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Ranking: Every Album by The Who from Worst to Best

on December 03, 2019, 12:15pm
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Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, based on the oh-so-exact science of personal opinion, rants, debates, and the love of music. In this installment, we rank The Who’s discography so far, including their latest album, WHO.

At their core, The Who have always been a band searching for identity. Their very name, a definite article followed by an interrogative pronoun, is a testament to their inquisitive, soul-searching nature. Over 55 years, Roger Daltrey, Peter Townshend, and the late John Entwistle and Keith Moon discovered, ironically, that their identity indeed lies in agnostic ambiguity.

“I won’t find what I’m after/ Till the day I die,” Townshend penned on the 1970 single “The Seeker”. However, The Who’s constant striving has led to one of rock’s greatest careers — one marked by troubled relationships, rambunctious rock and roll, raging social commentary, untimely deaths, and above all, a yearning for love.

The Who, Classic Rock, Philip Cosores, Outside Lands

The Who, photo by Philip Cosores

The tortured lyricism of Townshend, the heart-wrenching screams of Daltrey, the frenzied drum rolls of Moon, and the unrestrained bass lines of Entwistle created some of rock’s greatest arena anthems from “My Generation” to “Baba O’Riley”. But behind every lyric and power chord is a passionate plea for hate to f-f-f-fade from among us and for love to reign o’er all. The Who may never find what they’re after, but they’ve led millions of fans along their “Amazing Journey” through vulnerability and no-nonsense rampage.

As we celebrate the release of their 12th studio album (released 55 years after their debut single), let’s dissect The Who’s studio discography plus a couple of essential albums that also belong in the rock and roll quartet’s illustrious canon.

–Chris Thiessen
Contributing Writer


14. WHO (2019)

The Who - WHO

Overture (Best Song): The Who’s first single since 2014, “Ball and Chain” recaptures the gruff blues-rock Daltrey and Townshend have always delivered with precision. Protesting the injustices of Guantanamo Bay, Daltrey growls with the same righteous anger that has fueled Who anthems for over 50 years.

Guitar and Pen (Best Lyric): “I’m rockin’ in rage/ Well past my prime/ Denying the curtain/ Wasting no time” — “Rockin’ in Rage”

Eminence Front (Most Ambitious Moment): Typically, an ambitious rock song contains maximalist experimentation and grandiose lyricism. But for one of the loudest, most ambitious rock bands of all time, it instead means pulling back. The restrained soft rock of “I’ll Be Back”, a song about love after reincarnation, has more in common with early ‘80s Billy Joel or Hall & Oates than the anthems of Who’s Next — an unlikely left turn for a legacy act this late in their career.

The Rock (Loudest Moment): WHO isn’t a particularly loud album, but raucous opener “All This Music Must Fade” is a classic fan-pleaser about The Who’s unwillingness to conform to modern music fads. Daltrey’s soulful, husky voice hasn’t lost its edge in 2019, and Townshend remains a master of the power chord.

Bargain (Forgotten Gems): While it’s impossible to choose a “forgotten gem” from a brand-new record, WHO deep cut “Street Song” promises to be a favorite sleeper. Written about the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people, “Street Song” is imbued with the same anguish and longing that charges Quadrophenia.

Who Are You (Analysis): An album which finds itself at the bottom of a ranking isn’t necessarily a bad album, especially when you have a discography like The Who. Their 2019 release, WHO, is an enjoyable listen, filled with straightforward rock and roll just as you’d expect. However, it’s also the safest album Daltrey and Townshend have ever released. They’re never quite provocative despite a few heartfelt indictments of society and politics, nor are they musically as adventurous as in the past. WHO is certainly not objectionable, but that’s part of its weakness. –Chris Thiessen


13. Face Dances (1981)

The Who - Face Dances

Overture: Their highest-charting latter-day hit, sitting at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart for five weeks, Face Dances opener “You Better You Bet” has steadily emerged as one of The Who’s most recognizable singles. Equal parts earworming and unashamedly anthemic, it’s an opener that sets a high watermark for an LP that, sadly, doesn’t manage to match its promise.

