Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Who - Rock is Dead - Long Live Rock

The Who – Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock

(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Relay
2.  Long Live Rock
3.  Is It In My Head?
4.  Put The Money Down
5.  Join Together

Side B:
6.  Cut My Hair

This is the final entry in a series of alternate Who albums, a reconstruction of the unreleased album Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock, a project scrapped in 1972 for sounding too much like Who’s Next.  Intended as a concept album about The Who themselves, the idea was further developed the following year into their seminal double album Quadrophenia.  Rather than simply emulating Pete Townshend’s original demo sequence for Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock, this reconstruction attempts to replicate what The Who had intended for the album just before abandoning it during their European Tour in August 1972: standalone singles on Side A and a rock opera occupying all of Side B.  All the best and most dynamic masters were used and all tracks volume adjusted for continuity. 

1971 was a landmark year for The Who, releasing Who’s Next—born from the ashes of the aborted Lifehouse album—and achieving some of the band’s greatest hits throughout the year.  After a brief but much-deserved break after the Who’s Next Tour was completed, the band slowly began to regroup in the spring of 1972 to plot it’s follow-up.  Although creative mastermind Pete Townshend swore to the media that he would never tackle another long-form concept album after Tommy’s success and Lifehouse’s demise, he had a jumble of concepts bouncing around in his head, waiting for the opportunity to use them.  Drawing from several alleged unrecorded Lifehouse leftovers and additional newer compositions, Townshend recorded demos that charted out the entirety of this next Who album, provisionally titled Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock.  A final 40-minute compilation tape of Townshend's demos contained: “Relay”; “Get Inside”; “Love Rein O’er Me”; “Woman’s Liberation (Riot in the Femail Jail)”; “Long Live Rock”; “Is It In My head?”; “Put The Money Down”; “Can’t You See I’m Easy”; and “Join Together”.

Heading into Olympic Studios with Glyn Johns in May 1972 to properly record band versions of Pete’s Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock demo album, the band tracked suburb versions of “Join Together”, “Relay” and “Is It In My Head?”.  The following month, three more of the songs were tracked: “Long Live Rock”, “Put The Money Down” and “Love, Reign O’er Me”.  At this point in time, a conceptual theme emerged and was applied to the project: an autobiographical history of The Who themselves.  Early brainstorming included plans to musically represent the various eras of The Who: from early-60s Mod to late 60s neo-psyche to early 70s stadium rock.  This idea was quickly discarded and the band instead stuck with a jumble of songs vaguely about themselves or their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, particularly in “Join Together” and “Long Live Rock”. 

While The Who seemed to have a good start on a new album, the band themselves were not so sure.  Reviewing the six songs properly tracked—as well as the remaining songs from Townshend’s Rock is Dead demo that still needed to be recorded (the flimsy faux-Eastern “Can’t You See I’m Easy”, the meaningless whimsy of “Get Inside” and the abysmally dismal “Woman’s Liberation”)—the collection seemed as a pale imitation of Who’s Next.   Wanting an album of more substance, Townshend told Johns that he wished to write another rock opera to at least occupy one whole side of the album, with the best of the material from the Olympic sessions occupying the other.   Needing more time to write the opera, the album’s release date was postponed from August to December and “Join Together” was released as a single in June, an apparent preview of the upcoming album.   After tracking a throw-away Keith Moon original entitled “Wasp Man” for future B-side use, the band embarked on a brief tour of Europe in August, debuting both “Join Together” and “Relay” and touting them as a part of their upcoming album.  While promoting the tour, Townshend dropped hints of the rock opera he was in the process of composing, claiming it was about teenage adolescence and reminiscent of earlier mid-60s-era Who singles, and was to be called “Cut My Hair”. 

By the end of the tour in September, Townshend began to have doubts about the intended Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock album.  Most of his thoughts centered on the rock opera provisionally titled “Cut My Hair”; as he added new sections to it, the piece began to outweigh the collection of songs recorded at Olympic in the spring.  It is at this point when Townshend’s plan changed: instead of having one side of standalone songs vaguely about the history of The Who with a mini rock opera about adolescence on the other side, Townshend combined the two concepts into one.  Going as far back as 1971, Townshend had always wanted to make a single album that embodied the character of each individual member of The Who, so this was woven into “Cut My Hair” and expounded into the length of one whole album.  Now, the adolescent protagonist of the rock opera became a schizophrenic, harboring the four personalities of  The Who: Townshend (the “good boy”), Daltrey (the “bad boy”), Entwhistle (the romantic) and Moon (the madman).  That autumn, Townshend continued writing new pieces for the opera, with Rock Is Dead – Long Live Rock’s own death signaled by the single release of “Relay” b/w “Wasp Man” in November 1972, a stopgap as Townshend bought time to polish off this song cycle. 

