The Ultimate Collection
Disclaimer: this review was written one night before John Entwistle passed away. I’m not sure if some of my comments would have changed based on the loss of one of rock’s greatest bassists, but just in case, I‘ve decided to leave it as is.
The Who are one of the few bands in the history of rock and roll to actually have more compilation albums than actual studio albums. At this stage in the game, seasoned Who fans have all the necessary tunes they could ever want from a group who hasn’t released a proper album in 20 years. No wonder that for the last few years many precious songs from the coveted Who catalog have been subjected to a number of different marketing spins. Several movies, including American Beauty, the 2000 Oscar winner for Best Picture, have been supercharged by the most dynamic quartet to ever step onto a concert stage. More recently, the Who have become pitchmen, hawking everything from cars to health insurance. If you want to know more, just consult the stickers on the cover of the Who’s The Ultimate Collection -- a fat and happy two-CD set that’s traversing the same chart-driven waters the Beatles 1 and Echoes: The Best Of Pink Floyd so successfully maneuvered.
Imagine being an old Who fan and seeing a message like this: "Includes 'Bargain' as featured in the Nissan commercial." Or even worse: "Includes 'Who Are You' as heard on the hit TV show, CSI." So this is what it’s come to. The Who have a Grammy for crying out loud. Their music is in movie theaters and on TV. They have become (gulp) respectable. Just look at the commercial for The Ultimate Collection. It says it all. Evidently, it’s helped in making The Ultimate Collection the first Who album to break into the Billboard Top 40 in two decades. And why not -- it’s extremely likable, with all the tunes a casual, new or inexperienced fan could ever want. How could the kids resist such hits as “My Generation,” “I Can See For Miles,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Who Are You?” If anything, this collection proves that Who songs are immortal -- beyond their TV jingle masquerade.
Without going into the usual details about the 35 gems that made the cut, this reviewer can only say there’s not a loser among them. There are the early hit singles that soared up the UK charts, and eventually the U.S. charts as well. Then there are the singles from the 70s that never really chalked up the numbers, but became FM staples for years to come. While the group was starting to lose their footing with post-Keith Moon songs like “You Better You Bet” and “Eminence Front,” even these two manage to wrap things up on a high note. Altogether, most of these comprise the set the band rolls out and each every night. As evidenced by their performance at the Concert For New York, the Who are still unrelenting in their conviction. And when you throw in The Ultimate Collection with its deluxe packaging, 26-page booklet, and a four-track bonus disc with single and alternate versions of “Substitute,” “I’m A Boy,” “Happy Jack,” and “Magic Bus”...well, it’s hard for even the tried-and-true fan to turn away from this one. Long Live Rock!
~ Shawn Perry