Tag Archives: Keith Moon

Album of the Week: “Live at Leeds” – The Who

 

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(This post refers to the re-mastered 1995 edition.) 

It  was the thump of John Entwistle’s bass guitar that caught my attention.  The band hadn’t even begun playing yet, and the crowd was roaring in approval.  BOMP, BOMP, BOOOOMP went Entwistle’s fat bass.  His plucks couldn’t have prepared me for what came next, but knew that I was about to hear something unlike anything I’d ever heard before.

And just as I was able to catch my breathe from the excitement, off The Who went like a train about to fly off the rails. Keith Moon’s drums rolls and cymbals washes crashed wildly in my shitty headphones. There was no straight beat, and Moon played around it in every single possible way he could. Pete Townshend’s power chords sliced through the air with a vengeance. Entwistle’s somehow managed to hold the chaos together with his melodic yet aggressive bass-lines.

It was the night of my 15th birthday. My sister had given me the re-issed Live at Leeds as a birthday present.  “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Baba O’Riley” and “Who Are You” were the only songs by The Who I knew.  Before I put the CD in my disc-man in the back seat of my parents car on the ride home, I looked at the track-listing.  I was shocked to discover that none one of those songs was on the album.

I was only four minutes in and my musical world was suddenly shaken to the core.  It seems appropriate that the first song would be titled “Heaven and Hell”.  Most of the bands I had listened to previously like the Waterboys, R.E.M., U2 and the Smiths seemed like angels compared to this. Just four minutes in, without ever reading much about them (other than the liner notes) I could tell The Who were trouble-makers and loved every single second of it.

On the hour-long ride home, I was treated to aggressive takes on Who classics: “I Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, “I’m a Boy”, “Happy Jack” and the 15 minute ear-splitting jam on “My Generation”.  Every single second I heard in my head-phones was sonic anarchy.  By the time I got home, I knew that The Who were going to be my band.

My birthday is in early December, so its arrival almost always signals the beginning of the Christmas season. About a week later, my parents set up the Christmas tree in the living room. Putting up the tree is never an easy task in my family – something disastrous is almost always bound to happen. My dad probably spent about 2 hours fiddling with the tree-stand to make sure it would not fall over. We had put lights on but no decorations – that was for the next day.

Around 6 o’clock, my parents told me that they were going out for the night to a Christmas party. As soon as they left, I ran over to the stereo in the living room and cranked it up.  Within seconds, it sounded like The Who were performing in the house. Like many teenagers I’m sure, time alone with a stereo means air-guitar. As the opening riff of “Young Man Blues” erupted behind me, I tested out a few windmills.  My right-arm never felt so alive.  I have no doubt that if Pete Townshend saw me, he would have corrected me on the proper way to do it, but nonetheless I felt like a rock-star.

Half-way through the song, I decided to be bold. There were several pictures in the liner of Pete Townshend in mid-flight. Without even thinking, I leapt into the air at the précise  moment (a Townshend-style jump must always be executed at the right moment).  As soon as I hit the ground, I heard a loud crash.

My eyes widened in fear as soon as I realized what had happened. My jump had caused the Christmas tree to fall. Shit, this is not good. I knew my parents were going to be pissed when they came back and found the tree on the floor. I tried to get it back up, but being a scrawny 16-year old, I wasn’t strong enough.  In a panic, I called all of my older siblings. Though I knew I would leave out the exact cause of the accident.

“Well what do you want me to do about it?” My eldest brother said over the phone.  “I’m 8 hours away.”

Shaken up by what had just occurred and without any help out of the situation, I thought back to “Heaven Hell” and John Entwistle’s dour warning: “and down in the ground there’s a place where you go if you’ve been a bad boy.” When my parents got home, I explained to them that I was in the room and that the tree had just fallen on its own. To my surprise, they not only believed me but assured me that everything was okay. I helped my dad put the tree back up, and that was that. And then Pete Townshend’s voice at the end of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” popped into my head: “you are forgiven”.  So maybe I wasn’t forgiven (because I had lied), but I figured no one was none the wiser.

In the years since, my love of Live at Leeds has not diminished. It’s not only the perfect document of The Who live in their prime, but rock and roll unhinged. Other live albums try to capture the experience of a live show (and the the best do a spectacular job of that), but Live at Leeds is transcendent.  Each time I listen to it, I’m in awe of how a band could sound that fucking good live.

The aggression and sheer loudness is a huge part of its appeal, but recently I’ve been attracted to its subtleties.  On “My Generation” the band goes into several tightly controlled (yet chaotic) jams by a single cue from Pete Townshend’s chords. Roger Daltrey may not have the prettiest voice, but it takes a powerful lung to be heard over the rest of the band.  On Live at Leeds, The Who churned out several 60’s power-pop gems, but then could stretch out on “Magic Bus” and “My Generation”.  Critics of Keith Moon love to suggest that he couldn’t keep time, but listen closely to “Tattoo” from Live at Leeds and you’ll realize that his drum fills follow Roger Daltrey vocals, perfectly accenting the lead singer’s tough-guy delivery.

There are many albums I adore and love, but Live at Leeds is one of the few that changed my life.

 

The Album That Got Me Through My Teenage Years: The Who’s “Quadrophenia”

Pete Townshend is one of the few writers in rock and roll who understood the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. Early Who singles such as “Substitute” and “My Generation” captured adolescent angst in way that few of The Who’s contemporaries did.  With its antagonistic lyrics and fiery performance “My Generation” was a call to arms. Even today, over 40 years later “My Generation” remains relevant whenever there’s a teenager who feels misunderstood or put down.  And Townshend’s words didn’t hit home hard enough, the sonic assault of The Who brought the sentiment home.