Guitar and Pen: “Your letter came and today is the eighth/ This is the day that Moonie earned his wraith.” — “It’s in You” (1997 bonus track)

Eminence Front: There’s optimistic, and then there’s conceiving of a reality where the immortal refrain, “Did you ever dream of a suicide pill/ And wake up cold to the smell of bread?” (“Cache Cache”) might somehow work. Is it nigh on tragically bad? Yes. Is it ambitious? Extremely.

The Rock: Though coming up short elsewhere, John Entwistle’s “The Quiet One” packs a heady punch early on. Featuring some of Roger Daltrey’s finest vocals on the album (as well as an admirable display from Moonie replacement, and ex-Faces drummer, Kenney Jones), it’s as thundering as the latter-day Who ever got.

Bargain: Along with “You Better You Bet” and “The Quiet One”, “Another Tricky Day” makes Face Dances worthy of the odd cursory listen. Drawing parallels to The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, it’s a dynamic, swaggering peak that doubles up as a reminder of the importance of perspective.

Who Are You: Released three years on from Keith Moon’s generation-puncturing passing in 1978, Face Dances was always going to be the sound of band facing down an identity crisis. But despite the best efforts of ex-Faces drummer Kenney Jones, who is a solid presence, the album also largely lacks the potency and intent that made The Who such a force to be reckoned with in the preceding two decades. Valiant, no doubt, yet decidedly underwhelming, in all. –Brian Coney


12. It’s Hard (1982)

The Who - It's Hard

Overture: Ladder-climbing keyboards from Tim Gorman, nasty bass grooves from Entwistle, and angsty soul vocals from Townshend collide on The Who’s best ‘80s performance, “Eminence Front”. Like the blissful hedonism Townshend criticizes, the song’s shimmery funk-pop sheen is a “put on” suppressing society’s vices.

Guitar and Pen: “There is a stranger inside me somewhere/ That shadow behind me, don’t even look like me/ An echoed apology” — “It’s Your Turn”

Eminence Front: Late album song “A Man Is a Man” denounces toxic masculinity and the hardened cowboy aesthetic decades before it became a mainstream hot topic. “When a man is a man… He don’t have to perform like John Wayne in some B-feature flick,” Daltrey and Townshend harmonize, encouraging an open heart over a “soul on the ice.”

The Rock: The last of three Entwistle-penned songs on It’s Hard, “One at a Time” blasts into being with a brassy fanfare, which gives way to rollicking drums and a thumping bass line. The whole affair is dramatic, though scattered and ungrounded.

Bargain: “I’ve Known No War” is a true-to-form Who anthem that rocks and marches like “Who Are You” or something on Who’s Next. Daltrey animates Townshend’s Cold War reflections with roaring riot over quintessentially crunchy guitars and drifting orchestral sweeps.

Who Are You: The Who’s final record before their 20-plus-year hiatus and Entwistle’s death, It’s Hard is, well, not easy to love. Comprised of selections from a ditched Entwistle opera (“It’s Your Turn”), callbacks to early Who (“It’s Hard”), and social commentary (“A Man Is A Man”, It’s Hard doesn’t know what it wants to be. In fact, Daltrey and Townshend both admitted the album shouldn’t have happened, citing label pressure as the album’s driving force. Still, It’s Hard is at its strongest an indictment of political power, hyper-masculinity, and hedonism in a decade plagued by all three. At its worst, it’s the sound of a band who doesn’t want to exist. –Chris Thiessen


11. Endless Wire (2006)

The Who - Endless Wire

Overture: While the album’s closer, “Tea & Theatre”, serves as the prologue in Townshend’s loose narrative, it’s hard not to think about The Who’s own journey as Daltrey sings, “One of us gone/ One of us mad/ One of us me/ All of us sad.” Despite a tumultuous relationship across their 50-year career, the now-duo still perform their smoldering songs as one, choosing friendship and forgiveness over bitterness.

