Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Who - 7ft. Wide Car, 6ft. Wide Garage (1970)


"Tommy", The Who's first rock opera, was released in mid-May 1969, to immense critical acclaim and sales, and cemented their reputation as a band and act on what was for them the ever-elusive USA. Based on other works, such as the Pretty Things' "SF Sorrow", it tells of a messiah-like child who is deaf, dumb and blind, and is cured through pinball, before starting his holiday camp/cult and spreading his teachings to his followers. When performed live, the whole piece transformed them into most probably the greatest live band of the period, as was demonstrated in 1970's "Live at Leeds", and their appearance on both the Woodstock and Isle of Wight films. This conceptual double album was what kickstarted their domain over the UK and America over the 70s, and is still heralded as a masterpiece, with the group resurrecting the piece periodically since 1989, and always playing at least a couple of selections off it live. So from the get-go, the band knew it would be no easy task to follow such a blockbuster album, which especially frightened songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend, on whose shoulders was the responsibility to top what he saw as his best work. In order to gain time for the next LP or project of theirs, while still remaining on the public eye, they released the aforementioned concert as a stopgap of sorts, and started recording as soon as January of that year alternating the recording with more continued touring for "Tommy" around the world.

Pete's first attempt at writing a song after the opera's release was "Naked Eye", that evolved from one of the many "My Generation" jams they played as part of their act at the time, while on tour. After that first try, the rest of the songs started coming rather naturally to him, managing to write a couple more along the year. John Entwistle, their not-so-secret weapon, had also penned some songs, and it seemed that all was coming together for them, song-wise. Recording at both IBC Studios and Eel Pie, located in the guitarist's garage, they released their first new material in the year in the form of the single "The Seeker", backed with one of Roger Daltrey's few compositions, "Here for More". It did considerably well, managing to hit the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic, however, Pete remained unsatisfied. He still deemed it vital for The Who to have another concept to work under, instead of just having stand-alone songs without any link between them. However, while he didn't figure out what that concept was, they kept recording new material on and off through the year, during tour breaks. The sessions turned into an EP project, jokingly titled "7ft. Wide Car, 6ft. Wide Garage" by drummer Keith Moon, after the rather unusual location of their recording studio. However, that four-song release ended up scrapped by them and their label, Track Records as they would end up focusing more on tracking a couple more songs for the project, turning it into a new studio album.

However, during a break on their activities during September 1970, Townshend composed "Pure and Easy", the very beginning of the new concept he had asked for. From then to early 1971, he wrote the storyline and composed songs for a new 2LP opera, prospectively titled "Bobby". It was a story about a dystopian future, set in the year 2000, about people living in "lifesuits" due to the world being too polluted, and living in a virtual reality of sorts called the Lifehouse. Rock music was banned, then, so some hacker, named Bobby, ends up transmitting rock (obviously through Who songs), and helping the people rebel against the establishment. So from then on, the '70 material had two options: either being abandoned and left in the vaults for the time being, or being added into the new concept, as was the case with some of the album's tunes. As work progressed on the new opera, retitled "Lifehouse", they started new recording sessions in New York's Record Plant studios. They managed to track some 10 songs, before the concept was abandoned, mostly due to the rest of the group's inability to understand the concept of the album, and Pete's inability to explain it to them. Returning to England, sessions in Olympic with Glyn Johns on the producer's chair gave birth to "Who's Next", their stadium rock masterpiece, born from Lifehouse's best songs. A single album without any underlying concept, it ignored their songwriter's ideas, but ended up being a massive hit nevertheless.

So, what I wonder is: what if they had soldiered on with the 1970 project? Had the sudden inspiration for Lifehouse not happened, what was going to be next for the Who? First of all, any song written before September 1970's early conception of the opera is fair game to be included in this album. Due to that, two of the songs weren't even recorded in 1970, but I believe that had they carried on with the project, they would end up recording them for inclusion on the project. Also included is a live-in-the-studio BBC version of a song that wasn't properly recorded by The Who, back in the day. Since it fits in with the rest of the material sound-wise and is period accurate, it's included here. Both sides of the "The Seeker" single are present here, as I believe they would feature with the rest of the material from the sessions, despite being released early in the year. Live staples such as "Summertime Blues" and "Shakin' All Over" aren't included, as I don't think the band would be up to record such covers at the time. I also don't think Pete's worries that they needed a concept had reasoning, due to the immense success of "Who's Next", and the unfortunate scrapping of Lifehouse (a  reconstruction of which you can find here). To me, the album would have to be released in about November 1970, and feature about ten songs. I kept the joke title they gave, as it is pretty good, and it matches the theme of some of the more humorous songs on the album. Without further ado, here's our tracklist:

