Produced by Shel Talmy , The Who’s debut album was recorded, reputedly in seven days, in the Autumn of 1965. The original record showcased early Townshend compositions along with the essential elements of the live R&B set they had honed into shape with residences at venues as disparate as The Marquee in Wardour Street and the Railway Hotel in Harrow. Some of the arrangements have dated, especially the non-originals, the harmonies in particular are of the era. But underneath there is the same raw energy that was to characterise punk a decade later.
There are three R&B covers. “I Don’t Mind” and “Please Please Please” are hard edged versions of James Brown songs, belted out with all the passion that you know they must have had when played live. Daltrey’s over the top vocals on Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” have been much discussed. Less often trumpeted is the use Townshend makes of the song as a vehicle for feedback.
One of the highlights is the drumming of the young Keith Moon, which on every track is superlative. Moon hammers his way through, drum roll after drum roll, attacking his kit with venom. He is augmented perfectly by one of the great bassists, John Entwistle, whose playing drives the sound forward. And then there is Nicky Hopkins, who adds his own brand of aggressive piano to the mix.
Talmy had already made his mark on the mid-sixties music scene by his production of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. He was the perfect producer for The Who, possessing an instinctive ability to capture the raw sound rather than attempting to smooth it out. This is particularly effective on the originals. There are three total Who classics on this album. If Townshend’s reputation rested with “The Kids Are All Right” and the stuttering anthem “My Generation”, it would be assured. Not bad for a night’s work – both of these songs were recorded in a single graveyard session on 13 October. Add to this “A Legal Matter”, on which Townshend takes vocals and shows a youthful awareness of the responsibilities of the adult male which he would return to a decade later on The Who By Numbers.
But there are other, less well-known, gems. Daltrey sneers his way through “The Goods Gone”, an end of relationship song par excellence. Townshend’s guitar never sounded so angry, adding brittle chords which attack the mix and drive it through. “Out in The Street”, “Lies” and “Much too Much” are similarly hard. “Its Not True” is one of Townshend’s great lyrics. “You say I’ve been in prison, you say I’ve got a wife, you say I’ve had help doing everything throughout my life”. Rumours and lies. The bane of the urban male.
“The Ox” is proto hard rock. Driven by Entwistle’s bass, it is his finest moment on this album, giving an instrumental showcase for the band to let rip. It is a spectacular achievement. The conclusion, “Circles”, is another highlight, bringing an effective chord progression together with a delivery that works perfectly. I imagine it must have been excellent live.
Could this be The Who’s greatest album? It certainly has a strong claim. This unique band fused the foppishness of the urban English dandy with attitude and aggression. They never did so as effectively as on this album. It is essential.