The High Numbers — Baby Don't You Do It! — April 23, 1965
In our alternate history...
It's 1964, and The High Numbers (formerly The Detours and, for a brief moment, The Who) is disappointed with the reception of their first single, "I'm the Face," with a b-side called "Zoot Suit," both tracks written by their manager, Pete Meaden. "I'm the Face" is, shame-facedly, pretty much Slim Harpo's "I Got Love If You Want It," though pepped up with some swooping bass work by John Entwistle and Keith Moon's sprightly drums, and "Zoot Suit" is largely based on a track called "Misery" by the Detroit R&B group The Dynamics (absent the falsettos of the original). The High Numbers had already established themselves in the clubs as one of the best, if not the best (the Rolling Stones could also make the claim), interpreters of Black American music in England, and are central to the Mod scene in London at the time.
The High Numbers soon fire Pete Meaden and take on two filmmakers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, as their managers. The band is keen to return to their former moniker, "The Who," since they feel their present name sounds a bit twee, but Lambert and Stamp, while agreeing in principle that "The Who" is a better name, convince them to stick with the High Numbers given that they'd been performing under that name for a bit. Though "I'm the Face" failed to break the group, the managers figure it's better to build on what they have than make a sudden shift. And perhaps, with a few fresh new tracks, they would be able to move a few copies of "I'm the Face" (especially since Roger Daltrey, their sometimes enigmatic lead singer, really is the "face" — he's quite handsome) while attempting to capture more of the excitement of their near-legendary live shows on acetate!
The High Numbers enter the studio — it's still mid-1964, time moves slowly, or quickly, in swinging London — and record, with their new producer, American Shel Talmy, energetic versions of other largely Black American songs that have become staples of their shows. These include three tracks by the writing team of Lamont Dozier and the brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, "Baby Don't You Do It," "Leaving Here," and "(Love is Like) A Heat Wave," a hit for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and a somewhat saccharine but effective track "Anytime You Want Me," a hit for Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters. They also record Otis Blackwell's first single, "Daddy Rolling Stone," James Brown's "Shout and Shimmy" (once described as 'a truly shameless ripoff of The Isley Brothers' 1959 hit "Shout"'), the somewhat obscure Paul Revere and the Raiders track "Lubie (Come Back Home)," Bo Diddley's deep cut "Here 'Tis," and "Motoring" by Ivy Jo Hunter, Phil Jones and William Stevenson.
The standout track from the sessions is Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned song "Baby Don't You Do It" which showcases Moon's seemingly chaotic, cymbal-heavy (he eschewed the hi-hat) but infectious drumming, Daltrey's increasingly effective channeling of Black American vocal stylings, and, most importantly, guitarist Pete Townshend's experiments with unconventional uses of the guitar. This track would contain a guitar solo nearly entirely made of feedback, pedal effects and general noise, a sound Townshend, inspired by his art school fascination with "auto-destructive" art, would take to greater heights with his first self-penned track, "Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere." The managers decide (perhaps not entirely with the band's approval) that "Baby Don't You Do It" would be the first single of the new High Numbers, breaking with the somewhat cooler mode established by their first single.
Townshend, in fact, has to make a case for the inclusion of his own songs on the High Numbers' first proper album. Lambert and Stamp, not to mention their producer Talmy, seem fixated on the idea of introducing the band to the record-buying public as largely a covers band, given the success of their interpretations of American hits (and near hits) in their live sets. Townshend finally convinces them to include "Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere" on the first LP, arguing that The Beatles first LP was entirely written by the band (who themselves drew quite a bit from Black American music) and that the first LP by the Rolling Stones included a track by Jagger/Richards. The Kinks' first LP (released just weeks earlier), after all, had a big hit with the Ray Davies track "You Really Got Me."
Talmy, who produced the first LP by the Kinks, isn't entirely convinced that Townshend could pen a song that can make the impact of "You Really Got Me." Townshend, not entirely sure of his songwriting skills but always eager to take on authority, accepts this as a challenge. He arrives at the studio with a new ditty he'd written, "I Can't Explain," which, given its opening chord riff that clearly reflects the influence of the Kinks' hit, convinces Talmy that perhaps he has some talent, even if it's not entirely clear what it is yet. Talmy agrees to record the track on one condition: that they also record a Talmy-penned track, "Bald Headed Woman" — in actuality, a reversioning of an American folk song that he wanted to publish as his own to receive royalties, and that he had already recorded with the Kinks — and release it on the first LP. Given the general agreement that this first LP would be largely composed of covers, even of "deep cuts" released only weeks ago, the band agree. They record a far more chaotic, effective version of the track than the Kinks, but they never play it in their live set.
Meanwhile, Townshend, realizing there is much more to the pill-hopping, fashion-obsessed, haplessly love- (and sex-) damaged Mod scene, begins to demo in his apartment more sensitive songs with complex harmonies, such as "My One Love," "As Children We Grew," and the country-influenced "The Girls I Could Have Had," which, like "I Can't Explain," describes — in a more braggadocio way — the failure of a young man to "have the nerve" to speak to girl. He doesn't manage to convince Lambert and Stamp that these tracks are suitable for the LP, focused as they are to convey Mod "cool" and the aggression of the High Numbers' live shows. Daltrey, while deeply awestruck with this newfound songwriting ability of his friend, agrees that the tracks don't quite fit in with the club-geared ethos of the LP. Moon cares more for a different part of American pop culture — the surfer music coming out of Southern California — but really has no problem with the track decisions as he just likes the opportunity to bash drums and he loves his bandmates. Entwistle, as is his style, stays mum.
Yes, Townshend does manage to sneak in a few other self-penned tracks — the parodic "Instant Party Mixture" (on which Entwistle has his first lead vocal using his Louis Armstrong-inspired growly voice that he would later employ on "Boris the Spider") and the lively "Call Me Lightning" (in the macho spirit of "I'm the Face"), but, for the moment, Townshend's eagerness to explore new ground in his songwriting is held in abeyance. The single, "Baby Don't You Do It," is a modest hit, but only modestly more than "I'm the Face." The b-side, "I Can't Explain," is ignored by the radio stations but becomes a staple of their live set (for decades to come!). The second single from the album, "Leaving Here" (with the b-side "Bald Headed Woman") also fails to chart. The band decides, to the consternation of their managers and producer, to revert to their preferred name: "The Who."
Baby Don't You Do It (1965) — 2:49
Leaving Here (1965) — 2:36
Anytime You Want Me (1965) — 2:36
I Can't Explain (1964) — 2:05
Zoot Suit (1964) — 2:00
Daddy Rolling Stone (1965) — 2:48
Here 'Tis (1965) — 2:07 (not on Spotify)
Shout and Shimmy (1965) — 3:18
Call Me Lightning (1964/1968) — 2:25
Lubie (Come Back Home) (1965) — 3:37
Instant Party Mixture (1965) — 3:28
Motoring (1965) — 2:49
I'm the Face (1964) — 2:28
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere (1965) — 2:41
Bald Headed Woman (1964) — 2:10
(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave — 2:41
My Own Love (1965) — 3:25
As Children We Grew (1965) — 1:45
The Girls I Could Have Had (1965) — 2:57