Or, prep screams and hipster dreams
I almost called this one ‘I Love My Wife.’ We’ll get there.
Today is the day you may have been waiting for: Who’s Next. A title that is untranslatable, at least into German. I take the album on runs, which is how I’ve finally cultivated an independent relationship to it. “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are so oversaturated in the zeitgeist that for a long while I felt I couldn’t properly hear them over the noise. Which, because they were the album’s heavy hitters, resulted in my staying clear of it altogether. And I’ve never even watched CSI.
I’ll make the case once again that timing is everything. I remember being on one of my storied walks through the neighborhood I was living in in 2021 when Apple Music presented me with “I Don’t Even Know Myself” (which is to Who’s Next as “Good Vibrations” is to Pet Sounds—not on the album but evocative of the sessions). And I liked it a lot. But I wasn’t ready to go down the rabbit hole. Or up the…Lifehouse, or something.
This year I was ready, and one song that really got me listening was, of all things, “Going Mobile.” Apparently there are people who don’t think much of this song. Those people can fffffade away. It’s so much fun. And it’s got a potentially sarcastic reading, criticizing the negligence and eco-unfriendliness of the road-bound hippie movement (“I don’t care about pollutionnnnn”). And it’s got the most un-self-conscious beep-beep this side of “Drive My Car.” My only complaint is that the early lyric “I’m gonna find a home and we’ll see how it feels” is begging for a line that completes the rhyme with “wheels.” Kind of like—big detour—the line in “Love Shack” that goes “I got me a car, it’s as big as a whale,” and we’re left hanging on the rhyme until way later when Fred Schneider says “and it’s about to set sail.” Which doesn’t even make sense because whales don’t sail. He’s thinking of a boat?
Back to the topic at hand! “Getting in Tune” is gorgeous. It may be my favorite Nicky Hopkins performance on the record, and that may be because it sounds most akin to what he was doing concurrently with the Stones. One morning this summer I sang this song right out my window, full voice. Case of main-character syndrome, perhaps, but I can sing so it is okay.
“The Song is Over” is the one I listen to least of all. It’s not that I dislike it (I actually hum the middle eight quite a bit), but I happen to prefer the cut song from which it takes its last line, “Pure and Easy.” If I’d heard the album at the time as it was first released, with no access to any of what was left on the cutting-room floor, I might feel differently.
There’s a bunch of great middle eights on this record, but my favorite has got to be the one on “Bargain.” The chord progression, the bass, the lyrics…it all just comes together divinely. I love the rising and falling energy of that song. It’s a good one to run up a city street to, since the runner is constantly gathering and losing speed.
I consider “Love Ain’t for Keeping” and “My Wife” a pair. I have to listen to the former directly into the latter: the former is short and the latter begins immediately, with very little in terms of a transition. They also present a hilariously dichotomous perspective on domestic life. You can love your spouse and be afraid they’re going to kill you. #IContainMultitudes
I would retract my statement about the middle eight of “Bargain” in favor of that on “Behind Blue Eyes,” except I don’t call that one a middle eight. It’s an entirely separate section, kicking the song into high gear, allowing it to achieve its full sonic potential before tacking on the footnote of the original theme. So if I called it the middle eight in my concert review, don’t listen to her, she’s an idiot. And that last footnote serves a special purpose: closing on an A major chord to set up the key of “Fooled.”
As for that one, well, what can I say? It’s an incredibly exciting recording, a masterclass in intervals as demonstrated by the synthesizer, a glorious tension build. I adore Roger’s little ‘prep scream’ preceding the third verse, warming up for the big finish like the smart singer he is. I think the first break is fantastic: they’ve modulated to a new key thanks to the middle eight—B major, the roman numeral II in the home key—and Keith’s minimal but powerful beat makes the groove feel positively airborne, like they’re tossing it among them (the handclaps help too). John’s descending bassline on the chorus—chef’s kiss. And all that’s to say nothing of the lyric, which…I’m pretty sure I remember some side character in Anna Karenina going on a chapter-long rant about this. Here’s why revolutions are ineffective, yada yada yada. Whatever! Can we sing it? Just kidding. I enjoyed Anna Karenina.
On one of my first outings running to the album, I timed it just right and rounded the corner back into my apartment complex on the last five tight beats of the song. I wanted to take a victory lap and high-five every stranger I passed. I did not do this, it would have been weird. But the rush was unbelievable.
The title of this post is even cleverer than I planned, tbh. Not only is it a pun, but it references Ariana Grande, who has in her catalogue a closer just as powerful albeit very different: “get well soon” from Sweetener. It’s got a blossoming build all its own, and even setting aside the story behind it, it manages to elevate the album purely on its own merit.
As usual, I digress. I do think Who’s Next distinguishes itself with the twin pillars of opener and closer. I’ll tip my hat to producer Glyn Johns for his superior sequencing skills. A select class of albums can boast that kind of double whammy. Maybe Ziggy Stardust (“Five Years”/“Rock & Roll Suicide)”? Maybe Tapestry (“I Feel the Earth Move”/”Natural Woman”)? Maybe Weezer’s Blue Album (“My Name is Jonas”/”Only in Dreams”)? Maybe Turnstiles???
Feel free to offer up your contenders.
Image: “Now push.” “Which way?” “No no no don’t push!” “I’m hungry.” (photographed by Ethan Russell)