Friday, September 9, 2011

My Theory on the Cover of 'Who's Next'

If you interpret this as the band pissing on the progress of society, then let's beg the question again....who really is next?
 As one of the greatest "monoliths" in rock history (pun intended), Who's Next hits home on several levels.

It's arguably the best work the band ever did....but the argument ends very quickly for most. It's a collection of some of the greatest songs by The Who, and the band is playing in top form....which shouldn't be any surprise, if one spends an evening with the band's live predecessor, Live at Leeds (DEFINITELY get your hands the remastered & expanded edition, with the live material from Tommy). 

1969-73 is a period where the band is rehearsed, on their A-game as players, and at their creative peak -- and Who's Next is the sweet spot in the middle of a succession of classic albums that changed rock music -- Tommy (1969), Live at Leeds (1970), Who's Next (1971), and Quadrophenia (1973).

The album also boasts innovations with the use of synthesizers....and what's so mind-blowing about this is the fact that it was the first use of their kind on a rock album, and they don't sound dated or kitschy. Townsend's use of them in a more textural sense is part of what makes the whole experiment successful. It was a very ballsy move for its time, especially for a band as rocking as The Who. If you want to read up on this a bit more, read this insightful and passionate article over at Ben Pringle's blog for added perspectives.

Then there's the bass acrobatics of John Entwistle (a.k.a. "The Ox" or "Thunderfingers"), who I highly respect and regard as the best on the planet at his instrument. Here's a post on him from a few years ago....we'll revisit The Ox again in the future, and more on the electric bass, as there are some new developments in my life with that instrument.

But why are we here? Let's talk about this most intriguing album cover.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say regarding some background of the cover.
Cover artwork shows a photograph, taken at Easington Colliery, of the band apparently having just urinated on a large concrete piling protruding from a slag heap. According to photographer Ethan Russell, most of the members were unable to urinate, so rainwater was tipped from an empty film canister to achieve the desired effect. The photograph is often seen to be a reference to the monolith discovered on the moon in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been released only about three years earlier.[8] In 2003, the United States cable television channel VH1 named Who's Next's cover one of the greatest album covers of all time.

That's all fine and factual, but let me give you my take....because I know Pete Townsend's approach to music, as an artist in the truest sense, to understand that there's symbolism and deeper meaning behind all his ideas and in everything he does. For God's sake, the man has written nearly a half dozen concept albums in his you're going to tell me the album cover of Who's Next was just some random occurrence?

I see the wasteland of the slab heap, and the monolith, representing the ugliness of modern society and progress in all its forms -- the stupidity and narrow thinking of humanity, desecration of the planet to mine for ores, results from the ravages of human consumption, war, a lack of regard (or advancements, being that it was 1971) for sustainability practices, and all that goes with it -- or perhaps it's just the twisted logic, upper stupidity, and lack of imagination involved with an engineer's decision to construct a useless monolith in a goddam coal dump. 

I believe the band is urinating on that monolith as a protest to the ugliness of progress as I've just described it, as that is their it should be within all of our rights to protest what we perceive as the evils (deemed necessary or not) of humanity and society. 

Of course, the album title Who's Next carries multiple meanings and reveals the band's humor, to include what I see as:
  1. It's announcing that it's the band's next album. Duh.
  2. Who's next to urinate on this ugly thing?
  3. Who's next to stand up, make yourself heard, be counted, and fight these injustices? (per my rambling theory)
Heck, for that matter, why stop with pissing? They should have vomited and defecated on the fucking thing too. If you follow my sentiments, then hopefully you appreciate that as well. Now THAT would be rock 'n' roll.

Wanna know how I really feel?

Even if a societal commentary wasn't Townsend or the band's primary intention, I will go as far as saying that it at least served as an undercurrent or primal projection out of the reptilian part of Townsend's brain.

I welcome any additional thoughts or insights into my theory on the Who's Next album cover.

1 comment:

kjpargolf said...

They're pissing on the Establishment. I read it somewhere back in the 70s.