The Who By Numbers

The Who

The Who By Numbers, the Who’s seventh album, might just be the band’s forgotten masterpiece. The first Who album produced solely by longtime Who associate producer Glyn Johns, this is the collection that features the atypical Who hit “Squeeze Box,” and such keepers as “However Much I Booze,” “In A Hand Or Face” and “Dreaming From The Waist.” This is also the album where supposedly Keith Moon had to re-learn how to drum and Pete Townshend had come off some serious drinking (though by some accounts, he was still drinking). These 10 songs might just be some of the band’s best after the productive period of Who’s Next and Quadrophenia.

Opening with that crazy shuffle percussion (complete with a buried cowbell Christopher Walken would just love), “Slip Kid” sees Roger Daltrey at what may be the height of his vocal prowess on this album. There’s also some sly Townshend guitar work here — crazy feedback and that piano — making this as good an opening tune as the Who ever recorded. “However Much I Booze” follows, a painful plaintive sung by Townshend. There’s some interesting interplay between Moon’s bass drum and snare hits, and Townshend’s acoustic — both pumping the incredibly tragic lyric. Supposedly, Daltrey bowed out singing this one because it was too confessional. “Squeeze Box” is next, and is about as light and country as this band ever got, sexual innuendo notwithstanding.

“Dreaming From The Waist” is simply gorgeous. A fantastic Townshend lyric with equally fantastic power chords over a driving acoustic. John Entwistle’s bass walks everywhere, Moon fits into every conceivable space, as Daltrey leads the way. This is prime Who — the players jockeying for position; the lyric pointed and naughty; Daltrey singing those words like no other person on the planet can sing Townshend.

His amazing range takes flight on “Imagine A Man,” lifted by his and Townshend’s harmonies and Moon’s tom-tom rolls with the tinkles of just about the best session piano player of the time (or any time for that matter): Nicky Hopkins. This is what you got to appreciate about Townshend. The man knew his limitations, if nothing else. He plays piano well, but he knows enough to bow out on songs where he simply won’t deliver as well as someone like Hopkins.

“Success Story,” the lone Entwistle song, follows with more of Hopkins’ honky tonk piano and Moon’s splashes on both cymbals and toms (the only drummer who could splash both). Daltrey Sings, Townshend takes a verse, then Entwistle delivers the final growl round the rye lyric. Hopkins is still onboard for “They Are All In Love,” which is basically just Daltrey and a piano player. This is one of Townshend’s best lyrics, ripping his heart open about where is he in life and what he perceives happening around him, with lines like, "Hey, goodbye all you punks, stay young and stay high / Hand me my checkbook while I crawl off to die." The man more or less sums up everything going on at that time in this poignant tune.

“Blue Red and Grey” is another stripped down number, just Townshend on ukulele, his lilting frail voice carrying the lyrics and Entwistle’s horn at the breaks. It’s hard to tell if Townshend is being sarcastic or sweet here, but this is a great song, perfectly placed between the loudness of what proceeds it and the two killer tunes that follow.

Supposedly, “How Many Friends” was Moon’s favorite tune on The Who By Numbers. With the deceptive popping bass at the beginning, Daltrey growling into the choruses, and Moon simply investing the tune with more balls than one would think even possible, ”How Many Friends” is the masterpiece of the album. This is Townshend confession time again, but it’s packed with anger, wondering if the guys he’s playing with are still his mates after all this time.

The rockin’ “In A Hand Or A Face” ends the album. Starting as out like your typical Who anthem, this is the band in full stride. The refrain is dizzyingly hypnotic. Townshend layers his guitars unlike he had done before. Moon is simply on his own planet. Released in October 1975 with a connect-the-dots cover drawn by Entwistle, The Who By Numbers was the final album the original Who toured behind. It’s an album that’s deeply personal, yet playfully deceitful. Mostly, it’s a lost gem time has been good to — worthy of repeated playbacks for years to come.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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