Guitar and Pen: “I lovingly mock you noble lords/ We all dress up to grand awards/ I do that as well” — “A Man in a Purple Dress”

Eminence Front: Townshend’s lead vocal performances are typically welcome change-ups amidst Daltrey’s powerhouse performances. On tender ballad “In the Ether”, he had the opportunity to either create a magical moment or a disaster with his Tom Waits-meets-Louis Armstrong garbling. Unfortunately, it’s the latter as Townshend professes his intoxicating love obsession.

The Rock: “We’re not strong enough,” Daltrey screams on early song “Mike Post Theme”. One of the album’s most dynamic performances, Daltrey delivers Townshend’s soap opera-spurning soapbox sermon with zeal.

Bargain: At 62 years old, Daltrey’s bluesy rasp is powerful as ever on “It’s Not Enough”, an explosive and contemptuous cry against other’s discontent and soul-draining demands. Co-written with Townshend’s eventual wife Rachel Fuller, “It’s Not Enough” is as well-crafted a rock song as The Who ever created.

Who Are You: Despite its low placement on this list, Endless Wire is an impressive feat for a band 40 years into their career. While most of their contemporaries have played the 21st century safe, replaying the old hits and creating nostalgia-heavy new material that remembers the good-ole days, The Who pour themselves into their 2006 return unafraid to take risks and explore new scenery. The shots don’t always land here, and Townshend’s mini-opera on disc two lacks the focus of Tommy and Quadrophenia. But the defiant rock and roll spirit of The Who permeates Endless Wire all the way through. –Chris Thiessen


10. A Quick One (1966/67)

The Who - A Quick One

Overture: Bassist John “The Ox” Entwistle’s first composition, “Boris the Spider”, was, according to Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix’s favourite Who song. Written in six minutes, it’s a memorable and masterfully silly classic that comes creeping in from the left field (and an early live fan favourite, with very good reason).

Guitar and Pen: “Occasionally a girl surprises me/ When she turns out to be you.” — “Disguises”

Eminence Front: Though noted Beach Boys fan Keith Moon knocks a cover of The Regents’ “Barbara Ann” right out of the park, the nine-minute “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is both a sprawling, harmony-laden highlight and easily one of the band’s most singular songs.

The Rock: Capturing early Who at their most offbeat, “Cobwebs Are Strange” is a cacophonous psycho-march featuring Moon on orchestra cymbals, Townshend on penny whistle, Daltrey on trombone, and Entwistle on trumpet. Neighbours partying a little too hard? You could do much worse than giving this one a blast.

Bargain: A song that comes precariously close to being overshadowed by more outlandish efforts (not least the band’s “Batman” cover), “So Sad About Us” is a shimmering power-pop gem that, despite being originally written for Liverpool beat foursome The Merseys, is nuanced, heart-stung early Who at their most alchemical.

Who Are You: Not unlike their 1981 album sans Keith Moon, Face Dances, album number two for The Who is a snapshot of a band in irreversible transition. While a step down, and a mottled departure from the “maximum R&B” sound of their 1965 debut, My Generation, the pros swing slightly in the band’s favour. Not unlike The Beatles on Help!, A Quick One is a naïve, but occasionally rewarding document of a band on the cusp of tapping into their potential. Best of all, with each member given the opportunity to contribute songs, it’s weird and curveballing in all the right places. –Brian Coney


09. Odds & Sods (1974)

The Who - Odds & Sods

Overture: An essential piece of the scrapped Lifehouse project, “Pure and Easy” is The Who’s Genesis story — their paradise lost and hope for paradise regained. In a metaphorical world of music, The Who (like all of us) rummage through distortion for purity, light as a breath, with the strength to hold us together.

