This is not so much a review as a complaint.
Decca is well known as one of the more myopic record companies—“If you liked the Who, you are sure to enjoy Len Barry,” read their notes to My Generation—and Decca has also gained special fame for the inattention they have lavished on the Who, such as their forgetting to send review copies of some of the group’s singles to Billboard and Cashbox.
But the Who, thank God, made it on their own, and Decca, afraid of losing any of the golden eggs, has released this album in hope of keeping Pete Townshend and Co. in the public eye while the Who work on their Blind Deaf and Dumb Boy opera.
Thus we’re presented with this random collection of tracks, some superb (“Magic Bus,” “Pictures of Lily,” and “Disguises”), some good (like “Bucket-T”), some bad (John Entwistle’s cuts on this LP just don’t touch “Whiskey Man” or “Boris”), and as a real drag, even three repeats from earlier albums.
Why Decca didn’t choose to release the live material recorded at Winterland and Fillmore East I don’t know (just think—“Summertime Blues,” “A Quick One,” “Shakin’ All Over”), but there is no excuse for the jumble of The Who On Tour/Magic Bus. There are over a dozen fantastic cuts by the Who that have never been released on American LP’s, most of them singles that received little airplay or were never released at all in this country.
We could have had a classic record, The History of the Who, starting with their stone-tough “I Can’t Explain,” along with their strange version of “I’m A Man,” from their first English LP. Then “Substitute,” maybe the best song the Who have ever done: “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth/The north side of my town faced east/And the east was facing south”—a song powered by really startling harmony and the kind of humor only Pete Townshend can project.
Then “I’m A Boy,” an absurd story about our very own rock and roll parents, even crazier than those Leiber and Stoller summoned up for Coasters’ “Yakety Yak.” Keith Moon fans could have screamed to his falsetto “Barbara Ann” — “Yes,” he said at the Fillmore once, “my walls are covered with pictures of the Beach Boys, my heroes…”
And then the Who coming through when so many others turned their backs:
The Who consider Mick Jagger and Keith Richard scapegoats for the drug problem and as a protest against the savage sentences imposed on them at Chichester yesterday, the Who are issuing today the first of a series of Jagger-Richards songs to keep their work before the public until they are again free to record themselves.
—with their pounding, angry, smashing versions of “The Last Time” and “Under My Thumb,” featuring some of the most exciting guitar work Townshend has ever put on record. They meant it, and it showed. Close the LP with “Magic Bus” and “Pictures of Lily,” a wonderful song about puberty and sex-without-girls (real-life girls, that is), and you have, and we should have, The Who’s Greatest Non-Hits, every cut a delight, each one better than before, no matter in what order they might be arranged. Each one uniquely the Who, with gutty harmony and blazing drums and crashing guitars, telling outrageously funny stories, getting made for all of us.
The Who are the spirit of rock and roll—and because of that even Decca’s clap-trap collection is worth buying, for “Magic Bus” and “Pictures of Lily” and “Disguises.” But maybe we all ought to be writing angry letters—the Who deserve better, and so do we.
Rolling Stone, November 9, 1968