Book review: On track…THE WHO (Every album, every song) – Geoffrey Feakes

On track...THE WHO (Every album, every song) - Geoffrey Feakes

Sonicbond Publishing [Publication date 17.08.20]

One of the good things about any book like this, it encourages you to either dig out old vinyl or notice that you’ve missed something.

In the case of The Who they released their latest album as recently as 2019 and it was well received.  We don’t get sent everything at GRTR! and evidently are not in Universal’s good books.

Geoffrey Feakes is well positioned to wax lyrical on a band he grew up with, fantasising that he could have been pushed in a pram alongside Roger Daltrey as they lived in the same area of London and are the same ages.

He follows the band’s progress from the sixties when they changed their name from Johnny Devlin and The Detours and provides a brief biography of each original band member before the usual album/song breakdown.

The Who summed up the more rebellious nature of the “swinging sixties” and were adopted by The Mods with a lineage that has stretched to contemporary artists like Paul Weller via The Jam and Eddie & The Hot Rods.

The only Who album I ever bought was The Who Sell Out (1967).  As someone interested in radio I liked the segues featuring the pirate Radio London jingles and commercials.  But the music summed up that year in terms of airplay, not least ‘I Can See For Miles’ which Feakes confirms is one of his own favourites.

And one of my own favourite tracks, ‘Eminence Front’ (from the 1982 album It’s Hard), has remained regularly in their setlist more recently.  It’s a little bit uncharacteristic maybe but one helluva groove.

It’s this diversity that has kept the band fresh for over 50 years.  And, returning to the latest release, as Feakes confirms “There was general consensus that this was the best Who album since the 1970s”.

But let’s remember also that the band didn’t make an album for nearly 25 years, from 1982 to 2006.

What you do reflect on, reading a book like this, it’s unlikely we’ll see their likes again in the sense that they had 16 Top 50 singles before 1971 and many are still familiar.  This was a great way of establishing the band.

Any new rock band would find that record difficult if not impossible with today’s fragmented media and streaming. And, sadly, with the current pandemic.  The Who grew up at a time when there was national radio exposure (including the pirate radio stations) and TV (Top of the Pops).

An appearance at Woodstock (1969), the Isle of Wight Festival (1970) and the success of their early “rock opera” Tommy (more specifically a “concept album”) consolidated their reputation and provided breakthrough.

Feakes adds the soundtracks, live albums and a useful video survey to his narrative.

The band had already amassed a couple of hundred hours of live recording when they decided to play Leeds Uni and Hull City Hall specifically for a live album in 1970.

The original release (generally regarded as a classic) was affected by an electrical crackling noise which was later removed on subsequent reissues.  Feakes doesn’t mention the digital cleansing and you are more likely to get the full story by trawling around the web.

The 40th anniversary edition of ‘Live At Leeds’ featured the full unedited versions of both gigs, restoring Entwistle’s bass which due to another technical fault was partially missing from the Hull recording.

Navel-gazing aside, a good introduction to an enduring band.  ***1/2

Review by David Randall

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