The Who songs Pete Townshend thought he couldn’t match

Pete Townshend

Something like The Who was made for live performances. Pete Townshend seemed to be in his element when he played off Keith Moon’s chaotic drum rolls on albums like Live At Leeds, even though he could probably waste a whole day assembling intricate works of art that no one had ever touched on. Even with their love of memorable hooks and making the performance a spectacle for the crowd. Townshend believed that “Magic Bus” and “I Can See For Miles” would never make it past the studio. Much less the stage.

However, if you listen to all of The Who’s best songs, you’ll notice that each one has a unique live sound. Keith Moon was one of those guys who was always going to be hard to contain in the studio. Having him go crazy on the drum kit was going to dial the intensity up a notch or two on almost every song.

“Magic Bus” is much more understated than songs like “My Generation,” which are meant to be harsh. Townshend delivers a bit more funky groove than you might typically expect. Especially with his peculiar call-and-response vocals with Roger Daltrey. Based on just one chord for half of the song.

If “My Generation” was an attempt to write something akin to a primordial experience, then “I Can See For Miles” represented Townshend’s attempt to emulate the glittering heights of The Beach Boys. Hearing The Who throw an echo on everything and release something that abrasive was like their first hit on steroids. Especially after Pet Sounds had blown the doors wide open for something different the previous year.

Townshend told Jann Wenner that he believed they would struggle to record those two tracks. He admitted the demos’ high quality had intimidated them from recording. This was before the group had even made it to the stage. The demos for “Magic Bus” and “I Can See For Miles” were almost identical to the final releases. We were constantly pressuring our producer, Kit Lambert, to improve the singles, so for a while, we just dared not try. They were amazing and thrilling.

It wasn’t just Lambert who had to deal with that kind of issue. Glyn Johns likely had his work cut out for him. Trying to improve upon songs like “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” when they were brought in. Townshend did the majority of the work himself.

Pete Townshend doubted his ability to translate the songs’ recorded quality to a live performance. But listening to them live would always be an entirely different experience. Even though the group’s final track had an unmatched amount of harmony. It makes much more sense to hear them take their songs in new directions throughout Live At Leeds. One example is the humorous segment at the end of “Magic Bus,” where Townshend and Daltrey perform a sort of pseudo-comedy routine.

However, isn’t that the purpose of the live stage? The Who, studio lab rats though they were, also excelled as performers. Songs like “Magic Bus” and “I Can See For Miles” retained enough charm to captivate fans long after their initial release.


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