How could the Who have released an album called The Kids Are Alright without including the original version of the song of the same name? Long unavailable, appearing only on the British pressings of the Who’s first album, it featured a broken, disorienting guitar solo (Lindsey Buckingham’s work in the middle of Fleetwood Mac‘s “Go Your Own Way” is the single analogue in rock) that Pete Townshend has never since matched. No doubt this revelatory moment was omitted from the American version of My Generation because the Who’s label thought those strange explosions were some sort of engineer’s mistake (who knew what feedback was in 1966?); today they sound like the last echoes from a lost world.
One good source has told me Townshend now denies the solo ever existed. The weekly ads in the back pages of New Musical Express, offering bizarre prices for original copies of that first LP, attest that it did. Indeed, I have the record myself — I just played it, and the solo is still there — and no one will ever get it away from me. Has Townshend forgotten? Does he think he can rewrite history? Is this really what Meher Baba was talking about all those years?
Such objections aside, The Kids Are Alright, a double-album sound-track to the recently released documentary film, is an okay record. It’s not the definitive Who collection — there have already been a few botched attempts at that — but a solid retrospective, very mainstream, with hardly a hint of the eccentricity that, at least in the early years, had as much to do with the group’s identity as violence and noise. The Kids Are Alright lacks only excitement and surprise.
Most cuts come from concerts or TV programs. The set begins with a version of “My Generation” taken from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (the emcee’s intro is charmingly stupid, the performance foreshortened). There follow eighteen more tunes, some sandwiched into medleys. The finale is a live “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” complete with muddy sound and a very big scream from Roger Daltrey. The last number has become the most tiresome “anthem” of the decade, and the heat the band puts into it here doesn’t rescue it from its own clichés: the political clichés that were there in the lyrics all along, or the musical ideas that have long since grown stale.
Low points include “Long Live Rock,” which has not exactly grown with the years, and the inevitable Tommy side (saved — and shamed — by the much-boot-legged Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus version of “A Quick One”). High points include John Entwistle’s indestructible “My Wife” and a Ready Steady Go! take (or lipsync?) of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” “New” music consists of a snatch of “Roadrunner” and a medley squeeze of something called “My Generation Blues,” which is not stunning.
Sorry — this is just not a knockout punch, or really any kind of statement. The reliance of The Kids Are Alright on the familiar and the enshrined makes the Who’s career seem much more obvious than it was (before Tommy, it was mainly weird), and that distances an old fan. Despite (or because of) Keith Moon’s death, I can’t find it in my heart to feel very sentimental about the band. I still cherish the Who’s ability to surprise the world, and I’m still waiting to find out what the next surprise will be.