The Who — 6 ft. Wide Garage, 7 ft. Wide Car — June 16, 1972
In our alternate universe...
It's 1971, swinging London has swung, and The Who, after the double-LP rock opera Tommy and the LP Who's Next, not to mention the live album Live At Leeds, which critics recognize as perhaps the greatest live album ever released, are not only sitting at the top of the pop charts but are also critic's darlings, recognized as, on the one hand, bounding into new territories of musical possibilities, but as well continuing to speak — in a way that eludes prog rock and other nascent genres — to the lived realities of their fans. Tommy becomes a phenomenon — the eccentric young English film director Ken Russell, infamous for the nude wrestler scene in his adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love, and even some executives from New York, approach the band for film and Broadway adaptations. The band is invited to perform the piece in venues such as New York's Metropolitan Opera House, the London Coliseum and London's The Round House. But even before playing these elite establishments, the Who performs the entire opera at numerous concerts and festivals and play selections at Woodstock, a performance which starts at around 5 am and is notable for Townshend having knocked Abbie Hoffman in the head with his guitar after the activist tried to bum rush the stage. "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!"
The band, despite Townshend's inspiration to do another big thing, decides to return to a more track-focused approach with their next LP, Who's Next. Townshend actually finds it a relief to return to writing individual songs, rather than "operas," and is eager to experiment with his new discovery — synthesizers. Though still managed by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, the Who starts to collaborate with an English production engineer, Glyn Johns, who finds ways to expand the band's sound on tape — heralding what would become the American "arena" sound that many other bands would make commonplace in the 70s.
Tracks such as "Baba O'Riley" (so named for the Meher Baba and the minimalist avant-garde composer Terry Riley) and "Won't Get Fooled Again" contain long passages of synthesized arpeggiated music that would, more so than Tommy, permit Townshend to make claims to have crossed over into the rather elite realms of highbrow, concert hall music, picking up as it does on a new trend in classical music — minimalism. "Behind Blue Eyes," "Getting in Tune" and "The Song Is Over" introduce — much to drummer Keith Moon's chagrin — a new facet to their songs: tracks that start with extended vocal passages that are accompanied by either acoustic guitar or piano with no rhythm section. These songs, along with "Love Ain't for Keeping," convey a more personal element to the band with melodies that are nearly heartbreaking, at least during the slow parts. The band has absorbed, certainly since their days as the High Numbers and after several US tours, a more "American" sound much beyond their earlier very British interpretations of it. Meanwhile, Entwistle's contribution, "My Wife," takes his mordant wit (I'm overusing this term) outside of "Boris the Spider" territory into the realm of personal confession, while Townshend's "Going Mobile" has a hippie-ish light-heartedness the band hadn't yet conveyed.
After the success of the album, Townshend begins to set his sights on his next magnum opus, which he titles Lighthouse. He's inspired by a bit of lyric and melody that formed the outro of "The Song is Over" (much as he used the ending of "Glow Girl" and some instrumental parts of "Rael" to spur on Tommy) to conceive of a tale of the search for the "pure note." The story would take place in a dystopic future in which humans, connected only by soul-sapping technology because the earth was so polluted that they couldn't have physical contact, could only find salvation after having found this pure note, an idea also inspired by the teachings of the Meher Baba and the Sufi philosopher and musician Inayat Khan. The first song he pens, "Pure and Easy," elaborates on the outro of "The Song is Over," while another song, "Let's See Action," further conveys his devotion to the teachings of the Meher Baba with lyrics such as "Avatar has warmed my feet... take me with you" and "Nothing is everything / Everything is nothing." Other songs like "Relay" ("The only quiet place is inside your soul") and "Join Together" follow through on this positive note of transpersonal communion. "Too Much of Anything" is a little more questioning and self-reflective, the protagonist intuiting the "pure note" but from a distance: "I think your ears hear a whole lot of music / And like me you've heard a bit too much." "Time Is Passing" starts as a laid-back paean to just hanging around — again inflected with a sort American hippie-ishness — but also rounds back to the theme of finding the note: "It's only by the music I'll be free."
