A recent edition of Mojo roll-called the 100 greatest record producers, and Shel Talmy was one of them, although he’d never get my vote. And I’m not even going to mention his judgment in producing Nancy Boy, the worst record ever made by kids with rock-star daddies. True, Talmy did produce numerous rock classics, but you’d have to be a complete idiot to screw up records by the Who and the Kinks. And he almost did!
On the Kinks’ Something Else LP, Talmy couldn’t be bothered to shut off the studio air conditioner long enough to get a take of “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” or “Lazy Old Sun” without hum. Sonically, his cuts with the Who on the Maximum R&B box sounded like big analog turds compared to the remastered High Numbers cuts recorded years earlier. Here’s a testament to Talmy’s “studio wizardy” — on the Who’s BBC Sessions, you had some nameless Nigel making two quid an hour getting a fatter drum sound by just turning the mikes on and pointing them in the right direction. And I’ll bet he made better tea.
For years fans have referred to the expatriate producer as “Shelf Talmy” for his refusal to remix his Who recordings “for artistic reasons” — last year’s embarrassing attempt to sell this album’s master tapes on Ebay pokes holes into that argument. It’s no longer “a legal matter, baby,” and we finally have a CD of My Generation that doesn’t make Moonie’s drums sound like banging on a biscuit tin.
Among the double discs’ unearthed treasures is an instrumental of “My Generation” that shows the now-dead half of the Who were the band’s lifeblood — if Moon’s bass drum were any more in your face it’d be behind you, and Entwistle’s bass rumbles can loosen dental fillings even at a low volume. “I Can’t Explain” not only gets back the punch you could only find on the original mono single, but you can hear piano on the track for the first time.
While the Who dismissed the first album’s overtly R&B song selection as passé immediately after its release, those comments were made at a time when rock was being reinvented on a weekly basis. When you had Townshend’s writing growing in leaps and bounds, it was foolish to be recording James Brown and Motown. Heard now, the unreleased maximum R&B of “Motoring” and “Leaving Here” sound revelatory, as does an unreleased take of “Heat Wave” that makes the rerecording on A Quick One sound tossed off.
The first disc restores the U.K. album’s running order with the extended “The Kids Are Alright” and the blistering “I’m a Man,” which was cut from the U.S. edition because it promoted fornication … in bed!
Lengthy by 1965 standards, the near-four-minute “The Good’s Gone” is also stretched on the unreleased take, allowing Townshend’s chiming 12-string Rickenbacker another half a minute to hypnotize. Although most people never claimed much for Roger Daltrey’s vocals in this period and extolled his later Bob Seger-emulating years far beyond their due, he gets in a heartfelt a cappella version of “Anytime You Want Me” here, with Townshend and Entwistle’s harmonies that more than atone for Talmy’s installation of a professional vocal group on their first single.
This deluxe edition also solves the mystery of “Instant Party (Circles).” The withdrawn U.K. Brunswick single of “Circles” actually had a song called “Instant Party” on the B-side — but the song called “Instant Party” on the U.S. Decca album was the first take of “Circles,” a song that was rerecorded without Talmy’s involvement and released on Track records — got that? The original “Instant Party” (dubbed “Instant Party Mixture” here) is a lovable shoop-shoop throwaway — imagine the Who playing Dion’s “Donna the Prima Donna” and trying to work in cockney accents and none-too-subtle adverts for marijuana. The reason for the party? The Who were mere days away from breaking their contract with Talmy. Like most celebrations, this one didn’t come cheap. The Who had to give Talmy points on the next five albums, the ones that made heaps of dosh for all concerned. That had to hurt more than driving Lincoln Continentals into swimming pools ever did.
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