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The Who

Posted by purplemary54 on June 5, 2013

There is no such thing as a good cover of a Who song.

Oh sure, every so often some band or artist gets the idea to do one.  There are even a few that are pretty listenable.  (Heavy metal band W.A.S.P. did a decent enough cover of “The Real Me”; the band holds up okay under the pressure, but Blackie Black’s vocal ability is exposed as inferior.)  But what makes a cover good, IMO, is the way the new artist owns the old song, the way it becomes something new and different.  The way it brings someone else’s creativity and spirit to life.  Artists covering the Who inevitably sound like bad wedding/bar bands–all their weaknesses are exposed.  The vocals are just a little too thin or reedy (see Blackie Black above).  The guitars or bass are just a little too tinny.  The drums just a little too neat.  There’s always, always something missing from Who covers.

There’s an intensity to the Who that cannot be recreated by anyone else.  After Keith Moon died, it took Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and John Entwhistle approximately two decades to get an adequate replacement for him.  (Kenny Jones does not count as an adequate replacement for Keith Moon; Zack Starkey has managed to fit the bill nicely.)  They were a bit like The Band in that they created something that no one else has been able to touch–not even them, really.  All incarnations of the Who since Moonie’s death have been pretty good, because even at their worst, the Who is  just about as good as any other band’s great.  But none have managed to fully recapture the brilliance of that original musical moment.

Of course, it’s really hard to recreate a supernova.  You just kind of have to be in the right place at the right time.  The Who were always greater than the sum of their parts.  Pete Townshend is the driving creative force, but his musical vision is never quite complete without at least Roger Daltrey (and that’s all he has, now).  They made each other better.  It’s hard to believe there are only four men on stage in this clip.  (I believe the synthesizers were programmed and run like a machine; musical special effects, as it were.  The Who were one of the first rock acts to really experiment with this technology in the 70s.)  There ought to be more to make that sound happen.  It is huge and tough and desperate, the sound of hearts and minds searching for a path through the rage.  It’s something no one else has ever managed to do.  No matter how hard anyone tries, they will never be the Who.

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