Who would have thought that The Who would sound tame by comparison, but by 1982, with an explosion of punk and heavy metal, they were definitely pretty mild for the most part, particularly without drummer Keith Moon. In 1982, they released their second and final album, “It’s Hard”, with Kenney Jones on drums, and kicked off their worldwide “farewell” tour. Both the album and the tour carry a lot of significance for me.
Let’s take on the tour first. The band declared that after the release of the album and the completion of their tour, this would be the last we would ever see or hear from The Who. So, when the band came rolling into Boulder, Colorado, at CU’s Folsom Field, this was a must-see event. Attended with my friends Doug, Mike and Shane, we went up early in the day as we had general admission seating on the field. My dad was kind enough to both drive us and bring us back, which was not an insignificant endeavor. When I asked him why he did this, he said, “Because I won’t be able to do this much longer”. I will always love him for that.
Back to the show, it was a rock festival of sorts. The first act was a relatively new artist, John Cougar, and unfortunately for him, he was eventually booed off stage while flashing two middle fingers. Next came Jethro Tull, which was much more warmly welcomed, but of course, we were all there primarily to see The Who. They played an amazing set, it was remarkably loud, and every year on October 17th I reconnect with those three guys and celebrate the memory of that great show. I actually saw the band again on two other tours after they came out of retirement, but this would be the last we would see of Kenney Jones on drums, and sadly, we also lost the amazing bassist John Entwistle way too early in 2002.
Back to the album, as I noted above, it was mostly a pretty tepid affair. They were clearly still missing Keith Moon, and with a few notable exceptions, it just isn’t a very exciting release by the high standards of the band. The opening track, “Athena”, which was the first single, is a pleasant and benign song, and one of the catchier tunes.
Most of the rest of side one is pretty dull, even the title track, with the exception of the last song, which is probably the most well-known song from the album, “Eminence Front”, which was sung by Pete Townshend. Pete was definitely coming out of his struggle with alcoholism, and did bring a lot of clarity to the album and energy to the tour.
Side two opens with “I’ve Known No War”, which is probably the best of the songs I had forgotten from this record. It is one of the few songs to have the rough edge I have always liked with The Who. Like side one, most of side two is pretty forgettable, until we get to the last song. There is something remarkably symbolic about the last track, “Cry If You Want”. Not only is it a reflective tune that looks back on the follies of youth, it has also felt to me like Pete went deep within his own self to deliver one last bombastic rocker to close out the band’s career. A great song from the beginning, the last two minutes is a wonderful gift, where Pete takes us back to the reckless abandon of “Live at Leeds”, blasting power-chords like nobody else. It really feels like the end of an era, not only for The Who, but the end of the great 20-year run of British rock supergroups.
What started twenty years ago when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, finally closed out with the Who’s last album and tour. Keith Moon was gone, Lennon and Bonzo were gone, Brian Jones was gone and the Stones were aging past their window of active relevance. However, for about twenty years, the ongoing greatness, domination and mass popularity of the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who was at an enduring level in the rock world that was without parallel.
We will occasionally see some of these acts resurface down the road in my blog, primarily with their solo work, but from this point forward, my musical world turned significantly towards what was current, and what was coming next, no matter how much I loved the rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Enjoy the ride…
“Once it was just innocence, brash ideas and insolence…”
“But you will never get away with the things you say today”
“But you can cry if you want…”