For The Who’s second rock opera Quadrophenia, Townshend expanded on this theme.  Tommy may have gotten more attention, but Quadrophenia is the album where Townshend truly delved into the life of a teenager.  Through the character of Jimmy the Mod, Townshend wove a tale of self-doubt, anger, drugs, love, lust an confusion that is still ever bit as potent today as it was when it released in 1973.

I was 16 when I first hear Quadrophenia, an age where I was obsessed with anything and everything The Who did.  Few artists have spoken to me the way The Who did in my teenage years. Everything I went through, The Who seemed to articulate (musically and lyrically) in a way that I couldn’t. I held off getting Quadrophenia for a long time, in part because its $30 price tag. I finally obtained the album as gift from my sister.  Upon first listen, something seemed different about this album.  I listened intently on the floor of my parent’s living room waiting for The Who to arrive. Instead, there were sounds of crashing waves and wind that made up on the first track, “I Am Sea.”  This was not what I was expecting.  Two minutes went by, and I was slightly disappointed.  Maybe there’s a reason why they abandoned this album, I thought.

The sounds of “I Am the Sea” could not prepare me for what came next – Quadrophenia’s first “proper” song “The Real Me”.  Suddenly, the sound of The Who came through like a mob crashing through castle gates.  Even before Roger Daltrey sang a word, I was transfixed.  The Who are an aggressive band, but even for them this seemed like sheer madness. Keith Moon’s are chaotic but tightly controlled, John Entwistle’s bass pounds it way into submission, and Townshend’s power chords cut like a knife.

On paper, the chorus of “can you see the real me?” from “The Real Me” seems trivial, but Roger Daltrey nails the line perfectly. It’s not a lament of being misunderstood, but a declaration of intent. To say that this song threw me for a loop it is a bit of an understatement. For a good 15 minutes, I replayed the song about 6 times before listening to any of the other songs. I couldn’t get past it, and kept thinking, “What is the rest of the album going to sound like?”

I was not to be let down.  What followed was a more than a collection of songs, but a journey.  Though the narrative is rather loose, Townshend’s lyrics were direct, honest and sometimes even brutal.  I didn’t need to know much about the Mod Scene, for Jimmy’s tale to get beneath my skin. Throughout Quadrophenia, Jimmy is let down by almost everyone – from his family, to his idols, and even the girl he dreams about from afar. Townshend used the four different members of The Who to portray the different facets of Jimmy’s personality.  Upon first listening it seems like Jimmy might be schizophrenic, as mood easily changes from depressive to insightful and back again (sometimes in the same song).  But those types of feeling are part of being a teenager – it’s hard to know exactly how you’re feeling when everything else and everyone else in the world seems to be against you.  At the end of the album, Jimmy finds solace in the pouring rain.  It’s rather open-ended. Townshend never describes what happens next to Jimmy and it doesn’t really matter.  By the time you’ve listened to Quadrophenia the whole way through, Jimmy’s journey has become the listener’s journey and what comes next is your own story.

 

A Tribute to Keith Moon On What Would Have Been His 65th Birthday

If he were still alive, Keith Moon would have turned 65 today. It’s hard to imagine him as an old man, considering how he lived his life. Even as the youngest member of The Who, Moon barely looked older than 15 when their debut album The Who Sings My Generation was released in 1965.

Much of Moon’s reputation rests on his antics. There’s the infamous Holiday Inn birthday party where he crashed a car into the pool. Then there’s the story of Moon getting the band kicked out of the Gorham in New York for throwing cherry bombs out the window. And who can forget when he loaded his drum-set with dynamite, blowing it up on live TV during The Who’s performance on The Smothers Brothers?

While these stories are somewhat amusing, they also tarnish his legacy as a musician. Simply put, Moon is not only’s rock most chaotic drummer but also its most inventive, original and best. Unlike other drummers, Moon attacked the drums in a way that forced Pete Townshend and John Entwistle to completely change the normal stylings of guitar and bass. Townshend had to play louder and adopt his signature power chords in order to behind Moon’s thunderous drumming.  Entwistle’s “lead” bass was developed as a way of anchoring the band.

Moon didn’t follow the “traditional” rules of drumming – he rarely kept a steady beat in fact – which has generated some criticism. This is probably why you are more likely to see John Bonham at the top of best drummer lists. But that’s not to see that he couldn’t keep time. His drumming on the instrumental “Sparks” from Tommy is so intricate and commanding, it simply couldn’t be done if he didn’t know his place in the song.  According to Tony Fletcher’s biography Moon, producer Shel Talmly listened to out-takes from The Who Sings My Generation sessions commenting, “Keith did it the same way each time.”

Talmy’s comment is interesting considering that many consider Moon to be innovative, but slightly sloppy. Certainly if you watch performances of him, his hands fly in every direction at the speed of light. Listen closely and you’ll realize that he listens exactly to what the other members of the band are doing and his loud cymbal crashes accent and revolve Roger Daltrey’s powerful vocals. The wild drum rolls during the chorus on “Tattoo” off of Live at Leeds perfectly coexist with Daltrey and Townshend’s harmonies.

The definitive Moon performance is the highly under-rated 1967 Who single “I Can See For Miles”. Completely ignoring the traditional beat, Moon delivers rapid fire rolls and cymbal crashes that extra drama to Townshend’s tale of a scorned lover. On the chorus especially, Moon reigns his grip in even further pummeling his way through the song with a mix of brute force and sheer musicianship.  No other drumming performance in rock has sounded like it. It’s not only Moon’s best performance, but the “Voodoo Child” of rock drumming. No one has yet to catch up with Moon’s inventive and wild drumming that he displayed on this track.