John Entwistle's Own 'Smash Your Head'

The bassist on his new solo record: "I've had a couple of songs on Who albums but that wasn't enough"

John Entwistle
Michael Putland/Getty Images
June 10, 1971

LONDON — Entwistle is the one that stands on the side, immobile, slaving away over a hot bass guitar. The sweaty one that grunts and tries to kill his innocent drum kit is Moon. Townshend, discoverer of the secret of antigravity, hangs around three feet in the air. Daltrey is the one that stands at the front, then walks backwards in the bank of amplifiers, and sings.

John Entwistle, possessor of 12 bass guitars, three trumpets, three French horns, two trombones, a melofonium, two pianos and one hellava cramped guest room in his London suburban house, has done his thing with vengence. With the help of Jerry Shirley on drums and Cyrano (late of Cyrano and the Bergeracs) on guitar, Entwistle has written, played and produced an album of his very own.

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Moon has his Kings Road Chelsea flat and country pub, Townshend his smooth townhouse by the Thames, Daltrey a place in the country. Entwistle sits in a shiny black shirt, straining a little round the waist, and a brand new pair of blue leather trousers, listening to his album. His wife opens the serving hatch and says, "Keep the tea on a tray, it's a polished table."

"Polished tables," mumbles Entwistle, as the result of two years of thought and four months of recording packed into two and a half weeks of studio work blasts out of huge speakers. The suit of Victorian reproduction armour standing on a table looks in danger of falling apart. One of the tracks reaches a manaical climax and the crossbow hung of the wall vibrates. The album is called Smash Your Head Against the Wall. Entwistle says people tell him the cover is similar to the one on John Cale's Vintage Violence.

"My face on the cover looks like the death mask of a mongol. I went to my doctor and asked him for a chest X-ray on which I could superimpose my face, hidden behind a misted-up piece of plastic – in sickly green. So he said, 'Haha, what you need is one of a heart disease patient, I have just the thing for you.' The fellow's long since dead – I hope."

The album is largely the result of frustration that Entwistle was feeling with the Who. "There simply isn't room for another writer in the group. I've had a couple of songs on albums but that wasn't enough. I was getting less and less interested in the group. I think we all were. We ran out of things to play. You can't keep on doing Tommy and Live At Leeds. So we decided to stop work for four months and plan a new stage act."

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They chose to work out their new act at the National Youth Theatre. "It was supposed to be an experiment. We'd play a specific song aimed at a particular section of the audience. There was supposed to be feedback or something and the whole thing was to be filmed. Well, we forgot the film idea because we weren't playing well enough. I never really understood what it was all about. I think it did more bad than good. We weren't well enough prepared."

As Entwistle puts it: "The Who are diabolical at rehearsing. We don't know how to rehearse. I think the last time we got together to practice was before Tommy."

The Who played their first British gig with the new set a couple of weeks ago and are well on their way to finishing the next album. An American tour is scheduled to start on July 28th.

Entwhistle is planning to make another jack-of-all-trades album. "I think," he muses, "that I'll buy a set of bagpipes soon."

This story is from the June 10th, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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