Who’s Next is the fifth studio album by English rock band The Who, released in August 1971. The album had origins in a rock opera conceived by Pete Townshend called Lifehouse as an attempt to follow Tommy. The ambitious, complex project did not come to fruition at the time and instead, many of the songs written for the project were compiled onto Who’s Next as a collection of unrelated songs. After difficulty with initial recording sessions at the New York Record Plant, events stabilized with the arrival of producer Glyn Johns, who worked on the finished album. The album featured the group’s first use of the synthesizer, particularly on the tracks “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
The album was a critical and commercial success when it was released, and has been certified 3× platinum by the RIAA. It continues to be critically acclaimed and has been reissued on Compact Disc several times, adding additional material intended for the Lifehouse project..
The album was immediately recognised for its dynamic and unique sound. The album fortuitously fell at a time when great advances had been made in sound engineering over the previous decade, and also shortly after the widespread availability of synthesisers.
Townshend used the early synthesisers and modified keyboard sounds in several modes: as a drone effect on several songs, notably “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and as a playful noisemaker, sounding almost like a tea kettle whistle on “Song Is Over”. Townshend also used an envelope follower to modulate the spectrum of his guitar on “Going Mobile”, giving it a distinctive squawking sound that degenerates into a bubbling noise at the end of the song.
The album opened with “Baba O’Riley,” featuring piano by Townshend and a violin solo by Dave Arbus. The violin solo was drummer Keith Moon’s idea. The song’s title pays homage to Townshend’s guru Meher Baba and influential minimalist composer Terry Riley (and is informally known by the line “Teenage Wasteland”). Other signature tracks include the rock ballad “Behind Blue Eyes”, and the album’s epic closing song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Cover artwork shows a photograph, taken at Easington Colliery, of the band apparently having just urinated on a large concrete piling protruding from a slag heap. According to photographer Ethan Russell, most of the members were unable to urinate, so rainwater was tipped from an empty film canister to achieve the desired effect. The striking, partially cloudy sky seen above the site was also composited from a separate image. The photograph is often seen to be a reference to the monolith discovered on the moon in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been released only about three years earlier. Pete Townshend stated it was an ironical answer to Stanley Kubrick turning down the direction of Tommy. In 2003, the United States cable television channel VH1 named Who’s Next’s cover one of the greatest album covers of all time.
An earlier cover design had featured photographs of obese nude women and has been published elsewhere, but never actually appeared on the album. An alternative cover featured drummer Keith Moon dressed in black lingerie, holding a rope whip, and wearing a brown wig. Some of the photographs taken during these sessions were later used as part of Decca’s United States promotion of the album.
The album has now been re-issued in many countries and remastered several times using tapes from different sessions. The master tapes for the Olympic sessions are believed to be lost or destroyed. Video game publisher Harmonix had previously announced that Who’s Next would be released as downloadable, playable content for the music video game series Rock Band. However, this never came to fruition, since it was discovered that many of the master tapes to the album were missing, as confirmed by Townshend. Instead, a compilation of Who songs dubbed “The Best of The Who,” which includes three of the album’s songs (“Behind Blue Eyes”, “Baba O’Riley”, and “Going Mobile”), was released as downloadable content, in lieu of the earlier-promised Who’s Next album.
There were quite a few songs recorded for the project that became Who’s Next. “Let’s See Action” and “When I Was a Boy” were released as a single in 1971, and “I Don’t Even Know Myself” was released as the b-side to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. “Let’s See Action” appears on various compilations, while “When I Was a Boy” and “I Don’t Even Know Myself” achieved album placement on the compilation Who’s Missing. The songs “Pure and Easy” and “Too Much of Anything” are featured on the album Odds; Sods, while “Time is Passing” was added to the 1998 CD version. A cover of “Baby Don’t You Do It” was recorded and the longest version currently available is on the deluxe edition of the album. It is believed that two other Townshend songs, “Greyhound Girl” and “Mary”, were recorded by The Who sometime during the 1971 sessions, however, only Townshend’s demos of the songs have been released.
Who’s Next was named the best album of the year in the Pazz; Jop, an annual critics’ poll published by The Village Voice. It has since been named one of the best albums of all time by VH1 (#13) and Rolling Stone (#28 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time). The album appeared at number 15 on Pitchfork Media’s top 100 albums of the 1970s.< The album is also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
In 2006, the album was chosen by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time. In 2007 it was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant” value. In 1999 it was the subject of a Classic Albums documentary produced by Eagle Rock Entertainment which has aired on VH1 and BBC among others, entitled Classic Albums: The Who – Who’s Next. The album was selected as the 32nd-best of all time by Mojo in January 1996.
All songs written and composed by Pete Townshend, except “My Wife,” which was written by John Entwistle.
|3.||“Love Ain’t for Keeping”||2:10|
|5.||“The Song Is Over”||6:14|
|6.||“Getting in Tune”||4:50|
|8.||“Behind Blue Eyes”||3:42|
|9.||“Won’t Get Fooled Again”||8:32|