The Who were a band which excelled at each corner of their instrumentation. Their singer, Roger Daltrey had untold charisma 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 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 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. Through five isolated bass tracks, we’re looking back at the man’s genius.
Every band needs a quiet member and Entwistle was more than happy to be that for The Who. Like George Harrison in The Beatles, Entwistle neglected the fast and furious limelight and instead focused on his playing. It allowed the bassist to become one of the best in the business and has seen him be rightly lauded as one of the finest players around before he sadly passed away in 2002.
Through five isolated bass tracks, removing the powerhouse performances of Messrs Moon, Daltrey and Townshend, we get a much better view of the bassist at work. It’s proof that John Entwistle was a bass genius.
‘Baba O’Riley’ is one of The Who’s most iconic songs and offered the chance for both Keith Moon and Pete Townshend let a rip instrumentally while Roger Daltrey did his own gymnastics with his vocal. Yet none of this would be possible without Entwistle’s mercurial bass.
One of the most vibrant moments of the bands live show comes with the introduction of ‘Bab O’Riley’ and this rendition of it is particularly brilliant. It’s an easily recognisable piece of seemingly absurd chaos but it is all underpinned by Entwistle’s smooth and calm performances. With his instrument seemingly glued to his stomach, he delivers a powerful performance at Shepperton Studios.
‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’
Another moment from Shepperton saw Entwistle once again prove himself as a great. His isolated bass on The Who’s song ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is simply stunning and shows quite clearly how vital Entwistle was to the Who project. The song, released in 1971, is one of The Who’s most cherished and he delivers a noodling brilliance on this.
Perhaps the most brilliant thing about this performance however is just how stoically Entwistle can remain while his fingers work furiously up and down the fretboard. The Ox is proof that you don’t need to commit most of your body to the instrument if you can give 100% of your brain.
On The Who’s 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.
Taken from the band’s 1982 album It’s Hard, Entwistle is simply astounding on this Pete Townshend-penned track. He not only glides up and down the fretboard with his celebrated thunder fingers but also drives the song forward, giving it some well-earned bones to the meat and gravy Townshend supplies.
While the album was widely and robustly criticised, even Daltrey said it was poor, it is universally agreed that ‘Eminence Front’ was the best moment on it. While the chord progression from the guitar is impressive, it is Entwistle who brings the track on home, providing a searing bassline capable of making four-string strummers welp.
‘The Real Me’
Perhaps the definitive John Entwistle song that has earned its place in the mandatory listening pile for all bassists on The Who song, ‘The Real Me’. Arguably it is Entwistle’s bass playing at its finest.
The song’s bassline is so unique and so spectacularly singular that even during a Who concert where the camera, and one’s eye, focuses primarily on Daltrey and Townshend, your ears can’t help but focus on Entwistle’s playing. His style of playing was always captivating—dead straight without so much as a glint in his eye while his fingers looked like roadrunner in a cartoon—but it was the music that always made Entwistle a genius. Others may have had the swagger but Entwistle walked the walk.