Thursday, May 20, 2010

Who Script 2


The Who’s first “concept” album was their second one, titled A Quick One. The so-called “mini-opera” – “A Quick One While He’s Away” –  closes the album. Pete had been kicking around the idea of writing a rock opera for a while and when this album came up short on material, he wrote “A Quick One While He’s Away”1.

The plot of “A Quick One While He’s Away” is simple and comically absurd. The heroine’s man has been gone for a year and is one day overdue returning. She becomes inconsolable over this and for some reason the people of her town send in Ivor the Engine Driver2 to comfort her. She has an affair with him. Her man comes home. She confesses the affair and is forgiven.


“AQOWHA” is usually referred to as The Who’s mini-opera, but it might be even more useful to refer to it as their comic opera. Pete’s future rock operas had a far more serious tone to them. In “AQOWHA”, you can see some of the themes Pete usually addresses being handled in a more comically overblown fashion: Love. Betrayal. Deception. Redemption. That last one, redemption, especially. In fact, when The Who performed “AQOWHA” live, Pete would frequently address the audience at the end of the song, saying “You are ALL forgiven”.

The opera expands almost immediately, but in a ridiculously over-the-top and improbable way.

Down your street your crying is a well-known sound
Your street is very well known, throughout your town
Your town is very famous for the little girl
Whose cries can be heard all around the world

The expansion goes from crying girl to street she lives on to town she lives in to the whole world in four short lines! She is world famous for her grief, we're informed, despite the fact that her man’s been missing for exactly one day.

Note also how quickly and easily she gives in to Ivor’s blandishments, which are about as oleaginous as it gets:

Please take a sweet
Come take a walk with me
We'll sort it out
Back at my place, maybe
It'll come right
You ain't no fool, I ain't either
So why not be nice to an old engine driver?
Better be nice to an old engine driver.

They're also vaguely threatening, it seems: "Better be nice ..."

Also of interest: When she admits her infidelities to her man, she says she “kissed a few” … but when? All during that same one day with Ivor? Or was she less than faithful to her man the whole time he was gone?

Who knows?

The mini-opera contains what must be the best-phrased infidelity admission ever:

I missed you and I must admit
I kissed a few and once did sit
On Ivor the Engine Driver's lap
And later with him, had a nap

Priceless. Had ... a ... nap!

Did you notice the background vocals at the beginning of the concluding “You Are Forgiven” section of the opera? They’re singing cello cello cello. That's because, originally, Pete wanted this section of the song scored for cello but Kit Lambert, The Who’s co-manager and producer, said they couldn’t afford it3. So Pete just had the band sing cello cello cello instead, which works better in a comic opera than actual cellos would have, I would argue.

Play “Happy Jack”

This song was included on the US version of A Quick One and is interesting for a number of reasons, but I just want to touch on one story about it.

The Who had recorded a version of “Barbara Ann” with Keith Moon singing lead vocals, which they released as a B side on an EP ... and it went straight to number 1 … in Sweden or some other Scandinavian country. This convinced Keith that he should be The Who’s lead singer, or should at the very least be allowed to sing background vocals. Keith, however, had a horrible voice.

The next single The Who released was this one, “Happy Jack”, and when they were recording the vocals, Keith kept trying to sneak his voice in there, ruining take after take, either with his singing or his antics, which caused Pete to crack up. Finally, Pete told Keith he had to go into the control booth and lie on the floor so that he couldn’t ruin another take. But at the end of the vocal take they finally did use, Pete saw Keith’s head pop up over the mixing board in the control room for just a second. Pete just managed to keep it together long enough to finish the take, but you can hear him at the end laughing, “I saw ya!”
Tomorrow, Who Script 3
5.9-mile run this morning in 45 minutes = 8:48 pace.
1 Incidentally, the album came up short because the other group members – Daltrey, Moon and Entwistle – were supposed to write two songs each for the album for odd contractual reasons having to do with this album alone – reasons I never quite understood – but only Entwistle supplied two, the other two submitting but one each; and it turns out Entwistle was the only other group member with any real song-writing talent. His first song, "Boris the Spider", was improvised on the spot when Pete asked, during a recording session, whether he'd written a song yet. "Sure," John replied: "it's about a ... spider! Boris the spider." Then he improvised the descending scale melody that anchors the song. He exited the session as quickly as possible so he could write down the melody he'd just improvised before he forgot it; then brought the finished song in for the next session.

Pete's sense of humor could be weirdly, darkly off-beat ("I'm a Boy", "Pictures of Lily", "Squeeze Box", "Happy Jack") but John's was just macabre; so when The Who needed a twisted lyric, they generally turned to him. For the rock opera Tommy, John wrote both "Cousin Kevin", about the sadistic cousin who tortures Tommy because he knows Tommy can't tell on him; and "Fiddle About", the song in which Uncle Ernie sexually molests Tommy. Although John's vision is decidedly darker than Pete's, it is often congruent: the issue of identity shows up in Entwistle songs such as "Whiskey Man" (also on A Quick One), "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" and a lot of others.

