Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Who - Lifehouse (upgrade)

The Who – Lifehouse

(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

September 2016 UPGRADE

Side A:
1.  Teenage Wasteland
2.  Time Is Passing
3.  Love Ain’t For Keeping
4.  Going Mobile
5.  Baby Don’t You Do it

Side B:
6.  Baba O’Riley
7.  Mary
8.  I Don’t Even Know Myself
9.  Greyhound Girl
10.  Bargain

Side C:
11.  Naked Eye
12.  Behind Blue Eyes
13.  Too Much of Anything
14.  Let’s See Action
15.  Getting In Tune

Side D:
16.  Pure and Easy
17.  Won’t Get Fooled Again
18.  This Song Is Over

This is a long-overdue upgrade to one of the very first reconstructions on my blog: the doomed rock opera Lifehouse by The Who, the next in a series of alternate Who albums.  Originally planned as a double concept album and the soundtrack to its accompanying film, Lifehouse was too technically complex and conceptually baffling to all except Pete Townshend.  After a nervous breakdown while making the album and the lack of support from manager and producer Kit Lambert, Lifehouse was scrapped and paired down to the single LP Who’s Next, which became one of The Who’s crown achievements, critically and commercially.  This reconstruction attempts to pull the best sources of all tracks associated with the Lifehouse project recorded by The Who and assemble them not only in a pleasing and cohesive track order, but to follow the storyline of the film. 

The upgrades to this September 2016 edition are:
  • Revised track order that follows the Lifehouse storyline more logically, as well as a more sonically-pleasing flow.  
  • “Relay” and “Join Together” are dropped from the tracklist, as there is no evidence they were originally meant to be in the Lifehouse project.
  • “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “Naked Eye” are added to the tracklist as there is evidence they were originally considered for the Lifehouse project in some fashion.  
  • The final Olympic takes of “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Pure and Easy” are used instead of the rougher Record Plant takes.  
  • A unique stereo mix of “Time is Passing” is featured, using the left channel of the track from Odds and Sods synced with the right channel from the Exciting The Who bootleg.
  • Most sources are taken from the Japanese 2010 and 2011 SHM CD remasters of Who’s Next and Odds and Sods respectively, the most pristine and dynamic masters available of both releases.  
  • “Let’s See Action” is sourced from the new The Who Hits 50, which features the full single version.  

Following the critically and commercially successful 1969 rock opera Tommy was no easy task for The Who.  At first the beginnings were modest with a self-produced EP recorded in May 1970 at Pete Townshend’s garage studio (dubbed Eel Pie)—possibly to mimic the stripped and fantastic Live at Leeds, released that month.  Featuring recent songs written while touring Tommy, The Who tracked “Postcard”, “Now I’m A Farmer”, “Water”, “Naked Eye” and “I Don’t Even Know Myself”.  This EP never saw the light of day for various reasons, including questions of marketability and inflated song length.  It's more likely that Townshend had instead concocted an epic idea worthy enough to follow-up Tommy—another rock opera that not only functioned as a soundtrack to a companion film, but would include an audience-participated live performance with the band itself.  That September, Townshend began recording elaborate demos for much of the album, tracking all the instruments himself.  Unlike Tommy, the material for this project—now called Lifehouse—would consist of approximately 20 stand-alone songs, without the need for musical interludes to propel the storyline; each song would be self-sufficient. 

The original storyline itself was simple, albeit Bradbury-esque.  The setting was in the not-too-distant future, in an ecologically-destroyed United Kingdom.  Most people live in the major cities and are electronically connected via special suits to The Grid, a Matrix-like virtual reality computer program that feeds, entertains and pacifies the populace, which is controlled by a villainous character named Jumbo.  Since it is not approved by The Grid, music is outlawed completely; despite this, a hacker musician named Bobby who lives outside the city amongst the hippy-gypsy farmer communes broadcasts a signal of classic rock (called Trad) into The Grid.  Some rebellious few congregate to the secret Lifehouse to experience the music Bobby broadcasts, which are somehow tailor-made for each individual person, the music representing their own life experience (and performed by, who else, but The Who!). 

The story begins with Ray and Sally, husband and wife turnip farmers, also living in a traveling commune outside of the city.  Their teenage daughter Mary intercepts the Lifehouse broadcasts and runs away from her family to seek the source of the pirate signal.  While Ray goes after her, Sally finds Bobby attempting to find The One Note, a musical note that represents all people and unites the universe.  After falling in love, the pair travel to London to find and play The One Note at The Lifehouse. By the end of the double album, Ray catches up to the couple, Jumbo’s troops storm the rock festival at The Lifehouse just as Bobby plays The One Note, and we find the rebel youth have simply vanished, transcended to another plane, along with any civilians attached to The Grid who had witnessed the event. 