Early 1973  saw The Who build their own 16-track recording studio out of an old church, dubbed Ramport Studios.  By March Townshend had completed demoing his new song cycle and The Who convened at Ramport in June to record their opus.  Aside from “Is It In My Head?” and “Love, Reign O’er Me”, nothing from the previous year’s Olympic session was used.  The resulting album—now titled Quadrophenia—became what many hail as the band’s masterpiece, a seamless double album with a concept more comprehensible than Lifehouse but musically more impressive than Tommy.  While Quadrophenia is certainly the last great work of The Who, is it the real album it could have been?  Can we join together the castaway material and revive Rock is Dead? 

The most obvious way to reconstruct Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock is to simply gather the six songs from the 1972 Olympic sessions and pair them with Pete’s demos of “Get Inside” (found on the Quadrophenia box set), “Woman’s Liberation” and “Can’t You See I’m Easy” (found on bootlegs), and sequence them as per his demo reel—and possibly even throw on “Wasp Man” for good measure!  The problem is that this assemblage becomes a very weak album and one can understand why The Who scrapped it.  As a more interesting and musically fulfilling experiment, we will instead attempt to construct Townshend’s August concept of having the “Cut My Hair” rock opera filling an entire side of the album and leaving the best of the Olympic sessions to their own side.  But what exactly would have the mini rock opera “Cut My Hair” consisted of? 

Luckily, recording dates for Pete Townshend’s demos are stated in the Quadrophenia box set.  Plowing through the data, Townshend had essentially demoed the album over two distinct periods, separated by The Who’s August 1972 Tour (roughly spanning April-July 1972 and October 1972-March 1973).  Based on this, it is reasonable to believe that any material demoed during that first period was meant for the “Cut My Hair” mini-rock opera, since it occurred before Rock Is Dead’s death in September.  These would include: “Drowned”, “Anymore”, “Joker James”, “Cut My Hair”, “Four Faces”, “We Close Tonight”, “You Came Back”, “Dirty Jobs” and “Doctor Jimmy”.  Using a supposed imaginary timeline, this reconstruction assumes The Who wrapped Side A of Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock before the tour, but required additional time to properly record Side B’s mini rock opera; thus any material recorded the following year in the Quadrophenia sessions proper is fair game. 

Side A (the standalone singles half) begins as Townshend’s demo of Rock is Dead does, with “Relay”, here the full-length version taken from The Who Hit 50.  This is followed by the title track, “Long Live Rock”, taken from the 2011 SACD remaster of Odds & Sodds.  “Is It In My Head?”—here considered its own song separate from any concept, as was originally intended in 1972—follows, taken from the 2012 SACD remaster of Quadrophenia, the original 1973 mix of the song.  “Put The Money Down” from Odds & Sodds is next, with Side A concluding with “Join Together” from The Who Hit 50.   

Side B (the rock opera half) consists of an edit of “Dirty Jobs”, “Cut My Hair”, “Doctor Jimmy” and “Love, Reign O’er Me”, all taken from the 2012 remaster of the original mix of Quadrophenia.  Much like “A Quick One While He’s Away”, all four tracks are crossfaded into one 20-minute continuous piece, more or less about adolescence.  We will hope for a suspension of disbelief from the listener and request to set aside the knowledge of Quadrophenia's plot.  Here, the "Cut My Hair" mini opera describes a teenage protagonist who works a dead-end job and receives guff about his hair and clothes from his elders.  He laments his self-destructive nature and at it's conclusion, has an epiphany that only love can save him.   

This resultant Rock is Dead – Long Live Rock becomes a midpoint between Pete’s scrapped nine-song demo reel and the eventual Quadrophenia album.  It becomes a much better listen minus the atrocious “Women’s Liberation/Riot In The Female Jail”, and including what could be thought of as a condensed Quadrophenia itself on Side B.  And with that, let love reign o'er you.  Special thanks to Jon Hunt for his original artwork, found on his blog. 

Sources used:
The Who - Quadrophenia (2012 SACD remaster – original mix)
The Who - Odds & Sods (2011 SHM remaster)
The Who – Hits 50! (2014 Geffen Records)