THE RECORD THE WHO - The Kids Are Alright, MCA2-11005.
The success of any truly great rock song is related to the fact that people who couldn't really communicate in normal ways can easily communicate through the mutual enjoyment of rock music. And that was simply because, for them, it was infinitely more charismatic than anything around at the time."
The simplicity and simultaneous self-awareness of that statement is characteristic of one of rock's greatest composers - Peter Townshend. In fact, "charisma" is exactly the right word for Townshend and his cohorts John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon. The Beatles may have had greater charm and the Rolling Stones more chutzpah, but the mother lode of intelligent, innovative rock of the late 60s and early 70s was The Who.
In the nearly 15 years since The Who released its first single (under that name - under the name High Numbers, the group had already released "Zoot Suit" / "i'm the Face"), it has produced some of the most enduring rock in the field - all the more remarkable because neither the innovativeness of Peter Townshend's writing nor its anthemic forcefulness ever obscured its musical integrity.
Now, as The Who seems poised on the verge of a whole new phase, after the death of drummer Keith Moon and the arrival of his replacement, Faces veteran Kenney Jones, comes a documentary called "The Kids Are Alright," featuring live recordings of 19 Who compositions spanning 1966 to 1978. The soundtrack album being released in conjunction with the film is a moving and, fittingly, wry flashback to the days of Mods and Rockers, revolution in the streets and Woodstock in the meadow.
The two-album set is obviously cued to the film; both jackets are printed with graphics of vidotape reels - the sides are called "Reel One," "Reel Two," etc. The album cover itself uses a film-exposure design with sprockets around the photographs, and inside is a booklet, not unlike a concert program, with pictures of the young andthen older Who and essays and notes on the songs.
The albums wears its heart on its sleeve from the outset, opening with a raw tape of "My Generation" from a Smothers Brothers television show. "Where are you from?" Daltrey is asked, and responds, "Oz." "I'm Keith, but you can call me John," says Moon, the group's resident madman/elemental spirit.
"I Can't Explain" is from a 1966 "Shindig" segment, and the go-go dancers and their cages shimmer lilke ghosts in the sound of that Carnby Street "American Band-stand."
But the fourth track, also from the Smothers Brothers show, is a powerful, perfectly controlled studio-quality rendition of "I Can See for Miles," a reminder that the Who is among the finest live concert attractions in rock. In particular, the fervent, dervish drumming by Moon seems even more intoxicating now that it has been silenced.
The album contains two tracks that are not part of the movie, "My Wife," a subtle absurdist offering from Entwistle, and "A Quick One," the title cut from the group's second album. The recording used here is from an unreleased but legendary TV special called "The Rolling Stones Rock'n'Roll Circus," which also was to have featured Eric Clapton, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull and John and Yoko, among others.
The album barely hints at the many lives of "Tommy," the blind, deaf and mute boy for whom Townshend created the "rock opera" format that has since stood Jesus ("Godspell" and "Superstar") and Evita Peron ("Evita") in such good stead. From a "Beat Club" segment filmed in Germany comes a simply, nearly folkie strumming of "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?", but the exalted "Sparks / Pinball Wizard / See Me, Feel Me" medley taken from the Woodstock festival evokes all that was glorious and free and sentimental about that communing of the rock congregation.
Appropriately, the climax of the album is a long (9:48) version of "Won't Get Fooled Again" recorded last year at the Shepperton Film Studios. Released in 1971, it is still the very voice of the battered but unbowed revolution. "The men who spurred us on, sit in judgment of our wrongs," Townshend shrieks, but still he struggles.
I tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution. . .
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I get on my knees and pray
We won't get fooled again.* CAPTION: Picture, THE WHO, CIRCA 1973-74, RECYCLED IN "THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT."