The Who — Jigsaw Puzzle — October 25, 1968
In our alternate history...
After Baby Don't You Do It!, under the name of the High Numbers, the band, now renamed The Who, release their LP My Generation in late 1965. While again produced by Shel Talmy, the record is largely composed of band-penned songs, with the exception of two James Brown tracks, "I Don't Mind" and "Please, Please, Please," "My Way" by Eddie Cochran and Jerry Capeheart, and Bo Diddly's "I'm a Man," which harken back to their days as the High Numbers. Some of Townshend's songs — "Out in the Street," "Much Too Much," and "The Good's Gone" — still reflect some of the band's roots in Black American music, but tracks like "My Generation" — an explosive hit that galvanized the youth in England of the time, and later in the US — and "The Kids Are Alright," which displayed a propulsive energy unrivaled in the pop scene of the time, solidify the band as at the forefront of British pop music. Townshend sings his first lead on his track "A Legal Matter," while the instrumental "The Ox," credited to Townshend, Entwistle, Moon, and session pianist Nicky Hopkins, displays the raw power of the band as improvisers — no doubt live performances of this piece lasted far longer than the 3:56 (already quite long for the time) of the studio track.
The Who follows My Generation in 1966 with the equally impressive A Quick One in 1966. The LP is a notable advance on the previous (quite revolutionary) LP as it contains Townshend's first attempt at a "rock opera," a suite called "A Quick One, While He's Away" which tells the story of marital infidelity (ending with the memorable chorus of "you are forgiven!"), a suite whose live performance on the Rolling Stone's aborted film The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus — recorded in 1966 but released in 1996 — becomes legendary. The LP is also notable for having the first Entwistle-penned tracks, the live favorite "Boris the Spider" and "Whiskey Man," both of which immediately established the bassist as a songwriter of mordant wit, and tracks by Moon and Daltrey (neither of whom, unlike Entwistle, would go on to write many songs for the band). There's a throwback: another recording of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas "Heat Wave" (which had appeared on the High Numbers' LP Baby Don't You Do It!).
The Who's next LP, The Who Sell Out in 1967, is if anything even more ambitious, with critics raving that it is a masterpiece. The LP solves one problem that the Who had on A Quick One which is an eclecticism of style — hard-edged Mod tracks rub against lighter fare (such as Moon's "I Need You"), and orchestral, power pop classics like "So Sad About Us" share sides with outright parody (again, provided by Moon with "Cobwebs and Strange"). This isn't so much a problem — the tracks are all enjoyable in themselves — but it leads to some anxiety in their main songwriter, Townshend, who has been, perhaps since the beginning, searching for a unified identity among the four disparate personalities of the band (not to mention a unified identity for himself). The temporary resolution to this problem is the suite "A Quick One," which in itself moves quickly (see what I did?) through a rout of styles while following a simple narrative line.
On The Who Sell Out, a different solution presented itself, which is to treat the LP itself as a radio broadcast, an homage to the pirate radio stations that had provided youths like the Who with their most direct experience with American r&b. "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand" barely has percussion (by Who standards) and is largely driven by lovely harmonies, while "Odorono" — a tale of a poor young girl auditioning for a role who is thwarted by her lack of personal hygiene — is something like an extended parody of a radio commercial. The opening track, "Armenia City in the Sky," written by their friend John David Percy "Speedy" Keen, is the band's most salient attempt at "psychedelic" pop with its barrage of studio tricks such as backward-played guitars and phased-out vocals. "Our Love Was" and the explosive "I Can See For Miles," possibly their most complex track to this point, don't stray too much from the Who idiom, but "Sunrise" is entirely acoustic guitar and Townshend's intimate vocals. The final track, "Rael," is another short "rock opera," and though its story is forbiddingly obscure, it has an earnestness and sophistication possibly inspired by the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds released the previous year.
