The Who were a band that excelled at each corner of their instrumentation. Their singer, Roger Daltrey, had untold charisma, a feisty demeanour and a big set of lungs. Their guitarist and principal songwriter, Pete Townshend, is more than capable of thrashing a riff out with the best of them, forceful and flourishing with every turn. And their drummer, well, their drummer was Keith Moon. But one of the most overlooked members of the band is arguably the most talented in their field, the late, great John Entwistle.
Nicknamed The Ox, Entwistle is your archetypal bassist. The strong silent type, his imposing figure stood still, was enough to cause some worries, such was his statuesque stage persona. But by the time his fingers got working up and down the fretboard of his bass, you were always ready to pick your jaw up off the floor. Below, we’re taking a look at the isolated bass for The Who song ‘Pinball Wizard’ as proof of his genius.
The song has gone on to become one of the band’s most beloved tunes. Despite this, the track was nearly cast aside after Pete Townshend almost scrapped the number. The guitarist disliked ‘Pinball Wizard’ almost instantly and has since called it an “awful” song as well as saying about the track: “I knocked it off. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is awful, the most clumsy piece of writing I’ve ever done. Oh my God, I’m embarrassed. This sounds like a Music Hall song. I scribbled it out, and all the verses were the same length, and there was no kind of middle eight. It was going to be a complete dud, but I carried on.
“I attempted the same mock baroque guitar beginning that’s on ‘I’m a Boy’ and then a bit of vigorous kind of flamenco guitar. I was just grabbing at ideas, I knocked a demo together and took it to the studio, and everyone loved it. Damon Lyon-Shaw (the engineer on Tommy) said, ‘Pete, that’s a hit.’ Everybody was really excited, and I suddenly thought, ‘Have I written a hit?’ It was just because the only person that we knew would give us a good review was a pinball fanatic.”
Townshend stuck it out with the song, and ‘Pinball Wizard’ has been lauded as one of The Who’s best songs ever since. It also provided each of the aforementioned talented band members to throw themselves into the track. None more so than John Entwistle.
On The Who’s studio records, and without an audience, where the band are free to manipulate their sound, Entwistle was unmatched. The bassist on ‘Pinball Wizard’ is intent on implementing his own unique style to every piece he performed. He brought a heavy dose of style with him on every venture, and while he may have acted aloof, really, he was just in the zone.
The isolated track below from the band’s iconic number, ‘Pinball Wizard’, sees Entwistle in mercurial form. The track is taken from their 1969 rock opera Tommy and the lyrics offer a glimpse of their main protagonist Tommy Walker in the middle of one of his legendary gaming sessions.
It’s one of the band’s most beloved songs for good reason, and it puts Entwistle at the top of the pile when it comes to rock bassists.