Friday, September 5, 2014

The Who - Who's For Tennis?

The Who – Who’s For Tennis?
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Glow Girl
2.  Fortune Teller
3.  Girl’s Eyes
4.  Dogs
5.  Call Me Lightning
6.  Melancholia

Side B:
7.  Faith in Something Bigger
8.  Early Morning: Cold Taxi
9.  Little Billy
10.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
11.  Shakin’ All Over
12.  Magic Bus

A long-desired blog-follower request, this is my reconstruction of the proposed and promptly withdrawn 1968 album Who’s For Tennis? by The Who.  Originally intend as a proper studio album (or live album, as some maintain) that would have been released in-between The Who Sell Out and Tommy, the idea for the album was scrapped and the recorded material instead came out as either single releases or remained in the vaults.  This reconstruction draws from numerous sources to create a completely stereo, cohesive album, utilizing the best mastering available and is volume-adjusted for aural continuity.  Also, a completely new and unique stereo mix of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was created, unavailable elsewhere and exclusive to this reconstruction.

Riding as high as they possibly could from 1967’s The Who Sell Out, a concept album recorded to emulate British pirate radio stations, The Who embarked on tours of Australia and the United States throughout 1968, biding their time until their next concept album.  During this time, Pete Townshend began composing what he believed could be his magnum opus, a rock opera that spanned an entire album-length (rather than a single-song ‘pocket-opera’ such as “A Quick One While He’s Away”) about a deaf, dumb and blind kid (who sure played a mean pinball).  Such a lofty project required time to compose and demo properly, and the album was set to be recorded that fall.  But in an attempt to keep up with their British rock contemporaries such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Kinks who could release an entire album of material every year, the question was proposed: what album would The Who release in 1968 to fill the stopgap until Townshend’s rock opera, which at best would be released in early 1969?

Thus The Who’s manager and producer Kit Lambert proposed an album entitled Who’s For Tennis? to be released that July of 1968, meant to capitalize on the upcoming Wimbledon Championships.  The album would have included all new recordings as well as any number of the relevant outtakes from the previous year’s Sell Out sessions, which had produced a wealth of non-LP material.  In January and February of 1968, The Who recorded Townshend’s “Faith in Something Bigger”, “Glow Girl” and “Little Billy”, the later written for the American Cancer Society for an anti-smoking campaign.  Also recorded during these initial sessions was a very old Who song originally dating from 1964 called “Call Me Lightning”, and bassist John Entwhistle’s own “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, yet another ‘scary’ children’s song.  After embarking on their spring tour of the US directly after the February recording sessions, The Who returned to the studio in May and June and recorded seven more tracks: Townshend originals “Dogs”, “Melancholia”, “Magic Bus”, “Joys” and “Facts of Life” as well as live staples of old blues covers “Fortune Teller” and “Shakin’ All Over”. 

With twelve new studio recordings in the can, the absurd idea of Who’s For Tennis? was eventually withdrawn as the summer drew upon The Who.  Instead of an entire album, just three of the tracks trickled out as single-releases: the US single “Call Me Lightning” b/w “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and it’s UK counterpart “Dogs” b/w “Call Me Lightning”.  Neither single charted particularly well, becoming long-forgotten Who singles.  There was also some discussion of a live album of The Who’s performance at The Fillmore East to be released in Who’s For Tennis?’s place (some sources claim the Who’s For Tennis? concept was this live album rather than a studio album of the 1968 recordings) but the performances were a bit too sloppy and were set aside.  The final decision was to instead release the single “Magic Bus” as well as two cash-grab compilations: The Magic Bus: The Who On Tour in the US, and Direct Hits in the UK.  The decision paid off, as “Magic Bus” became a long-time fan favorite and live staple for The Who for years to come.  This was enough to bide the band’s time until Townshend could see, feel, touch and heal his rock opera into fruition, even as much as pillaging the outro of the now-canned “Glow Girl” into Tommy’s “Overture/It’s A Boy”. 