Guitar and Pen: “As people assemble/ Civilization is trying to find a new way to die/ But killing is really merely scene changer/ All men are bored with other men’s lies” — “Pure and Easy”

Eminence Front: While Odds & Sods features plenty of songs that could’ve fit within the tracklists of Tommy and Who’s Next, it also features oddities like “Now I’m a Farmer”, a song about harvesting nature’s hallucinogenic gifts. The track sounds innocent enough if you miss the subliminal messages. What’s unmistakable, though, is the hilariously ambitious attempts at Southern accents, yodeling, and Johnny Cash-inspired country rhythms.

The Rock: Another song from the Lifehouse project, “Put the Money Down” sounds like a swampy predecessor to “Who Are You” with its lazy groove and untimely police encounters. At the song’s climax, Daltrey bellows the song’s title with all his might over one of the tightest, bluesiest performances the quartet ever delivered.

Bargain: A rollicking meta-rock song recorded in 1972, “Long Live Rock” is the direct link between Chuck Berry and AC/DC (whose debut album arrived one year after Odds & Sods). The song became a minor hit seven years later following the success of documentary film The Kids Are Alright, yet it remains a dust-covered deep cut today.

Who Are You: B-sides and rarities albums may be standard fair today, often garnering yawns over applause. That certainly wasn’t the case in 1974 when The Who released Odds & Sods. Considering the amount of scrapped projects in the years preceding, Odds & Sods is a blessing that captured the (at times, overly) ambitious mind of Pete Townshend during his peak writing years. The album isn’t by any means cohesive, yet it contains some of The Who’s strongest performances of the era (“Pure and Easy”) and deserves to be named among their studio albums. –Chris Thiessen


08. Who Are You (1978)

The Who - Who Are You

Overture: Penned by Pete Townshend after a lengthy night on the tiles with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, the fist-clenched, instantly recognisable title track is (and by some considerable distance at that) the undoubted high-point of Who Are You.

Guitar and Pen: “I spit out like a sewer hole/ Yet still receive your kiss/ How can I measure up to anyone now/ After such a love as this?”
— “Who Are You”

Eminence Front: Pushing close to seven minutes, “Who Are You” is, for the exact same reason it’s the album’s irrefutable climax, also its most visionary moment. From its winding structure and squelchy synth patterns, to that breakdown; it’s a gutsy and mercurial triumph.

The Rock: Released as a second single, “Trick of the Light” is a textbook Entwistle barnstormer. Performed occasionally on the band’s 1979 tour with the bassist on eight-string, it’s a muscular, tympanic, membrane-bothering tale of sexuality insecurity.

Bargain: Despite the notable absence of Keith Moon’s indelible touch (the drummer’s rapidly deteriorating health meant he was unable to perform to the track’s 6/8 timing), “Music Must Change” is a heartfelt and impressively unraveling mid-album peak.

Who Are You: The Who’s eighth album, and the last to feature Keith Moon, who died three weeks after its August 1978 release, Who Are You hasn’t aged gracefully. The songwriting is often unfocused, and those polyphonic synth pads have dented it with a dated air. While a handful of songs (“Who Are You”, “Trick of the Light”, “New Song”, and “Music Must Change”) rescue it from featuring at the back-end of this list, it was, in truth, the beginning of the end. –Brian Coney


07. The Who Sell Out (1967)

The Who - The Who Sell Out

Overture: “I Can See for Miles” is easily the most recognizable hit from The Who’s 1967 oddball record. But it’s the soaring melody of “Our Love Was” that warms the heart with each repeat listen. Perhaps The Who’s response to the California jangle pop of The Byrds, Townshend’s guitar rings out from beneath sweet, love-struck harmonies surely inspired by The Mamas and the Papas.

Guitar and Pen: “You take away the breath I was keeping for sunrise” — “Sunrise”

Eminence Front: The Entwistle-penned “Silas Stingy” offers a brief vignette of an Ebenezer Scrooge-like character who spends his entire wealth securing his money until it’s gone entirely. Medieval harmonies, proto-Queen theatrics, and Entwistle’s twisting trumpet lines combine to create a maximalist cautionary tale, which shouldn’t work. But then again, a lot of what The Who created shouldn’t have worked.

