Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Song of the Week: Pete Townshend - Is It In My Head?

Quadrophenia is one of the most highly praised albums of all time. It marks the end of an amazing run of four "must have albums" from The Who (preceded by Sell Out, Tommy, and Who's Next.) In 1972, as Pete began writing for Quadrophenia, Pete set out to rectify the wrongs he felt were beset upon him in his pursuit of the failed Lifehouse album, an aborted album that would become the critically acclaimed and high selling Who's Next. It seems everyone but Pete loved Who's Next. He couldn't let the failure of Lifehouse to fade and he was now set on creating another concept album. And he was also set on taking even more control of the band's direction, jettisoning extremely talented people like engineer Glynn Johns whom, Pete felt, hadn't shown enough support to Lifehouse and in fact forced him to put out the best songs from that session as Who's Next.

Pete retreated to his very advanced home studio on the island of Eel Pie and shut the world out. There he tried to expand on his groundbreaking use of electronics and crafted a thematic story of a downtrodden mod named Jimmy who, like Pete, seemed to be plagued by doubt and disappointment. When Pete emerged he had a comprehensive story and two hours of demos that sounded better than many other bands' completed songs. The Who had just completed their own recording studio and Pete brought the band in to put their stamp on his sophisticated demo recordings.

Until last month, when a Deluxe, remastered and expanded addition of Quadrophenia was released, most of those demos were only rumors. We got a few on the Scoop series, but not all of them. Well, here they are. To say they are well polished is an understatement. They are rock solid. Pete's drumming and bass work have improved from his demos in preparation for the Who's Next session and his voice is more confident too. His piano work is stellar and his guitar work is often more up front than in the final mixes for The Who.

Today we highlight the song Is It In My Head? On the final Quadrophenia version, Roger Daltrey sings with anger and aggression. And it is John Entwistle whose voice is mixed to the front on the chorus. But on this demo we get to hear Pete Townshend with his more vulnerable voice. It changes the posturing of the main protagonist from one who is confrontational and defiant to one who is unsure of even his own thoughts. Listening to all the demos, one is struck by how well thought out the songs were. One is also left with the sense of how much the band was a front for Pete Townshend's mind.

In the end, the recording and mixing of Quadrophenia was not what it should have been. The studio was not in shape for the recording (it actually flooded while they recorded and the control booth had to be stationed in a bus parked outside), the technology was not there for what Pete Townshend wanted to accomplish and the band was feeling like they were taking Pete's marching orders. In addition, producing and engineering the album was probably one job too many for Pete. At night Pete would take the tapes back to his home studio and bounce tracks (making a true remaster impossible) so as to allow him to over-dub more instruments. Likewise, John Entwistle would take tapes home to record his horn sessions at his studio. It's testament to the quality of the songs and the quality of the band that the album came out as good as it did.

And it's a testament to Pete's demos.


  1. These demos are excellent, in many ways giving the songs more immediacy than the album versions. There are cool differences, such as the ending to Drowning or the bridge variation in Is It In My Head (2:16). I love both of these. Some things seem to be identical to the album version such as the intro to Love Reign O'er Me which to my ear it seems they actually used the demo recording of the piano. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the other members to sit around and here these things for the first time. Thanks for the post.

  2. I'm trying to think back to just a few months ago when I read Richie Unterberger's book, Won't Get Fooled Again on the Who at this era. I don't believe that The Who rehearsed these songs and certainly did not perform many (if any) on stage prior to recording these. One can go back and here alt. versions of other songs of theirs, but I don't think the band was recording these multiple times. There may have been a few different bass tracks, but these songs were recorded instrument by instrument and then built into the mix. Much as Brian Wilson was doing with the Beach Boys around '66/'67. I do recall from Uneterberger's book that indeed individual music tracks from the demos were brought over on tape and found their way into the final mix.

  3. On a similar note, and, again, from Unterberger's book, the SFX on Quad (the ocean, the tea kettle etc.) were all recorded by Pete and his dad. Also, the newscaster reading the Riot news report at the end of Cut My Hair was bribed by Pete to read that over an actual newscast and then recorded by Pete live as it was broadcast over his radio. The reporter then had to explain why his story was nine years out of date.

  4. I got a friend to burn me the two discs of "Quadrophenia" demos from that ridiculously expensive box set and I have really been enjoying them. Have to say that, first of all, Pete made all the right choices in terms of what to edit out of the completed band version. The unreleased songs are just not as good. You might recall three of these were recorded with Kenny Jones for the movie version, of which "Get Out and Stay Out" is the only successful thing and then only as a score piece or as a brief device to move the narrative along--"I guess Dad booted out Jimmy".The other thing that struck me is how elaborate the demos are-- leaving virutally nothing up to interpretation by the band. Of course the other guys play their respective instruments much better than Pete. The demos are a reminder of how much of a genius the guy really is.

  5. I agree with you JBC-15 about the song choice. My only quibble with Quad as a whole is the inclusion of two instrumentals and the lack of a certifiable hit. Both instrumentals are good, but really do we need two? Further, Quad seemed to be missing a legitimate hit. Sell Out had I Can See For Miles. Tommy had Pinball Wizard and Who's Next had Won't Get Fooled Again (and Baba O'Riley).

    To point, I find it curious that the very song that started the idea of Quadrophenia, Long Live Rock, was not included in the album. Pete wrote it in '72 as an autobiography on The Who ("we were the first band to vomit in the bar") and how the personalities of the band blended together and how they became corrupted by fame. That then grew into the theme of Quad (the 4 personalities of The Who) and disappointment.

    If you look at the original photo book that came with Quad, you even have a potential reference to the song in the scene where Jimmy is fixing his scooter and The Who are walking out of the Hammersmith Odeon with a gaggle of women. The next photo showing Jimmy, head down, with his smashed scooter and then off onto the 5:15 train. While I find the refrain of the song to be a bit boorish, it seems it would have been ripe for a hit. To think it didn't see release until a year after Quad, is a bit curious. And the band performed it on stage and on TV around '73.

  6. I need to disagree with myself, I've been digging the uniqueness and very Un-Who song, "Four Faces".