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WHO'S ONE OF THE BOYS . .
by Don Snowden
The fact that 1977 has witnessed the reformation of a number of bands that enjoyed their heyday during the mid-'60's--Small Faces, Animals, Booker T & the MG's and on the jazz front the VSOP quintet--serves as a timely reminder of the ongoing saga of the Who. The Kinks and Stones may have survived from the same era with their key personnel intact, but only the Who have persevered through 15 odd years in the rock and roll circus with the same lineup that exploded out of London talkin' 'bout their generation. Even more impressively, they've done so without losing their street level credibility or degenerating into an aging parody of themselves.
Over the years, the four individual elements in the band have meshed into an organic whole that apparently thrives on equal parts personality conflict and powerhouse music. The images are firmly locked in the minds of any one who has caught the Who in concert--Townshend the windmillchording mastermind, Moon the maniacally flailing drummer, Entwistle the musical and visual anchor and Roger Daltry wielding his mike like an electronic lariat and restlessly circling the stage.
Ironically, the very cohesion that makes the Who such a potent musical force has made it exceedingly difficult for the group members to establish much of an individual identity outside the band. Each has taken his stab at the solo route--Townshend with his homage to Meher Baba, "Who Came First", Moon's lighthearted oldies romp and Entwistle's black humor-tinted albums and tour--but only Daltry has managed to transcend the limitations imposed by being identified with the Who and use the band's popularity as a stepping stone to bigger things.
The catalyst, both for Daltry and the Who itself, was "Tommy." Despite the power of such classic early Who singles as "My Generation...... Substitute" and "I Can See For Miles" to name but a few, it wasn't until the release of the rock opera that people outside of the hardcore rock audience began to appreciate the band for their musical contributions as well as the demolition derby stage presentation. And the challenge of vocally bringing to life the numerous Townshend-created characters made the listening world aware of a fact that had often been overlooked during the Who's formative years--namely that Daltry was one of the most versatile and distinctive vocal stylists to ever grace a rock and roll stage. With the acclaim for his live performances of "Tommy" came the opportunity to branch out, and Roger parlayed his golden boy looks and latent acting ability into starring roles in the film version of "Tommy"and "Lisztomania."
In characteristic fashion, Daltry steered away from prevailing trends when the time came for him to establish his musical turf as a solo artist in 1972. Rather than indulging in the solo-album-with-famous-friends-playing-favorite-songs-of-yesteryear or the I-am-a-serioussongwriter-in-my-own-right syndromes so common in the early '70's, he gambled on performing an entire album of compositions by an unproven songwriting team. The then unknown tandem was Leo Sayer and Dave Courtney and Roger's debut solo album, "Daltry," was one of those rare ventures that proved to be of equal benefit to both parties. Sayer received a considerable career boost through association with the Who singer, and in turn Daltry immediately established an identity as a vocal stylist distinct from the electric strum und drang assault of the Who. The skeletal arrangements of the pre-Richard Perry Sayer style gave Roger the opportunity to display his interpretive skills on such classic fare as "One Man Band" and the "Hard Life/Givin' It All Away" medley.
When Daltry returned to the studio three years later for his second solo effort, he continued his tradition of working with less know figures by recruiting former Argent guitarist Russ Ballard to oversee the album. A blend of ballads and upbeat material with a funky sound that in some ways anticipated the current renaissance of blue-eyed sound, "Ride A Rock Horse" was released shortly after the film version of "Tommy" and the consequent enshrinement of the deaf, dumb and blind kid as a cultural monument.
Predictably, the LP rode into the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic on the strength of the identification of Daltry with Tommy and the AM success of "Come And Get Your Love." But the album as a whole was flawed by uneven material and some questionable production effects. The most curious selection was a version of "Milk Train" performed with a broad Cockney accent that made Daltry sound like a dead ringer for Ian Hunter lamenting about life as a rock star during his Mott the Hoople days.
