The Who – A Quick One

A Quick One (1966)

B+

1. Run Run Run 2. Boris The Spider 3. I Need You 4. Whiskey Man 5. Heatwave 6. Cobwebs And Strange 7. Don’t Look Away 8. See My Way 9. So Sad About Us 10. A Quick One, While He’s Away

 

Weren’t the Who supposed to be heavy and controversial in the early days? Smashing their instruments and instigating generational warfare and everything? You wouldn’t know it by their second album – this stuff is about as confrontational as Mr. Rogers. Songwriting-wise, A Quick One is almost all lightweight, very mid-60s pop. Shit, the heaviest song on here is a kids’ song about a spider, and it’s not even a euphemism for crabs or something (the only risqué subject matter is contained within the semi-lewd mini-opera, which I’ll get to). But there’s a winning, quirky charm to this album, a relative tossoff, that I can appreciate. Not to mention a greater eclecticism than is typical for the Who, which can be accounted for by the fact that for the only time in their history they aren’t relying entirely on one songwriter (much less one songwriter that reuses the same three riffs and chord sequences for every song he writes. Not that I’m complaining – Pete makes it work). See, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp decided it would be a good idea for the band to make an album on which every band member notched songwriting credits in order to spread the royalties around. If you must, call it a cold, calculating business decision that only got in the way of true art, but it was a decision made out of virtual necessity. The band had racked up massive debts thanks to all the equipment Pete made a habit of “borrowing” from London guitar shops and then proceeding to demolish nightly on stage. They had to start digging themselves out of the hole somehow. Sort of like how everyone who graduates from college now has to work at McDonald’s to pay off their tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Or at least they would if McDonald’s actually had jobs to spare, so instead they just lay around smoking pot in their parents’ basement. On a completely unrelated side note, I can’t wait to graduate.

The Who-as-democracy experiment, though short lived, turned out to be a fantastic idea, seeing as it introduced the world to the songwriting of John Entwistle. His black comic relief in the form of a track or two per album would become a valuable asset on all subsequent Who records. But no need to gaze into the future – his signature song is right here. “Boris The Spider” is the GREATEST CHILDREN’S SONG EVER and I suppose the first Who song I ever heard since my dad used to sing it to me when I was a mere toddler. It’s also easily the best song on the album, kitsch and all. The Ox’s “Whiskey Man,” an ode to an imaginary friend with a taste for liquor, is nearly as amusing and catchy.

So that’s one resounding sideman songwriting success. Next, there’s Keith, who didn’t contribute any album tracks after this, but to whom I’ll still offer a offer a definite thumbs up for his contributions here. His “I Need You” is really nicely Kinksy… it’s surprisingly great. Even his foppish Macca-circa-Rubber Soul falsetto works excellently. Nothing brilliant, sure, but I wonder if he had more tunes this good in him. Cause “Cobwebs And Strange” certainly ain’t great, just a goof circus music instrumental. Though it does allow the Who to indulge in their trad jazz fantasies (listen to those quick strumming bits Pete does; he sure as hell didn’t learn that from Chuck Berry… might as well link to this again). Anyway, I’d say “I Need You” is even better than Pete’s pedestrian pop strummer “Don’t Look Away,” and not too much weaker than his jangly “So Sad About Us,” which is elevated from third tier status by its rich multi-part harmonies. So that just leaves Roger… who apparently can’t write a song to save his life. “See My Way” is just awful… I’ll admit I kind of like the verse melody, but the chorus sucks and the whole song is just horrifically executed.

Other than this one-minute, fifty-three second black mark on the Who’s record, the only downside to opening up the songwriting to the whole band turns out to be that there’s not enough room for the classic singles Pete wrote around this time. Non-album hits “Substitute,” “Happy Jack,” and “I’m A Boy” could’ve given this album a much-need kick in the ass, but alas, Pete decided to assign the nine minutes of the running time they could’ve taken up to the goddamned mini-opera. Naw, I’m kidding, I actually really like “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” It’s just that the studio version, with its poor ass vocals and horribly bad edits in between the short sections (Kit Lambert could’ve benefitted from the Beginning Recording class I took last term), sounds dinky and weak when compared to later, far more muscular live versions, such as those found on Live At Leeds or The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus). Still, it’s a fine composition, and musically progressive for its time. Each of the individual sections is catchy and memorable on its own, and the story is stupid but funny: a girl finds coital comforts in the arms of a dirty old engine driver when her boyfriend fails to return home on time from a long trip. Gallant fellow that he is, the boyfriend forgives her… wotta pushover. No, it’s not quite Quadrophenia, but at least it got Pete’s “concept” ball rolling.

Like all Who albums, A Quick One now comes with an assload of bonus tracks. They’re not particularly compelling, consisting of novelty covers (the Batman theme song and a couple of surf rock tunes… did I mention Keith Moon was a Beach Boys superfan?). There’s also a solid Townshend rocker (“Disguises”) and a couple of catchy Entwistle-penned b-sides (“I’ve Been Away,” “Doctor, Doctor”).

I’ve always overlooked A Quick One due to its throwaway feel, flippant lyrical matter, and lack of “important” Townshend songs. But, despite its flaws, its worth your time.



One Comment

  1. Ben wrote:

    The one song you didn’t mention (“Run run run”) is the best song here. Great way to start off the album. Would have been a monster hit if it was a single. I was also surprised at how good “I need you” is. Keith supposedly wrote it as a beatles parody or something because he thought they were speaking in a secret language behind his back. The title track would have benefited from being a few minutes shorter (I would cut out the “You are forgiven” section), but it was pretty daring for its time.


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