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The Who Hits 50!: A Flaccid Commemoration Compilation to Perfectly Match the Inane Enterprise of Anniversary Tours”

Ok, the first thing I’d like to address is how awful anniversary tours are, in general. I remember Liz Phair doing one for Exile in Guyville, when her oeuvre had ventured so absurdly far from that artistic point (which is about as egregious as two of your members being dead), and it got torn to shreds by critics. It’s just murdering the classic album. The Breeders did one for Last Splash, and I’m sure it was fine, but a lot of people don’t know how great Mountain Battles (2008) is — Drew Barrymore even picked “Bang on” for the soundtrack of her directorial debut, the fine roller derby-handling Whip it.

It’s all the type of stuff that works fine in the left brain. But what people don’t take into account is artistic inspiration, how that plays a role in the whole thing. Take, for instance, the very first song on this new Who greatest hits (of which there are like 20, or something). There’s actually a palpable sense of apathy in Roger Daltrey’s voice, compounded by the facts that (a) it’s a cover song, and (b) the band wasn’t even called “The Who,” yet, they were called The Magic Numbers. I’m guessing it was performed before the sense of humor of Keith Moon [1], and possibly others in the band, really took off, and helped to make them what they would become.
“I Can’t Explain” is included, and this is obviously great, partly because it’s a fine song, and partly because it appears on no studio album, just like the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown,” and a lot of fare of the old blokes as far as I’ve learned.
There are a couple things you have to understand about The Who, though, before you go just throwing all their most famous songs on a couple discs and calling it a significant paperweight [2]. One is that with Tommy, they instantaneously transformed from a band that detested and chided the studio album (see the cover and actual content of The Who Sell out) to a group of epic crafters, capable of terse 40-minute statements to chime as playable, cathartic and soothing. Up ‘til this, they’d essentially been a singles band, the days of which Meaty, Beaty Big and Bouncy nicely encapsulates, not least for its inclusion of “A Legal Matter,” which is left off of The Who Hits 50! I don’t ever remember thinking anything was missing from Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy from all my days of listening to it, and “Substitute” became one of my favorite songs by any band by way of this.
So there’s Meaty, and there’s Tommy. Here’s the first two discs of you boxed set.
After this, you could play around with it, do whatever, but I’m thinking you could probably fit all the essential remaining material onto one disc… maybe the first half their best studio late singles (which abound, to be sure, and you could fit the whole version of “Won’t Get Fooled again,”), and the second half their best live material, which would be maybe “Heaven and Hell,” “Young Man Blues” and “A Quick One, While He’s away” from Live at Leeds, and some of this excellent stuff I’ve got on this album called The Young Vic, like “Road Runner,” etc. Some more great late singles are “Baba O’ Riley,” obviously, “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Squeeze Box” and “Love Reign o’er Me.” But that gives you a little leeway.
I think this would be a great boxed set, because it would concern the listener more aptly with the band’s metamorphosis over time, and orient him or her fully with the album Tommy, which the biggest Who fan I’ve ever met insisted was their bulwark artistic statement as a band. He would expound to me on things like how the band’s whole m.o. was based on chaos, and how the whole operation threatened to fall apart at any time. Needless to say, the situation doesn’t present itself as this simple chronological package purported by this Hits 50! dreck, and “Won’t Get Fooled again,” for all its albeit riveting operatic bombast, should be in no way shortened, or confused with the band’s shorter, earlier work.
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[1] There’s a story about Keith Moon coming up to the members of The Beatles, in a pub or cafe, and asking “Can I join you?”, to which they consented, after which Moon would ask, “No, can I JOIN you,” meaning something else entirely. Moon also created the name Led Zeppelin, quipping to Jimmy Page, “You guys will go over like a lead zeppelin!”
[2] And what’s this “single edit” of “Won’t Get Fooled again” b.s.? That’s like cutting a ribeye steak in half and trying to serve it as a full entree.

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