Two years later comes "One Of The Boys," easily his best solo effort to date, and it's immediately apparent that Daltry has spent some time evaluating his earlier works and decided to effect some changes in his standard operating procedure. For the first time, he breaks away from using lesser known musicians in favor of recording with some of his famous friends. "One Of The Boys" boasts a basic band of Who-mate John Entwistle and Brian Odgers (bass), current 10cc drummer Stuart Tosh, Jimmy McCulloch of Wings and Paul Keogh (guitar) and Rod Argent (keyboards) plus guest shots by Alvin Lee and the legendary Shadows' guitarist Hank B. Marvin. The result is the most slickly produced, polished sound to grace a Daltry album yet.
More importantly, "One Of The Boys" is the first album that truly bears the creative stamp of Roger Daltry. Both "Daltry" and "Ride A Rock Horse" gave the impression of being projects where Roger merely provided the focus and vocal chords and more or less allowed Courtney and Ballard to dictate the direction of the record. Courtney has returned to produce "Boys" with Tony Meehan but the LP's strong song orientation suggests that Daltry was pretty much in full control here.
"I was ruthless with the material," Daltry told RATW correspondent Anne NIghtingale in London recently. "I listened to about 500 songs, and it's very difficult to find good songs. I'm not a natural songwriter. I can't sit down and come up with ten great songs like Pete or some of the other songwriters can do but also I don't really like doing old material that's been popular."
That reluctance to go the oldies but goodies route has left the LP well stocked with strong compositions by a number of the most underrated songwriters on the current scene. And their songs are treated to some of the most assured, commanding singing Daltry has ever put on vinyl. "One Of The Boys" finds him working in a wide variety of musical settings ranging from the tongue-in-Cockney-cheek country of Colin Blunstone's "Single Man's Dilemma" to two haunting Philip Goodhand-Tait songs and superb supercharged versions of Andy Pratt's "Avenging Annie" and Murray Heads' "Say It Ain't So, Joe." Daltry also makes his debut as a songwriter on his solo albums here, collaborating with Courtney on "Satin and Lace," Doing It All Again" and "The Prisoner," a tune inspired by the autobiography of convicted robber John McVicar. "I just wanted to do one song in music to encapsulate that kind of total desperation feeling and I think it does it."
The album's most basic rocker is the title track, penned by long time Who protege Steve Gibbons and delivered by Daltry with a blustering tone more than a little reminiscent of Alex Harvey, "It's a 1977 `My Generations'," Roger explains. "It could have been written by Pete Townshend." With the short film Roger did to promote the album--where he adopts the sartorial stances of Rockers, Teds, Mods and punks--in addition to his somewhat sarcastic vocal delivery, some have speculated that "One Of The Boys" is an attack on the punk rock brigade.
"It's not a send-up. The truth is we don't speak for the kids today, but we never pretended to speak for anyone else but our generation. Our generation hasn't gone away. it's just that another generation has joined the ball game. "The Who By Numbers," obvious from a lot of people's point of view, especially from young fans, must have seemed like a disaster, but I count that album as being one of the most important albums the group's ever made. The album does cover a period in your life. When you're 30, you really do go through a lot of change. You reevaluate your life and it's probably the first time in your life that you realize that you're not immortal.
Daltry seems to have weathered the discovery of his own mortality well from all indications. Despite the lure of lucrative offers, he's refrained from doing any solo gigs in order to avoid jeopardizing the delicate internal balance of the Who. And thank God for that--not that I'd mind seeing Roger perform on his own but the Who concert I caught last year was simply one of the finest shows of recent years, one of those magic nights where the feedback is melodic and the firecrackers explode in perfect time to the music. It's more than a little ironic to find out with "One Of The Boys" ranking as the strongest, most consistent albums of his solo career, that Daltry is planning to phase out his solo work.
"I only want to do one more album on my own. I never ever did it to get a kind of separate big career. My main thing is the Who, I've only done the albums for experience outside of the things that the Who do. I've tried to do material that the Who would never ever go and so far I think I've been successful. I've done three albums, each one different from each other and every one different from the Who and I'm really pleased with that."
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