Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Who Polydor Singles Box Set

The Who Polydor Singles Box Set

After being put back several times, the concluding singles box set has finally arrived. It's a surprise on a few levels, the first being it's the largest tome of the four singles boxes, weighing in at 15 singles. The second being the time span, 1975 to 2015, that's 40 years! Although strictly speaking only 12 of those were Poydor years, and even one of the singles in that time period is a MCA release. The first three sets have made it into the essential purchase category, but surely this collection where A and B sides were culled from the last 5 studio and several live LP's render this set a vanity piece?

Let's take a listen, there are more surprises on the way...

1 - See Me, Feel Me - Listening To You / Overture
In true shambolic Who style, this box set kicks off with a single that wasn't even a Who release. Credited to Roger Daltrey & Chorus, the Tommy finale always sounded slightly abandoned in single form on my original (pictured left), and despite the abandonment of a picture sleeve with this disc, the better sounding Abbey Road Half Mastered re-issue here still sounds like a weird choice of single from the Tommy movie soundtrack. The B side however more than makes up for it, credited to Pete Townshend, this alternative Overture has an energy and zeal that is often missing from the soundtrack. This version later appeared on the CD re-issue of Ken Russell's colouful re-imagined Tommy, but here it sounds better than ever.

2 - Squeeze Box / Success Story
Like the latter track singles from the last box set, the original plastic injection labels of the 70's and 80's (foreground above) are no longer feasible along with the teeth that surround the label, these enabled the stacking on automatic turntables to stop the singles slipping on top of one another (playlist - old school). However, like the preceding singles sets, these are Half Speed Mastered at Abbey Road and in all but one case sound superior to the originals. Both of these songs were taken from the Who By Numbers LP and Squeeze Box is a song worn thin by compilations albums, live versions and varying degrees of shoddy covers at your local jam night. So I'm surprised just how fresh it sounds in single form here, with Roger's vocals in particular sounding like he's singing in my lounge.

3 - Who Are You / Had Enough
In previous sets I've bemoaned the lack of some of the original single mixes, fear not, this time we are all present and correct with the single edit of Who Are You here in all it's glory. I mean, that's the point of issuing these singles, right?

4 - Long Live Rock / I'm The Face - My Wife (live)
5 - 5:15 / I'm One
Tied in to the movies The Kids Are Alright & Quadrophenia, these singles from their respective films fill some well deserved gaps. Long Live Rock, originally from the "Odds & Sods" compilation which is absent from the re-issue program, sounds better than I've heard it elsewhere. Whilst the B side I'm The Face isn't quite up to the reissue of the Fontana version (from the Brunswick Box), possible due to vying for vinyl space with a live version of "My Wife". As with any single or EP, to get a more tracks or time on it you have to reduce the volume as you are cutting the grooves closer together. The live version of My Wife that follows it was recorded at the highly regarded 77 Kilburn Show.
5:15 is the remixed and re-recorded bass version along with the remixed I'm One that John prepared for the Quadrophenia soundtrack album in 1979.

6 - You Better You Bet / The Quiet One
Again the single mix on the A side, although both the single & album versions were available on the original releases, I know because I have both. The disc pictured top right is the original single mix version, to the left is the rear cover of an album version, both were pressed in England. While below is the cover for the vastly superior sounding Poydor Box Set single.

7 - Don't Let Go The Coat / You
Many an evening in the eighties we would argue that this was the worst Who single ever. It isn't as we shall see shortly, however it's certainly worth moving swiftly onto the B side to listen too one of John's best recorded bass sounds on record.

8 - Athena /  A Man Is A Man
One of the most underrated Who singles in my opinion, I always thought it came alive in single format and it doesn't disappoint here. Pictured here with the original above and the rather elegant but noisy picture disc beside it.

9 - Eminence Front / It's Your Turn
Whilst this release never got off the cutting lathe, one of the finest moments of It's Hard continues to make appearances on TV shows and in sports arenas to this day. Yet again John's bass sounds HUGE and as with all these singles, the drums sound and feel like drums. Issued in this box set for the first time with the original planned artwork.

10 - Twist & Shout / I Can't Explain
You know that worst single discussion I mentioned earlier, well this is where the arguing stopped. This is the sort of thing that artists do to fulfil their contracts. Not a Polydor release, here are both versions on the MCA label, with the spanking new and better sounding disc below.

11 - Won't Get Fooled Again / Bony Moronie
The single edit version that was re-released in 1988 to go with yet another compilation (Who's Better, Who's Best). Like the version on the Track box set I prefer the original single release, it just seems to have more presence and dynamics.  The B side Bony Moronie was at the time a glimpse into the archives, recorded at one of the Young Vic Lifehouse shows which has been subsequently released on CD. Whilst it's a rough & tumble version, it's never sounded so good as it does here. My neighbours think the Who have moved in. 

12 - Join Together (live) / I Can See For Miles (live) - Behind Blue Eyes (live)
Surprisingly better than you thought, yes the 25th Anniversary tour was a kind of Vegas cast of thousands approach, but the extra dynamics here that are missing from the thin CD album, along with the first two songs being an unusual inclusion into your usual bog standard OO set, that leaves a pleasant taste on the ear palate.

What is clear at this point if you've been following Matt Kent's rather fine liner notes in the booklet that accompanies this set, is that along with the 7" releases, there were some 12" versions that had some sexier track options than some of the offerings here. Rather than another single edit of Won't Get Fooled Again that was re-released in the Track box, maybe the live version of Dancing In The Street; recorded Dec 79 and taken from the same single 12", would have been a preferable substitute? Like previous sets, authenticity has generally ruled over diversity, you could make good arguments for either but I'll let the former have it's day here.

13 - Real Good Looking Boy / Old Red Wine
14 - Wire & Glass EP, Six Songs From A Mini-Opera / Mirror Door
Real Good Looking Boy in it's edited form sounded so good on the Who Hits 50 Lp that I was really looking forward to this single with the full version, it didn't disappoint. Both this and the flip have so much more dynamics than the digital release versions, that really hit you where it feels good. Anyone who thought the Who's recording career was over were kicked in the gooleys by the Wire & Glass EP. The single edit of the Six Songs from a Mini-Opera and the original, albeit substandard mix (compared to the album version) of Mirror Door are all present here in glorious analogue, and sound better for it too.

15 - Be Lucky / I Can't Explain
Originally released as a one sided 7" single (top right) and then as a blue vinyl record store day version (top left) backed with I Can't Explain, the new Abbey Road Half Speed Mastered single in this Poydor Boxset  sounds better than it's 2 fore-bearers, the guitar in particular cuts through the house like a axe windmilling madman.

Before it hit the mat, I was pretty sure this set was not going to make the essential purchase standard of the first three. I was wrong, and this package, like the others, continues to show the real validity and power of the single. The Who's 7 inch body of work is just as every bit essential as their album output, if you don't have these sets then you are missing out on the quality & fidelity of The Who, warts an all.

So to neatly wrap up The Who's Single Boxset Re-Issues:-

Often heard argument 1 - The Who are an album band.
Answer - Wrong, go to the beginning and start again. (Brunswick, Reaction, Track review)

Often heard argument 2 - I bought them the first time round.
Answer - With a couple of exceptions, these sound vastly superior to the original pressings.

The Who's single's box sets are a triumph.