.

Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy: Pete Townshend on 'Tommy'

Page 2 of 3

"Anyway" was the first time we encountered the piano playing of Nicky Hopkins, who is a total genius, and likes the Who. He likes John Lennon too and a lot of other people who give him work. A lot of bands breathed a sigh of relief when he and his missus showed their weary cheery faces in England again this summer. We did, and so on. He's still working.

Kit Lambert described "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" to reporters as, "A pop art record, containing pop art music. The sounds of war and chaos and frustration expressed musically without the use of sound effects." A bored and then cynical Nick Cohn – Christ he was even more cynical than me – said calmly, "That's impressionism, not pop art." I repeated what Kit had briefed me to say. mumbling something about Peter Blake and Lichstenstein and went red. Completely out of order while your record is screaming in the background: "I can go anyway, way I choose, I can live anyhow, win or lose, I can go anywhere, for something new. Anyway anyhow anywhere."

Then we released "My Generation." The hymn. The patriotic song they sing at Who football matches. I could say a lot about this, I suppose I should say what hasn't been said, but a lot of what has been said is so hilarious. I wrote it as a throwaway, naturally. It was a talking blues thing of the "Talking New York" ilk. This one had come from a crop of songs which I was, by then, writing using a tape recorder. Kit Lambert had bought me two good quality tape decks and suggested I do this, it appealed to me as I had always attempted it using lesser machines and been encouraged by results. But when you sit down and think what to play, it's a little hard. The whole point is that blues patterns, the ones groups use to jam with one another, are somehow the only thing forthcoming when you are gazing at a dial and thinking mainly of how good it's going to be to play this to Beryl and proudly say, "I played all the instruments on this myself." All the instruments being guitar, guitar, bass guitar and maracas.

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Pete Townshend

Anyway, ensconced in my Belgravia two-room tape recorder and hi-fi showroom, I proceeded to enjoy myself writing ditties with which I could later amuse myself over-dubbing, multitracking and adding extra parts. It was the way I practiced. I learnt to play with myself. Masturbation comes to mind and as a concept making demos is not far off. "Generation" was then praised by Chris Stamp, our "other" manager, who was worshipped only as a source of money from his ever active roles as assistant director in various film epics. He was convinced it could be the biggest Who record yet. Bearing in mind the state of the demo it shows an astuteness beyond the call. It sounded like (I still of course have it) Jimmy Reed at ten years old suffering from nervous indigestion.

Kit made suggestion after suggestion to improve the song. He later said that it was because he was unsure of it. I went on to make two more demos in my den of magnetic iniquity, the first introduced the stutter. The second several key changes, pinched, again, from the Kinks. From then on we knew we had it. I even caught a real stutter which I only lost recently.

Over the period of rewriting I realized that spontaneous words that come out of the top of your head are always the best. I had written the lines of "Generation" without thinking, hurrying them, scribbling on a piece of paper in the back of a car. For years I've had to live by them, waiting for the day someone says, "I thought you said you hoped you'd die when you got old in that song. Well, you are old. What now?" Of course most people are too polite to say that sort of thing to a dying pop star. I say it often to myself. The hypocrisy of accusing hypocrites of being hypocritical is highly hypocritical. See the new Lennon album. See "My Generation."

It's understandable to me, perhaps not to you, that I can only think of inconsequentially detrimental things to say about the emergence of lyrics from my various bodily orifices. "Substitute," for example, was written as a spoof of "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown." On the demo I sang with an affected Jagger-like accent which Kit obviously liked, as he suggested the song as a follow-up to "Generation." The lyric has come to be the most quoted Who lyric ever, it somehow goes to show that the "trust the art, not the artist" tag that people put on Dylan's silence about his work could be a good idea. To me, "Mighty Quinn" is about the five Perfect Masters of the age, the best of all being Meher Baba of course, to Dylan it's probably about gardening, or the joys of placing dog shit in the garbage to foul up Alan J. Weberman. "Substitute" makes me recall writing a song to fit a clever and rhythmic sounding title. A play on words. Again it could mean a lot more to me now than it did when I wrote it. If I told you what it meant to me now, you'd think I take myself too seriously.

The stock, down-beat riff used in the verses I pinched from a record played to me in "Blind Date," a feature in Melody Maker. It was by a group who later wrote to thank me for saying nice things about their record in the feature. The article is set up so that pop stars hear other people's records without knowing who they are by. They say terrible things about their best mates' latest and it all makes the pop scene even snottier and more competitive. Great. The record I said nice things about wasn't a hit, despite an electrifying riff. I pinched it. We did it, you bought it.

"The Kids Are Alright" wasn't a single in England; it was in the States. Funnily enough, this broke really well in Detroit, an area where both Decca records and the local community were a little more hip to the Who than they were elsewhere. Detroit, or at least Ann Arbor, was the first place in the States we played after New York.

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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