Roger's vision is decidedly incongruent with Pete's. His song, "See My Way", while not a bad song, is an assertion of power and identity, not a questioning or probing of it:
Some way, some day, I'll find a way
To make you see my way

Even if you don't think like I do
You know that it's true

I'm glad it's goodbye
You don't have to ask why
Come back another day
Come back when you see my way
I know what I'm all about – the problem is you. Roger is obviously not dealing with doubts as to who he is or who is right.

The song Keith submitted, an instrumental called "Cobwebs and Strange", lives up to its name because it is just strange and – BONUS – pretty awful. Although it does show off the fact that Pete had one of the fastest right hands (the strumming hand) of any guitarist.

2 Ivor, incidentally, is the only named character in the mini-opera. The hero and heroine are just "he" and "little girl". But Ivor is given both a name and a profession along with a theme that is highly rhythmic, insistent (it speeds up a LOT),  and, obviously, very sexually suggestive.

3 The Who should have been relatively wealthy by this point in their career but they were still in the red because they kept destroying their equipment in the live shows – something they were pretty well known for – and therefore were forever having to buy, or steal, new gear. Pete tells a story of running into an instrument store, grabbing a guitar off the wall, and running out with it while promising, over his shoulder, to pay for it later. The for-profit corporate entity “The Who” didn’t make it fully into the black until Tommy came out in 1969, by which time they’d been recording and releasing music for nearly 5 years.

Another reason they had a difficult time making it into the black: They tended to destroy their hotel rooms on the road. Moon was the biggest culprit in this regard. He blew up toilets, tore down whole walls, drove cars into pools. He and the band were banned from numerous hotel chains in the US. Luckily, The Who found a hotel chain that was happy to take Moon. Good hotels tend to be renovating all the time and so all this chain did was make sure they booked Moon into whatever room was slated to be torn apart for renovation, anyway. Perhaps he even saved them money.
BONUS ENTWISTLE! (added later)

"Trick of the Light" is classic hilarious Entwistle from Who Are You. The narrator spends the night with a whoo-wer and is worried that he hasn't ... let just say "satisfied" her:

Was I all right? (Was I all right?)
Did I take you to the height of ecstasy
Was I all right? (Was I all right?)
Did a shadow of emotion cross your face?

Or was it just another trick of the light?

Wide awake in the middle of the night
I wonder how she's feelin'
Is it just a trick of the light
Or is her ceiling peeling?

She's sitting up in bed, shakin' her head
At a copy of "True Confessions"
Ooh, it must seem like a fairy tale
To a woman of her profession

But was I all right? (was I all right?)
Did I take you to the height of ecstasy?
Was I all right? (was I all right?)
Did a shadow of emotion cross your face
Or was it just another trick of the light?

But was I all right? (was I all right?)
Did I take you to the height of ecstasy?
Was I all right? (was I all right?)
Did a shadow of emotion cross your face
Or was it just another trick of the light?

Come on, tell me
What's a nice girl like you doin' in a place like this?
They don't make girls like you no more
And I'd like to get to know you
On closer terms than this
But I guess you've heard it all before

Lady of the night
Won't you steal away with me?
Lady of the night
Won't you steal away with me?

The money's lyin' on the floor, she looks at me
Shakes her head and sighs
Out of time, out the door
Red light shinin' in my eyes

But was I all right? (was I all right?)
Did I take you to the height of ecstasy?
Was I all right? (was I all right?)
Did a shadow of emotion cross your face

All right?
But was I all right?
All right?


  1. "Trick of the Light" kinda hits close to home, though I'm pretty certain I have my answer to "Was I all right?" when I'm spent and she says "You can start any time now..."

    I appreciate the ideas behind the rock opera and prog rock and all the high-falutin' theories of that era, but the music just tends to leave me cold. There was a brief psychedelic rush in 1967/8, a blast of punk in 1977/8, but a whole lot of crap in between.

    Jaggerz, Christie, Glass Bottle - 1974 was the pits. The Who in 1974 were just better than the rest by default.

  2. My catholic friend always says she 'made out' with a guy. I'll start saying I took naps with them. Sounds sweeter.

    I'm learning all kinds of new things today. Who said I'm not productive at work? I would never have picked up on the cellos, but now I think it's hilarious. Thanks.

  3. Nice way to slip in a sub-nine running time. I still saw it and yes, it still pissed me off.

    I had to forward the Who posts to the hubby. He is a big Who fan(would that be big 'The Who' fan? Whatever.)

    Don't expect a comment, I still have to check his voicemail messages for him. He traded in his PAGER for a cell phone last year, but he loved it.

    He did ask of you were the guy who thought I was a tranny. Sadly, when I said "Yes, that was after the SF Marathon get up", he snorted and said "I guess I can see that."

    Whatever, square. My hot pink boa and tiara was FAB!

  4. Clarification: He loved the posts, NOT the cell phone. He hates that fucking thing.