I Don't Even Know Myself (Then and Now)
Postcard (Odds and Sods)
The Seeker (Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy)
Now I'm a Farmer (Odds and Sods)
Water (Odds and Sods)

Heaven and Hell (BBC Sessions)
Here for More (Who's Missing)
Drowned (Quadrophenia)
Behind Blue Eyes (Who's Next)
Naked Eye (Odds and Sods)

Bonus track:
Shakin' All Over/Spoonful (BBC Sessions)

Townshend, Daltrey, Moon and Entwistle in late 1970

Starting off the album, "I Don't Even Know Myself" would make a great opening song to it. Later added to the Lifehouse concept, it was recorded in May 1970, in the garage studios at Eel Pie. In their now famous Isle of Wight gig in August, it was even introduced as from their next album they were recording then. Afterward, bassist John Entwistle's composition "Postcard" is track number two. With some new brass overdubs added in 1974 before inclusion on "Odds and Sods", their first outtake compilation. The rest of the song was recorded in May as well, with John on lead vocals, also being a great description of their life on tour back then, and pretty funny as well. The lead single from the sessions, "The Seeker" was the first recording from the sessions, recorded in January 1970 at IBC studios. Despite being released a couple of months before the album would be, I believe they would include it, based on quality alone, something the song has a lot of. Written in late 1968, but not included on Tommy due to the lack of a connection to the concept, "Now I'm a Farmer" is up next, finally being recorded in 1970 by the group. Townshend's composition also has a humorous side, being about life in the country and being able to grow your own food, with him being very proud of the song, as stated by himself in some pre-Tommy interviews, also being in the tracklist of the scrapped extended play the band had planned for release, causing its inclusion in here.

As the fifth and final track on the first side, "Water" is one of the highlights of the album. Later being added to the "Lifehouse" concept, it was one of the highlights from their live concerts at the time, sometimes getting up to twelve minutes in length, as was the case in the Isle of Wight gig. We will use the studio version of it, considerably shorter, but just as good as it. Also a part of the scrapped EP, it was recorded by them in late May 1970, being written by Townshend and sung by Daltrey. Starting off side two is their usual show starter through most of the 1969-70 tours, "Heaven and Hell". First played during their late-1968 live performances and staying there until December 1970, it suffered the same fate as "Now I'm a Farmer", as in not being in "Tommy" due to the lack of a concept, but getting to stay in here nevertheless. A rarity, as it is a Roger Daltrey-penned number, "Here for More" isn't a masterpiece, but is a pretty decent song, and not bad at all for a guy who doesn't write many tunes. Used as a b-side to "The Seeker", here being the second track of side two instead. Surprisingly enough, up next is a song from 1973's "Quadrophenia", the great "Drowned". Despite being recorded some three years after the rest of the album, it was written way back in the day, along with most of the selections in this LP. Considering that had they soldiered on with this project, they would have used all or most songs available, it seems fair to think they would end up doing it anyway.

Soon afterward, is "Behind Blue Eyes", sourced from their masterpiece, "Who's Next". Despite what is believed by many, it did not begin its life as a Lifehouse song from the get-go, and had a pretty peculiar evolution. Pete started writing it on the road sometime in late June 1970, firstly as a prayer, consisting of its "rock" ending's lyrics. And then, through the next couple of months or so, it evolved to become the song we all know and love. So, as it was begun and mostly finished before the main ideas for "Lifehouse" were fully fleshed-out, and is much more universal in theme than most LH songs, it is included here. Finishing off things for The Who's fifth studio album, is one of the biggest highlights of it. One of the planned EP songs, it stayed in their live repertoire for most of their career, which shows just how good it is. Before finding a home on "Odds and Sods", it was also slated for "Lifehouse", and there are even rumors it was re-recorded during sessions for it. But despite that, we will include the regular studio version of it, from the aforementioned outtakes compilation, to end our album with the song that started it. Keeping the promise I made of not including their live cover staples, a medley of both "Shakin' All Over" and "Spoonful", the first a 50's rock tune and the second a blues standard, is added as a bonus track. It was recorded for a BBC program, in the same session as "Heaven and Hell", making it seem fair that we included it, even if in a limited form, so to speak.

