As Who’s Next was being released on 14 August 1971, rock writer Dave Marsh avowed in Creem magazine that the band’s new album “is to The Who what the White Album must’ve been to The Beatles.” His point was that, in both cases, these were the studio follow-ups to brilliant concept LPs, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for one and Tommy for the other.
Listen to Who’s Next right now.
Marsh concluded in his Who review that they had succeeded, just as The Beatles had. Live At Leeds was, he wrote, “a fine fine record, one you can shake your ass to and think about both, one that does everything The Who can do in legend (which is a lot, just like the White Album was a lot).”
The associate producer and engineer of Who’s Next was Glyn Johns, who provided a link between these two giants of British music, since he had served as an engineer on Abbey Road in 1969. Johns would later reflect that The Who album had become even more significant in their canon than he thought he would.
“When I was cutting it, I was really thrilled with it,” he said, “but I never imagined it would become as important as it became, because one’s a little bit insecure, obviously, when you’re making a record. You don’t really know how the public are going to receive it.”
They received it extremely well. The album went straight into the UK chart at No. 2 and, a week later, replaced Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water at the top. In the US, it matched the No. 4 peak of 1969’s Tommy and, although its chart stay was far shorter, eventually outdid the earlier album in sales certifications. It went gold in America just a month after release, and was then afforded platinum, double platinum and triple platinum status by the RIAA on the same date in 1993.
Who’s Next swiftly grew into what many fans still call their best-ever album, an even more notable feat since it rose from the ashes of their ill-starred Lifehouse project. It did so by virtue of an extremely strong collection of songs, from its best-known anthems — the top ten hit ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ as well as ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ — to equally scintillating Pete Townshend compositions like ‘Bargain’ and ‘The Song Is Over.’ John Entwistle contributed ‘My Wife,’ on a record that found all four members of the band at the top of their game, and still breaking new ground.
“Pete didn’t use his synthesiser simply as a solo keyboard that could make strange underwater noises,” said Who historian Chris Charlesworth of ‘Baba O’Riley,’ “but as a rotating musical loop which underpinned the melody and added a sharp bite to the rhythm track.”
Townshend would write in his Who I Am autobiography that songs from the album “were slow to become familiar and established,” and that the set was “pathetically titled.” But he paid compliment to Johns by adding that it was “the first Who material in a long time to be properly recorded.” In 2007, after decades of regular placings in the upper echelons of numerous all-time best album lists, Who’s Next was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Who’s Next can be bought here.
Follow the official The Who Best Of playlist for more classic Who hits.