The Rock: Moon’s trashcan drum performances and Entwistle’s thumping bass line propel “I Can See for Miles” forward with brooding force. But it’s Townshend’s huge chords and machine-gun guitar solo that echo loudest on The Who Sell Out.

Bargain: “Tattoo” is a first-person exploration of manhood, gender expectations, and generational clashing. Daltrey and Townshend tenderly trade vocals as they tell the tongue-in-cheek tale of two brothers whose rebellious antics offer an escape from the abuse and control of their closed-minded parents.

Who Are You: The Who Sell Out is one of the oddest entries in the quartet’s canon. Portrayed as a broadcast on pirate radio station Radio London (commercials and all), the album is the closest The Who ever come to psychedelia, as they explore fictional, drug-induced destinations like Armenia (not the country) and Rael. Though the album wasn’t very successful (due to the fact that they didn’t, in fact, sell out at all), The Who Sell Out remains a cult favorite among fans due to its eclectic nature and smart songwriting, which mirrored the monumental shifts the music world experienced in 1967. –Chris Thiessen


06. My Generation (1965/66)

The Who - My Generation

Overture: Despite the title track being assured of its status as one of the most important songs in rock, “The Kids Are Alright” wins out for being such a simple yet immaculate, era-condensing anthem.

Guitar and Pen: “Why don’t you all f—— ade away.” — “My Generation”

Eminence Front: Suffice to say, “My Generation” flipped the rock and roll script and then some. Combined, Daltrey’s edgy faux-stutter, Moon’s blitzing exhibitionism, and the song’s unconventional stop-start structure has ensured that it is rightfully remembered as one of the most unapologetically brazen rock singles of its (or any other) time.

The Rock: Sure, it’s edging towards clean sweep here, but “My Generation” — fueled by Keith Moon’s heroic grandstanding — is by far and away the debut’s most raucous moment. And it checks out: a song that’s widely regarded for preempting both heavy metal and punk rock was never going to be a dulcet affair.

Bargain: Largely overlooked single “A Legal Matter” is a jangly triumph. Released as the B-side to “The Kids Are Alright” in the US, it’s most notable for being the first time Townshend sang lead vocals. (Roger Daltrey was mid-divorce at the time; considering the song’s lyrical content, it may have been a little too close to home.)

Who Are You: With the British Invasion reaching fever pitch, 1965 was a uniquely electrifying time to be a youth in England and beyond. More than the vast majority of records released that year, My Generation manages to distill the spark and spirit of the age. With advance copies of the debut receiving negative verdicts from the press, Pete Townshend was impelled to write new original material for the official release. The covers delivered, for the most part, but those new songs proved both revelatory and vital. It may not be flawless — far from it — but My Generation brims with the feverish zeal and songwriting prowess of a band who, when they really put their mind to it, could truly sound like no one else. –Brian Coney


05. The Who by Numbers (1975)

The Who by Numbers

Overture: Bolstered by an understated horn arrangement courtesy of John Entwistle, Pete Townshend’s short and skeletal ukulele ditty “Blue Red and Grey” has gone down as one of his most heartfelt efforts. He wasn’t convinced it was worthy of inclusion on The Who by Numbers; thankfully, producer Glyn Johns insisted upon it.

Guitar and Pen: “Hey, goodbye all you punks/ Stay young and stay high/ Hand me my checkbook/ And I’ll crawl out to die.” — “They Are All in Love”

Eminence Front: If only for how it taps into their essence following the colossal effort that went into Quadrophenia, The Who by Numbers is an unequivocally daring release. But opener “Slip Kid” — featuring Townshend’s admission that it’s “a hard, hard world” — is its most ambitious; it sets the tone for a confessional record that has, rightly or wrongly, been referred to as Townshend’s “suicide note.”

The Rock: For an album that deals so prominently in subtlety and restraint, there’s something especially satisfying about “In a Hand or a Face” drawing the curtain here. Cresting on a quintessential offensive from Moon, it’s a fitting, final salvo before the silence.

