The Who - Who's Next DVD Review
by Patrick Muldowney
It is truly an education to watch Who's Next, a documentary which provides the story behind the The Who's classic album (Happy 35th Birthday). For some of us, like myself, it may be the history behind an interest I was too young to understand, while for others it will be familiar nostalgia or baffling antiquity, but, from any viewpoint, the story is intriguing. I have a personal recollection of being five years old, standing on the red shag rug in the room my brother (11 years my senior) and I shared, and unearthing The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, etc., from his immense vinyl collection, which sat in a plastic crate. Each album was a wonder to me, because the bands and their words represented cartoons-superhuman and mysterious. Who's Next was part of this realm, and this DVD proves that reality is no less impressive than a young boy's imagination.
Pete Townshend is of a strange Nietzschean ilk, and this can't be any clearer on Who's Next. Even though numerous explanations are provided by him and other members of the group throughout the first part of this documentary, the concept of this Lifehouse rock opera, which is the foundation for the album, seems about as abstract and impossible as alchemy. The premise of youth not physically, but metaphorically, being deaf, dumb and blind, is completely understandable, but, decades later, the vision is still beyond explanation, which, at the time, nearly drove him off the deep end. Given this period of creative alienation, it is a credit to Townshend's genius that Who's Next could be salvaged from the wreckage.
The documentary features a close look at the ARP synthesizer used in "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again". Witnessing the use of this bulky, archaic instrument is a distinct memory unto itself; almost like viewing the first computer compared to what we now know. It is a wall of metal gadgetry that their producer, Glyn Johns, considered difficult to utilize for sound, yet Townshend showed the patience to birth an introduction, which is played (not a digital loop), the entire rock world can recognize within two bars. Another great feature of this documentary is the visit to the mixing board. As a fan, it is wonderful to hear tracks as they were individually recorded. Entwistle's bass lines, in their singular form, clearly show how he revolutionized his instrument, and Keith Moon's method of playing with Daltrey's vocals further cemented my opinion that he is the best rock drummer ever. A version of Who's Next with only Moon and vocals would be a classic album itself.
Anything from, or about, The Who is always worthwhile, but a deeper look into the story of Who's Next carries a further value. This may be the apex for Townshend creatively, and Daltrey vocally. It is a bit humorous how Townshend has always fancied his own vocal tracks, and spends part of the documentary trying to show how he sings "Baba O'Riley" and "Behind Blue Eyes", yet, as many times as I thought Daltrey expendable, such thoughts were immensely flawed. No one can match Daltrey's force on "Baba O'Riley", and preferring Townshend singing "Behind Blue Eyes" is like choosing Garfunkel over Simon.
This is the DVD version of a documentary that was originally made for television in 1999, so it should be clarified this is only new in format. The DVD itself contains no bonus materials, or collectibles. It simply provides the viewer with documentary in feature and chapter form. That being said, regardless of the year the documentary was made, and the original intended format, Who's Next is 60 minutes of rock history, and you would be remiss to skip this lesson.
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