Above all, this is a fascinating glimpse into a time when pop bands were given free...
Rob Webb 2002
As an albums band, the Who didn't peak until the early Seventies. Their mid-Sixties offerings, A Quick One and Sell Out, are both charming examples of a band shaking off their Mod image.
Before the band began recording A Quick One, their co-manager, Chris Stamp, negotiated a deal providing each member with an advance of £500, on condition they all contributed songs to the album (in 1966 this was a small fortune for any 21-year-old: Roger Daltrey splashed out on a Saint-style Volvo). And so this variety showcase includes Keith Moon's humorous ''Cobwebs and Strange'', a wonky marching tune complete with orchestral cymbals, trumpets and sousaphone, and ''I Need You'', during which Moon lapses into a John Lennon impersonation. Daltrey pays tribute to Buddy Holly on the forgettable ''See My Way''. John Entwistle throws in a couple of songs about whisky and spiders. His creepy ditty ''Boris the Spider'' remained an audience favourite for years.
The highlight on this album, however, is Pete Townshends sprawling title track, originally the albums closing number. Its almost ten minutes long: extraordinary, in the days of three-minute throwaways. Not even the Beatles had recorded anything as long. The reason for this is less artistic bravado than plain pragmatism. After the band had cut the available tracks for the album, Townshend, always the primary composer within the group, was requested to fill the remaining minutes to push the running time over half an hour. ''A Quick One While He's Away'' is Townshend's first attempt at a rock opera, perhaps the first in pop music. It's a suite of six episodes, comprising a simple tale of an unfaithful wife who has a quick leg-over with a lover called Ivor and is happily absolved by her husband. Each is a self-contained song, the whole spliced together in much the same way as Abbey Road's long medley would be, three years later. This was an audacious concept in 1966 and, although the track now sounds clunky and awkward, its fascinating to hear Townshend setting out on the path that would eventually lead to Tommy and Quadrophenia.
There are no hit singles here, although included on this reissue is a terrific acoustic version of ''Happy Jack'', their hit from late 1966. The other bonus tracks pick up songs originally found on the Ready Steady Who! EP: a rollicking version of the Batman theme and a couple of ill-advised surfing throwbacks, Jan and Dean's "Bucket T" and a harmonious version of the Regents' 1961 hit "Barbara Ann". A Quick One is the sound of four young lads having fun: slipping into boutique clothes to see what fits and what looks sharp. Above all, this is a fascinating glimpse into a time when pop bands were given free reign to try virtually anything.