Listen: Substitute / The Who
Substitute / The Who
I missed the junior prom because of this record. My childhood sweetheart girlfriend Marianne was an Anglophile like me, most kids were back then really. But the two of us, we were hardcore.
Basically, as soon as I’d get home from school on Fridays I would head to Smith’s Records in Oneida, either on my bike or my Dad would drive me, bless him. Mrs. Smith gave me her week old Billboard magazines like clockwork, and I’d always buy something as well. Occasionally, one of the special orders we’d put through would actually show up. And every time, she’d buy two extras for the shop. Usually either my two friends, Mark or Denny, or Marianne, would buy those copies. Some pretty great things ended up in our collections that way, like The Pink Floyd ‘The Gnome’, The Yardbirds ‘Ten Little Indians’ or The Pretty Things ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’.
On this particular day in May ’66, I was shocked to discover that ‘Substitute’ had come in, only a week after placing the special order. Most records never did turn up as Mrs. Smith was forced to buy from a one-stop, and they’d pretty much stick to the mainstream hits. You had to be set up direct with the major labels to get their obscure non-hits. Being a tiny Mom & Pop store, she could never do enough business for them to be opened up as a direct client. Hence always a surprise when an obscurity arrived at Smith’s.
I tore into her little listening booth seconds after she handed me the single saying “One of your records came in” upon entering the shop. My insides knotted up. I’d wanted this single so much, having seen it scale the UK charts those previous few weeks. The seconds it took to get it out of the sleeve and onto the thick spindle of the automatic turntable, then waiting for it to drop and the tonearm to connect felt like fucking minutes. Half way through, I was losing it. ‘Substitute’ was so good.
That wasn’t to be the last claustrophobic meltdown I’d have in that little booth let me tell you.
The Who were very left of center to programmers then, not having a US hit until the next year with ‘Happy Jack’. They got no airplay to speak of nationally but our crazy local Top 40, WOLF, played all their singles (click on chart below to enlarge). This US only version has the lyric “I look all white but my Dad was black” swapped out for “I try moving forward but my feet walk back”. ‘Substitute,’ being the only US single by The Who available on Atco (6409), was issued with a far superior mix than any other version ever – hands down.
A year or so later, they re-released ‘Substitute’ (as Atco 6509) although via a safer, not so wild mix. Well I think it’s the mix but it may indeed be a less hot, less bright mastering. Neither version has ever appeared on a compilation that I know of.
I called Marianne from the shop, told her it had come in and we ended up spending that evening listening to the single over and over and over. True. We missed the prom.