As an album, "7ft. Wide Car, 6ft. Wide Garage" is one of the best representations of the era which I consider to be the peak of their talents in the studio and live. With great compositions and individual performances, with special praise to drummer Keith Moon, who of course was at the top of his game as a drummer back then, the ten songs featured in this reconstruction are some of their best. The fact that three-fourths of the group contributed to the songwriting should be noted as well, something quite rare with them. To me, it is in the same league as "Who's Next" in the terms of quality. Considering both were planned less than a year apart and overlap by only a song, that's impressive. It would have affected the Lifehouse project in some ways, I believe. On one hand, it would give the band more freedom to write and record without the pressure to release an album in 1971, since they already had the previous year. On the other, the project now misses some key songs, both on the narrative side and on the musical aspect as well, which Pete would have to fill in with new songs, further overloading him with work in a much troubled period of his life. As the group had said, it would be no easy task to follow such a mammoth of an LP as "Tommy", but they sure did try their best to do it, with some pretty impressing results. We now have the "missing link" of sorts between their two biggest albums, and it is in the most literal way possible, a garage rock album.

Sources:
- Odds and Sods
- BBC Sessions
- Quadrophenia
- Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy
- Who's Next
- Who's Missing
- Then and Now

9 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I was not aware of the pre Lifehouse project. Probably shows one reason why Lifehouse failed and Who's Next succeeded, Pete seemed to be just grasping at anything to include. In the end it was the songs that mattered more than the story.

    While I can't dock any points because I understand and agree with why you included it but Behind Blue Eyes will always be associated with Who's Next in my mind. Maybe the demo version would work better for me. And any vehicle we can find for The Seeker makes me happy.

    I have my own Who project ready to post this week. Thanks for your work.

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    Replies
    1. Pete both wrote songs around his concepts and adapted older tunes to those same concepts, so the songs were most certainly the priority.

      That's perfectly fine, and it took me a while to get used to BBE fitting into this. I used the demo version, with the organ part much higher in the mix in a previous version, if it helps to distinguish. And I love me some Seeker as well!

      Looking forward to checking out your new Who project, and thanks!

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  2. Great, thanks. I’ve put it together and currently enjoying the listening

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  3. I've been waiting for somebody to make this. Great mix! Might I offer a few suggestions though? You should add "There's A Fortune in Those Hills" to this. The Who are said to have recorded it for this project (I believe it was mentioned in a Rolling Stone or NME article from that time and it is further confirmed in Atkins' "Who On Record" book). While the Who version hasn't been released, Townshend's demo was released on the deluxe Who Came First. Also, the Odds and Sods version of Postcard is the 1973 remix. The Who's Next version of IDEKM was recorded in 1971. Both the original mix of Postcard and the original version of IDEKM can be found on the Japanese version of "Then and Now: 1964-2004." Just an idea for an improvement if you wanted to be more true to how the original album may have been. Great mix, nonetheless!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot! I did consider to add "There's a Fortune on These Hills" to the album, based on those interviews, but it just didn't sound right alongside the rest of the record, due to it being a Pete demo. If a studio version ever gets released, I'll make sure to add it. In case you want to try that out, I sequenced my version with it as:

      I Don't Even Know Myself
      Postcard
      The Seeker
      Now I'm a Farmer
      Here for More
      Water
      -
      Heaven and Hell
      Drowned
      There's a Fortune on Those Hills
      Behind Blue Eyes
      Naked Eye

      And thanks for the info on those mixes! I used the "Postcard" one on purpous, as it had those horn overdubs, and sounded more fleshed out. They'd probably get done anyways, had they kept on working on the record. But as for IDEKM, that's news for me, thanks for the tip! I'll correct that, ahahahah

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  4. I just posted a version of this album on my music blog. You can see that here:

    https://albumsthatshouldexist.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-who-6-ft-wide-garage-7-ft-wide-car.html

    Here's the set list:

    01. The Seeker (Who)
    02. Heaven and Hell (Who)
    03. Here for More (Who)
    04. Naked Eye (Who)
    05. Young Man Blues (Who)
    06. Trying to Get Through (Who)
    07. I Don't Even Know Myself [EP Version] (Who)
    08. Postcard [EP Version] (Who)
    09. Now I'm a Farmer (Who)
    10. Water (Who)

    ReplyDelete