A track-by-track commentary on 20 of the band's most explosive tracks
Producer: The Who
B-side: Baby Don’t You Do It (Holland/Dozier/Holland)
Released: June 1972
Highest UK chart position: 9
Spiritually renewed after making a personal pilgrimage to Meher Baba’s tomb in India, when Townshend reconvened The Who in May 1972, the guitarist was still insistent that they busy themselves with yet another rock opera. “Rock Is Dead – Long Live Rock” was a foggy history of The Who, so foggy that after a month’s work Townshend himself pulled the plug on the sessions, compensating their wasted efforts by salvaging “Join Together” (which, like “Let’s See Action” and “Relay”, was actually written for Lifehouse) as another intermediary 45.
Pushing the envelope of The Who’s experimental ambitions, the track was a bold prog-folk fusion of traditional rock fare with Jew’s harp, harmonica and synthesizer. Expertly arranged (Entwistle’s late entry past the one-minute barrier upping the ante with hair-raising precision) and bookended by an ambient spaghetti-western intro and coda, “Join Together” managed to sustain a healthy chart presence at home in an otherwise fractious year for the group.
Daltrey: “I remember when Pete came up with ‘Join Together’, he literally wrote it the night before we recorded it. I quite like it as a single, it’s got a good energy to it. But at that time I was still very doubtful about bringing in the synthesizer. I just felt that with a lot of songs we’d end up spending so much time creating these piddly one-note noises that it would’ve been better just doing it on a guitar. I mean, I’m a guitar man. I love the guitar; to me it’s the perfect rock instrument. I don’t think Pete did much with those sequencing things that he couldn’t have done on the guitar anyway.”
Producer: The Who
B-side: Waspman (Moon)
Released: December 1972
Highest UK chart position: 21
Of their three Lifehouse-related singles prior to Quadrophenia, “Relay” was by far the most impressive: a torrent of squelching synths, Daltrey’s hoarse screams of “revolution” and a plethora of dirty Townshend licks that amounted to a revised “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with added funk.
Daltrey concurs, yet although it instigated an unforgettable TV appearance on the BBC’s Russell Harty Show enlivened by Moon’s impromptu striptease (later featured on the The Kids Are Alright documentary), its mediocre chart placing excluded it from most Who hits compilations thereafter (the new Ultimate Collection included).
Moon himself was reportedly piqued that co-producer Glyn Johns had restrained his customary shattering cymbals on the track (hence its uncharacteristic tribal rumble), though the drummer was compensated when it came to the screwball superheroics of the flip – “Waspman”.
Daltrey: “Ah, ‘Waspman’. Keith’s wonderful creation! That was hilarious. There’s a long story behind that track. It all happened on a flight from Copenhagen back to London. We hit some bad weather and, my god, I’ve been in some planes that have done some things in my time but this fucking plane was like a rollercoaster ride, it almost flipped over.
“We’d got through this weather and it all sort of levelled out and everybody was puking and sitting in almost total silence. Now, meantime, Moon’s disappeared. He was sat with this groupie bird who had this tiger-skin coat which he’s taken, and her bra. Needless to say this girl had very large mammaries. So he disappears up the back of the plane to the bog. Everybody’s still puking and the captain’s come out and he’s standing there apologising, saying it’s the worst weather he’d ever been through.
“Then from the back suddenly there came this ‘bzzzzzzzzz!’ We looked round and it was Moon stood with the two bits of her bra over his eyes like big fly eyeballs and he’s got her tiger-skin coat tied round his neck like a cape. And he shouted, ‘Don’t worry, folks – Waspman’s here to save you!’ And he did this thing up and down the plane buzzing away as Waspman, kissing all the women and just fucking around in general. By the end of it everybody was just rolling about laughing. He’d taken the edge off that hairy situation and cheered everyone up.
“So that’s how ‘Waspman’ was created. We’d already done ‘Batman’ a few years before so we said, ‘OK, we’d better write a theme for Waspman!’”