The Who – “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy”

About a year ago, someone tagged me on [social media] on one of those posts where you list 10 albums that influenced your life. Here is the third album on my list.


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This is not my favorite Who album. “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” is basically a collection of The Who’s biggest UK hits up to about 1971-–before any of the stuff that made them (endlessly, tiresomely) arguably the greatest and/or loudest and/or most influential rock band in the world, before all the boozy fun became alcoholism, the “mind-expanding” drugs became mind-numbing problems, the financial issues went from charming to unseemly, the debate about relevance transformed from an engine to an anchor, the inevitable untimely deaths, and the endless stream of final shows. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. I don’t think that anyone who calls themself a Who fan (in that tone we use that indicates “Yes, I am aware of The Beatles and the Stones and all the other Old People Gods, and I CHOOSE this band”) would say this is their favorite album. When it came out, most people who were fans of the band had already heard everything on this album, and what they really wanted was new old Who, not the same old Who. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. Though like most bands of the time, they started out trying to make hit singles, the Who moved very quickly into making concept albums and rock operas. Those albums—“A Quick One/Happy Jack,” “The Who Sell Out,” “Tommy,” “Quadrophenia”—became pretty influential, maybe as much for what those albums tried to be as what they were. There’s still—for me at least—a dichotomy of The Who’s music: “Regular” albums (collections of songs recorded/released around the same time); and “concept” albums (collections of songs written around a common idea or narrative). That said, most of The Who’s “regular” albums still feel like there was some common tone or context informing the whole thing. None of this applies to “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” though. It’s a regular “regular” album. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. The Who’s experimentation was almost all driven by Pete Townshend—the rest of the band would have been happy playing any kind of music live, as much as possible A lot of the band’s volatility over the years came down to Townshend not wanting to simply go out and kill himself on tour playing the same stuff over again and the rest of the band not wanting to faff about while Townshend figured out what he wanted to agonize over next. That conflict, and the dedication of both sides to their opinion, drove and filtered everything the band did for decades. The results were some of the strongest rock albums and live performances of any major band, as well as a few absolutely heroic disappointments. For a Who fan, all of these things felt important. “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” does not feel important. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. The Who was very much bigger than the sum of its parts. It had a great singer (the Meaty Roger Daltrey), a unique and busy drummer (The Beaty Keith Moon), an innovative bay splayer (Big John Entiwistle) and a guitarist/songwriter (Bouncy Pete Townshend) who always wanted to be brilliant, and was seemingly never convinced that anyone, including himself, could be. A big part of being a Who fan was knowing what these parts were, so that you could see how they added up to more than their sum. Pretty much all the songs on this album were done while the band was still developing these personas and trying to get the world to notice them. To most of the people who heard these songs when they were first hits, The Who was just a band like any other, made up of four guys. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album, but it’s the album that got me into The Who, and from this album I went backwards and forwards through their catalog and became a lifelong fan. More important to the rest of my life, The Who made me want to be in a band, and John Entwistle made me want to play bass. This album influenced the rest of my life more than any other. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

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