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THE WHO

They probably could have been more prolific, they probably should have enjoyed more chart success. But no matter – as Sean Egan demonstrates in this rundown of rarities and must-have vinyl, The Who’s varied back catalogue is a many-splendoured thing…

THE ESSENTIAL

On the surface, Th Who made no sense. Thy stayed together through thick and thin, despite the fact that they couldn’t stand the sight of each other. In the 60s, they were the rawest, most visceral live act in rock, but their record releases alternated between quirky pop singles and grand, intellectual suites. And – have we got this far without mentioning it? – they carried on playing into their dotage, despite claiming in their most famous song that they hoped they died before they got old.

Of course, Th Who were prepared to tolerate each other because each knew that they would never find better musicians to work with. Meanwhile, their contradictions were overlooked by their devoted fanbase because of the superior, groundbreaking music made possible by the musical melding of their irreplaceable talents.

WHO ARE THEY?

Roger Daltrey is a vocalist who can alternate between tremulous delicacy and gravel-throated belligerence. Pete Townshend is a songwriting genius whose craft spans three-minute pop gems and intricate, multi-song narratives. John Entwistle was the Quiet One in personality only; his bass playing always prominent in the soundscape, and always excellent. Underpinning it all was Keith Moon, whose drumming was as massive and hyperactive as his personality.

Th nucleus of the group coalesced in 1961, with Moon completing the classic line-up in ’64. Thy began as R&B-covers merchants, but Townshend blossomed so quickly as a composer that by 1965, he’d written an anthem that genuinely encapsulated the feelings of contemporary Western youth. Evolving in leaps and bounds, in 1969, he changed history with a rock opera that made popular music worthy of the attention of the intelligentsia.

Th Who’s catalogue is surprisingly slim for such a long-lived and venerated ensemble. Nonetheless, what does exist is highly desired and studded with intriguing rarities. Our list is chronological, and rarest entries refer to UK releases, unless otherwise stated.

CAN’T EXPLAIN/BALD HEADED WOMAN

(1965)

Producer Shel Talmy suggested the publicdomain cover on the B-side of The Who’s debut single because he knew how to claim the publishing. On the A-side, Townshend proffered an anthem of inarticulacy. The record was first released by US Decca at the end of 1964, then withdrawn, corrected (the “I” was dropped from the A-side’s title) and reissued. It’s possible to pick up that first pressing cheaply, as many dealers are unaware of its uniqueness.

£ Rarest1964 Decca (US) £50

ANYWAY, ANYHOW, ANYWHERE/DADDY ROLLING STONE

(1965)

The second Who single was a libertarian anthem, but was most notable for being drenched in the feedback Townshend had made his stage trademark. Eddie Phillips of The Creation, and even The Roadrunners, have claims to be pioneers in turning this technical fault into an asset, but Townshend did the most to popularise it. Despite its atonal sections, this became the second Who top-tenner.

£ Rarest1965 Brunswick (Denmark) £240

MY GENERATION/ SHOUT AND SHIMMY

(1965)

The blitzkrieg record that completed music’s all-time most uncompromising opening trio of releases, with the possible exception of the Sex Pistols’ opening salvo. Daltrey sneering that he hoped he died before he got old was shocking enough, but instructing his elders to f-f-fade away was within two syllables of telling them to f-f-f--off. Townshend intones the title line surreally metronomically, and Entwistle drops the first-ever bass solo.

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