Amid a sundry of bedazzling accolades, the Who have the dubious distinction of releasing more compilation records of one form or another than actual original studio albums. Perhaps it is a testament to the strength of the songs that they can be delivered in various states and still retain their sense of freshness and vitality. Either that, or the lack of new material from a band of legendary proportions has prompted an unprecedented demand that record companies feel obligated to placate.
Aside from Odds & Sods, The Kids Are Alright soundtrack, and the Thirty Years Of Maximum R & B box set, I have consciously avoided the other dozen or so repackaged greatest-hit/rarity discs that MCA and their subsidiaries continually shell out. I am, however, a sucker for anything "live" by the Who for one simple reason: in their prime, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were the epitome of sheer power and vibrancy on the concert stage.
While I'll always consider Live At Leeds one of the greatest live albums of all time, the latest pair of releases tastefully mix in a bit of the very old with the not so old, to the most recent. The result is a splendid overview of the unbridled brilliance and perseverance that has sustained a legacy essentially abandoned and kicked about after Keith Moon permanently checked out of existence in 1978.
BBC Sessions documents the Who's numerous recordings from 1965 to 1973 for the primary broadcasting company in Britain, the BBC. What sets it apart from 1990's Join Together (a slick, overly orchestrated chronicle from the 1989 "Reunion" tour) and 1984's Who's Last (an out-of-print hodgepodge from the 1982 "Farewell" tour which served as nothing more than a swan song for drummer Kenny Jones) is its rawness and spontaneity — the essential ingredients of the Who's arsenal.
On the heels of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who delivered a one-two punch that left many within their presence in a stumbling daze. Transpierced by Townshend's windmill guitar churnings, Moon's explosive, erratic-filled drumming, Entwistle's rumbling bass lines and Daltrey's angry man snarls, it's easy to see why "My Generation" and "Substitute" became anthems of England's burgeoning mod scene. In those days, the Who managed to simmer down the malevolent stirrings of their following with spunky covers of The Rascals' "Good Lovin'", Martha and The Vandellas' "Dancing In The Streets", James Brown's "Just You and Me Darling" and Eddie Holland's "Leaving Here" — all faithfully captured on BBC Sessions.
Within the confines of the BBC studios, it's hard to believe that the Who were able to issue such unabashed performances. Unlike the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, the Who drifted to outside studios and employed some minimal overdubbed accentuations found on the disc's latter-day recordings. "Pictures Of Lily" features a rolling organ line by Townshend while "The Seeker" and "I'm Free" receive a full intonation by the guitarist's binary rhythmic/acoustic attack.
From there, BBC Sessions serves up a piping hot version of "Shakin' All Over" soaking in reverb that easily surpasses previous versions. By the time the band sinks into the synthesizer-driven "Relay" and the ever jubilant "Long Live Rock", it's easy to understand why the Who rivals the Stones as the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band.
~ Shawn Perry
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