Who's Next is usually considered to
be the best Who record of their
career but the circumstances in which it was created were quite difficult. At
Townshend was planning a new rock opera for the group
after the success of Tommy, called Lifehouse, a gigantic project with which
the leader of the band wanted to find the connection between music and the
human spirit, all very complicated and difficult to explain, so much so that
neither his bandmates, nor their manager, Kit
Lambert, could understand anything about it. So the project was abandoned
and the group focused on the best songs individually to produce a ‘normal’ album.
The good thing is that Who's Next was nothing normal, it is an extraordinary album in which, for the first time, the energy of the best live band in rock history was transferred properly to the studio. In addition, Townshend's obsession with early synthesizers gave them a totally distinctive sound, as can be seen on two of his best known songs, Baba O'Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again, which are, respectively, the beginning and the end of the album.
Of course, here are also Behind Blue Eyes, Bargain, The Song Is Over, Getting in tune, Love ain’t For Keeping and My Wife; the only song not composed by Townshend and that had nothing to do with the Lifehouse project but which is one of the best songs composed by John Entwhistle. Recorded between April and June of 1971, a time when they were at the height of their fame as a band, giving some of the best concerts that are remembered in the history of rock, Who's Next is the testimony of the power of that band, from the incredible screams of Roger Daltrey to the anarchic force of Keith Moon on drums, through the amazing skill of Entwhistle on bass and the claw of Townshend on guitar, there is not a single note that is out of place on this record.
Townshend not only delivered some of the best songs of his career but he defined his electric sound in the studio thanks to another legendary guitarist, Joe Walsh. The American bought him a Gretsch 6120 'Chet Atkins' from 1959 with which Townshend would give the best of himself, connected to a volume foot pedal, the Edwards Light pedal steel, a Whirlwind cable and a Fender 3x10 Bandmaster amplifier, which were all gifts from Walsh. The sound behind the incredible 'power chords' of Won’t Get Fooled Again and much of the album, confirms Townshend as one of the most powerful rhythm guitarists of all time, someone who expresses more with a chord (always played after the famous windmill) than others with endless solos. For acoustic parts such as Going Mobile or the incredible Behind Blue Eyes, Townshend trusted his faithful Gibson J-200 Sunburst from 59, the same guitar with which Pinball Wizard was recorded.
But the final result is well above the sum of its parts, as this is the album on which Townshend and the Who managed, at last, to bring all the sound and fury of their incredible concerts to vinyl, and for that reason it is the album that best defines them.