It's 1968. Time continues to move too quickly, or too slowly, in still-swinging London. The band is sitting on the wild success of their three previous albums, and Townshend, having become absorbed with the teachings of the Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master, is setting his sights on an "opera" that can confront larger spiritual issues than the "girl girl girl" subject matter (as he relates in an interview) that drive most pop bands. But the Who has amassed an absurd amount of non-album a-sides since My Generation starting with the instant classic, "Substitute," with its (perhaps still Kinks-inspired) opening power chords played on acoustic guitar and its witty (and in the US, controversial) lyrics that plumb one of Townshend's favorite subjects, personal identity. A follow-up, "I'm A Boy," again a hit, furthers this narrative of self-searching, in this case through the story of a boy whose parents, after having three girls, refuse to acknowledge his gender. "My name is Bill, and I'm a head case..." the boy angrily reveals. "Happy Jack" is one of Townshend's — and the band's in general — many portraits of wounded outsiders, in this case a poor bloke who lives on the Isle of Man and is abused by local children, while the exquisitely structured "Pictures of Lily" is the cheeky tale of a boy who has erotic fantasies about a woman he sees on a postcard his Dad had given him to help him sleep — he falls in love with her only to discover she'd died in 1929!
Among other tracks that have already been released are some sprightly b-sides by Entwistle such as his tale of extreme hypochondria, "Doctor, Doctor," his country-inflected waltz-time "I've Been Away" about an innocent man whiling away his time in jail, "Someone's Coming" with its intricate horn arrangements, and the goofy Beach Boys pastiche, "In the City," co-written with Moon, which features some lovely harmonies. Two tracks that had appeared on an EP in 1966 that had quickly gone out of print, "Disguises" — another of Townshend's riffs on mistaken identity, this time of a girl the protagonist is dating who, nonetheless, seems to be hiding from him — and "Circles," a track that had appeared on the US edition of My Generation that the band continued to rework, are also deemed worthy for this new LP.
The Who is also sitting on a wealth of unreleased recordings from the past three years, including studio versions of American r&b tracks that have become staples of their live shows — loud, throaty renditions of the Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and "My Way" and a relatively somber take on a Mose Allison tune "Young Man's Blues" which features Daltrey softening his persona to sound like Allison himself (later live performances of the track would forego this tactic). The band has also recorded covers of recent hits: an effective, even menacing, version of the Everly Brothers' "Man with Money" and a rushed production of the Rolling Stones "The Last Time" (so rushed, in fact, that they couldn't wait for Entwistle to return from his honeymoon to play on it) which was recorded in solidarity with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who had both been arrested on drug charges. Also in the can are a charming anti-smoking track written and recorded for the American Cancer Society, "Little Billy," and one of the rare Daltrey-penned tracks, co-written with Dave "Cy" Langston (many surmise that Daltrey really had no part in it), the oddly inspired "Early Morning Cold Taxi." An alternate, Hammond-driven, longer version of an acoustic song from The Who Sell Out, "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands," is deemed different enough from the prior release to include, finally settling a debate with the band and their managers regarding which was superior — just release both!
Townshend, ever creatively obsessed with the personal contradictions (and conflicts) within his own band, yet somewhat unsure of whether this LP will obtain the sort of coherence he aspires to, begins to conceive of the forthcoming work as a double-LP — a format previously used by Bob Dylan in 1966's Blonde on Blonde but which was still infrequent in pop music. This proposed monster, spanning across all of the band's major modes, would be something of a "history of the Who," though forsaking any hint of chronology. Townshend's title for the project: Jigsaw Puzzle.
As Townshend and Entwistle work to assemble the available tracks, Lambert and Stamp grow wary about the project — how, they ask, is this not merely a compilation album? Yes, there are a few unreleased tracks, but many of the recordings have already appeared on singles, if not in the UK then in the US, and many of the tracks are covers that have either figured already in their live show (and hence might be suitable as releases from a live album, since bootlegs of the band's performances were flourishing) or were recent hits by well-known acts. And one of the tracks was recorded for the bleedin' American Cancer Society! And a double-LP — that seems simply gauche, an unnecessary act of bravado after the tightly-constructed, intricately-recorded The Who Sell Out. Townshend, however, again feeling the pinch from his managers (Talmy has been long out of the picture), sets down to work on demos at his new studio Ebury Street — where, for the first time, he's installed a piano and drum kit. But then, one day, the office gets a call from a raving Who groupie alerting them of two things: the imminent release of Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland in October and of the Beatles' self-titled opus (later to be known as "The White Album") possibly in November — both double-LPs! Well, that settles that.
