POP MUSIC / A Who's who of Rock: Albums

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The Independent Online
THE WHO - Thirty Years of Maximum R & B (Polydor 521 751-2)

MAXIMUM F & Blind, more like. From the opening 'Pete Dialogue' to the introductory essay in the accompanying 76-page picture-lavish booklet, Pete Townshend is at it. Swearing. Back then, in 1971, addressing his fans at the Long Beach Arena, it was Angry Pete. You can hear him seething with Shepherd's Bush fury as he yells the maximum PR-friendly observation that 'This is not a fucking tea party.' Now, in 1994, the vocabulary hasn't changed, but the tone is 25 years on: resigned, defeated, exhausted.

'OK,' he writes, not exactly awash with enthusiasm for this giant retrospective, 'If you hate the Who you won't like it. Fuck you. I don't like The Who much and I like it.'

In between the two points of profanity is five hours of reasons why even Pete Townshend might grow to like the Who again: a blistering box set. It divides into four CDs, not a bland re-packaging of previous stuff, but a proper career perspective, punctuated by studio sound-bites, oddities, unreleased moments, and Pete getting fully behind the Woodstock spirit when he spoke to the anti-war activist Abbie Hoffman ('Who are you? Fuck off my stage.')

It begins in 1964, when they were called the High Numbers and ruled Modernist west London. From the start, with the chirrupy covers of R & B biggies, all the parts were in place, with the rumble of Entwhistle's bass as the cement that held it together. Thence the collection goes through the singles - 'Substitute', 'I'm a Boy', 'My Generation' - the album tracks - 'The Ox' - the B-sides - 'Call Me Lightning'. Many come with little yarns spun in the accompanying booklet. Thus 'The Last Time' is remembered as a single released in 1967, when the Who had vowed to record a Rolling Stones song every month while Jagger and Richards were in prison for drug possession. It was the only one they did, the boys were out within a week. Just as well, the Who were no good at Stones covers.

And on it goes. Thirty Years of Social History: Keith Moon discovering alcohol, Roger Daltrey discovering perms and Townshend discovering Indian mysticism - 'Baba O'Reilly'. Incidentally, his tribute to his spiritual adviser, from 1971's Who's Next, shows that digital remastering can perfectly transfer the charm of the vinyl original to the new technology: the opening bars now sound as though your CD player is stuck.

It is a body of work that does not diminish into the third or fourth discs. Tracks like '5.15', 'Squeeze Box' and 'Love Reign Over Me' are reminders that Townshend's writing kept up and on through the Seventies, producing songs which have etched themselves on to the memory and refuse to budge, no matter how infrequently they are played these days. In fact, the only thing that is not authentically storming about this collection is the title. Thirty Years of Maximum R & B? They packed up their creativity in 1982 and settled for the baby-boom nostalgia circuit, book editing, trout farming and banking the royalties from Broadway revivals of Tommy. And for 12 years, hotel rooms around the world have been tidier places.

IAN McNABB - Head Like a Rock (This Way Up 522-298 2)

THE opening track on this album is the best you will hear all year. A stormer of a big chord, lots of cymbal in-fill, epic bass, a huge lyric: 'The Fire Inside My Soul' is a song Springsteen would have been proud to write. That it comes from the former leading light in the wimpy Eighties singles band the Icicle Works is less a testimony to the fire within Ian McNabb's soul than to his ability to pick collaborators. Neil Young's band Crazy Horse provide the vast volume for that track and three others; k d lang's entourage pick up the pieces on two more; Marvin Gaye's former backing vocalists slum with the rest. And all he did, McNabb says, was ask them to help.

The result is a fine piece of Maximum country-tinged rock and it will be no surprise to see the top boys soon queuing up for McNabb's song- writing services.