The story seems to make sense to us, in the internet age.  But the rest of the band members failed to understand Townshend’s concept (specifically Roger Daltrey’s inability to conceptualize wireless communication), and likewise Towshend had difficulty articulating it.  To make matters more confusing, Townshend intended not only live performances of The Who to be intercut within the narrative in the film, but the performances themselves were to be metaphysical music that would be “tuned” to each individual audience member.  The final touch was that The Who, by the end of the performance, would become holograms.  These performances at The Young Vic Theatre beginning in January 1971 and carrying on sporadically until the spring seemed to be unpromoted and open to the general public—anyone curious enough to wander into the Young Vic and discover The Who playing new material!  Unfortunately, The Who were a band who wanted to make metaphysical music that represented the souls of the individual audience members, who themselves casually arrived just wanting to hear the bands’ hits.  The Young Vic performances were a failed experiment and in the end simply amounted to public rehearsals of the new Lifehouse material.  With Townshend disheartened that not only the audience “didn’t get it” but his band as well, The Who relocated to New York to record the new songs properly in the studio, giving Lifehouse one final chance. 

Initial album tracking began at the Record Plant in March 1971, produced by manager Kit Lambert as usual and featuring legendary keyboardist Al Kooper and guitarist Leslie West of Mountain.  At least six core Lifehouse songs were all worked on to completion or near to it: “Baby Don’t You Do It” (allegedly a studio warm-up), “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Love Ain’t For Keeping”, “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Pure and Easy” and “Getting in Tune”.  By this time the band’s relationship with Lambert had broken down completely.  Lambert was producer only in name, as he was preoccupied with a heroin addiction and was unable to even mix the session!  Townshend (himself by this point a chronic alcoholic) also had problems finding a common-ground with Lambert in regards to the Lifehouse narrative; Kit had helped Townshend flesh out the concept of Tommy two years before, but they were unable to agree upon a script for the Lifehouse film.  The situation reached its boiling point when Townsend overheard Lambert blasting him at their hotel room, including his recommendation that the band should abandon the project.  Townshend in effect spiraled into a nervous breakdown, later claiming to have attempted to jump out of the hotel window.  That was the deathblow to Lifehouse. 

Still needing to finish an album—be it Lifehouse or otherwise—producer Glyn Johns was brought in to mix the Record Plant sessions and to see if it was salvageable.  Johns thought the recordings were up to par but recommended restarting the project with him at the helm, as he could better capture the essence of The Who to tape.  Recording began at Mick Jagger’s mansion Stargroves in April, testing the waters with “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.  Impressed with the results, Johns and the band relocated to Olympic Studios in May to overdub it and to record at least another 15 songs.  At this point in time, Johns urged an already discouraged Townshend to shelve the Lifehouse concept indefinitely and release the best material as a singular, non-conceptual album.  The result was Who’s Next, regarded as not only one of The Who’s greatest albums, but one of the greatest in rock history. 

While Johns apparently made the correct call in whittling down Lifehouse to Who’s Next, Townshend never really gave up on the project.  He continued working on it, adding new songs to the project that regardless found their way onto other Who singles and albums (“Join Together” and “Relay” in 1972, “Slip Kid” in 1976, “Who Are You” in 1977, etc).  After a failed attempt to write a new Lifehouse screenplay in 1980, the themes and basic plot outline were recycled by Townshend for his 1993 solo album Psychoderelict.   Townshend eventually commissioned a Lifehouse radio play for the BBC in 1999 and released a multi-disc boxset of his original 1970 Lifehouse demos, the radio play and its soundtrack in 2000 as The Lifehouse Chronicles.   To top it off, Townshend performed a series of concerts of the Lifehouse material later that year, released as Pete Townshend Live: Sadler Wells 2000.

