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The Who, Live at Leeds ; It was 50 years ago today … or very nearly

By Trevor Moore



The Who (source: Wikipedia)

I was watching the Fire Fight Australia concert while texting with my good friend Macman. Now Macman is a fount of rock trivia even more than I am (though he denies it). If proof were needed you can hear him on Wednesdays on 2EARFM while he provides information that in no way could have impacted on the progress of human civilisation – some of it, I have to say, provided by me. Anyway, while we were watching the concert an advert came on that used the riff from The J Geils Band’s song Centerfold (1981) which is a song is about a chap who finds that his high school sweetheart is in a centrefold spread in some men’s magazine. I was able to ask Macman (by SMS) what instrument J Geils played and for a bonus point who was the lead singer. I was delighted to find that he did not know (we are honest fellows and resort to a web search only when we are not honest). But then a little later I found that I did not know that Icehouse were previously named Flowers.

But the most significant fact that Macman texted me was that it is 50 years since The Who’s Live at Leeds. You can see the exchange below and my response which, however inappropriate, absolutely reflects my incredulity. I should not be incredulous of course; after all, I think that McCartney wrote I saw her standing there almost 60 years ago. But I am digressing.


There can be few of my generation who do not remember The Who bursting on the scene and changing the way that rock sounded. Of course, others had laid the way. Ray Davies (I know; I should call him Sir Ray Davies) would claim (and he does in his 1994 book X-Ray) that The Kinks were there first, for example, with the riff to 1964’s You really got me. But The Who made it mainstream. Their first single was Zoot Suit which they recorded as The High Numbers and released in 1964 to … well nothing really. It didn’t chart and when you listen to it you can tell why. It’s like listening to early Moody Blues. It’s just not very good - competent but not good.

Pete Townsend is a clever fellow and decided they needed new management, changed their name back to The Who (which they had originally called themselves) and released I Can’t Explain (1964). This is featured as the second track on the 1995 re-release of Live at Leeds. I Can’t Explain reached number 8 in the UK (number 87 in Australia). It was followed by Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere (1965). This is the track where you can hear their sound developing: Townsend’s guitar with those wonderful chords to open, Entwhistle’s driving bass and Keith Moon’s mad drumming. When you listen to Moon as a drummer you notice that he often does his fills while Daltrey is singing rather than at the end of a phrase. After he died, it is alleged that they found a Rolls Royce in his swimming pool.


Keith Moon with his wrecked 1972 Ferrari 246 Dino

I decided that I should check this fact with Macman, and you will not be surprised to know that he debunked it. Apparently, Pete Townshend himself has debunked this myth though Roger Daltrey says that he did drive a Chrysler Wimbledon into an ornamental pond. Macman tells me that he liked to throw sticks of dynamite into the toilets in hotels or changing rooms. I do not know where he got the dynamite from. He also managed to write off his 1972 Ferrari 246 Dino in less than a month. Rock excess. You can’t beat it. But I digress again.

Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere charted at number 10 in the UK and not at all in Australia (though it reached number 38 in France for some peculiar reason). But The Who really took off with My Generation. And what a take-off. The song reached number 2 in the UK (which, believe it or not, was the highest position they ever charted in the UK – they had no number ones), number 2 in Australia and (again, believe it or not) only number 74 in the US. I can still recall, as a teenager, Roger Daltrey’s “why don’t you all fffff….?” and thinking that we young ‘uns had really stuck one to our parents’ generation. And then Entwhistle’s bass riff which is just amazing … it is the ring tone that sounds when my youngest offspring calls me – which is not often. In case you’re wondering number 1 offspring is announced by the “ah-hoo” of Warren Zevon’s classic Werewolves of London (1977), number 2 is the chorus to The Animals’ We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (1965), number 3 is the howl at the start of the instrumental in The Kinks You Really Got Me(1965). But again, I am digressing.

By the time The Who recorded Live at Leeds they had given us Substitute (1966), Happy Jack (1966), I’m a Boy(1966), Pictures of Lily (1967), Magic Bus (1968) … and of course Pinball Wizard (1969). Anyone of these songs will stand alone when you listen to them. But only My Generation, Substitute and Magic Bus are on Live at Leeds. The original edition had only 6 songs. Side 1 contained Young Man Blues, Substitute, Summertime Blues and Shakin' All Over and side 2 had Substitute and Magic Bus. The version of My Generation is almost 15 minutes long and, in my opinion, worth every minute.


There’s even one of those blue plaques commemorating the recording Not only does Live at Leeds capture the band at the height of their capabilities but it has proved to be one of those albums that anyone like Macman and me would select as one of their Top 10 Albums of all time (and as you well know that is an impossible task for as soon as you get to 10 you think of the one you missed off). The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time when the major bands would be booked by university Students’ Unions and so The Who were booked to play at the University of Leeds. They were booked for 14 February 1970 at Leeds and for the following night at the University of Hull. Townsend’s idea was that a live recording would counter-balance the way that Tommy had been promoted as “high art”. In the event the recording at Hull wasn’t up to scratch (Entwhistle’s bass had disappeared) so the Leeds recording was the one that was used. The result is an album that has been mostly praised (the New York Times said that it was "the definitive hard-rock holocaust" and "the best live rock album ever made”) but also criticised for the two songs on side 2. The criticism is that the extended Magic Bus at 7:57 and My Generation at 14:45 do not offer anything that the shorter versions do not. There is something in that criticism for Magic Bus but My Generation still sounds good especially on vinyl with the sound cranked up.

Of course, while the original 1970 version is the one to own the reissues in 1995, 2001, 2010 and 2014 all have something for the diehard Who fan. Listen to any or all of them. For me, although My Generationis regarded as something of an anthem my favourite Who track is Substitute followed by The Ox from the My Generation album. But they’re all classics really.

And they’re half a century old. No, surely not …

Stuff to look at:

X-Ray/The Unauthorised Autobiography, Ray Davies, 2007, 419pp, ISBN 978-1-58567-9393.

Who I Am : A Memoir, Pete Townshend, 2013, 544pp, 978-0-06212-7259

J Geils played the guitar and the lead singer was Peter Wolf. Wolf’s first album Lights Out (1984) is worth a listen. Interestingly, you will not find it on Spotify.

I Saw Her Standing There was written in 1961 or 62 about Iris Caldwell who McCartney started dating in December 1961. Her brother was Rory Storm of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes whose drummer at that time was Ringo Starr.

Credits

Massive credits to Macman

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