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The Kids Are Alright
The Who

MCA 11005 [2]
Released: June 1979
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 25
Certified Platinum: 10/5/79

How could the Who have released an album called The Kids Are Alright without including the original version of the song of the same name? Long unavailable, appearing only on the British pressings of the Who's first album, it featured a broken, disorienting guitar solo (Lindsey Buckingham's work in the middle of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" is the single analogue) that Pete Townshend has never since matched. No doubt this revelatory moment was omitted from the American version of My Generation because the Who's label thought those strange explosions were some sort of engineer's mistake (who knew what feedback was in 1966?); today they sound like the last echoes from a lost world.

One good source has told me Townshend now denies the solo ever existed. The weekly ads in the back pages of New Musical Express, offering bizarre prices for original copies of that first LP, attest that it did. Indeed, I have the record myself -- I just played it, and the solo is still there -- and no one will ever get it away from me. Has Townshend forgotten? Does he think he can rewrite history? Is this really what Meher Baba was talking about all those years?

The Who - The Kids Are Alright
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Such objections aside, The Kids Are Alright, a double-album soundtrack to the recently released documentary film, is an okay record. It's not the definitive Who collection -- there have already been a few botched attempts at that -- but a solid retrospective, very mainstream, with hardly a hint of the eccentricity that, at least in the early years, had as much to do with the group's identity as violence and noise. The Kids Are Alright lacks only excitement and surprise.

Most cuts come from concerts or TV programs. The set begins with a version of "My Generation" taken from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (the emcee's intro is charmingly stupid, the performance foreshortened). There follow eighteen more tunes, some sandwiched into medleys. The finale is a live "Won't Get Fooled Again," complete with muddy sound and a very big scream from Roger Daltrey. The last number has become the most tiresome "anthem" of the decade, and the heat the band puts into it here doesn't rescue it from its own clichés: the political clichés that were there in the lyrics all along, or the musical ideas that have long since grown stale.

Low points include "Long Live Rock," which has not exactly grown with the years, and the inevitable Tommy side (saved -- and shamed -- by the much-bootlegged Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus version of "A Quick One"). High points include John Entwistle's indestructible "My Wife" and a Ready Steady Go! take (or lipsync?) of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere." "New" music consists of a snatch of "Roadrunner" and a medley squeeze of something called "My Generation Blues," which is not stunning.

Sorry -- this is just not a knockout punch, or really any kind of statement. The reliance of The Kids Are Alright on the familiar and the enshrined makes the Who's career seem much more obvious than it was (before Tommy, it was mainly weird), and that distances an old fan. Despite (or because of) Keith Moon's death, I can't find it in my heart to feel very sentimental about the band. I still cherish the Who's ability to surprise the world, and I'm still waiting to find out what the next surprise will be.

- Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone, 8-21-79.

Bonus Reviews!

As you probably know by now, The Kids Are Alright, Jeff Stein's documentary on the Who (completed just before Keith Moon's death), was made from the point of view of a committed, missionary Who freak, and in that context it succeeds beyond even my own fondest expectations. I think it would be impossible for anyone of any age with even a passing interest in rock-and-roll to come away from it without having reached the conclusion that the Who did it all first and best, and that they were the greatest rock-and-roll band that ever was or will be.

As a portrait of the band, the movie is just about perfect. It's visually breathtaking, poignant, funny (the "Happy Jack" promo sequence, with the band cavorting as Dickensian spivs, and a bit where Entwistle goes skeet-shooting with his gold records are themselves worth the price of admission), and ultimately inspirational. The Who have changed a lot of lives, and the film makes it pretty clear why.

The soundtrack album works wonderfully, too, functioning as a sort of combination Greatest Hits, live album, and authorized bootleg. There's a lot of rare stuff (mostly from TV appearances, including a stunning "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" from the height of their Mod period) as well as some brand-new concert recordings staged specifically for the project. The band draws blood with passion and commitment; "Baba O'Reilly" and, in particular, "Won't Get Fooled Again" have a majesty about them that is sure to raise goose bumps on at least two continents.

In short, this set is not simply a souvenir, but rather a superb overview of the work of a band that will still be making great music when pretenders like the Jam are back at the English equivalent of the car wash. As Townshend himself says n the movie's final scene, "Any of you little buggers want this guitar, you're going to have to come up and take it from me." Not likely.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 9/79.

This is the soundtrack LP of a new film about the Who. With a couple of exceptions, the double disk LP contains the same songs as the film, which includes just about all of the most famous tunes of the most explosive rock band of the last 15 years. The LP features songs originally recorded during the group's television appearances, some as early as 1965 and 1966, when the sound quality was not as good as it is now. But obviously a great deal of work has gone into cleaning up the tracks. Mixed with newer, state of the art recordings, it gives the LP a historical perspective. This is a very strong record. Best cuts: "My Generation," "I Can't Explain," "Long Live Rock," "Young Man Blues," "Tommy, Can You Hear Me," "Pinball Wizard," "See Me Feel Me," "My Generation Blues," "Won't Get Fooled Again."

- Billboard, 1979.

I prefer the originals, but this isn't a bad sampler. All of the songs are good, many are classics, and the relative roughness of performance has its attractions even if the relative roughness of sound doesn't (most of them are from live dates never intended for vinyl). One thing I'd like to know, though -- if he's so "vital," how come twelve of the fifteen Townshend compositions are from the '60s? B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Soundtrack to a dazzling video portrait of the band, better in many ways than any of the hits collections out of the group for the surprises and odd takes that it contains. * * * *

- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The soundtrack from the film The Kids Are Alright is a charming, funny collection of outtakes and concert weirdness, including highlights from the band's Woodstock performance. * * *

- Steve Knopper, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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