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Meaty, Beaty Big and Bouncy
The Who

Decca 79184
Released: November 1971
Chart Peak: #11
Weeks Charted: 21
Certified Gold: 1/17/72

While most Who devotees are still splashing about in that remarkable bucket of bubbly, Who's Next, the fearless four who, quite some time ago demonstrated that they are not above doing practically anything, show that they too have fallen under the spell of nostalgia. What this album really amounts to is a perfect excuse to take some of those old Who 45's which have been cluttering up your record rack and consign them to a purely decorative pile. Yes, this is as close to a Who's Greatest Hits package as there is likely to be. Some of their earliest work can be found here -- items like "Happy Jack," "I Can't Explain" and "A Legal Matter." And if you don't believe that at one time Townshend and Co. sounded more than a little like the Beatles, have a listen to "The Kids Are Alright" and draw your own conclusions. Middle-years stuff such as "I Can See For Miles" and "The Magic Bus," both of which employed more complicated instrumental patterns than the early compositions, are particularly interesting to listen to now in the light of what has come after. And speaking of that, "Pinball Wizard" and "The Seeker" are here too. John Entwhistle fans will applaud the inclusion of "Boris The Spider," which til now has been one of the most overlooked Who songs on record. "Boris" is significant because it foreshadowed the music which John was able to gather together in his Smash Your Head Against The Wall album. But we don't mean to dwell on the historical nature of this LP. The Who are the Who and their songs stand up despite time.

- Ed Kelleher, Circus, 2/72.

Bonus Reviews!

The title should hold the Rolling Stones in check for a while. The disc is really a "greatest hits" (or greatest something) collection, a point Decca chose not to emphasize in the packaging, the only hint being the song titles in tiny print on the back of the jacket. That's probably enough for Who fans, however. Anyone else who listens to the album will become a Who fan, if he can tolerate rock at all, for this is a cross-section of the work of one of the best rock bands that ever existed. It shows, I think, from "Magic Bus" to "Pinball Wizard" and "The Seeker," that the Who always understood what rock is and, more importantly, what it is not -- which means they've always been conscious they were working within a genre. This hasn't constricted their work, but rather liberated it. Their vocal and instrumental inventiveness, and Peter Townshend's unorthodox song themes (listen again to "I'm a Boy" and "Substitute"), prove that. If you've been putting off introducing yourself to the Who, the time has come; you won't likely find this many goodies in one basket again.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 3/72.

The key to the Who's success is gold and this, their latest LP, will follow the golden path of their previous albums. One of the most appealing things about the Who is their ability to lay down a total sound. Rich arrangements, luxurious harmony and skillful musicians. That's the Who. Who else?

- Billboard, 1972.

The Who's singles from way back ("I Can't Explain" was cut in 1965 and has Jimmy Page on rhythm guitar) to right now ("The Seeker" was released in 1970). Several of the cuts are however different takes of earlier numbers -- "I'm A Boy" for instance has John Entwistle on French horn and is a longer version of the original 1965 single. Also "Magic Bus" is different from the Magic Bus LP track and the Live at Leeds cut. An interesting excursion into the Who's history and, for new fans, an absolute must.

- Hit Parader, 4/72.

If the building block of rock is the single, it follows that a collection of great bricks makes a building I'd want to inhabit. I see nothing wrong with anthologies except the price.

- Charles M. Young, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.

