Monday 2 December 2019

Who's Next versus Sticky Fingers

Both these albums come from 1971 and mark a point where the careers changed direction and these two bands vied for the title of "The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World".

For The Rolling Stones, their contract at Decca had ended, as had their management relationship with Allen Klein, and they now had the freedom to organise their own affairs.  They formed their own Rolling Stones Records company, with the intention of owning and controlling their copyrights and recordings.
However, the relationship with Klein was not completely over as he retained control of all their Decca recordings up to 1969 (including the 1970 Live album 'Get Your Yas Yas Out').
The first product of this new label came in April 1971 with the release of the single "Brown Sugar", followed a week later by the 'Sticky Fingers' album.  They took their blues influences, the country influences, and their live experience, mixed it all up and delivered 12 tracks of supreme quality.  The bass and drums are as tight as ever (if not at their tightest), Mick and Keith spar in perfect harmony, and Mick Taylor's soloing is top notch throughout - there is an argument (unresloved) that Taylor deserved a co-writing credit for at least 2 tracks here where his input changed the direction of the original songs ("Sway" and "Moonlight Mile"), and certainly for "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" where his solo constitutes around half the song.
Sadly for Mick Taylor, that co-write credit has never happened.

The Who had come off the back of sustained touring and success of 'Tommy', and recently put out the 'Live At Leeds' album - this had confirmed their position as an incendiary live proposition.
Never one without ambition, Pete Townsend began working on his next concept album - Lifehouse.
Pete was unable to fully convey the story to his bandmates and producers, and very likely got a bit lost in the madness of it all.
'Who's Next' was effectively a "salvage job" by producer Glyn Johns of the Lifehouse songs, but without the concept/narrative arc Pete intended.  And what a salvage job it was - Pete Townsend has explained, re-explained, and sometimes become obseesed by his Lifehouse vision, but would it have been a better album than this one?  It would have to be something special to out-gun 'Who's Next'.

Are these the best albums either band ever released?  Very probably.
I would argue the merits of 'Quadrophenia' over 'Who's Next', but that's my opinion - you're entitled to your own opinion (but you'd be wrong!)
Others may argue that 'Exile On Main Street' eclipses 'Sticky Fingers'.
I often found that, due to it being a double album, 'Exile ..' can outstay it's welcome, and for it's brevity 'Sticky Fingers' is indeed the Stones peak.

'Who's Next' has one track less than 'Sticky Fingers', so to to ensure a fair fight "Pure and Easy" has been added at track 2 (which is where I think it may have sat in the Lifehouse story (or at least, my interpretation of how the Lifehouse story flows))

"Baba O'Riley" vs "Brown Sugar"
Hmm ... this isn't going to be easy.
2 tracks which vie for the title of Greatest Opening Tracks ... ever.
"Baba O'Riley" with it's burbling synth and shared vocal between Rog and Pete is a phenomenal piece of work.
But then, "Brown Sugar" is just about the greatest guitar riff committed to vinyl.
It's close, but "Brown Sugar" takes it by a nose - purely for it's immediacy - "Baba" takes a little while to get going, "Brown Sugar" is right there in yer face
Who 0 Stones 1

"Pure And Easy" vs "Sway"
After those openers, "Pure and Easy" sounds a little lightweight, but it has enough about it to question why it never actually made the final cut.
"Sway" is the Stones at their ragged best.  Mick Jagger's (near) slurred delivery carries the song, and there is so much going on behind it.  Not least Mick Taylor's fine solo in the middle.
"Sway" is the victor here
Who 0 Stones 2

"Bargain" vs "Wild Horses"
"Bargain" has just about everything going for it - it is recognisably The Who.  The guitar, bass and drums come together perfectly to compliment Roger's vocal.
But ... "Wild Horses"is just dripping with emotion (achingly beautiful?).
It looks like Mick n Keef n Mick n Bill n Charlie are running away with this.
Who 0 Stones 3

