Peter Townshend

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David Silver

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 748

Who Came First, Peter Townshend's first solo album, is a brilliant and moving album….

Who Came First is an amazing work. A whole load of words I haven't even seen written down since Meister Eckhart come tumbling out in trying to describe it—high quality ones like "incandescent" for a start and watch out for the others. As always with old panface Pete, the music manages to fuse high devotional feeling with commercial mastery resulting in powerful music. It's been like that right through: The Who's heaviest singles were the pride and joy of a necessarily defiant and dadaist generation; Tommy gave out Godhead while Orwelling us strongly against Godism; Who Came First is an album of release, joyful even beyond its own sensitive realizations of the sadnesses of change. Townshend stands alone on the cover, standing on eggs. Who came first? Open up the album and inside Pete is beaming Avatar Meher Baba, so powerfully giving that you're zapped and blessed by the very photographs. Townshend's devotion needs no more words. Suffice it to say, only a man who really understood "DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY" could have produced music as good as this. With all his outrageousness, Townshend has always had great taste: Even the stinging guitar of the Live at Leeds album is never too much, no matter how loud. Here, his taste is also informed by the mellower vibrations coming out of the highs and rigors of a Master/Disciple experience. The ballads and hymns here are the most rarefied, deepest work he has ever produced….

"Pure and Easy" is a song to a nonstop note, pervading All, with a natural melody of its own as lilting as can be…. This song is effortless …, celebrating purity of heart, release of karma, the Note and the Word. He has been writing of music as Touchstone for years now and Who's Next's overtures to the blessing of attunement are crystallized in this song. This cut praises real love as pure power and penetration into the mystery….

"Evolution" is a reincarnation of a song about reincarnation…. It's a picaresque of past lives, fitting right into the album's general atmosphere of deathlessness. (p. 60)

If any one song is the peak, the jeweled hit yet, on the album it is the last on the first side, "Nothing Is Everything." This … ballad is a perfect example of rock & roll as philosophical as well as visceral messenger. More than any other song I know it completely refutes the bourgeois notion of rock only being the sound of disorder, of chaos. The song is inspiring, centering, ordering…. "Wash my feet / been running on my heat / gotta get this information through," Pete insists, noting his and man's need for release, energy and communication…. And of course Meher Baba's sweet vision pervades all this. "Nothing Is Everything" is the highest Townshend entity yet—shazam, the holistic eternal truth made exultant, lively, profoundly inviting by his unarguable genius…. A complex masterpiece out of a mind only promising simple truth. (pp. 60-1)

["Time Passing"] dignifies and befriends Nature and presents us with the absolutely human job of learning to become aware of the transitoriness of experience and then triumphing over that essentially sad knowledge…. The song warns against cant and advises calm attention instead. A song definitely to put on if ever you feel suddenly alienated, thrown back into the inadequacies of existentialism: The song ramdasses you back right here . The song ends repeating the simple line, "It's only by the music I'll be free."… ["Heartache"] suits the humane, warm approach to suffering...

(This entire section contains 748 words.)

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that pervades the album…. ["Sheraton Gibson"] is the lightest, the most English [song] on the album, but because it's as good a piece of urban melancholia as I've heard, it preludes nicely the last two heavily devotional cuts, both in their own way moving us back to contemplation and worship.

"Content" is a Townshend adaptation of a Maud Kennedy poem. It is a refined hymn to balance and the completeness of inner peace…. The album ends with Townshend's adaptation of [Meher Baba's] Universal Prayer, "Parvardigar."… [The] religious lyrics are honest, implying supreme rigor in any high endeavor—of the God of the title he says "None can see you without eyes divine"—Townshend again emphasizing the crucial need for spiritual readiness before any enlightenment is possible. (p. 61)

David Silver, "Townshend's Meher Baba LP: Mellower Vibrations," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1972; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 140, December 21, 1972, pp. 60-1.


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