In England, this is a greatest hits album. In the U.S., where some of these songs have never been released and most have never made the charts, it's a mishmash revelation. The programming defies comprehension -- why not try to get the mod anthems on one side and the loonies on the other, or go for chronology? But I'd love it if only for "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," which in 1965 redefined the punk machismo of "Blue Suede Shoes" and "The Wanderer" against the pioneering break-'em-up feedback that has rarely been surpassed. Also welcome are the original "Substitute," the self-explanatory "I Can't Explain," and songs about masturbation, dressing up like a girl, and other spiritual quests. A-

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

The Who were the garage rock singles band of the British Invasion, making this compilation of those singles almost an essential rock album. "I Can't Explain," "Pictues of Lily," "My Generation," "Pinball Wizard," "Magic Bus," "I Can See for Miles," "Substitute," and "Anywhere, Anyhow, Anywhere" rank with the best releases of their era. Townshend has called it "the greatest of Who albums" noting that "it reminds... [the band]... who we really are." Sadly, the CD's sound is inconsistent, but is generally very compressed, often abrasive, and distorted, muddy, and afflicted with constant, noticeable hiss. It's still wonderful. A-

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Until Keith Moon died, shaking everyone but his surviving bandmates back to their senses, most fans of the Who considered Moon and his collaborators, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwhistle, ongoing geniuses. Indeed, the Who gave us some fine music in the seventies. Who's Next is a titanic and still-unequaled expansion of what the marriage of rock and technology might yield, Quadrophenia is half-great, and subsequent tracks like "Who Are You," suggested that rumors about their being washed up might be premature. But facts are facts: The group reached their apex by 1971, and the downhill slide (which, alas, did not end upon Moon's demise) was inexorable and depressing. Throughout the seventies and the eighties, Townshend and company sought to curry critical favor by reaching into their archives and showing how deep their catalog was. The only problem was than nearly all the material from the vaults worth bringing out was recorded before 1971.

The Who in the seventies were indecisive and inconsistent; through the eighties and into the nineties they are a joke. But in their first seven years, they could rise to heights just shy of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy is a definitive survey of this period.

Except for Who's Next and maybe Live at Leeds and Tommy, none of the Who's albums were stirring from beginning to end. The Who were primarily a live band, and on record they were (discussing them in past tense may be wishful thinking) primarily a singles band. Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy collects nearly every great non-Tommy track the Who recorded prior to Who's Next. "A Quick One While He's Away," a nine-minute proto-Tommy, is the only exception. This isn't a greatest-hits set, at least for U.S. fans -- only one of these fourteen numbers, "I Can See for Miles," was a Top Ten hit -- yet it is a superb display of how this band that started out playing loud, adequate versions of soul hits quickly developed into a louder, groundbreaking unit. This is not a cross-section of major tracks; this is damn near everything from the period that matters.

Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy starts with the scratchy guitar chords of "I Can't Explain" and bounces around with Moon's unpredictable drums that break every existing rule about tempo and meter yet always show up on time. Moon dances around the song and band, taunting both, daring them to follow him, always resolving his own messes. The feedback pyrotechnics of Townshend and Entwhistle and the macho histrionics of Daltrey are simply their brave attempts to be heard above Moon. (Everyone, including the man himself, calls Townshend a genius, but Moon led this band, which goes a long way toward explaining why the group turned rudderless as he was more and more unable to contribute, finally abandoning them.)

They all did get heard, and perhaps a quarter of a century later what is most impressive about these songs are the taboo or absurd subjects they tackle: "Pictures of Lily" is explicitly about masturbation; "The Seeker" and "Substitute" are about debunking myths, rock and otherwise; "A Legal Matter" tells of a creep who impregnates his girlfriend and swiftly skedaddles; "I'm a Boy" tells of a child forced by his mother to cross-dress; and Entwhistle's only song here is about trying to kill a spider. These issues were hardly addressed at all in pop before the Who, and never in such detail or wise humor. On Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy, a young, brash band creates a new world.

- Jimmy Guterman, The Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time, 1992.

The first halfway-decent retrospective on the group, covering their American singles as of 1972, including "I Can See for Miles," "My Generation," "The Magic Bus," "The Seeker," and a lot of other material that subsequently became staples of FM radio. * * * * *

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

Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy collects "My Generation," "Substitute," "Magic Bus," "I Can't Explain" and all the Who's exhilarating 60s singles. * * * * *

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

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