(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
The Who by Numbers is the second to last studio album released by The Who, released in October 1975. The UK release date was the the third, by Polydor Records, and the US release date was the 25th on MCA Records.
The album did rather well, charting at #8 in the US and #7 in the UK. Personally, it probably my least favorite album from The Who. Many of the songs are very dark, likely because of Townshend’s deepening alcoholism. However, at least one song was upbeat.
With that said, let us listen to some music!
One unusual aspect about this album is that John Entwistle did the artwork for the cover. Here is a picture of it:
Unless otherwise noted, all of the songs were written by Peter Townshend. The first song of the album is “Slip Kid”. Here is the studio version:
Here is a live version from 19760302. I saw them in Fort Worth, Texas exactly two weeks later.
Here is Townshend’s demo version. Daltrey is certainly the better voice for this number.
“However Much I Booze” is the second song on the album, and here is the studio version. Note that Townshend signs it.
Here is a terrific live version, with good video and outstanding audio quality. Listen to Entwistle’s punched up bass!
And, of course Townshend’s demo:
I am about to change my mind about what I said in the introduction. This really is quite a good album. Note that it is much simpler than Quadrophenia, kind of back to their roots so to speak.
The third song, “Squeeze Box” was a hit single, the only one from the album. Here is the studio version:
This is one of only three songs by The Who of which I am aware that contains banjo. The other two are “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” from Tommy and “Had Enough” from Quadrophenia.
Here is the very live version that I saw in person in Texas in 1976:
Here is Townshend’s demo version. I like the organ in it, but I have always loved organ. That is why I liked the original Deep Purple quite much.
As a special treat, here is a clip from the seminal TeeVee program, Freaks and Geeks, with the song as the subject. The brilliant Joe Flaherty is great as Mr. Weir. Look at the facial expressions that he has! The link is to a piece that I did on that show for this series.
“Dreaming from the Waist” is the next song, and it is quite dark. The original title was to have been “Control Myself” but Townshend changed it for reasons unknown to me. Here is the studio version:
Entwistle was probably at the top of his craft on this record.
Here is the live version that I personally saw:
I could not find a Townshend demo for this piece.
The next song is “Imagine a Man”, also quite dark. The brilliant pianist Nicky Hopkins played on this song. Here is the studio version:
I could find neither a live version nor a demo.
The sixth song, the first one on the second side of the record, is the only Jon Entwistle number, and he also shared lead singing with Daltrey. Here is the studio version:
Hopkins also played piano on this song. Once again, I could not find a live version and since it was not a Townshend song, there is no demo. I like this song, replete with Entwistle’s black sense of humor.
“They are all in Love” is next, and Daltrey is extremely expressive in this one. This is a very sad song, but not overly depressing. Hopkins is on this one, too. Here is the studio version:
I chose this embed because it has the lyrics in the comments under the video screen. Once again, I could find neither a live version nor a demo.
“Blue, Red, and Gray” is the next song, and only Townshend could have sung it. Neither Daltrey nor Entwistle could pull it off at all. This song in unique for The Who, as far as I have been able to tell, because it has ukulele in it. This song never fails to fetch a tear from me, because of the line that starts at 0:45, “I like every second, so long as you are on my mind…”. The horns that Entwistle played are a perfect combination. This is a simple song but expresses extreme emotion. Here is the studio version:
Here is a very recent live version by Daltrey. See what I mean about the right voice to sing it?
Here is a fairly recent Townshend solo take:
“How Many Friends” is next, and it is another dark song. I am not sure if I like it or not because of the content of the lyrics being so fraught with anguish. Or is it that it just represents the truth as I know it as well? Here is the studio version:
Again, I could not find either a live version nor a demo.
The final song on the album is “In a Hand or a Face”, which is sort of an odd tune. I do not know what make of it. I do know that Entwistle was smoking on this song, too! Moon has a nice performance as well. I think the line about firing a pistol at the wrong end of a race is apt. Here is the studio version:
Again, no live version nor demo.
Thus concludes the album. What have we learnt?
First, as I said earlier, I have learnt that I like this record much more than I remember liking it. That is a good thing. Second, I think that this is an extremely autobiographical piece about Townshend’s experiences that highly colored with the frame of mind that he was in at the time. Kit Lambert, the band’s longtime producer, had been accused of stealing money from the band in 1973 during the making of Quadrophenia, and this was their first album since then. It is my feeling that “How Many Friends” is written largely about their falling out, since Lambert pretty much made The Who and was close to Townshend. Lambert was heavily involved with narcotics at that time and the thought is that he stole from them to support his addiction.
Additionally, Townshend was watching Moon deteriorate at an accelerating rate from drink and pills. Moon and Townshend were extremely close and it has been said that Townshend felt almost like a father to Moon. Also, Townshend was getting way to friendly with the bottle (as pointed out in “However Much I Booze”) himself, evidently self medicating for depression.
All of these factors, and the hard life on the road, added up to produce a very dark, in places, album. However, the bright part about the record is that they did away with the heavy reliance on synthesizers and other electronic gimmickry and returned to their “native” style of music, largely due to the return of Glyn Johns as the producer of the record. Townshend pretty much did all of the production in Quadrophenia, and the difference is quite striking.
We are nearing the end of the series on The Who. I have chosen not to cover material that they released after Moon’s death in 1978, but we have Who are You yet to go and then another couple of pieces to tie up loose musical ends. Those loose ends include some bootleg stuff and the material released on the remastered CDs as bonus tracks for several of their earlier albums that I did not get to during covering those albums.
No doubt I shall continue to write about The Who from time to time, and may do some short biographical sketches of the band members and other very closely associated individuals. But it is inevitable that the material will come to an end. I have some other ideas about what to write, and am considering some of the other great bands, perhaps Jethro Tull or maybe some single pieces about other, more obscure bands. Any ideas are welcome.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith