Ordinarily. I wouldn’t allow a Greatest Hits compilation on a list like this. This isn’t an ordinary LP, though, nor is the story of how it got here.
#5. The Who – Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (1971)
There were several groups that I’d call myself “late to the party” in discovering. Led Zeppelin was one; I had heard of them, sure – you couldn’t not hear “Stairway to Heaven” every day in the early days of classic rock radio – but I didn’t spend a lot of time with their catalog. But perhaps the most glaring omission was The Who.
When I inherited the albums from my parents (see the previous post for more on this), I was necessarily subject to the confines of their tastes. There were no Rolling Stones LPs. In the time-honored question of “Beatles vs. Stones,” my parents were Beatle people, and therefore so was I at first. (I probably still am, but it really depends on my mood.) My parents seemed to stop buying music altogether once I showed up: there wasn’t much after Bridge over Troubled Water, and they really didn’t resume adding music until later when we got an 8-track player in the living room. By then, it was a lot of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow and other stuff that I was having no part of. As a result, The Who got missed.
So when did I find them? It’s hard to pinpoint for sure. I certainly had heard of them, and would have heard them while listening to WLS in 1978 when Who Are You came out. (I was a bit young to get the reference to the WLS Magic Bus.) By freshman year of high school I was hearing them more and more. They had released “You Better You Bet” in 1981, and it got a lot of airplay. 1982’s It’s Hard, which might get its own entry here someday, gave us “Athena” and “Eminence Front.” By the end of freshman year I had borrowed my friend Rich’s copy of The Kids Are Alright (or was it Dave’s?) and started learning their history. It was also at this time that Brant Miller from WLS came to visit Andrew High School, implored us all to listen in that night for an hour of music dedicated to us, and opened with “Who Are You.” (I used to have it all on tape, but fear that that cassette is lost.)
Fast-forward to 1985. Junior and senior years of high school brought with them the more-than-occasional house party (as discussed here). My soon-to-be-parents would travel, and leave us the house for the weekend. We’d get someone to get us some beer, and I’d move a few records downstairs for the soundtrack. One particular party involved me bringing down Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, and we played it over and over again. You couldn’t get to “Boris the Spider” without a full-house singalong,. “Magic Bus” was also included on the LP, which led to additional volume.
The rest just made for good listening. The album opens with “I Can’t Explain,” and Side 1 also includes “Happy Jack” and “I Can See For Miles.” There’s also the oh-wow “Pictures of Lily.” Years later, while on the air at WXLP, I almost pulled a muscle reaching for this joke: “If you were to obtain Herman Munster’s wallet, and take a look inside, you’d find this – it’s the Who on 97X.” The side rounds out with “The Seeker,” which admittedly was not a favorite but has grown on me since.
Side 2 is a little less solid. “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” is ok, but “Pinball Wizard” makes up for that. What a great record, and this may not even be the best version of it. (You can’t leave Elton John out of the discussion.) “Spider” and “Bus” were the two songs we most enjoyed. “A Legal Matter” didn’t register with a bunch of sixteen-year-olds, and while “Substitute” and “I’m a Boy” are catchy, they don’t necessarily rise to the level of the band’s later work.
Consider, though, that this is a 1971 release. It doesn’t include most of the tracks that classic rock made famous because they weren’t done yet. MBBB chronicles The Who as a singles band, and – technically – a failed one at that: the only song the band ever put in the Billboard Top 10 in the US was “I Can See For Miles.” That’s it. All the great album tracks from Who’s Next were forthcoming, as were songs by the band that I love like “5:15,” “Love Reign O’er Me,” “Eminence Front,” etc. When I finally got to see the band in 1989 (on one of the several farewell tours), those were the songs they highlighted. But for some of us who had just turned 20, we remembered the singles and got to smirk about how we’d known the band so much longer than that. I made up for lost time.
The one track that I think of most clearly on Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, though, has to be “My Generation.” As I started to learn more about the 1960s and the counterculture, I picked up on the significance of this song. The idea that no one over 30 was to be trusted, and Roger Daltrey pronouncing “I hope I die before I get old” is powerful and anthemic. Fast forward to today: I’m closing in on fifty. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend, the only surviving members of the group, are 74 and 73 respectively. When you have your whole life in front of you, it’s easy to be cavalier about getting old. Once you get to the second half, you start to want things to slow down just a little bit. Perhaps that’s why this version of the song, by the Zimmers (and their 90-year-old lead singer) resonated so strongly. “I hope I die before I get old, but I don’t feel as old as I look” is a terrific mantra.
Why don’t you all c-c-c-click the link? You can hear The Who’s version of “My Generation” by clicking here.