Pete Townshend is best known as the guitarist and visionary songwriter for The Who. But Townshend plays all manner of instruments, and even in the earliest days of the band he created multitrack demos of his songs in his home studio. And Pete launched a solo career to showcase material that didn’t fit neatly into The Who’s body of work. His first solo album, Who Came First was released 50 years ago. Here are five deep cuts that display some of the best Pete Townshend solo material.
“Street in the City” In 1977 Townshend embarked upon a rare collaborative project. Rough Mix was a homespun, understated album made with Faces guitarist/bassist Ronnie Lane. The folk-rock flavored record flew under the commercial radar; in fact it was the fourth album the duo had made together. This track stands apart from the rest of the record thanks to its sophisticated orchestration.
“The Sea Refuses No River” One of Townshend’s most sweeping, dramatic and emotional compositions is this song, the second track on his idiosyncratic 1982 LP, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. The album was poorly received on original release but has enjoyed a well-deserved critical reassessment in later years.
“Crashing by Design” Following on from earlier narrative works like The Who’s Tommy and the aborted Lifehouse project, Townshend made a film/album in 1985. White City: A Novel featured superb contributions from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour on two tracks, but this overlooked cut is one of the record’s strongest songs, with strong lyrics and searing guitar work.
“English Boy” Townshend released his last solo album of new material in 1993 – nearly 30 years ago –and on its release Psychoderelict was widely panned. The conceptual/narrative work is no Quadrophenia, but it’s still fascinating and engaging, and contains some excellent music. Echoing both The Who’s “Join Together” and “Eminence Front,” the opening track “English Boy” sets the tone for the quasi-autobiographical album.
“Save it for Later” Townshend has only rarely recorded or performed songs by other artists, making the choice of this 1982 hit by ska heroes The (English) Beat all the more special. The song was a staple of Pete’s concerts fronting his supergroup Deep End in the mid 1980s.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4000-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he is co-teaching a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, is available now from HoZac Books. Read even more about him here.