The remaining tracks were left unheard for years, with each slowly trickling out on anthology collections: first on Odds and Sods in 1974; then on Rarities volumes 1 & 2 in 1983; and finally the Maximum R&B boxset in 1993.  Aside from the tracks that remain in the vault to this day (“Shakin’ All Over”, “Joys” and “Facts of Life”), Who fans have just enough material to reconstruct what this theoretical 1968 stopgap album would have been.  Various fans’ track sequences tend to utilize the same 12-or-so tracks recorded during this period but the actual track sequences fluctuate wildly, as there never was a finalized tracklist.  The only concrete information we have (beyond a title) is that it would have been a ‘preachy’ album (a reference to the inclusion of “Little Billy” and “Faith in Something Bigger”) and the album would have opened with “Glow Girl”.  Keep in mind that allegedly Sell Out outtakes and non-LP tracks would have been used as filler on Who’s For Tennis?, which could have included any of the following songs: “Pictures of Lily”, “Doctor, Doctor”, “Glittering Girl”, “Hall of the Mountain King”, “Sodding About”, “Early Morning: Cold Taxi”, “Girl’s Eyes”, “Summertime Blues”, “Someone’s Coming”.  What would have actually been on Who’s For Tennis?  While there is no possible answer, we can certainly know what is on this reconstruction!

Side A begins with the only clue Pete Townshend has left us: the album starts with “Glow Girl”, which would have also been a single, here sourced from the best-sounding version from the Sell Out remaster.  Following is “Fortune Teller” taken from the 30 Years of Maximum R&B boxset.  The first of my chosen Sell Out outtakes follows (using only the ones that seemed to stylistically and sonically match the rest of the 1968 material): Keith Moon’s “Girl’s Eyes”, again taken from Maximum R&B.  Mellowing down a bit, the unique stereo mix of “Dogs” taken from the Maximum R&B set is next, followed by mod-rocker “Call Me Lightning”, using the true stereo mix (albeit frustratingly narrow) again found on Maximum R&B.   Side A closes with the epic rocker “Melancholia”, once again taken from the Maximum R&B set.  

Side B opens with Townshend’s admittedly preachy “Faith in Something Bigger” from Odds and Sods, followed by a song that seemed a bit ahead of its time in terms to social acceptance to the health hazards of smoking: “Little Billy”, using the superior master from Odds and Sods.   Next is the second Sell Out outtake which fits in with the sound of The Who circa 1968, Roger Daltrey’s “Early Morning: Cold Taxi”, also taken from the Maximum R&B box set. 

Midway through side B we come upon the two truly unique mixes on my reconstruction.  First, a completely new stereo mix of the otherwise mono “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is created when syncing up the two different mono mixes.  Panned at 9 o’clock to the left is the mono mix found on the Rarities album that features prominent drums; panned at 3 o’clock to the right is the mono mix found on the vinyl-only release of Magic Bus: The Who On Tour that features prominent backing vocals and sound effects.  Because both versions are mixed differently enough, we are able to create an interesting stereo spectrum.   At some points, the two mixes fall out of sync, creating a sweeping phase effect; while this is usually unwanted, I thought the effect was particularly effective in the creepy psychedelic track, and I left it in!  While “Shakin’ All Over” was recorded during the May 1968 sessions, no recordings of the track have been released nor leaked.  Instead, I present here a soundboard recording of the song taken from their Fillmore East performance, a nod to the brief concept that Who’s For Tennis? might have been a live album from that date anyways.  Edited to a more modest length, I also personally remixed the crusty-sounding soundboard recording to emulate the mixing found during the ending of “Melancholia” by reducing the volume and high end of the guitar in the left channel, and raising the high end of the drums in the right channel as well as bringing them in a bit to about 3 o’clock.  Concluding the noisy  performance—and the album as a whole—is “Magic Bus”, the stereo mix taken from Odds and Sods, which featured the most natural mastering in my opinion.

With cover art brilliantly reimagined by Jon Hunt (thanks Jon!) as the icing on the cake, we have twelve songs evenly spread over two shorter sides, in tandem with their previous three albums.  And what of the quality of this audio tennis match?  The most points scored here is for the drastic change from mod-pop into full-blown rock icons.  Here we hear the band beefing up their sound and more importantly Roger Daltrey shifting from the slight, short-haired teen-pop singer of “I’m A Boy” and “Substitute” into the wailing, bare-chested, long-haired rock star of Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia.  Listening to the album, we now see how The Who went from Sell Out to Tommy.  But taking the album into a whole, we can understand why Who’s For Tennis? was left out: while there are some great songs here, the album as a whole is pretty weak, scatterbrained and honestly a bit corny.  Regardless, this reconstruction offers a missing piece of The Who’s history, an excellent addition to their album discography as it, at the very least, collects a number of non-LP songs that would be quite an annoyance to gather piecemeal.  Let the match begin!  

Sources used:
30 Years of Maximum R&B (1992 original CD master)
Fillmore East: 6 April 1968 (bootleg CD, Sunrise Records)
Magic Bus - The Who On Tour (1968 unknown vinyl rip)
Odds & Sods (1998 Polydor CD remaster)
Rarities vols I & II (2004 Polydor CD remaster)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR, Goldwave and Audacity --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included