Pete Townshend Talks Mods, Recording, and Smashing Guitars

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Is it because you start to take yourself seriously?
Obviously, this is what happens; it is what we desperately try to prevent all the time. One way to stop taking life seriously is to go out on the road. A prime example is people like Paul Revere and the Raider's, resulting in complete insanity. And every group that you can name, man, the Beach Boys are a completely insane group, completely insane. The Beatles they stopped going out on the road–they're sober as shit; they've got it together. The Rolling Stones are just going out on the road again; it's taken them ten years to get over the hang ups they got from being on the road last time.

This is where you forget, you don't want to take things seriously, you just let things pour out, often they are the wrong things. You might be thinking that you're keeping things light and you're keeping things groovy and you're just making your own musical statement and having a groove and everybody's grooving to it and life's a ball. But on the outside they think it's probably fucked up, screwed up, loaded with meaning, obviously a nostalgic bit, obviously the story has got something to do with your first sexual relationship; you know, obviously it's got some spiritual significance: "does Pete Townsend think he's Jesus?" or whatever the hang up is man. It can all be read into it. I'm sure a lot of it is there, but one doesn't know because one is trying to avoid this. We, of all people, have got to be afraid of seriousness in The Who, because if we were serious, we'd admit that we don't like each other. But because we're not serious, we don't have to admit it.

You said you write best when you are on tour.
What I was going to get into when I was saying that sentence was that I write a lot of songs on airplanes but they sound just like songs written in airplanes.

Like which ones?
Let me see: "I Can't Reach You" – "our love was flowing, our life was soaring" and "I can't reach you; I'm a billion ages past you and a billion years behind you." It's all spacy, cloudy, you know; sun glinting on the wings, big massive jet engines silently soaring through the quiet skies, you know all this stuff is great for lyrics. The billowy clouds get you, that's the way you think, you think in these kind of adjectives.

I never regarded myself as a person afraid of traveling by air. When we did the Herman's Hermit tour in an old charter plane, I wrote so many songs about plane crashes, it was incredible. I did a song called "Glow Girl," which Kit Lambert wanted to release as a single, which was about – you see again, it became spiritual, what you were talking about earlier, unconsciously spiritual tune this was. I wrote it because we were talking off in a plane which I seriously thought was going to crash (you know how that feeling is) and as I was going up I was writing a list, I thought, that if I was a chick and I was in a plane that was diving for the ground and I had my boyfriend next to me and we were on our honeymoon or we were about to get married, I know what I'd think of. I'd think about him and I'd think about what I am going to be missing. So I went through this list, you know how women get screwed up about their purse, about what's in her purse. I just went through a big list of what was in this chick's purse–cigarettes, Tampax, a whole lyrical list and then holding his hand and what he felt and what he was gonna say to her. And he is a romanticist. The man, he's trying to have some romantic and soaring last thoughts. Eventually what happens is that they crash and they are reincarnated at a very instant musically. What I wanted was the list getting franticer and franticer, she's going through her handbag, ballpoint pen, cigarettes, book matches, lipstick and Excedrin and he's going "We will be this and we will do this and we will be together in heaven and don't worry little one, you're safe with me," and all this kind of bullshit. What happens is The Who do an incredible destruction as the plane hits the ground, explosions . . . then this little tune comes out which goes, "It's a girl, Mrs. Walker, it's a girl. It's a girl, Mrs. Walker, it's a girl." That was supposed to be the end of the thing and you sus out that they've been reincarnated as this girl.

Continued in the next issue right here.

This story appeared in the September 14, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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