Townshend's ambitions for Lifehouse include furthering his experiments with synthesizers in concert settings in which the "pure note" is obtained among the audience and an interactive film project in which the film's narrative shuffles at each viewing. He is dogged by Lambert, Stamp and even the band to abandon the project, partly because they don't quite understand the story, but also because the band's been performing a set of electrifying songs live for over a year — "Water" and "Naked Eye" among them — that have never been set to acetate. Moon has been missing the days of their live shows in the clubs of London; meanwhile, Entwistle has been writing some great tracks in the wake of the success of "My Wife" that couldn't conceivably fit into the rock opera that Townshend wants to pursue. Entwistle's song "Postcard," for example, which is sort of response to the parodic travelogue whimsy of the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R.," would make for an excellent a-side, perhaps Entwistle's first, while he composes for his song "When I Was a Boy," a relatively self-reflective lyric (perhaps inspired by Townshend's writing on Who's Next) and a more intricate horn section than in his previous tracks, which Johns' records effectively.
Townshend eventually caves into the band's wishes since he, himself, is a bit exhausted with grand concepts for the moment. He has another idea for his next rock opera — an elaboration on his concept from Jigsaw Puzzle, a "history of the Who" that takes into account the band members' divergent personalities. He's happy to shuck off some of the stress of the next big thing (he's been drinking a bit much, too, might be nice to chill out a bit). He pens for the new project — which, egad, is shaping up to be yet another double-LP (Lambert and Stamp have since gotten over their allergies to such projects) — two tracks that have a more light-hearted, if rambling, quality: "Put the Money Down," with its tale of "bands killing chickens" and fences falling, seems to reflect the band's experience at Yasgur's Farm, while "I Don't Even Know Myself" is a jab at the press's great confidence in their ability to psychoanalyze the Who's lead songwriter from the elite vantage point of not being the songwriter himself.
The band settles on a title inspired by a bit of Dada humor from their drummer — 6 ft. Wide Garage, 7 ft. Wide Car. No one loves it, so the title remains in a permanently tentative state right up until the managers hire an eccentric Dutch pop artist with the odd (if prescient) name of Phötoshop Philter, whose specialty is to render grocery store newspaper flyers in exquisitely-detailed acrylic, to create the album cover. It was quite a trial for Lambert and Stamp to convince the artist to permit the phrase "The Who" to appear on the cover, not to mention the LP's name, without offending the artist's sensibilities, but it happens. Moon is the only one who likes the cover, though all agree that it conveys the sense of early-70s savoire-faire they had been aiming at.
As the record comes together, Lambert and Stamp grow concerned that the remnants of the Lifehouse concept are breaking up the rhythm of the album, or in any case are contrasting too strongly with the tracks derived from the live set. No solutions are readily at hand, and, as shameful as they feel doing it (though not as shameful as they felt passing off Jigsaw Puzzle as a record of new tracks), they decide to include the underperforming a-side "The Seeker," a post-Tommy tune with the simplicity of their pre-Tommy singles, and Roger Daltrey's b-side — his last writing credit for the band — the hillbilly-ish track "Here For More," which, while no masterpiece, gives Townshend the chance to show off his increasingly dextrous lead guitar chops and which fits in with the generally positive, aspirational nature of the Lifehouse songs. With the project still a little shy of four sides, Townshend, in something of a fever dream, contributes an absurdist ditty in the "Dogs" style called "Now I'm a Farmer," which he secretly considers one of his most brilliant tunes. Meanwhile, he begins to turn in earnest again to his long-held dream of writing an album that is a "history of the Who" and pens the track "Long Live Rock" as a first volley in the effort. He stupidly presents his demo to the band just as they are wrapping up the sessions for the album. The managers and the band love the track and, against Townshend's wishes, it is chosen as the lead single for 6 ft. Wide Garage, 7 ft. Wide Car — and becomes an instant success.
And the rest is history...
Pure and Easy (1971) — 5:42
Naked Eye (1971) — 5:27
Too Much of Anything (1971) — 4:23
Here For More (1970) — 2:26
Postcard (1970) — 3:32
Put the Money Down (1972) — 4:31
The Seeker (1970) — 3:12
Join Together (1972) — 4:24
Water (1971) — 4:40
Time is Passing (1971) — 3:31
I Don't Even Know Myself (1970) — 4:56
When I Was A Boy (1971) — 3:30
Now I'm a Farmer (1970) — 4:09
Relay (1972) — 3:55
Let's See Action (1971) — 3:59
Long Live Rock (1972) — 3:58
Mary (1971) — 3:19