So you like the Who, huh, and you’ve been looking for a concise collection of some of their best tracks, and you bought Magic Bus and got disappointed? Well, it may take you some searching to find it (Track is a British label distributed by Atlantic over here), but this album is the answer. True, it has some stuff that is on the Bus album, but the intrepid Who collector will never let that stand in his way, because the rest of the cuts on this collection make it invaluable.
Side One has “Bucket T,” “Pictures of Lily,” “Doctor, Doctor,” and “I Can See For Miles,” which are familiar enough to Stateside audiences. It also has “Substitute,” that controversial song that everybody’s heard about even if they haven’t heard it, and “I’m a Boy.” This last song is one of the Who’s greatest neglected numbers, released here as a single shortly before “Happy Jack.” According to Townshend, the song takes place shortly after World War III, when mothers can determine the sex of an unborn child by taking girl pills or boy pills. The mother of the song’s protagonist has ordered four girls, and wound up with three girls and a boy. It is one of Townshend’s best songs about kids (“I wanna play cricket on the green/Ride my bike across the street/Cut myself and see my blood/I wanna come home all covered in mud”) as well as being one of the band’s best performances.
Side Two has three songs familiar to American listeners — “Happy Jack,” “Call Me Lightning,” and “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hands.” It also has the famous Who version of “The Last Time,” recorded hours after the Stones‘ first bust, and rush-released a day later. It’s not the Who at their best, but it is full of fire and vitriol and certainly conveys the spirit in which it was made. “In the City” is a Keith Moon ditty about simple urban teenage pleasures like “gurls” (he says it just like the Beach Boys), dancing all night, and super-stock racing, all delivered with an appropriate degree of reverence.
But the finest thing on the album is the last song, “Dogs.” It is understandable that this was never released here, because it is so thoroughly British in tone. “Dogs” deals with a romance between a kennel-maid at the greyhound races and one of the regular customers. Finding a mate with whom he can share his one abiding passion in life is truly the greatest thing ever to happen to this man, and he sings “There was nothing in my life bigger than beer/’Ceptin’ you, little darlin’.” The production on this cut gives it an epic sound, sort of like the climactic point of an Italian opera, and the tone, while satirical, shows more than a little compassion and doesn’t presume to make a judgment — something that the Kinks have been doing to perfection for a long time. At the end there is some dialogue (“Where’s me wage packet? I’ll put twenty-five nick apiece on Gallop Winter. Ooooh, if the wife could see me now. Yes, yes, sure to win, isn’t it . . . Lovely form, lovely but tocks”) that puts the perfect final touch on song and album alike.