Peter Townshend Chris Welch

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Chris Welch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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[The Who's] music is their own easy tribute and memorial and not a flood of words. And yet the Who are about words, and images, and memories. They are about success and failure on an epic scale….

Somehow their presence with us is a reassuring constant, and they introduce a point of unity, a common ground of agreement in a rock world that is often split by dissent and riven by petty jealousies. In the midst of all squabbles, I don't know anybody who likes rock that doesn't like the Who.

There may be those who say they peaked with "I'm The Face," or feel they never wrote or played anything significant before "Quadrophenia." But of all the long-lived bands spawned in the amazing Sixties, the Who are the most loved and respected….

[The] Who, more than the Kinks or Stones, are big brothers to us all. There is no hatred in the music of the Who from whatever period. There is a tremendous vitality, humour and spontaneous brilliance that reassures us pop music is an art, and that it need not be afraid or embarrassed by the term.

A performance like "I Can See For Miles," with all its exultant, raging power, is as much an artistic success as the delicate perfection and simplicity of "1921" from Tommy.

And despite their early image as practitioners of auto-destruction and their association with the anti-social Mods, they were experimenting, searching and probing different routes, almost before they were picked out as a promising club band.

According to Henry Moore the sculptor, art is essentially doing something different from what has gone before. Thus the Who have produced many original artistic works in their long struggle for self-expression….

The Who has been a workshop as well as a spectacular vehicle for four powerful egos, and any danger of pomposity is invariably pricked by their own self-deprecatory sense of humour….

It is their spurting drive for life which enthralled a generation of fans. And it is their desire to produce original music in a world where the mass of performers interlock in an unfathomable tangle of imitation that has earned them respect. (p. 31)

In a way, "Tommy" was the Who at its most un-Who-like. It had nothing to do with the High Numbers, or Mods or Union Jack jackets. "Tommy" seemed to develop a life of its own and actually take over the Who and momentarily dwarf its personalities….

And even when Pete wrote "Quadrophenia,"—a celebration of the Who's early influence—as perhaps a kind of antidote to "Tommy," it never managed to quite shake off the influence of that deaf, dumb and blind kid. "Tommy" can be seen as a reflection of Townshend's spiritual awakening and his use of rock music as a form to convey a narrative.

The paradox of "Tommy" was that his total lack of senses helped heighten his perception, and the concept of the spiritual journey—i.e. "The Amazing Journey"—is a constantly recurring theme in any study of increased perception, either through drugs or religious experience.

Townshend experienced as much as possible and the result was a unique musical concept. Profundity and anarchic humour have long been easy bedfellows in the Who. (p. 32)

In some ways the Who have yet to make a totally satisfactory album. It took a long while for production techniques to catch up with the ideas of bands like the Who….

Now the technical expertise has caught up, perhaps the ideas are not flowing so freely. Who can say? The new Who album will ultimately reveal whether the band will remain a significant force into the Eighties. It would be nice to think of them still unleashing that mixture of wit, wisdom and gut emotion in 1984. (p. 33)

Chris Welch, "Amazing Journey," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), August 12, 1978, pp. 31-3.