The band now faces the challenge of recording a whole side of new material for an October release. Entwistle is the first up with a song he'd written about Moon's mood changes before and after drinking, a spooky, whimsical number titled "Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde" which finds him back in "Boris the Spider" territory. Townshend puts together a suite of new songs in classic "power pop" mode, "Glow Girl," a mordant tale that takes place in a falling airplane — and that ends with the birth of a baby girl! — a track titled "Glittering Girl" (no relation), an odd meditation on femalehood in the age of pop stardom, and a song that signifies his newfound interest in exploring themes of spirituality, "Faith in Something Bigger." A fourth track is a little darker, revisiting the dense overlays of sound of "Disguises" but with an orientalist flavor, titled "Melancholia." The band also record another Moon-penned track, "Girls' Hands," with naive, child-like lyrics that recall Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd on the 1967 LP The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. And conveniently, the band has, for the past few months been opening their shows (partly to make sure their equipment was functioning) with an Entwistle scorcher, the relatively earnest "Heaven and Hell" — they quickly set it to acetate.
By this time, the band is getting a bit giddy. They are having wicked amounts of fun jamming and playing together, but the creative juices are thinning to a trickle when Lambert, over tea and biscuits, recalls to Townshend a tune that Townshend had demoed during the My Generation sessions, a Bo Diddly-inspired ditty called "Magic Bus." Townshend barely remembers it, so Lambert bats on the side of a water glass with a pencil, not very rhythmically but effectively, to recall the tune. When the band listens the next day to the demo, they instantly recognize the potential of the track, perhaps even as a leadoff single. Inspired by Lambert's pencil tapping, they hit upon the unusual idea of only using claves for percussion for nearly the entirety of the song. Finally, Townshend, ever an admirer of the music of his friend Ronnie Lane and the Small Faces, pens an offbeat tune called "Dogs" in their style, while a Moon-credited instrumental titled "Dogs Part Two" — so named not because of any relation to the previous track, but because it features the band barking! — emerges from their late-night shenanigans jamming in the studio. The managers and band agree that it is their best instrumental since "The Ox" from My Generation, perhaps their best jam ever recorded in a studio.
And so there you have it — a double bleedin' LP!
Disguises (1966) — 3:11
Man With Money (1966) — 2:45
Doctor, Doctor (1967) — 2:59
Pictures of Lily (1967) — 2:45
Circles (Instant Party) (1966) — 3:13
Happy Jack (1966) — 2:12
Fortune Teller (1968) — 2:22 (not on Spotify)
I'm a Boy (1966) — 2:41
Someone's Coming [John Mason] (1967) — 2:40
Early Morning Cold Taxi [Radio London News Bulletin] (1967) — 2:59
Substitute (1966) — 3:47
Faith in Something Bigger (1968) — 3:01
Glow Girl (1968) — 2:26
In the City (1966) — 2:23
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1968) — 2:35
My Way (1967) — 2:28
Summertime Blues (1967) — 2:35
Glittering Girl [Coke After Coke] (1967) — 3:59
Melancholia [Bag O' Nails] (1968) — 3:22
Little Billy (1968) — 2:17
Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands (1968) — 3:22
Young Man's Blues (1968) — 2:44
Magic Bus (1968) — 3:22
Girls' Hands [Bag O' Nails] (1967) — 2:52
Heaven and Hell (1968/1970) — 3:35
Dogs (1968) — 3:06
Dogs Part Two (1969) — 2:27
I've Been Away (1966) — 2:08
Politician (1967) — 3:37