Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No. 383: A Quick One

Band: The Who
Album: A Quick One
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A very strong argument could be make that "A Quick One" is The Who's strongest album. It has tinges of the band's later thematic genius in the title track, great R&B (the band's strongest style at that point), pop sensibilities and even a hint of experimentation.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd have this one higher.
Best song: The album is fantastic and it is full of great songs.
Worst song: See above, though I can see why people don't like "Cobwebs and Strange."
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle were still finding their way in 1966. They were still youthful rockers, brought up on R&B and Elvis. Yet, they were also trying to find new ways to rock and roll art and storytelling.

And so, we get the most well-rounded Who album of the band's catalog. Each member contributed a song to the record, with a cover song to boot. As such, each band member's personalities come through, with Moon's strangeness, Townshend's straightforwardness and Entwistle's skill as a storyteller as the dominant themes.

The band is tight as ever. Despite the somewhat shoddy production (Moon's drums often sound like they were recorded with broken mics), Moon is at his peak of drumming. While he would later fill Who records with ridiculous fills ("Won't Get Fooled Again" is a great drum song, but the fills get distracting), Moon remains steadfast and accented on "A Quick One." His interpretation of the drumline for "Heatwave" is the great example; Moon keeps the beat while adding bits and short, two-note fills to add to the song without distracting.

The title track is where Townsend first experimented with longform musical storytelling and it is riveting. While the storyline isn't as complex as "Tommy" or the failed Lifehouse project, "A Quick One" is easy to understand and follow. A man strands his girlfriend/wife for a year and she feels lonely. Her friends suggest she enjoy the company of Ivor the Engine Driver. Her lover comes back. She confesses. He forgives her.

Pretty simple stuff, right?

Still, in a nine-minute period, the band rips through the storyline. The song starts with an excellent a capella (each member has a good singing voice, lest we forget) and moves into jangly pop, vocal Beach Boys-type harmonies, surf-style Entwistle awesomeness, a honky tonk section and a straight rock finish. It's stylistically varied, lyrically interesting and tightly played. Basically, it's all the things the Who does well in a nine-minute mini-opera.

Few bands would be as bold to even think of a concept such as "A Quick One," but the Who pulled it off beautifully. It's among the band's best records and wildly underrated.

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