Reissue Review: The Who, “The Reaction Singles, 1966”

Written by Music, Reissue Reviews

whobox2-480x323This second box set of 45 singles, restored to their original label pressings by The Who for “The Who Hits 50” series, is now playing loudly for the third time on my turntable.  Once again, Universal (the parent company of the various labels The Who appeared on) has done an outstanding job in re-releasing these most critical of singles in The Who’s history and they sound as spectacular and dynamic as one could hope for.

1966 was an important year and a crossroads/major shift in directions for the band.  Growing in leaps and bounds from the speed-fueled Mod band and their initial R&B-style, they’d already had a fair number of successful singles in the U.K. the previous year.  However, Pete Townshend  was growing confident and strong in his songwriting and the newest single, “Substitute” showcased a completely different, far more powerful sound and depth of lyrics.  But this new single wouldn’t be without its headaches.  They’d extracted themselves from Brunswick (Decca) Records, after a skirmish with a song called “Circles,” produced by now-ex-producer Shel Talmy.  This was released without authorization and under a different title (“Instant Party”) by Brunswick as the B-side to “A Legal Matter”, which was a track from their My Generation L.P.

The Who and their management, in an effort to continue to release new material, signed a deal with their agent, Robert Stigwood (yes, THAT Stigwood) and his newly formed Reaction Records label, which would go through Polydor Records (who had now set up shop in England).  “Substitute” was issued with a completely re-worked and re-recorded version of “Circles” on the flipside – and an injunction was slapped on the band and the label.  A week after its release, the initial pressing was withdrawn and replaced immediately by the label re-titling the track (you guessed it) “Instant Party” — another injunction.  Finally, a 3rd edition appeared with an instrumental, “Waltz for a Pig” and credited to “The Who Orchestra” — this was, in fact, the Graham Bond Organization, another one of Stigwood’s clients and the song was credited to “Harry Butcher,” a pseudonym for their drummer, Ginger Baker.  Got it?  This box contains the 2nd and 3rd versions of the single — and you can instantly see the difference in the label colors (editor’s note:  I actually have the first version, the “Circles” version, so this completes the trio!).

The Who had a very good run on Reaction, which only lasted into 1967 (the last album released on the label was Cream’s seminal Disraeli Gears and they’d only released three albums total:  Fresh Cream and The Who’s A Quick One).  After the success of “Substitute,” two more singles and an E.P. followed, the major U.K. hit, “I’m A Boy”, the Ready Steady Who E.P. (where “Circles” finally makes an appearance to stay) and the “Happy Jack” 45.  By the time of “Happy Jack,” which also cracked the American charts, managers Lambert and Stamp did a deal of their own with Polydor and set up the Track Records label.

And that’s where our story will continue…

But for now, this a no-brainer.  Find it, buy it, play it loud and let yourself have a religious musical experience.  This is THE WHO, as they always should be heard.

ESSENTIAL LISTENING – REQUIRED

The Reaction Singles, 1966 is available now.