Song You Need to Know: The Who, ‘Ball and Chain’
As a title, “Ball and Chain” could aptly describe Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey’s relationship. Despite the fact that they’re not the biggest fans of each other, they’re inextricably linked.
As such, “Ball and Chain,” as a song, epitomizes The Who. A growling stadium-filler written by Townshend and sung by Daltrey, it’s bombastic (in the best possible way) and political — although a bit Johnny-Come-Lately in that regard (“Down in Guantanamo,/ Whew, still waiting for the big cigars”). When was the last time anyone talked about Guantanamo in 2019? Regardless, it’s a barn-shaker.
“I think we’ve made our best album since Quadrophenia in 1973,” Daltrey said in a statement on Who, the 2019 album on which “Ball and Chain” appears. “Pete hasn’t lost it. He’s still a fabulous songwriter, and he’s still got that cutting edge.” Daltrey, for his part, hasn’t lost his fire. Although his voice doesn’t sound like it did 40 years ago — why would it? — it certainly carries its weight.
And that’s what’s so endearing about “Ball and Chain.” They’re not quite the same men that sang “My Generation” — we’ve seen a generation or two pass since then — and thank God. They’re cantankerous and their voices and sensibilities have been shaped by the passage of time. They don’t sound dated, but they still sound unmistakably like The Who.
Who is the band’s first album in 13 years — and it was made without Daltrey or Townshend entering the same room. In a recent piece for Rolling Stone, the two were interviewed separately and even stayed in different hotels. They took turns aiming playful jabs at each other as well.
“If you watch Roger onstage, he goes through a lot of visual phases,” Townshend said. “Sometimes, he can’t stop himself looking over at me. It’s irritation. It’s irritation that I’m even there.”
“Pete doesn’t remember words much,” Daltrey said, “and he doesn’t remember chord shapes, and he finds it hard to change the show on the road.”
Despite their differences, the Who continue to tour together and will do so in 2020. Just don’t expect them to stay in the same hotel.
Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.
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