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The Who – My Generation, A Quick One, The Who Sell Out, Tommy half-speed mastered LPs (UMC/Polydor)

25 September 2022

The Who’s first four albums are now available as standalone, high-quality vinyl LP reissues with the benefit of new mastering by long-time Who engineer Jon Astley and half-speed plates cut by lead engineer Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios. Originally appearing in quick succession from December 1965 through May 1969, the series displays the British band’s rapid evolution from mod-era upstarts to theater-packing art-rockers.

Staples from My Generation include guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend’s immortal anthem of teen angst “My Generation” and the harmony-laden song of self-discovery “The Kids are Alright.” Other delights include Roger Daltrey’s gruff and soulful vocal for “Out in the Street.” Townshend himself sings the buoyant but snarky “A Legal Matter.” The band’s “maximum R&B” aesthetic is evident in a cover of James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please.” Bo Diddley’s blues staple “I’m a Man” is retained from the original UK release, omitting the US release’s “Instant Party (Circles).”

Sophomore album A Quick One is most frequently cited for its inclusion of title cut “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” which marked Townshend’s playful first steps into the rock opera form. Characters include an absent lover and his unfaithful (but ultimately forgiven) lady. The woman’s Greek chorus of friends console her in her loneliness by setting her up with Ivor the Engine Driver. The new release of A Quick One again recreates the original UK version, including its spirited cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ Motown classic “Heat Wave.” The US version omitted the cover song and was instead packaged around the single “Happy Jack,” which is not included here. The album also includes bassist John Entwistle’s signature single “Boris the Spider” and other gems like the Byrds-styled 12-string jangle of the regretful but charming “So Sad About Us.”

Concept album The Who Sell Out received an exhaustive box set in 2021 with a deep dive into its contents and creation, but it’s now available in its standalone original format. The album’s most enduring single is the anthemic expression of karmic revenge “I Can See For Miles” with its showcase for Keith Moon’s manic drumming and Townshend’s slashing power chords. The cheeky “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” is styled after the Everly Brothers’ harmony and breezy pop. Daltrey brings his skills as a character-driven stage and screen actor to coming-of-age tale “Tattoo,” with bombastic pop that foreshadows the orchestral and operatic flourish of Tommy. The Sell Out program is interspersed with radio bumpers and advertising jingles for products including Heinz baked beans and Medac acne cream, with a entire wry song dedicated to Odorono deodorant. The sequencing casts the album as a pirate radio broadcast–a radio format outlawed in the UK only months prior to Sell Out’s December 1967 release.

All of this growth and experimentation coalesces into the Who’s truly great album Tommy. Townshend’s thematic songwriting is refined and razor sharp, and every member of the band delivers peak-level performance. The opening “Overture” continues to thrill, featuring Entwistle’s French horn juxtaposed against Townshend’s jangling acoustic guitar, Entwistle’s own visceral bass, and Moon’s orchestra of drums. The star-crossed tale of messianic character Tommy begins with “It’s a Boy.” Tommy encounters childhood trauma and parental malfeasance that drive him into an inner world described in the epic “Amazing Journey/Sparks.” As a “deaf, dumb and blind boy” Tommy suffers childhood abuse at the hands of the nefarious “Cousin Kevin,” molesting Uncle Ernie, and LSD-peddling “The Acid Queen.” Eventually discovered by his peers as a prodigy during signature anthem “Pinball Wizard,” Tommy gains acceptance. His senses return in the cathartic “Smash the Mirror.” Tommy’s influence and power are wielded during “I’m Free,” but the power ultimately corrupts him. The followers at “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” reject Tommy’s hard-lined spiritual leadership during the bracing and anti-fascist “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the titular character retreats inward again toward self-examination and enlightenment with the rapturous “See Me, Feel Me.”

Particularly in the case of Tommy, the new masters are respectful of the original work and do not radically alter the sound. Astley and Showell instead opt to present the revered material in the best possible light within the constraints of the vinyl format.