On August 14, 1971, "The Who" released one of the greatest rock albums of all time - "Who's Next".
How do you surpass a masterpiece like "Tommy"?
If you ask Pete Townshend the answer is clear: writing a bigger, more ambitious, crazy rock opera on every scale. And he did write it: "Lifehouse" was a work inspired by Pete Townshend's experiences during the tour that accompanied the album "Tommy". He watched the audience during the performances and noted that the sound and vibration the band created had become so pure and unifying that he thought the entire audience was in a kind of ecstasy. This idea of a connection between sound and spirituality was related with the ideas of Inayat Khan and Meher Baba whom Townshend admires. He was eager to use music as a means of communication, and wanted to expand the band's boundaries and reach audiences through other means of communication, including cinema. Townshend's goal was to create a rock opera that would be recorded live and integrated into a ready-made script for a film. The plot story of that futuristic rock opera took place at a time when rock and roll did not exist, human culture collapsed and the only experience was programmed through TV screens. The villains were the ones who infiltrated the masses with “intravenous” entertainment, and the heroes were the ones who preserved the primitive rock and roll culture.
But this crazy idea of Pete Townshend was just too big for the rest of the band and its management, who just did not exactly understand him. This caused crises, tensions and even a nervous breakdown for Townsend who later said he even thought of suicide. After giving up on "Lifehouse" in New York, the band members returned to London to start all over again with a new producer, Glyn Johns. However, many elements from the "Lifehouse" project have been preserved on the "Who's Next" album, including Townsend's massive use of synthesizers. It turned out that although this grandiose project was shelved, some of it's songs entered the masterpiece album "Who's Next", only without the connecting thread. In fact, eight of the nine songs on the album were supposed to be part of "Lifehouse" and were written by Pete Townshend, while only the song "My Wife" was written by bassist John Entwistle.
The heavy impact of "Lifehouse" can be felt already in the first notes of "Baba O'Riley". Imagine how much courage it took for one of the great and influential rock bands of the era to open the album to the sounds of an organ transmitted through the VCS3 synthesizer played by Pete Townshend. The title of the song was created from a combination of the names of Townshend's two philosophical and musical mentors - Meher Baba and Terry Riley. It is one of the greatest and most influential songs ever which entered the list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, as well as the list of the 500 greatest songs that have shaped rock 'n' roll, of the Rock's Hall of Fame. This amazing anthem with the main theme of "Teenage Wasteland" grows and develops until the violin solo with the "Hassidic" fragrance of Dave Arbus from the band "East of Eden", until it's climax sudden ending.
The second track "Bargain" is another song that Pete Townshend wrote about his guru Meher Baba who served as the spiritual advisor of Mahatma Gandhi and was a spiritual figure. The song talks about disengagement from materialism in order to rise to the spiritual level just as we do on Yom Kippur and this is exactly the good "Bargain" that Townshend talks about in the song. Townshend plays on the ARP 2500 synthesizer and 1959 "Gretsch" guitar which he got from Joe Walsh who would later join the "Eagles". Townshend also sings a solo here with lyrics starts with "sit looking 'round, I look at my face in the mirror...".
The third track "Love Ain't for Keeping" is the shortest song on the album and one of the few not accompanied by the sounds of synthesizers. The original version of the song was more Rock oriented and could be heard on the 1974 album "Odds & Sods".
From there we move on to "My Wife" written and sung by John Entwistle who also plays brass. Entwistle describes a night of drunkenness that puts him in conflict with his wife. He will also record the song for his third solo album "Rigor Mortis Sets In".
(Photo: Michael Putland)
The song ending the first side of vinyl "The Song Is Over" is one of the most interesting on the album, if only because it combines the vocals of Pete Townshend and Daltrey alternating between the quiet ballad of Townshend during the verses, and the powerful voice of Roger Daltrey in the chorus. This song was meant to accompany the credits at the end of the rock opera "Lifehouse" and includes Nicky Hopkins' guest playing on the keyboards.
The other side of the vinyl opens with "Getting in Tune" - a magical song that talks about the immense power of music. Writing the music for the song began with improvisation by guest keyboardist Nicky Hopkins who was followed by John Entwistle bass. This is another song from the album that does not include the use of synthesizers.
Immediately after that comes the track "Going Mobile" a light and cheerful song sung by Pete Townshend and describes life in the futuristic world of "Lifehouse" with a mobile home on wheels. It is interesting to note that the strange sound of the guitar solo in the song was created by Townshend through an effect called "Envelope Follower" that makes the guitar sound like it is underwater.
We come to the mesmerizing ballad "Behind Blue Eyes" written by Townshend after the band's performance in Denver, Colorado on June 6, 1970. Townshend who was seduced by the beauty of one of the band's groupies managed to conquer his passion inspired by his spiritual guru Meher Baba, returned to his hotel room and began writing the song. From the point of view of "Jumbo" - one of the bad characters in the rock opera "Lifehouse".
The album ends at the climax with "Won't Get Fooled Again" which is also meant to serve as the closing track of "Lifehouse". An eight-minute anthem that similarly to the opening track includes synthesizers, cut with Pete Townshend's guitar riff and Keith Moon's wild drumming. The song is about a revolution. The first verse speaks of an uprising and later a coup but eventually the new regime becomes just like the old one ("Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"). And it is impossible to mention this song without referring to Roger Daltrey's immortal scream in the 7:44 minute to the song immediately after Keith Moon's crazy drumming. Without a doubt one of the great in Rock.
As for the album cover, the photo shows the band members, ostensibly, a moment after they have finished urinating on a large concrete structure located in the coal mine in Durham County in England. The concrete structure was influenced by the monolith revealed on the moon in the 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." In 2003, the "VH1" channel chose the album cover in second place in the list of "Greatest Album Covers".