Bargain: Confronting “all the problems that screw him up” head on, “However Much I Booze” was reportedly written by Pete Townshend on the night he gave up drinking. Sure enough, it’s a powerful effort that mines a strong sense of relief from the pain.

Who Are You: Like few other bands of their (or any other) generation, The Who were master shape-shifters. Whether trailblazing in the realms of mod and proto-punk, reimagining hard rock in their own image, or spearheading the rock opera, they knew a thing or two about the merits of reinvention. Conceived in the wake of the momentous Quadrophenia, The Who by Numbers is a warts and all, profoundly personal and — perhaps its pièce de résistance — low-key release packed with straight-up great songs that navigate depression, alcoholism, and loneliness with finespun aplomb. –Brian Coney


04. Live at Leeds (1970)

The Who - Live at Leeds

Overture: The sound of mid-era The Who at their most untouchable can be found on the 15-minute version of “My Generation” featured on Live at Leeds. Fleshed out with snippets of tracks from Tommy, its ferocity and telekinetic force is nothing short of breath-stealing.

Guitar and Pen: “I’m free, I’m free/ And I’m waiting for you to follow me.” — “I’m Free”

Eminence Front: Townshend and co. have the youth at Leeds’ Refectory right in the palm of their collective hand right throughout Live at Leeds. Nowhere is that more brazenly on display than its extended, crowd-patter-fueled version of “A Quick One, While He’s Away”.

The Rock: Giving “My Generation” a run for its money is a deafening rendition of “Sparks” during the Tommy play-through. At one point, the sheer force and clamor (spearheaded by an insatiable Keith Moon) sounds like the Earth’s mantle tearing apart.

Bargain: Originally a three-minute Bo Diddley-leaning single, closer “Magic Bus” is an eight-minute highlight striking a balance between full-blown, harmonica-soaked rock and bizarro skit brilliance.

Who Are You: Recorded at a college gig on Valentine’s Day, 1970, Live at Leeds fully warrants its status as one of the greatest live albums ever released. As potent and transporting as any document of the ’60s transition into the ’70s, it’s visceral, fun, and endlessly relistenable, presenting The Who as a finely honed machine blasting through a conveyor belt of searing originals, first-rate crowd banter (see: “A Quick One, While He’s Away”), and covers including Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over”. It has rarely came as uncontrived and emphatic as this. –Brian Coney


03. Tommy (1969)

The Who - Tommy

Overture: Who else but The Who could take a song about a deaf, dumb, and blind pinball player into the Billboard top 20? Despite its unlikely subject matter, “Pinball Wizard” remains a staple of rock and roll, driven by Townshend’s foghorn of a guitar and Moon’s frenzied drum rolls cutting through the mix.

Guitar and Pen: “See me, feel me/ Touch me, heal me” — “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

Eminence Front: Rock had come a long way as an art form by 1969. Still, injecting a 10-minute instrumental section halfway into an album that recounts the opera’s leitmotifs and prepares the listener for the narrative’s falling action was unprecedented. But “Underture”, with its thunderous timpani strikes and flawless musical transitions, never warrants a skip.

The Rock: The narrative’s biggest turning point, “Smash the Mirror”, begins with funky guitar licks and punching drum fills. But as Tommy grapples with his self-perception, the metaphorical and literal mirror smashes into pieces with a blast, launching him into his enlightenment.

Bargain: Narratively, “Christmas” finds Tommy’s parents without hope of salvation for their senseless child. Musically, it’s one of the album’s greatest arrangements, from the driving verses to Townshend’s pleading cries of “Tommy, can you hear me?” to Daltrey’s stifled “See me, feel me” refrain.