"Love Ain't for Keeping" vs "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
On first hearing, "Love Aint For Keeping" sounds a bout filler-y/throwaway.  Listen again - it's a a necessary party of the 'Who's Next ' whole.  There is so much going on behind the track.
"Can't You Hear Me Knocking" runs for over 7 minutes and is dominated by Mick Taylor's guitar.  Problem is it never really goes anywhere, or indeed concludes itself.Brilliant though it is, you do find your attention wandering as the guitar and Bobby Key's sax fight it out.
The 'Oo get one back
Who 1 Stones 3

"My Wife" vs "You Gotta Move"
The point for "Love Ain't For Keeping" is aided by it's almost seamless mood and style transition into "My Wife".  Not part of the original Lifehouse concept, but keeping up the tradition of having at least 1 John Entwistle track per album, this one is, without a doubt, the best track he penned for The Who.
In comparison, the Stones go deep into swampy blues territory.  All well and good, but it can't surpass The Ox's masterpiece
Who 2 Stones 3

"The Song Is Over" vs "Bitch"
"The Song Is Over" is a fine song and one that would fair better if Pete's Lifehouse vision could've been fully realised.
But up against "Bitch" ... Sure, it may not be an un-adulterated Stones classic (when did you lat hear it on the radio?), but it has got so much groove (and plenty to spare) and that horn section is damn near perfect.
Who 2 Stones 4

"Getting in Tune" vs "I Got the Blues" 
"I Got The Blues" is another aching Blues workout, nearly pulling the same emotion trick as "Wild Horses" and adopting a similar horn trick to "Bitch", but for me never quite does it.
"Getting In Tune" is a showcase for Roger's vocal, and the power of his voice over the lead guitar, lead bass and lead drums all fighting for attention win this one through.
Who 3 Stones 4

"Going Mobile" vs "Sister Morphine"
"Going Mobile" almost nicks it's introduction from Christie's "Yellow River", but after that (and this might be partly down to Pete's vocal) it all feels a bit flat
"Sister Morphine" was originally a Marianne Faithful track a couple of years before (featuring much the same band) - the Stones version just adds a dollop of sleaze.  This is one intense track.
Who 3 Stones 5

"Behind Blue Eyes" vs "Dead Flowers"
Right, in any normal competition, 'Dead Flowers' would be unassailable.  But this is up against "Behind Blue Eyes".
And there is so much going on - the opening vulnerability, rising to an anger (especially in the second section)"Behind Blue Eyes" finds Roger inhabiting the song character and shows extreme vulnerability and anger in equal measure.  Great track, great playing, great performance ... and another point for The Who
Who 4 Stones 5

"Won't Get Fooled Again" vs "Moonlight Mile"
"Won't Get Fooled Again" meets the criteria of always close on an epic" ... and then some.
"Moonlight Mile" is a fine piece of work, always threatening to explode somewhere and then always reining itself in.  And the strings are a bit tasty too.  But I'm not totally convinced it's an album closer.
I'm tipping my hat to The Who again,
Who 5 Stones 5

It's a draw.  An honourable draw perhaps.
But, that's no good.  You came here to find out which is best.
So how do we do this ... do we roll forward to their next album's ('Exile On Main Street' and 'Quadrophenia')? I've sort of done that above.
Consider the merits of their previous live albums?  Both essential documents of these bands live performances, and of no help whatsoever in declaring supremacy.
Or .. as I'm writing this tosh, do I get the deciding vote?

Both these are probably their best albums, but 'Sticky Fingers' can flag in a couple of places over it's 40-odd minutes.  By comparison, 'Who's Next' is a corker from Soup To Nuts - it starts at the top, and finishes on an even higher plain.  And the stuff in the middle is more than decent.  For it's consistency I have to award the victory to 'Who's Next'

My Wife

Dead Flowers (Live at The Marquee).
A version that leaves you in no doubt just how good a guitar player Mick Taylor is/was


  1. Great post, and the right verdict, I reckon.

  2. "Love Ain't for Keeping" vs "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" - The Stones track is the best. Otherwise, you're OK.