The Who’s Pete Townshend: Every Young Rocker Should ‘Mark A ‘W’ On Their Arm In Blood’

“Who dat? Dat ain’t the Who, I tell ya.” You can almost hear those words being uttered by some fans attending Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey’s 12-minute set during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Beyond the fact that classic-rock-heads continue debating whether it’s legit for Townshend and Daltrey to continue playing as “the Who” without their Moon and Ox, the performance was less-than-stellar. Sure, the light show was spectacular, but even Daltrey has said he was unhappy with the overall set, which found him and Townshend cramming too few bits from too many Who classics into too short a period of time.

Beyond playing portions of a bunch of songs – “Baba O’Riley”; “Won’t Get Fooled Again”; “Pinball Wizard”; and “See Me, Feel Me” – Townshend and Daltrey also reached into their late-career works with a few bars from 1978’s “Who Are You.” Most of those songs are featured – in full form, of course – on the Who’s (umpteenth) Greatest Hits album that dropped late last year.

About eight years ago, Townshend divulged to me the history of one of the other songs featured on that compilation, “You Better You Bet.” He also chatted about his solo Scoops, U2 – and why young bands should listen to The Who Sings My Generation reissue and “mark a ‘W’ on their arm in blood in respect.”

Here’s the interview, online for the first time.

Reaching back to 1983, Who guitarist and principle songwriter Pete Townshend began to disclose his personal demo recordings through an album titled Scoop. The 25-track double-disc set unearthed significantly developed songs, many of which the Who had then recorded themselves – “Magic Bus,” “Love Reign O’er Me,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” for example.

Also included, however, were unfinished works like “Dirty Water,” “Recorders” and “Body Language.” In 1987, Townshend unleashed a second set under the same theme: Another Scoop. Just last fall, he issued the third part of the program, Scoop 3, through his Web site, EelPie.com.

On May 21, Redline Entertainment cherry-picks from those three works to create Scooped, a two-CD package housing 35 tracks in sum. The compendium leans slightly in favor of Scoop, culling 14 cuts from that release, but includes 11 selections from Another Scoop and 10 from Scoop 3, as well. The new collection also anticipates in part the return of the Who, who are primed to tour the States this summer and record later in the year, and the long-awaited re-release of The Who Sings My Generation.

One curious aspect of Scooped is its song sequence, which jumps freely from one era of Townshend’s career to the next. We contacted Townshend via e-mail, who discusses the Scooped track progression and the project on the whole. He tells ICE, “I have always left every aspect of editorial selection to my producer Helen Wilkins. When I first started this series, my intention was to try to demystify my creative processes at a time The Who were still capable of filling Giant Stadium four or five nights in a row.

“I had more or less stopped writing songs especially for The Who when I began my solo career in earnest with Empty Glass [1980]. But with the first Scoop I wanted to show that I had a private life in my studio and home – I loved what I did. I still love what I do in my home studios. Such things are common now, and I think I helped make home studios what they are today, both by helping develop the portastudio and encouraging musicians to prove their work on demos before going into the big studio.

“Bands like U2 have always been an exception to this, but I still find myself more interested in solitary composers than group discoveries.”

While Scooped taps most deeply into the first release in the series, Townshend cites a demo from Another Scoop as his personal favorite: “I love ‘You Better You Bet’ the most. It is a strange song for me. When I was 34, I once fell deeply and irrationally in love with someone. I was still in my marriage, struggling a bit, but working on Empty Glass, my solo project, and going a little crazy.

“When I told this woman I loved her she used to say, ‘You better.’ That was the extent of our conversation on the subject. The demo studio recording took a long time, and it was a struggle to realize it. I was drunk a good bit of the time and living in London hotels rather than at home. But when it was done and I played it to her, I knew I’d done what every good songwriter should do, write a girl a great song. And I played the best drums ever, I think.”

Scoop 3 stands out from the previous two demo collations, as it was released 14 years after Another Scoop and is available exclusively through the Internet. Townshend notes that he favors Scoop 3 because it contains much of his recent work; he also took up the task of post-production on his own for the set. Readers should take note, however, of a song title discrepancy between Scoop 3 and Scooped: the track “Seige: Theme 019” was mistakenly listed as “Theme 017” on the Scoop 3 cover and CD; the glitch has been rectified on the new album.

Just as the Internet has become an increasingly useful tool for many musicians, Townshend has made available a plethora of demos and residual recordings in MP3 form through his Eel Pie site. For that reason, he claims, no new material has been added to Scooped. When asked if any other stranded songs could mutate into future Who recordings, Townshend replies, “The older demos have already had their moment in Who selections and, if not covered, may be regarded as rejects.”

He continues, intimating the future Who sessions: “Recent stuff has not been intended for The Who. We hope to try some recording in the autumn. I have no idea what will happen. I have no titles targeted. I am writing a novel at the moment which may bring up some music – if so, it may fit a Who session. What Roger [Daltrey, Who lead vocalist] envisages is a little more like a U2 session described above; an experimental process in which we try things and discard what doesn’t work. I’m game to try, but I hold out little hope it will produce any masterpieces.”

Townshend also recently collaborated with David Bowie for “Slow Burn,” set to appear on the Bowie’s June 11 release Heathen (he just signed to Columbia). And Townshend also has The Who Sings My Generation reissue to look forward to, which is being remastered by original producer Shel Talmy and due out later this year. Says Townshend of the recordings, “They are beyond belief. If there is any justice, every upstart rock band will listen and mark a ‘W’ on their arm in blood in respect.”

Originally published as “The Full Scoop” in ICE magazine #182, May 2002.

If you liked this interview, don’t miss these other ones:

• “David Bowie Faces Reality
• “Iggy Pop: ‘I Didn’t Want To Sell Out’ The Stooges
• “The Magic Wanda Jackson

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