Who Are You: Though Tommy isn’t the first concept album in rock and roll history, it may be the most important. Townshend pushed the boundaries of rock’s capacity for storytelling with a four-disc masterpiece, which explores Meher Baba’s enlightenment teachings in response to the sins of the older generation and the ignorance of the current one. In the end, Townshend’s Tommy feels like a prophet without honor. However, the album is a story of self-acceptance and assurance despite the hate-filled, controlling voice of the public. — Chris Thiessen


02. Who’s Next (1971)

The Who- Who's Next

Overture: Though “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and, to a lesser extent, “Behind Blue Eyes” put up more than a valiant challenge, the uniquely idiosyncratic “Baba O’Riley” is a bit of a law unto itself. In fact, as genre-warping arena rock anthems go, it’s borderline unbeatable.

Guitar and Pen: “But my dreams they aren’t as empty/ As my conscience seems to be/ I have hours, only lonely/ My love is vengeance that’s never free.” — “Behind Blue Eyes”

Eminence Front: A song that Pete Townshend once said “screams defiance”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is not simply The Who’s finest album curtain call. It’s a Technicolor, organ-soaked testament to the guitarist and songwriter’s prodigious ambition at the time.

The Rock: Roger Daltrey’s generation-distilling “Yeah!” at precisely 7 minutes and 44 seconds into “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is always capable of inducing serious frisson. But it’s Keith Moon’s drums circa six minutes here that stands as the album’s most ear-splitting moment.

Bargain: An ode to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba — who also helped inform the writing of “Baba O’Riley” and “See Me, Feel Me” — “Bargain” is pure-cut Who single material. That it wasn’t released as one only speaks volumes for the rest of the album.

Who Are You: Developed from Townshend’s boycotted multimedia rock opera, Lifehouse, Who’s Next marks the completion of The Who’s metamorphosis from mod maestros to arena-rock masters. Beyond having (big statement klaxon) the best joint opening and closing tracks in rock, it holds up as a masterclass that blurs the lines between swagger, confessionalism, and all-out bravura. Cohesive, sophisticated, and almost filler-free (“Going Mobile” could go), Who’s Next is The Who at their most game-changing. –Brian Coney


01. Quadrophenia (1973)

The Who - Quadrophenia

Overture: From the gorgeous piano intro (which doesn’t sound like it could’ve been recorded in 1974) to the greatest trashcan ending of all time, “Love Reign O’er Me” is the most essential song of The Who’s career. It’s an anguished prayer for love’s divine intervention; it’s the sound of a man at the absolute end of himself with nowhere else to turn except up into the rain-soaked heavens.

Guitar and Pen: “Only love can make it rain/ The way the beach is kissed by the sea/ Only love can make it rain/ Like the sweat of lovers laying in the fields” — “Love Reign O’er Me”

Eminence Front: Near the end of Quadrophenia’s narrative, Townshend invokes Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to portray protagonist Jimmy’s final steps down the downward spiral and descent into debauchery. The eight-plus-minute mini-epic is a painfully honest look at the dark night before redemption and remains one of Townshend’s most tortured compositions.

The Rock: Daltrey’s scream on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” may be the most iconic in rock history. But it’s his agonized cries in the finale of “Love Reign O’er Me” that cut through pouring rain and crashing waves to destroy your heart every single time.

Bargain: At the halfway point of Quadrophenia, “I’ve Had Enough” is a hardened rock song filled with equal parts rage and complacency. But even as the protagonist begins his withdrawal into unfeeling catatonia, his yearning for love echoes from the depths of his soul.

Who Are You: Listen to Quadrophenia, and you’ll forget you’re listening to The Who. In fact, you’ll forget you’re listening to an album at all. Quadrophenia plays like a film, immersing you in the tortured world of Townshend’s creation. From beginning to end, Daltrey approaches the vocal performances not as a singer or frontman, but as a method actor who pours his entire being into each song. Quadrophenia is a story of identity crisis, purpose, and ultimately, love — but not romance. Townshend’s protagonist yearns for self-love, for spiritual love, for life-changing love. It’s never revealed whether he finds it or not; but listening to the record, it’s impossible to not be filled with empathy for the troubled souls around us. –Chris Thiessen

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