to the point of disintegration. After nearly a year in preparation, the album was released and hailed as a tremendous accomplishment. During the next two years of constant touring and re-playing of Tommy, though, there was little time to write new material. Yet eventually Who’s Next was released.
Again with an enormous smash album, The Who were unable to tour due to prior commitments on Tommy. Lou Reisner had approached Townshend to do the ultimate version, with an all superstar cast, full chorus and orchestra. Townshend went to work on Tommy again. Somehow in the interim he wrote Quadrophenia.
This double LP set was greeted with much less enthusiasm than preceding Who product, and once again the group was too busy to tour. That old standard, Tommy, had popped up again, this time as a giant motion picture, directed by Ken Russell. Daltrey finally took a week off the celluloid production and did five nights with The Who at Madison Square Garden, but directly after he went back to the studios and Tommy, Russell believes Daltrey is a natural genius in front of the cameras, so Daltrey is retiring from The Who to be a movie star for awhile.
Thus, while everyone in the group was busy with their own careers and pastimes, Entwistle began to pore through the tapes that are carefully stored in a vault at the Track Record offices in London.
"The songs have more or less been looking us in the face for quite a few years. I played some of them back one day at the Track office and we began to wonder why they’ve never been released," Entwistle explained.
Priceless artifacts: Many of the songs on Odds and Sods will be familiar to those who have attended live Who concerts religiously. For example, a cut called "Pure and Easy," which many fans will know from Townshend’s solo LP, is often played onstage in another form by the group, Townshend comments on the LP liner notes that the song would have been included on Who’s Next, but they just couldn’t fit it on the single album.
"Naked Eye," another of The Who’s best concert numbers, is finally released here on acetate. Many interpret this song as an anti-drug plea, but Entwistle couldn’t say for sure. "I have no idea what it’s about," he laughed. "I never listen to the lyrics."
"’I’m the Face’," Entwistle explained, "is from back in 1964. It was written by The Who’s publicity man, Peter Meaden, who at the time decided to turn The Who into a group of little Mods called the High Numbers. It was a straight nick from a song called ‘Got Love If You Want It.’ We just changed the words and called it something else."
"’Little Billy’," Entwistle continued, "was an anti-smoking commercial. The American Cancer Society asked us to record a song about Cancer prevention. What they really wanted was a song about 20 seconds long. We did one about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. It was never used but we used to play it onstage anyhow, so we figured we’d put it on the album. That was written in 1967, I think."
An even stranger stroke of fate occurs within the lyrics to "Glow Girl." "This was one of those early 1967 things," Entwistle said. "We recorded it just before we did Tommy. In fact, ‘Glow Girl’ finishes off with ‘it’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl . . .’ Tommy was originally going to be a girl. Now that’s pretty weird."
As for the future, Entwistle has high hopes. "The Who hasn’t broken up. The band is still together. It’s just that we’re waiting for the release of the Tommy film to see what we should do next."
If things go well, Entwistle promises, The Who will be back together in the studios next spring. Fans wait and hope everywhere. In the meanwhile, Odds and Sods will satisfy Who hunger.