The Who: Who Are You – [Record 31]
Who Are You: is the eighth studio album by English rock band The Who, released through Polydor Records in the United Kingdom and MCA Records in the United States. It peaked at number 2 on the US charts and number 6 on the UK charts. It is The Who’s last album with Keith Moon as the drummer; Moon died twenty days after the release of this album.
In 1996, the album was re-released in remixed form. Some of the elements from the original mixes were eliminated, including on the songs “Had Enough”, “905” and “Guitar and Pen”. However, “Trick of the Light” was restored to its full length of 4:45.
1. New Song.
2. Had Enough.
4. Sister Disco.
5. Music Must Change.
6. Trick of the Light.
7. Guitar and Pen.
8. Love Is Coming Down.
9. Who Are You.
Composition: Who Are You was put out at a time when the two major camps of rock, progressive rock and punk rock, were conflicting due to their antipodal styles. Pete Townshend’s compositions were written as an attempt to bring the two styles together. The album showcases some of the most complicated song structures Townshend had ever composed, with multiple layers of synthesiser and strings. Many of the songs also represented another attempt by Townshend to complete his long-contemplated Lifehouse project. Like Who’s Next, many of whose songs were also inspired by Lifehouse, many tracks on Who Are You feature prominent synthesiser parts and lyrics about songwriting and music as a metaphor for life (as indicated by titles like “Music Must Change”, “Guitar and Pen”, “New Song”, and “Sister Disco”).
There was a three-year hiatus between Who Are You and The Who’s previous album, The Who by Numbers. The band was drifting apart during this period, due to the band members working on various solo projects, Moon sinking deeper into alcohol and drug abuse. Moon’s health was especially an object of concern, as he only managed to come in during the last few weeks of recording and was unable to play in 6/8 time on the track “Music Must Change”, so drums were removed completely from the track and only a few cymbal crashes were added. Moon died just under a month after its release, and on the cover, he is shown sitting in a chair ironically labelled “Not to be taken away”. Moon had insisted on sitting in the chair with the back to the camera so as to hide his distended stomach, the result of his alcoholism.
“Sister Disco” seems to mourn the death of disco, although it could be construed to be a criticism of it. It features complicated synthesiser tracks that are the result of hours Townshend spent programming an ARP 2600 synthesiser.
The song was never performed with Moon. However, it was performed regularly when The Who toured with Kenney Jones as drummer, and quickly became a live favourite, despite Townshend’s claim that this was his least favourite song to perform. It was included on the band’s 2002 Ultimate Collection album. It was also revived for their fall 2008 tour.
The song Empty Glass appears as a bonus track on reissues of the album.
The version on Pete Townshend’s solo album Empty Glass is notable for the more suicidal undertones in the lyrics that were changed in the final. On the solo version the line is, “Killing each other, then we jump off the ledge”. On the Who Are You sessions the line is, “Killing each other by driving a wedge”.
Reception: The album was a commercial success, going 2× platinum in the US and Canada, Gold in UK, and peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The soundtrack to Grease prevented Who Are You from achieving number 1 status in the US. The success of Who Are You generated excitement at the prospect of a new Who tour for the album. However, the album is surrounded by tragedy for Who fans due to Moon’s death shortly after the album’s release. The songs on the album were later performed on tour in 1979 when The Who were joined by new drummer Kenney Jones and keyboardist John Bundrick. Bundrick had been invited to play on the album, but broke his arm falling out of a taxi at the studio door and was unable to participate.
Live performances: Spanning the band’s career, just slightly less than half of the album has been played live.
“Who Are You” was the first of the album’s songs to have a live performance, its first dating to a concert from the band’s 1976 tour at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, ON, albeit in a very raw and abbreviated version extremely different from the finished product. Another early and abbreviated live performance with Moon can be found on the DVD The Who at Kilburn: 1977. It was played as part of the encore for the Who’s 2012 “Quadrophenia and More” tour.
On The Who’s 1979 tour, only four songs were played live: “Sister Disco”, “Music Must Change”, “Trick of the Light”, and “Who Are You”. On that tour, “Sister Disco” was played quite close to the studio version, except that the guitar outro was changed from country-style to a more bluesy one, except in 1989, where Townshend used acoustics, and 2008–09, where he could switch his Fender from ‘electric mode’ to ‘acoustic mode’. Townshend actually stated in an interview that this was one of his least favourite songs to perform live (the other being “Dreaming from the Waist”). It was played in the tours of 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1989, 2008 and 2009.
“Music Must Change” was often given an extended workout live, with performances usually ranging from seven to nine minutes. It was played in the 1979, 1980 and 1981 tours, and was also rehearsed for the 2002 tour. Sadly, Entwistle died before the start of the tour and the band were not able to perform this song.
The Who have not been known to play “New Song”, “Had Enough”, “905”, “Guitar and Pen”, and “Love Is Coming Down”. However, the John Entwistle Band used to play the Entwistle-penned songs.
1996 remix and remaster: In 1996 Jon Astley remixed and remastered the original album. The 1996 CD remix/remaster album replaced the original analogue mixes that were issued on vinyl and CD since the original release. The 1996 remaster included 5 bonus tracks including alternate mixes for “Guitar and Pen” and “Love Is Coming Down”.
2011 remaster: On 24 December 2011 Universal Japan reissued the original analogue mixes of the album on CD for the first time in over a decade. Although the album used the original mixes, the bonus tracks from the 1996 album were included using vintage mixes where possible for these tracks.
The album was reissued in a miniature replica of the vinyl album for CD. As of January 2012, there were no plans to reissue these original mixes on CD anywhere other than on this limited, numbered edition of the album in Japan.