Listen: Happy Jack / The Who WhoHappyJack.mp3
Pull this out and give it a spin. You’re bound to say, “Man I have not heard this in ages”. Well, my guess is you’ll say that. I loved all the singles up through and including ‘Pictures Of Lily’. Then came ‘I Can See For Miles’. Something about that one, it was good but didn’t hit dead center. Was a first real understanding of my body’s reaction to music. ‘I Can See For Miles’ may have been the record that set the template for an A&R career years later: if I didn’t love it – chances were good it’d be a huge hit. Hey, as long as you know how to read the indicators, that’s all that really matters. ‘I Can See For Miles’ was in fact their only ever US Top 10. Hard to believe I know.
Back then, The Who weren’t much different than The Small Faces or The Move when it came to US radio. You never heard them. Yeah radio was much better in the 60′s, but still fairly narrow. These bands just didn’t get national airplay – if they were lucky, regional exposure was usually the extent of it and then maybe a crossover….leads me to an interesting memory about The Who.
I and my Anglophile friends religiously bought every single by The Who. My teenage girlfriend and I missed our junior prom the night I got ‘Substitute’ it was so good – we just played it over and over and fiddled about, as someone once coined. It was the plan anyways.
There were a few shops around town that would get two to five copies of the non hits, or hopeful to be hits – like Walt’s Records or Smith’s Records or that huge record department in WT Grant’s on Salina Street in Syracuse. So starting with ‘I Can’t Explain’, we bought ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’, every single right through and including the immaculate ‘Substitute’, ‘I’m A Boy’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and this one, the psychedelic ‘Happy Jack’, which actually did crack the Billboard chart peaking at #24 in ’67. A few years later when TOMMY was released, everyone noticed a rock opera similarity between that and it’s predecessor, The Pretty Things S.F. SORROW, still we listened to them both regularly during several weekend Parcheesi matches. The Who finally made a return visit after opening for Herman’s Hermits a few years earlier. Even though in my opinion the glow of those earlier singles had dimmed down noticeably, of course I went along. TOMMY admittedly wasn’t bad.
After the show, a few of us waited around for autographs, brought albums, singles, the works. I wasn’t quite as fussed and brought nothing, but seriously, was there something better to do in Syracuse as a teenager than possibly say hello to The Who? When my best friend Denny went up to Pete Townshend proudly with his MY GENERATION album to get signed, the guy turned his nose away, dismissiveley refusing to sign anything. He proceeded to make his way toward their station wagon with band members including Keith Moon and Roger Daltry already inside waiting. Even Keith Moon jumped out of the car to oblige, looking at Pete with a ‘you asshole’ glare, I couldn’t resist. So I spoke up.
“Pete, you know those few copies of the older singles you used to sell in towns like this prior to your hits, we were were the kids that bought them.” As the car pulled away, plain as day, I recall him hanging out the window, wearing a coat that looked like a piece of ghastly ornate drapery, middle finger on both hands projecting at me and shouting “you got a show for your $6 prick”.
Hmm. Not really, you didn’t play any of the aforementioned songs I came to hear. Not one. Still it was rude, certainly embarrassing and I never bought another record by The Who. Big deal, basically my bitterness toward he and unfairly the other guys in The Who went unnoticed and I’m sure Pete Towshend never lost a wink of sleep because of me.
About thirty years later, his keepers were doing the rounds of labels trying to hawk a new, not very good Pete Townshend album. I was at Columbia then but decided to pass on the record, or more specifically on him, his talent to write those gems long ago withered in my opinion. Still, it was a very hard call. You’d be a fool to not want to work with Pete Townshend. Honestly, he is a higher form of life but I’d experienced his temper. Once bitten, twice shy.
‘Happy Jack’ really is a terrific single.