Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Going Mobile" / The Who

I'll admit that I have a love-hate thing going with the Who. I remember watching them on some groovy 60s TV show -- Shindig or Hullabaloo or, sheesh, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour -- and seeing Pete Townshend trash his guitar, and being totally perplexed. Tommy? Let's face it, album or movie, it was a great big pretentious sloppy mess. I completely missed the point of toothy Roger Daltrey being a sex symbol -- just because he had blond curls and wore his shirts unbuttoned? Puh-leeze. So obvious.

And yet I always got a kick out of Keith Moon -- when he exploded his drum set, it looked like a particularly delicious mad lark. And an awful lot of Who songs remain deeply imprinted on my song memory. The weird thing is, I can't always listen to those songs all the way through. Take "Baba O'Reilly," for example -- it starts off with that iconic synth riff and then a fantastic bass line, but when you get to the song itself it's not really distinctive at all. "The Song Is Over" starts with such a lovely wistful melodic line, but then they drive it into something pompous and anthemic that makes me yawn.

But I'm just going to have to get over it. I may not like the Who as much as the Kinks or the Beatles, or even -- oh, how it pains me to admit this -- the Rolling Stones, but they were a damn fine band. In a world where Coldplay and Jay-Z are considered major artists, I have to stop resenting that the Who made it bigger than the Kinks (or that the remaining half-Who can still book arenas when Ray Davies is playing mid-sized venues).

And so, even though the opening guitar riff of "Going Mobile" is CLEARLY ripped off from the Kinks' "Victoria," I have to confess I dig this song. What's it about? Uh, not much -- it's about liking to drive around in a car (apparently Pete Townshend was into driving aimlessly around). Somehow Townshend manages to give this an anti-establishment twist ("I'm going home / And when I say home / I'm going mobile"), although it's a little trite ("I can stop in any street / And talk with people that we meet"). But that rhythm section -- and the Who had hands-down the best rhythm section of any band ever -- just keeps that motor gunning, rollicking on and on until you don't really care where the ride takes you.

Is this Daltrey singing? The hard yelp of Daltrey's voice doesn't always work for me, but here he adds a good-humored swoop that sounds just fine. I can't help but picture a big-ass RV when he sings "Play the tape machine / Make the toast and tea / When I'm mobile / Well, I can lay in bed with only highway ahead" (but mind your usage, Pete -- it should be "lie" in bed). He may describe himself as a hippie gypsy" but he kinda blows it when he adds in a later verse "I don't care about pollution / I'm an air-conditioned gypsy." I have no idea whether he's being ironic -- but like I said, that propulsive rhythm line keeps us shifting gears too fast to care. It's about driving, for chrissake. I can't get hung up on whether he's making a social statement. It's a flippin' rock song, that's all.

Has anybody picked this up for a cellphone commercial yet? It's so perfect, someone must have. Even though it was written in 1971, way before cellphones, it sounds as fresh as if it had been written yesterday. Well, I'm cranking it up to eleven and enjoying it, anyhoo. Might as well give into it and get in touch with my inner Who fan.

Going Mobile sample


Uncle E said...

Good for you, Holly! But I always thought that was Pete singing the song, not the toothy caveman looking one...

Keith said...

It's Tonwnshend singing.

Best rhythym section? The Band beat The Who, Danko and Helm. Also, beating either is Return To Forever and their section of Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. Though Tony William's Lifetime, with Williams on drums and Jack Bruce on bass are also up there. Far ahead of The Who, powerful though Entwhistle and Moon were, I myself witnessed them live in England 1970. Wonderfully hard, but not the best by a long, long way.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, guys. I suspected it might be Pete on this one, but the love-hate thing has always prevented me from listening too closely.

I'm not familiar enough with Return to Forever or Tony William's Lifetime to compare them, Keith, but I'm willing to concede that the Band might be better. Maybe it's because there's so many other fascinations to listen to in a Band song, the rhythm section doesn't seem to carry things the way Entwhistle and Moon had to carry things with the Who. For all Townshend's histrionics, his guitar playing is pretty hamfisted half the time. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

avatar_ic said...

~ Um, good observations, Holly. But I think this song HAS been used in a commercial--I'm not just imagining it in my head as some stupid soundbyte. I can even hear the tagline now.
Of course, trying to seek out the source has paradoxically produced what's amounted to one rabbit hole of an internet search. So, what is it? T-Mobile? Verizon? F#%k. We're saturated in this sh#t all day long...and I can't even GO to the advertisers.
Pete Townshend may have imagined a world of stifling inter-connectivity. But he never dreamed of THIS kind of stupidity.


Matt in IC

Add'l ref:
Also see VHI Classic's rundown of the 'Who's Next' album

Holly A Hughes said...

How true, Matt -- I'd love to hear Townshend's take on it these days!