If you’re thinking, “another Who compilation? So what?” you’d be both right and wrong. Right, because there have been an extraordinary amount in the last few years – wrong, because this one does justice to a great, long-standing oversight. Finally, all of The Who’s original singles (the U.K. releases) are compiled along with their corresponding B-sides in a single CD collection. Something that (believe it or not) hasn’t been done in a single, cohesive unit. What makes this an important release is that many of these songs are on CD for the first time or reappearing on CD after a brief, previous appearance – a good portion of these songs have been M.I.A. And yes, this CD collection is, indeed, the CD gathering of the 4 boxsets that came out starting in 2015 on vinyl of the different singles-eras in The Who’s career – first with Brunswick Records, onto Reaction, Track and then Polydor proper. But if you don’t buy vinyl/have a turntable, then this is the quintessential singles collection – and even if you’re just a casual Who fan, this could heighten your awareness and give you a greater love, appreciation and understanding of the greatest, most important rock band of all time.
There are, however, five glaring omissions that I would have included, if I were putting this boxset’s program together – to make it truly complete: the American “edited” version of “Substitute” (“I try going forward but my feet walk back” in place of “I look all white but my dad was black” and shorter running time); “Anytime You Want Me”, the U.S. B-side to “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, the “electric” version of “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands”, which appeared on the U.S. Decca single of “I Can See For Miles” and the two “extended” versions of “I’m A Boy” and “Magic Bus”, both of which were only available on the Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy collection. At least you get here both versions of “Circles” – the “original”/longer version recorded with Shel Talmy producing (for Brunswick) and the shorter, re-recorded version issued first as the flipside of “Substitute” and then on the Ready Steady Who E.P.; you get both Rolling Stones covers (“The Last Time” and “Under My Thumb”), recorded and released while Jagger and Richard were imprisoned and so on.
All the songs that made The Who so great; so special – certainly, to me – are here – “I Can’t Explain”, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, the still-sounding as magnificent now as it did when first releases 52 years ago “My Generation” (easily one of the best singles ever produced, sonically speaking, in the 1960’s); “The Kids Are Alright” (which is highly personal and emotional for me, as it was the first song I ever learned how to play on guitar), “Substitute”, “Happy Jack”, “Disguises”, “Pictures Of Lily”, the exhilarating “I Can See For Miles” and a never-heard-before (re)mixed and “full” version of “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” – just the first two discs are worth the price of admission. If you’re a fan of the later, more “serious” and “rock” period of The Who, it’s still an equal win-win: “Pinball Wizard”, “5:15”, “Who Are You” and so on.
This is a perfect gift for any Who fan you may know and love; it may be you’re like me and a hardcore completist – it doesn’t matter. The facts are simple and already etched in history: these are the songs that cemented a true legend. This is The Who. The way they were and will forever remain: powerful, brilliant and beautiful.
ESSENTIAL LISTENING – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Maximum As & Bs: The Complete Singles is currently available.