Released: August 14, 1971
Peak: 4 US, 11 UK, 5 CN, 3 AU
Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 0.3 UK, 3.3 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: classic rock
Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
All songs written by Pete Townshend except “My Wife” by John Entwistle.
Total Running Time: 43:38
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4.716 out of 5.00 (average of 31 ratings)
Quotable: “A hard rock classic, Who’s Next is required listening for rock fans of all ages.” – Genevieve Williams, Amazon.com
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
In the excellent “Counterbalance” series from PopMatters, Eric Klinger notes that while “Old Man Klinger’s ardor for the Who has cooled significantly,” EK he is still “tempted to lift my skinny fists like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club whenever I hear these songs. And no matter how silly it might seem now, I just can’t deny that part of myself.” EK The “combination of braggadocio and navel-gazing found on ’70s Who records is the same weird mix that’s found in most teenage boys;” EK as an adult, that may mean perspective makes the album appear “more than a little mawkish and overwrought in their broodiness,” EK but as the fifteen-year-old Klinger would say, “the Who was the third best British group, just behind the Beatles and the Stones and just ahead of the Kinks…Who’s Next was a huge transformation for the band as they made their way from Day-Glo mod singles to rock operas to arena rock superstars. It’s a pivotal album for them, and in many ways it’s a harbinger of what’s to come later in the 1970s.” EK
“Music can show those scrawny, awkward 15-year-olds that they aren’t alone and on the other side, it can allow the band to find its true sound.” JM With “Who’s Next we see a band finally strike upon the formula that would define them;” JM it “is considered by many fans and critics alike as the Who’s crowning achievement.” MU It “set a hard rock standard that even its creators struggled to emulate.” CD “The Who’s tenure as a stadium-packing rock band began here: out went the mod suits and jerky beat-pop; in came long hair and epic riffs.” BL It was here that The Who “made a full and final transition from arty acid rock to ear-blasting, arena-friendly hard rock.” JA “Frontman Roger Daltrey wooed a nation of Zeppelin fans with this collection of radio-friendly ballads and panoramic hard rock.” BL
With Who’s Next, the Who would “strike a counterbalance to Led Zeppelin as the two figureheads of ‘70s AOR.” JM The Who’s “use of synthesizers may be one of the best, or worst, things to happen to rock, depending on your Rock Purist ranking.” JM “In many ways, the Who and Led Zeppelin were opposite sides of the coin. While Page & Co. were creating loving homages to the blues masters, Townshend appears to have been bent on distancing themselves from rock’s bluesier influences.” EK There is “something grandiose in the Who’s music that seems to go hand-in-hand with a classical school of thought, a sort of romantic view of rock music that doesn’t jibe with the blues-inspired licks proffered by Zep or the Stones.” JM “In 1970, the Who released Live at Leeds, the Zeppiest music they’d ever make, but by ’71 Townshend is explicitly striving for a more classical feel – and the blues essentially goes out the window.” EK Still, the band’s “Maximum R&B roots never fully went away” EK and “Who’s Next still rocks quite convincingly.” EK
“Much of Who’s Next derives from Lifehouse, an ambitious sci-fi rock opera” STE that delved into the “grandiose concept…of…salvation of humanity through rock and roll.” SM The story “was about a little boy called Bobby…who set himself to finding the Lost Chord and flinging the world into Rock Nirvana in order to save it from the bad guys.” GS
“A pair of abortive sessions at the Record Plant in New York with long time manager Kit Lambert producing proved unsatisfactory, mainly due to Townsend’s increasing submersion in the brandy bottle and Lambert’s propensity for hard drugs.” SM “After two fruitless years and a near-suicidal breakdown,” TL Townshend and the band shelved the project. You can read more about Lifehouse here.
