Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Song of the Week: The Who - Little Billy

Sometime after the nice little band from Shepherd's Bush released the brilliant, The Who Sell Out, a mockery of advertising and the music industry, someone from the American Cancer Society thought it might be a good idea to have a rock-n-roll band speak up against cigarette use. Maybe even record a quick little jingle like the four limeys had done to link their songs together on the aforementioned Sell Out album. Pete Townshend accepted and wrote a full length song. But Pete's sardonic whit was too much for the American Cancer Society. As a result, The Who's recording of their original, anti-smoking morality tale, Little Billy, didn't see the light of day until it was released on the eponymous time-filler of an album, Odds and Sods. The song, like the unreleased Glow Girl, written and recorded about the same time, is a beautiful transition between Sell Out and the lyrical and musical themes which would dominate their impending breakout, Tommy

Little Billy plays on many of the same themes of childhood shame, embarrassment, harassment, bullying  and revenge which colored much of Townshend's work of the 1960s. Preceding songs like I'm A Boy, Happy Jack, Pictures of Lily and A Quick One While He's Away all dealt with the tender issues which would become the center piece of Tommy. Here Billy is a fat, unpopular child who is mocked by the kids who "smoked cigarettes just to prove they were cool." Pete and Roger share vocal duties masterfully.

Now Billy and his classmates are middle-aged/with children of their own
Their smoking games are reality now/and cancer's seed is sown
Ha, ha, ha, ha
Ha, ha, ha, ha
Little Billy didn't mind
Most of them smoke maybe 40 a day/a habit Billy doesn't share
One by one they're passing away/leaving orphan's to Billy's care.
Get the feeling Pete was bullied as a kid?

1 comment:

  1. Only PT would concoct a payback for those years of bullying that comprised of the victim triumphantly taking responsibility of the bullies' orphaned kids. Brilliant, but no wonder it was rejected. Also, it is interesting that after mocking advertising, he fully embraces it. The song seems indebted to Odorono in parts, so he didn't try to hard.