Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Who- Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy

How do you start listening to The Who? This sounds like a stupid question right? Tommy, Who’s Next or Quadrophenia would probably be typical answers. Those records are incredible works of art and showed how far rock n’ roll could be taken. As great as those records are, they would not be a good place to begin. Why? The complexity of those records can be quite intimidating for a newcomer, and they would probably be turned off. A compilation would be a more logical choice.

Choosing a Who compilation is often more confusing than choosing a proper album. Most Who compilations tend to focus on their arena rock heyday, virtually ignoring their early singles. Instead of getting a balanced view of the band’s musical career, the listener is only hearing one side. Fortunately, one compilation distills everything great about the Who into a single disc.

Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy is one of the best compilations in the history of rock n’ roll. Unlike the later Who compilations, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy has a purpose. Like their contemporaries The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Who’s early singles were never released on an actual album. Therefore this record was intended to collect all those early singles in one handy place.

Although it was a greatest hits collection in England, Meaty Beaty was considered a rarities album in the United States because none of the early Who records had charted. We tend to think of the Who as just behind The Stones in terms of popularity in the 1960s, but on their first tour of America they actually opened for Herman’s Hermits! Think about that for a second.

All of the major singles are here, from “I Can’t Explain” through “Pinball Wizard.” The songs are very poppy and on the surface seem like the typical British Invasion sound. The jangly guitars, high harmonies and catchy hooks are abundant, but the lyrical content sets them apart from peers like The Dave Clark Five. Although Pete Townshend was still finding his voice as a writer, his trademark vulnerability runs through the seemingly happy tunes. He is insecure in “Substitute,” (“I’m a substitute for another guy.”), and slightly paranoid on “The Kids are Alright,” (“I know I gotta get away/cause if I don’t I’ll go out of my mind.”). Even the sing-song chorus of “I Can’t Explain” is self-doubting.

The other element that sets The Who apart is the manic drumming of Keith Moon. In a time when drummers played simple beats, Moonie bashed the entire kit. His drumming gives the music a propulsive energy that other bands of the era can’t match.

This energy is the reason why Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy holds up better than other Who compilations. There is a visceral thrill in hearing The Who when they young, hungry and trying to prove themselves. Their music became louder and more complex, but The Who never rocked as hard as they did on these early singles. There is no pretension on this record, just maximum R&B.

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