“When I Was a Boy”: Adulthood Stinks

Music fans who only know The Who through their album releases are sadly depriving themselves of a whole other world of Who music:  their non-LP tracks.  And not just singles and EP tracks but also bootlegged/pirated versions of great recordings that, for whatever reason, were officially kept in the can.  What a revelation, for instance, to discover the existence of an alternative version of beloved album — The Who Sell Out, a pastiche of AM radio complete with phony ads & station IDs — that includes two great obscure originals (“Early Morning Cold Taxi” and “Jaguar”), as well as studio versions of two cover songs made famous on their Live at Leeds album (“Young Man Blues” & “Summertime Blues”), plus one that wasn’t (Eddie Cochran’s lesser-known, “My Way”).  How interesting to learn, as I did just now, that Keith Moon did the lead vocal on “Jaguar”!

Al Kooper plays organ on this 45-only version of ‘Who Sell Out’ album track

In recent years, many of these non-LP recordings have been used by MCA as bait to get fans to buy yet another CD reissue of The Who’s back catalog, but you know what?  The remixed and remastered versions of these “bonus tracks” sound dreadful and overly fiddled with.  Thank goodness I didn’t do anything hasty to my bootleg & pirate recordings — where they got the mix right the first time.  Can you tell how annoyed I am when record companies remix musical recordings, not because they should but because they can?

John Entwistle would later gather 11 of these wayward, album-less recordings, such as “Little Billy” (written for the American Cancer Society, who ultimately passed on it), “Glow Girl” and “Faith in Something Bigger,” et al. – and issue these orphans as Odds and Sods.  However, many more interesting songs are out there waiting to be rediscovered, and the better bootleg albums, such as Who’s Zoo and From Lifehouse to Leeds, are worth seeking out.  Who’s Zoo, for instance, performed a great (pre-Internet) public service by putting “Dogs” and “Dogs Part Two” back-to-back to maximize the humor – the kind of thing that their record company would never deign to do.

Master tapes for ‘Lifehouse’ (i.e., ‘Who’s Next’) were once found in a dumpster

Who's Zoo LPWho - Lifehouse to Leeds

Who’s Zoo was also my first exposure to long-lost B-side, “When I Was a Boy,” originally released October, 1971 as the flip side to non-LP single, “Let’s See Action”:

‘Entwistle’ misspelled yet again – hence the joke behind album title ‘Whistle Rymes’

John Entwistle, whose distinctive songwriting had always been deeply infused with dark humor, is simply and utterly dark on this despairing take on mortality.  “When I Was a Boy” would appear to be one of the very few (perhaps only) autobiographical songs released as a member of The Who.  It is hard for me to assume, especially in light of how Entwistle’s life tragically ended, that rock’s finest bassist was writing in character when he penned these tortured lyrics:

When I was a baby, I hadn’t a care in the world.
But now I’m a man the troubles all fill my head.
When I was five, it was good to be alive.
But now I’m a man I wish that I were dead.
My how time rushes by,
The moment you’re born you start to die.
Time waits for no man,
And your lifespan is over before it begins.

Entwistle’s lyric would seem to anticipate rock’s other great meditation on life’s fleetingness, “Time” from 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.

Those eager to explore the parallel universe of bootleg and pirated recordings should most definitely pick up Clinton Heylin’s excellent history of illegal vinyl, Bootleg:  The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry.