Peter Townshend

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Dave Marsh

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

Who's Next is to the Who what the White Album must've been to the Beatles. After Tommy, which was a concept-rock summit, not, as commonly supposed, an introduction to a new genre, they were forced by their audiences to come back with another concept album, Live At Leeds which was mostly old stuff (substitute Sergeant Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour and you've got it).

Now this. A fine fine record, one you can shake your ass to and think about both, one that does everything the Who can do in legend (which is a lot, just like the White Album was a lot). (p. 68)

Unlike the single, "Won't Get Fooled Again" is spread over eight minutes here. It is the most rockin' cut the Who have done in ages. You'd have to go all the way back to "Pinball Wizard," or maybe even "Magic Bus" to find a song that was, in essence, so much what this group is about. It's the perfect choice for a single, but the album version really works much much better, because here the way in which the music is structured supplies the other half of the story the lyric seems to tell.

In that respect, this tune is much like "Revolution" (which was on the Beatles' White Album, of course): while Townshend's basic idea is cynical, the music belies it all, and seems to set up a rhythm for some scenario of "violent revolution".

          I tip my hat
             to the new prostitution
          I take a vow
             for the new revolution
          I ain't free
             but there's change all around me
          Pick up my guitar and play
          Just like yesterday
          Then I'll get on my knees
             and pray

Townshend knows what side he's on; he's also sensitive to the way a lot of us feel about the manner in which the "political" end of this movement is being handled. In a lot of ways, it's as bitterly disillusioned as anything anyone has ever written about the youth movement, but that's acceptable, because the song comes to us on our own terms. The music—the crashing guitar chords that are Townsend's doomy signature—is as exciting as I said, but the key part is the instrumental break: guitar, synthesizer and organ (which is to say Townshend alone), ominously bespeaking the fact that no matter what we think about this conflict, it is happening.

Townshend, like many of us, feels that the best he can hope for is to "pull myself and my family aside / If we happen to be left alive" and not be fooled again. The most important realization, of course, is that the time to stop being fooled, by anyone, is right now. That's what the music says, over and over. (pp. 68-9)

Dave Marsh, "'Who's Next'," in Creem (© copyright 1971 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 3, No. 5, October, 1971, pp. 68-9.

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