19 Sep, 2023

The Who reissue their seminal 1971 album "Who's Next"

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The Who reissue their seminal 1971 album "Who's Next"

Remember that monolith the apes paw at in wonderment at the beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey"? How nonchalant and “rock ‘n’ roll” would it be if a band were to urinate against it as if it were an urban scaffold? Well, that’s the trick The Who thought they’d pull in 1971 for their "Who’s Next" cover art.

The image is at once impossibly iconic and representative of the band itself. The urination isn’t outlandish on a level of Blind Faith’s child pornography, of course, but it goes far enough to reflect the group’s roguish front, especially that of volatile drummer Keith Moon. The title ostensibly invites the listener to join the implicit countercultural motive, while the monolith references an important source of artistic inspiration for the band.

Behind this bold and amusing sleeve design lies the main attraction, however. Who’s Next comprises a roster of iconic tracks that were initially intended for the abandoned rock opera, Lifehouse. Following the success of the highly conceptual Tommy in 1969, Pete Townshend began to devise a new concept from a series of columns he wrote for Melody Maker in August 1970. Alas, the guitarist grew disillusioned with Lifehouse and suggested The Who return with a non-conceptual rock album.

Although no tangible concept binds the tracks in "Who’s Next", the songs are bound by a unifying sound mostly indebted to Townshend’s new Gretsch 6120, a hollow-body electric guitar he was gifted by Joe Walsh, who then played with James Gang. The guitar sounds throughout much of the album offer a distinctively acoustic air to proceedings.

Most memorably, "Who’s Next" is home to "Baba O’Riley", the groundbreaking track that welcomes us to the album with Townshend’s iconic Lowrey organ progression processed with a state-of-the-art arpeggiator. Drums, bass and thrashing guitar chords build the song towards a climax as Roger Daltrey shouts his first lines, “Out here in the fields/I I farm for my meals/I get my back into my living,” just over a minute in.

Following this nugget of neck hair-raising rock would present a challenge to the most adept of rock bands, but it was in safe hands with The Who. Elsewhere on the album lies the lead single, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, another of the band’s all-time essentials, the backing track for which was recorded during the first session for the album at Mick Jagger’s country estate, Stargroves, in April 1971.

After relocating to Olympic Studios later in April, the band worked on a basic take for "Bargain", another pulsing hit of accelerating rhythm guitar and mic-swinging vocal delivery. Following a short break, The Who returned to Olympic Studios in May 1971 to record the rest of the tracks, including "Baba O’Riley", "The Song Is Over", "Let’s See Action", and the timeless ballad, "Behind Blue Eyes".

"Who’s Next" marked a turned corner for The Who. Their blossoming embrace of the synthesiser as an integral instrument and Glyn Johns’ fastidious production allowed the band to create their most refined work to date. Meanwhile, Moon employed a distinctly subdued drumming style less reliant on lengthy, explosive drum fills to allow the synth lines space to shine.

This landmark album will be honoured with a multi-format reissue on Friday, September 15th, via UMR. The album has been remastered from the original tapes by longtime Who engineer Jon Astley and will be available across eight different release formats with bonus tracks, including Blu-ray, which features a Steven Wilson Dolby Atmos Mix of the album, CD, and digital.

For the vinyl fanatics among us, the album will be available across 4LP (live at San Francisco), 3LP (demos) and single LP editions. These are available in half-speed and coloured vinyl options.

The 4LP set is available for pre-order now for £69.99. Meanwhile, the full 10CD and Blu-ray Super Deluxe edition would set you back a handsome £229.99.

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