While Townshend clearly gave his final word on the project, is it possible to rebuild the original Lifehouse that The Who attempted to raise in 1971?  An exact tracklist was never published and Townshend has revealed only the basic plotline, lacking any specifics or subplot descriptions.  And while The Lifehouse Chronicles gives an excellent overview of the material, presented in a cohesive narrative framework, it is very much retro-active, including later 70s compositions not originally included in the 1971 project and based upon the largely rewritten and convoluted 1999 BBC radio play.  For my reconstruction we will attempt to only use the songs originally intended to be a part of the 1971 project, using exclusively The Who recordings with gaps filled-in by Townshend’s 1970 solo demos.  Our tracklist will follow what we know of the original storyline, as reflected in the song lyrics, with further insight from the performance order of Townshend’s Live: Sadler’s Wells 2000.  Structurally, the first disc will be set in the Scottish countryside and follow Mary’s journey to find Bobby, and Ray’s journey to find Mary.  The second disc will be set in The Grid of London and portray Bobby’s search for The One Note and his final confrontation with Jumbo’s army.  No live material is included, as I believe that intent was scrapped after the failure of The Young Vic experiments. 

Side A opens with “Baba M1” representing The One Note as an introduction, crossfaded into “Teenage Wasteland”, both Townshend’s demos taken from Lifehouse Chronicles.  Since there is an overlap between this and “Baba O’Riley”, the song is faded out before the redundant passages.  Here Ray introduces the listener to his world: living on the land in a caravan outside of The Grid.  Next, we introduce Bobby who is performing music in his own caravan with “Time Is Passing”.  Here a unique stereo mix of the song is created by syncing the left channel from Odds and Sods with the right channel from the bootleg Exciting The Who.  “Love Ain’t For Keeping” follows (using the Olympic take from Who’s Next with the extended Record Plant jam from Odds and Sods tagged onto the end), character development for Ray who sings this love song for his wife Sally.  The couple and their teenage daughter Mary travel the countryside in “Going Mobile” from Who’s Next, until Mary hears Bobby’s pirate broadcast of “Baby Don’t You Do It” from the Who’s Next 2010 remaster and decides to leave her parents in search of whomever is sending these magical signals.  Ray chases after her, which his perceived betrayal is also reflected in the song’s lyrics.

Side B opens with Bobby experimenting with The One Note in “Baba O’Riley” from Who’s Next.  Mary finds him and joins his caravan, on its way to London to host a rock concert at The Lifehouse, intending to free the populous from The Grid.  Bobby falls in love with Mary as heard in Townshend’s demo of “Mary” from Lifehouse Chronicles, but Mary is reluctant as heard in the Olympic version of “I Don’t Even Know Myself” from Odds and Sods.  Bobby tries to win Mary over in Townshend’s demo of “Greyhound Girl” from Lifehouse Chronicles, and disc one concludes with Ray vowing to retrieve his daughter no matter the cost—even venturing into the city to find her—in “Bargain” from Who’s Next.

Side C takes place in the future city of London, as we see the populace hooked up into The Grid, living a virtual reality life, an idyllic illusion meant to control them.  Here we use “Naked Eye” to create this setting and describe The Grid, using the Eel Pie recording from Odds and Sods; although this recording predates Lifehouse and hails from the scrapped 1970 EP, there is documentation that a version of “Naked Eye” was actually recorded during the 1971 Olympic sessions, thus indicating Townshend’s intent to use the song in Lifehouse.  Following, we are introduced to Jumbo, the controller of The Grid, who attempts to convince the listener he’s just misunderstood in “Behind Blue Eyes” from Who’s Next.  As Bobby and Mary infiltrate the city, they attempt to show people that their Grid lives are an illusion in the original mix of “Too Much of Anything” from Odds and Sods.  Both Bobby, Mary and Ray all arrive at The Lifehouse together and prepare for the rock concert in “Let’s See Action” from The Who Hits 50 and the show begins in “Getting in Tune” from Who’s Next, as Bobby hacks into the Grid and broadcasts The Lifehouse concert live to all linked into The Grid.

Side D opens with Bobby explaining what The One Note is and Mary urging him to use it to free everyone from Grid in the Olympic version of “Pure and Easy” from Odds and Sods.  Jumbo’s army storms the Lifehouse during “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from Who’s Next just as Bobby plays The One Note.  Right as the soldiers close in, all the protagonists and concert-goers vanish from their reality—as well as all the people on The Grid watching the show from their homes.  The closing credits presumably play over “This Song Is Over” from Who’s Next. The final touch being cover art created long ago by I Design Album Covers, we have one of the seminal Albums That Never Were, now better than ever. 

Sources used:
The Who - Who’s Next (2010 SHM remaster)
The Who - Odds & Sods (2011 SHM remaster)
The Who - Exciting The Who (bootleg, 1997 Midas Touch Records)
The Who – Hits 50! (2014 Geffen Records)
Pete Townshend - Lifehouse Chronicles (2001 Eel Pie Records)

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