THE WHO Live At Leeds (Polydor)

Speaking of parkas and Vespas, The Who (along with Frank Zappa and Elvis Costello) are undergoing a timely re-issue program at the moment, which apart from the obvious public service of allowing The Man to sell you freshy digitally re-remastered versions of 60s classics you already own on CD, cassette, eight-track cartridge, mono, stereo and quadrophonic vinyl, sneaks a few extra tracks on the end of the shortish original albums. So here’s The Who’s seminal 1970 live album. recorded on Valentine’s Day at Leeds University, and, according to Roger Daltrey, the best heavy metal album ever made, weighed down with eight extra tracks on top of the original six, which means the entire gig, less almost all of "Tommy". A well-padded booklet, full of informative notes and reprints of contemporary press reports adds to the fun.

Surprisingly it’s not the music that makes this release - which is alright, but not as good as old men with trout farms would have you believe - it’s the audacity of the band: certainly it’s difficult to imagine Oasis, for example, turning up at the Manchester Academy and belting out old blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll obscurities unknown to 99% of the audience, or Pete Townshend’s rambling introductions being greeted with such rapt attention today. Keith Moon’s distant banter is almost worth the price of the disc on its own (well, worth the price of a tape to copy it on, anyway). Whether you need a fifteen minute "My Generation" or a live take of ‘Tommy’s dad’ "A Quick One, While He’s Away" is open to debate however. The 1995 model "Live At Leeds" is great for hardcore fans and collectors, but keep your scratched and beerstained original album to hand on to your grandchildren.

THE WHO My Generation (Polydor)

To celebrate its release from years, if not decades, of contractual limbo, this latest reissue of The Who's debut album arrives in a somewhat self-congratulatory Deluxe Edition, with an extra disc of material that seems to include practically everything the band released on Brunswick during 1965, as well as alternate versions and unreleased titbits. Unfortunately nobody saw fit to pen the kind of contextualizing liner essay an album of such historic importance merits, so the listener is reduced to snuffling amongst the copious recording and release date information to determine exactly what piece of the puzzle fits where.

But it's the music that's important, and it's slightly disappointing to have to report that you'll have heard the best bits of "My Generation" already: the incendiary title track, "The Kids Are Alright", displaying the earliest intimations of Townshend's mod storytelling ambitions that would bloom fully on "Quadrophenia", and, at a push, the "Alfie"-esque betrayal of the nuclear family and straight life ambition that is "A Legal Matter". Elsewhere "I Don't Mind" and "Please Please Please" take James Brown outside for a good kicking, and Daltrey tries to imitate Muddy Waters' weathered voice on "I'm A Man", almost as if he hasn't the confidence to sing it with his own. The remainder reminds that it took the band at least until "The Who Sell Out" to spread their talents evenly over the space of an entire album, sounding rushed and underwritten compared to the brutal eloquence of their contemporary 45s. "Out In The Street", for example, opens and closes with the same guitar rolls that decorate "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere", but the remainder of the song sounds like The Yardbirds at their dirtiest and most primal. Like the early albums by The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, "My Generation" would probably mean a lot more today if you were there at the time to experience its seismic cultural impact. The intervening 37 years have reduced the swaggering power of all but its most familiar songs to fleeting signposts to the glories yet to come.

Of the extras, the band's debut single "I Can't Explain" retains more of its stinging, slashing power than much of the album has, but "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" is only represented in an alternate version (retitled "Anyhow Anywhere Anyway" for no apparent reason). Daltrey dons the comedy bluesman larynx again for a rendition of producer Shel Talmy's "Bald Headed Woman", gradually shrugging off the affectation as the song builds to a volcanic harmonica solo around him, with none other than Jimmy Page twangling away somewhere in the background. There are a few refugees from the prototypical conception of the album as having a more soul/R 'n' B slant: Holland, Dozier and Holland's "Leaving Here" shares its opening line with Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker", whilst the band mug up some comedy audience participation on James Brown's "Shout And Shimmy". Holland, Dozier and Holland's (again) "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" would receive a more powerful performance than that captured here on the band's next album, whilst it's not hard to see why the soulful romanticism of Ragavoy and Mimms' "Anytime You Want Me" was considered inappropriate for the finished product, not quite gelling with the barely-disguised thuggishness of the band's delivery. "Instant Party Mixture"'s barometer of teen culture is worth inclusion for the immortal aside (delivered in the finest BBC received pronunciation, naturally) "It's all because they're smoking a new cigarette"! However, a question mark hangs over the instrumental and a cappella versions respectively of "My Generation" and "Anytime You Want Me", the phantom, distant presence of the excluded part of both recordings suggesting a post-production fix-and-mix rather than pieces conceived and recorded as such at the time. Nevertheless, if the intention behind their inclusion was to demonstrate the unadorned instrumental and vocal prowess of the band they certainly succeed on those terms. Still, unless you have an unquenchable fascination for the minutiae of the band's career, the few essential moments of "My Generation" are probably better heard on any decent Who compilation.

THE WHO Live At Leeds (Classic) 

Roger Daltrey claims the album recorded at The Who’s Valentine’s Day 1970 gig at the University of Leeds refectory invented heavy metal. That’s always seemed somewhat disingenuous to me, as “Live At Leeds” is a far more nuanced, elaborate proposition than, say, the thudding, bludgeoning black country rock of Black Sabbath’s debut. The ‘Oo are more loose than tight here: listen to how rangey they sound on the opening cover of Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues”, almost as if Townshend, Moon (practically an orchestra unto himself) and Entwistle are soloing simultaneously whilst all being united in a common purpose. Jimi Hendrix Experience-style charred psychedelic hard rock it may be; heavy metal it most definitely is not.

Townshend’s fabulous pop nous is to the fore on “Substitute”, and Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” endures a thunderous brutalising. The album’s centrepiece, a 14-minute version of “My Generation” doesn’t really make it for me, though, for all the reasons that are implicit in the contradictory phrase “a 14-minute version of “My Generation””. No longer the furious, splenetic speedball of the original, its power is dissipated by forays into “Tommy” territory, all the more surprising since the band also performed the rock opera more or less complete that night. “Magic Bus”’ Bo Diddley beat is somewhat extended and distended, replete with more banter than the original single and a few mysterious backward bars.

Classic are gradually working through the entire Who catalogue, repressing the albums on both 150 and 200 gram vinyl, in mono and/or stereo as appropriate. Their reissue of “Live At Leeds” is a thing of tactile joy: I’ve never seen or heard an original UK pressing, but suspect, lighter vinyl aside, this was the standard being aimed for. The gatefold paper sleeve includes an envelope stuffed with a glorious trove of facsimile documentation: there’s a poster for the album, an invoice for a dozen smoke generators, a letter from EMI to manager Kit Lambert not quite rejecting the band’s previous incarnation The High Numbers, the band’s Woodstock contract, a letter giving notice of cancellation of an engagement at Swindon’s Locarno Ballroom (“the Promotor (sic) has had a lot of trouble there recently and he feels that THE WHO are not the type of Group that would go well in his Ballroom”) and typed lyrics to “My Generation” featuring the pencilled directive “leave stutter out on final recording”. The record labels, written in Townshend’s hand, demand “CRACKLING NOISES O.K. DO NOT CORRECT!”, referring to the intermittent crackles thought to be the fault of Entwistle’s bass guitar lead. They were airbrushed out of later CD reissues, but here they’re present and correct. That possible limitation notwithstanding, this “Live At Leeds” sounds great in places, crunchy where it needs to be, but somewhat foggy elsewhere. Nevertheless, it’s a glorious package overall, a cherishable historical re-enactment.

Pete Townshend