Behind Blue Eyes 45
The Who began life as a traditional jazz band called The Confederates formed by Pete Townshend (banjo) and John Entwistle (French horn). Roger Daltry had a band called The Detours and suggested that Entwistle join as bass guitarist. Entwistle agreed and suggested Townshend as an additional guitarist. Doug Sandom (drums) and Colin Dawson (vocals) rounded out the lineup. Daltrey played lead guitar in the band and Townshend played rhythm guitar. When Dawson left, Daltrey became the lead vocalist and Townshend became the sole guitarist. When Sandom left in 1964, Keith Moon became the drummer. The Detours became The Who in 1964 with the arrival of Moon, and then briefly changed their name to the High Numbers for the release of their debut single, “Zoot Suit” b/w “I’m The Face”. They reverted back to The Who in time for their January 1965 single “I Can’t Explain”. The song became a Top Ten hit in the U.K. A series of successful singles followed, along with their first album, “My Generation”, in December 1965. Townshend wanted the albums to be thematically linked, and not just serve as collections of songs, and thus the second album, “A Quick One” (1966) contained a nine-minute long mini rock opera. The third album, “The Who Sell Out” (1967) was a concept album based around the idea of an offshore radio station, a la Radio Caroline, complete with jingles and fake commercials. This presaged the ambitious double album “Tommy” (1969), which was almost completely written by Townshend, and was a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes the leader of a messianic movement.
In the aftermath of “Tommy”, Townshend started writing a new rock opera. It was based on a futuristic dystopia in which the world is collapsing and the only experiences people have are through test tubes. Savages in the woods have kept rock and roll alive. An old guru-like figure recalls rock and roll and how people responded to it and reckons it can be used to snap people out of their programmed environment, achieving liberation through the music. The Lifehouse was the place where the music would be played, and the new rock opera became known as the Lifehouse project. But Townshend intended to take it one step further. The rock opera would be performed live, and a personal profile of each concert-goer would be worked out, from the individual’s astrological chart to his hobbies, even physical appearance. All of the characteristics would then be fed into a computer at the same moment, leading to one musical note that would culminate in mass nirvana. Townshend’s inability to translate the ideas in his head to those around him eventually led to a nervous breakdown. Lifehouse was never completed in its intended form; instead, the band went into the studio with Glyn Johns to record a traditional album. But scraps of the project found their way onto the resulting album, “Who’s Next”, including the A-side of lead single from the album, “Behind Blue Eyes” (b/w “My Wife”). This is today’s featured single.
Few bands have mastered the light/heavy dichotomy as well as The Who. In their day they could churn out searing, hearing loss-inducing hard rock. Yet on occasion they were able to suppress the heavy guitar crunch – witness, for example, the acoustic guitar opening in “Pinball Wizard” and a number of other tracks on “Tommy”. Yet it was not until “Behind Blues Eyes” that The Who displayed real mastery of their ability to generate tension by holding back the proto-metal overdrive that embodied their earlier classics. This was probably not what you would have expected from the latest Who single in 1971: an acoustic guitar plays a minor-key melody, and Roger Daltry chimes in with the lyrics: “No one knows what it’s like/To be the bad man/To be the sad man/Behind blue eyes”. This song was originally written for the Lifehouse project, and tells the tale of one of the main characters. The character is a villain, and he tells us his story: he has been corrupted by the bosses he serves; he is a man with noble instincts who suppresses that nobility in the service of a corrupt regime – presumably the one that the upstart rock and roll enthusiasts who run Lifehouse seek to challenge. About two minutes into the song, Townshend crashes in with his electric guitar wail, and the music perfectly complements the lyrical content, in which the villain seems to be on the verge of bursting forth with his anger and rage. Yet in the end all he demands is that his rage be held in check: “When my fist clenches, crack it open/Before I use it and lose my cool/When I smile, tell me some bad news/Before I laugh and act like a fool.” The song ends with a reprise of the quieter first theme. The guitar riff at the end of the rock anthem section is also used as the bridge during the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, perhaps serving as a link between the two songs when the album was intended to be a rock opera. The version of “Behind Blue Eyes” on “Who’s Next” was actually the second version; a version with Al Kooper playing a Hammond organ was also recorded. “Behind Blue Eyes” is one of several classics to emerge from the failed Lifehouse project and is one of The Who’s most memorable songs.
U.K. music fans got “Going Mobile” on the B-side of this single. It’s not a bad song, but we can do better than that, and we did, with the American B-side of “Behind Blue Eyes”. “My Wife”, another track from “Who’s Next”, was not quite as good as “Behind Blue Eyes”, but the John Entwistle-penned tune was a great comic-relief piece. The concept is simple: a man had a few too many drinks, gets in trouble with the law, and now is afraid to face the wrath of his better half (a theme also explored in “Who Are You”). If she thought he just went out on a bender, it might have been alright, but she’s convinced that he’s seeing another woman: “Gonna buy a tank and an airplane/When she catches up with me won’t be no time to explain/She thinks I’ve been with another one/And that’s enough to drive her half insane”. The song rolls along with a great bluesy piano, but the best part of the song, in my opinion, is the chorus chant of “She’s coming!” punctuated by horn overdubs (provided by Entwistle himself). The song supposedly was based on a real-life experience of Entwistle’s, and in the song Entwistle’s hyperbole is extreme to say the least (he needs a bodyguard, a machine gun, a tank, and an airplane), and the song is all the more entertaining because of it. On the album, it is preceded by “Love Ain’t for Keeping”, which provides a great segue from the acoustic coda of that track into the thundering electric guitars of “My Wife”.
The single (catalog #: 32888) was issued by Decca Records in the United States. It had a picture sleeve in the U.K., but not in the U.S. The label is the typical Decca label from this period, with a black background across the top and bottom, and a multicolored rectangle (the Decca logo) in the middle. Track/production information is across the top and artist information is across the bottom. Some countries got creative with this release; for example, in Thailand, “Behind Blue Eyes” was issued as an EP with “Behind Blue Eyes” and “See Me, Feel Me” (from “Tommy”) on side one, and the album version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on side two. The Who would continue to record and release albums throughout the 1970’s, although the death of drummer Keith Moon seemed to be a watershed event. Although The Who replaced Moon with Kenny Jones and released two successful studio albums in the 1980’s – “Face Dances” (1981) and “It’s Hard” (1982), fans were not receptive to the new sound and, after a 1982 farewell tour, the band called it quits. They reunited briefly in 1985 for Live Aid and for a longer period of time in 1989 for a 25th anniversary tour. Entwistle died in 2002, but Townsend and Daltry reunited for Live 8 in 2005 and for The Who’s first album of new material in almost 25 years, “Endless Wire” (2006).