However, “Who’s Next isn’t any kind of ‘cop-out’ release – something you would usually expect in the wake of the failure of a major project by a high profile group.” AD Instead, now “freed from thematic grandiosity,” TL The Who “siphoned the best ideas into a traditional record.” BL The result was “nine prime songs, all of them flawlessly performed and produced.” GS “The ailing Lambert was replaced by Glyn Johns whose no-nonsense approach suited the chastened Townsend. By this time the band had been playing the songs live for over six months, so the sessions where a remarkably efficient affair.” SM
“There’s no discernable theme behind these songs, yet this album is stronger than Tommy” STE and has “more juice than Live at Leeds,” RC and, apart from that album, the band “never sounded as LOUD and unhinged.” STE The adrenaline-juiced rockers are “balanced by ballads, both lovely (‘The Song Is Over’) and scathing (‘Behind Blue Eyes’).” STE Townshend is “laying his soul bare in ways that are funny, painful, and utterly life-affirming.” STE “That’s the key to Who’s Next – there’s anger and sorrow, humor and regret, passion and tumult, all wrapped up in a blistering package where the rage is as affecting as the heartbreak.” STE
“The musicianship is indisputably excellent.” JNM It’s on Who’s Next that “we see all the pieces and parts of the group finally fall into alignment. Remember, this group is like a bumblebee: on paper, it shouldn’t fly at all. The two rhythm players, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, each played as if the drums and bass were lead and/or melody instruments. Both of them play with a technique that’s completely distinct (it’s one reason why you seldom hear crappy bar bands successfully cover Who songs) and probably wouldn’t work anywhere else.” EK
Moon is “thrashing and bashing more precisely than ever before.” JNM His drums leap “out of the speakers with unheard of force” SM as he “runs rampant” STE with “his best ever display of drumming skill and power.” CA John “Entwistle’s bass thunders magnificently” SM and “is as precise as usual” CA and “as fluent as ever.” GS
“As much swagger as Daltrey brings to the Who’s sound, it was always undercut by the understanding that it was Townshend’s introspection and often downright frailty that was really the driving force behind the group.” EK This is where he “fully comes into his own.” EK “Upon first listenings [one] may…wonder if The Who hadn’t replaced him altogether.” AD “Although he started out as a fairly standard-issue British R&B belter,” EK “two years [of] singing Tommy to appreciative audiences the world over…gave [Daltrey]…a huge boost in confidence.” AD “He learned to…make himself heard…over the top of The Who’s usual immense sonic assault,” AD giving “him the courage necessary to be an honest-to-goodness rock star.” EK He “has never sung better,” STE having “developed his mighty roar.” MU
“Throw Townshend’s grandstanding style into the mix and you essentially have four lead players each propped up against each other like a house of cards.” EK His “guitar playing alternates between delicate acoustic picking and earthshaking riffing.” SM What really sets the album apart, though, is“Townsend’s enthusiastic embrace of the novel technology of the synthesizer” SM as an instrument for “adding texture where needed and amplifying the force, which is already at a fever pitch.” STE “Pete uses the synths mainly as a rhythm instrument, and they don’t bury the drums and bass.” MU The use of the synthesizer to “vary the power trio format, not to art things up” RC “was really groundbreaking, especially in 1971, as they were often regarded as a novelty instrument.” CA
Opening anthem Baba O’Riley (known by the “teenage wasteland” chorus) derives its name from Pete Townshend’s guru and “Indian spiritual master Maher Baba and composer Terry O’Riley.” TM The song “opens with a skittering synthesizer that flirts with melody” TL and then builds “to an ear-splitting crescendo.” JA “Townshend [then] moves to the piano and bangs out the iconic notes of a completely different melody.” TL Townshend could “have played some guitar instead as an intro, but this is more distinctive.” AD The “cyclical loop…bubbled and swirled” SM beneath “the crashing drums from Keith Moon, crunching guitar from Pete Townshend and precision bass from John Entwistle.” CA Daltrey “sounds 10 years older than [he] did on Tommy. This is a vocal of some power.” AD
“The main riff is simple…but none the less majestic…and the entire song goes off splendidly…finishing in a hilarious fiddle-driven jig.” GS This is “joyous musical perfection of the highest order. Real shiver down the spine stuff.” AD “It’s pretty obvious from this opening track that the band really mean business.” CA
Bargain is “Pete’s prayer to the above-mentioned [Maher] Baba” GS for whom Townshend had an “enormous amount of respect.” CA With “devastating rhythm guitar” JA and “inventive synth parts,” GS the song “has that typical, unmistakeable Who sound.” CA
“Love Ain’t for Keepin’”
Love Ain’t for Keepin’ is “a more subdued song than either of the first two.” AD It “wouldn’t sound out of place on Led Zeppelin III. It’s the shortest track on the album at a little over 2 minutes, but still a gem.” CA It “is slightly folky, vaguely [and] features lovely harmonies in the background…it’s a lovely song.” AD
