Take 5: John Entwistle

As critic John Swenson astutely observed in the 1979 edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, bassist John Entwistle “had the misfortune to be a good songwriter in a group (The Who) with a great one.” Here are five standout tunes from the pen of John Entwistle.

Heaven and Hell” – The Who recorded this Entwistle track in 1970 for BBC radio, and subsequently released it as a B-side of “Summertime Blues,” a live cut from The Who Live at Leeds. “Heaven and Hell” was a mainstay of the band’s live set for some time; The Who opened their Woodstock set with the song.

Success Story” – John Entwistle’s acerbic humor and storytelling skills come together perfectly for this superb track included on 1975’s The Who by Numbers. An amusing music video clip made for the song would be included in the motion picture documentary The Kids Are Alright, released in 1979.

Cell Number 7” – The four members of The Who found themselves in a Montreal, Canada jail cell in 1973; Entwistle wrote this witty reminiscence of the experience for 1975’s Mad Dog, his fourth solo album. The rock and roll revival-style cut features a spirited female backing chorus as well.

Trick of the Light” – Entwistle set aside his trademark sardonic humor and focused instead on themes of insecurity and self-doubt for this excellent deep cut from 1978’s Who Are You. The roaring guitar sound on this track is actually Entwistle’s thunderous eight-string bass guitar. “Trick of the Light” was released in the U.S. as a Who single, with another Entwistle track, “905” as the flip.

Too Late the Hero” – A 1981 album made with guitarist Joe Walsh, the bassist’s fifth solo album Too Late the Hero came in for critical dubbing. But this uncharacteristically emotional ballad nonetheless ranks among Entwistle’s most forthright songs. “Too Late the Hero” bubbled under on the U.S. singles charts, reaching #101; it fared a bit better in the UK, where it reached #76.