Song of the Day: The Who – A Quick One While He’s Away (Live at Leeds Version)

Jordan Posner recalls: It seems impossible that there existed a period of time before the album Tommy was released. That album, for me, at least, just seems as though it has always been there, like it was imprinted on our brains at birth, rather than something that we actually sat down and listened to (what Immanuel Kant would call a priori knowledge, but that’s neither here nor there). I looked it up, and it turns out that most of human history (and history at all, for that matter) occurred before the 1969 release of Tommy. The Who had been around for a few years as well, and they had begun experimenting with the sort of conceptual rock that they would later perfect on Tommy, Quadrophenia, and like half of Who’s Next. Before all that, however, the group’s first (official) foray into so-called “rock opera” territory was their 1966 song “A Quick One While He’s Away.” The song is essentially six separate and distinct songs, loosely telling a story of a lonely wife who is led astray by an engine driver, only to reconcile with her husband by song’s end. World of God (Pete Townshend) has said that “A Quick One” can also be called “Tommy’s Parents.” Accordingly, this track can function as a sort of prequel to the group’s later, more conceptually whole work. The album version is perfectly good, but the version released on their 1970  album, Live at Leeds, has a sort of frenetic energy that only a live Who performance (back when that shit meant something) can deliver. Wes Anderson certainly thought so, using the live version for a key scene in the film Rushmore. Each part of the song showcases a different facet of the Who’s sound (John Entwistle’s performance as Ivor the Engine Driver being notably unforgettable), until the whole mess builds to a shattering, cathartic coda. This is what every band should sound like live. However, I’m glad they don’t. That sounds exhausting. 

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