Bassist, and in this case, singer John “Entwistle gets in his best song ever: the hysterically paranoid My Wife.” JA Of course, depending on one’s perspective, it was “thoughtful…of Townshend to let John Entwistle sully his masterwork with the irredeemable “My Wife’.” EK It may be best to consider this song about “the danger of being both married and fond of lazing about in the boozer until all hours” JNM as both “stupendously catchy and stupid.” JNM Entwistle “spins out manic bass lines that are as captivating as [the song] is funny.” STE “The song is a basic rock number but with much groove and ultimately it’s a song that works and works well.” AD
“The Song Is Over”
The Song Is Over is “an unutterably beautiful song in which Townshend sings exquisitely over a gentle piano background before and in between Daltrey charging in exhilaratingly over a hard part with breathtaking chord changes in the manner of the ‘Listening to you I hear the music ...’ refrain from Tommy.” JNM The song is also “very similar in structure” CA to “ ‘5:15,’ from the later Quadrophenia album, [but] it’s still a very good song in it’s own right with Townshend and Daltrey taking turns on lead vocals” CA which “are genuinely affecting.” AD “Among their very best work is this one.” JNM
“Getting in Tune”
“The superb Getting in Tune, demonstrates Daltrey’s previously hidden vocal range.” CA As the song “develops, and the harmonies come in, Keith plays a few modest rolls – piano is added – it becomes another gorgeous piece of writing and performance.” AD
Following two ballads, you want something a little different, if not a sudden switch to a monstrous noise.” AD With its “catchy hooks,” JA Goin’ Mobile is “a nice little nifty driving song.” AD It “is a funny home-made travelogue-rock sung by Pete, and it’s the most modest song on this album, highlighted by a real weird guitar solo” GS and “Keith Moon’s splashing, crashing cymbals and manic drumming that really stand out and make the track what it is.” CA
“Behind Blue Eyes”
“The by turns sorrowful and angry” GW Behind Blue Eyes “is Townshend’s absolute peak in terms of lyrics.” JA The songs pairs “an emotional, though not wussy, acoustic guitar lead” TL with “depth, lovely vocals, [and] harmonies.” AD Then there’s “Daltrey bestowing an excellent dramatic reading (note especially his intonation of the world ‘vengeance’),” JNM making for a “powerful song proving that the band really were capable of performing a top quality ballad.” CA It uses “elaborate harmonies necessitating Moon’s banishment from the stage (his drumming prowess wasn’t echoed in his dodgy vocalising) until it crashed to a magnificent climax.” SM It “turns into a more ‘regular’ Who song halfway through…and then it switches back to delicate guitar picking to close.” AD
“Won’t Get Fooled Again”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is “loud, raucous and out of control,” CS “showcasing everything the band has to offer.” CS It is “a gruff rocker obviously set as a counterpoint for the opening ‘Baba’ – with more reflections on the post-hippie disillusionment (‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’).” GS The song “is a howl of frustration and disillusion with political sloganeering and false promises.” SM It is “an ingeniously - constructed panoramic view of methods of attack they’ve grown fondest of over the years.” JNM
Daltrey unleashes the “mighty ‘YEAAAAH!,’” GS “his famous scream at the end of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’” MU It is “arguably the most powerful roar ever captured on a rock record.” GS It inspires one “to leap five feet in the air with…arm raised, ready to slam down on some imaginary guitar upon…landing on the ground.” AD “It would go on to close all their subsequent live shows.” SM
“The power guitar of Townshend and the vocal performance by Daltrey are outstanding.” CA Townshend also uses “the synth as a rhythmic undertow to Moon’s astonishing freefall drum breaks.” SM Entwistle dreams “up all manner of scrumptious melodic and rhythmic flourishes…especially to what he plays beneath the chorus.” JNM The song “is so dense that it’s hard to believe it’s played by a three piece.” TL “In the hands of any other musicians it would have repeatedly collapsed into chaos. And yet not only were they able to create lasting songs out of that mix, they were able to navigate together through the twists and turns of an eight-minute epic like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’” EK
As “one of the band’s all time great epics,” SM the song “has rightfully earned its place in rock history as one of the truly great anthems.” CA
“A hard rock classic, Who’s Next is required listening for rock fans of all ages.” GW The album is “powerful and angry…a Who masterpiece and…without doubt their best work. This is yet another album that many of today’s so called rock bands should listen to, in order to find out how this rock thing should really be done.” CA
Notes: A 1995 CD reissue added an alternate version of “Behind Blue Eyes” along with cuts “Pure and Easy,” “Baby Don’t You Do It,” “Naked Eye,” “Water,” “Too Much of Anything,” and “I Don’t Even Know Myself.” The 2003 Deluxe Edition includes all of the aforementioned bonus tracks, adds alternate versions of most of the original album, and throws in the songs “Young Man Blues,” “Time Is Passing,” “My Generation,” and “Road Runner.”
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First posted 8/14/2012; last updated 8/13/2021.
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