Sunday, July 06, 2014
Top 50 Albums of All Time, #22 - "Who's Next" (1971)
At one time in my life, I might have ranked it up in the top ten. At another time, it wouldn't have made the list at all. So what happened?
Let's start at the beginning. Spring of 1974, I'm wrapping up 8th grade, and hanging out at a friend's house after school. His brother plops the album on the turntable, and the first song coming out of the speakers is "Getting in Tune." It's the second side, followed by "Going Mobile," "Behind Blue Eyes" and the epic "Won't Get Fooled Again." I'm hooked - and it's almost as if a new world has opened up. Looking back now, it was probably the first "pantheon album" that I'd ever heard - what most objective observers would call the best album from a band considered to be one of best ever.
Fast forward to the fall of 1980 - my first quarter at Berkeley, during that time when you're trying to figure out the right balance between freedom (I can do anything I want, any time I want!) and responsibility (Oh yeah, there's that whole study and do well on your grades thing still hanging overhead). Trying to get used to a bunch of people from different backgrounds, with different tastes and different whims. And, perhaps most importantly to someone like myself, with different musical tastes.
So at any given point during my two years in the dorms, that might have meant the guy who went in for folk-era Dylan, or the guy who was into Eno's ambient music, or the young lady who went more for the hardcore stuff (X, Flipper), or in one particular instance, the guy who owned two albums and played them at length, nearly every day - one of them being "Who's Next" (the other was Todd Rundgren's "Something/Anything," which at least had the virtue of being a double album). What I learned in that one nine-month period is that there are no albums that can withstand that amount of playing - not even an album as great as "Who's Next." It was nearly 20 years before I could listen to it again.
Once I made peace with it, there could be no question that this was one of the greatest albums ever recorded; the prototype of what would now be considered the classic "classic rock" album. From the majestic opening of "Baba O'Riley," to the perfect Roger Daltrey vocals, to the outright beauty of some of the music ("The Song Is Over," "Behind Blue Eyes"), to the humor of John Entwistle's "My Wife," and to what was probably the last great drumming of Keith Moon's career - it's damn near perfect.
Give it another 10 years, and it may wind its way all the back to the top ten.