The late John Entwistle is undoubtedly the most underrated member of The Who’s founding fathers, the bass God never receiving quite the same level of critical acclaim as Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey or Keith Moon enjoyed.
Rightly or wrongly, they have all been seen as more important than Entwistle, but this isolated bass recording taken from ‘Baba O’Reilly’ proves exactly why he was an integral part of the band.
Since his death in 2002, Entwistle has finally gained more recognition as the vital cog in the machine which is The Who, later being named as the greatest bassist of all time in a reader’s poll carried out by Rolling Stone in 2011.
It wasn’t just being a killer on the bass that Entwistle added to the iconic group, he also exerted a major influence over his bandmates in many other ways such as their aesthetic with him being the first member to don a Union Jack waistcoat—it later became Townshend’s signature garment.
The aforementioned track arrived as the opening number on Who’s Next and encapsulates the theme of the abandoned Lifehouse project which was meant to act as the follow up to 1969’s Tommy. However, the work was aborted due to its complexity as well as conflicts with Kit Lambert, the band’s manager, but nevertheless some of the material survived and without the connecting story elements helped form their next album.
‘Baba O’Riley’ provided the best insight into Lifehouse and the ‘teenage wasteland’ aspect that the project was to be about. Lifehouse’s story was inspired by Pete Townshend’s experiences on the Tommy tour: “I’ve seen moments in Who gigs where the vibrations were becoming so pure that I thought the whole world was just going to stop, the whole thing was just becoming so unified,” he once commented.
In an interview with Billboard magazine carried out in February 2010, Townshend discussed how some The Who songs have taken on a deeper meaning such as ‘Baba O’Riley’, he explained: “The music there was about living in the present and losing yourself in the moment. Now that has changed. Boomers kind of hang on to that as a memory. When I go back and listen to those songs, the Who songs in particular of the late ’60s and early ’70s, there was an aspiration in my writing to attune to the fact that what I could feel in the audience.
Adding: “A song like ‘Baba O’Riley,’ with ‘we’re all wasted,’ it just meant ‘we’re all wasted’ – it didn’t have the significance that it now has. What we fear is that in actual fact we have wasted an opportunity. I think I speak for my audience when I say that, I hope I do.”
The euphoria which Townshend speaks of is prominent all throughout the song, but there’s something about Entwistle’s bass version which shines a light on how important his role in building up to that euphoric famous pay off in ‘Baba O’Riley’ is and, more poignantly, just how underappreciated his efforts were.
Listen to the incredible audio, below.