On June 27, 2002, we lost The Ox. John Entwistle, the thundering bassist and sometime horn player for the Who, songwriter in that band and on a scattering of solo albums, plus the machine-gunner in that unforgettable scene from “The Kids Are Alright” died in Las Vegas on the eve of a Who tour. He passed away in grand rock and roll style after a night of partying with drugs, drink, and a woman. That he was way too old (57 years) to be imbibing in such massive quantities would have been lost on the towering talent who went to his grave rockin’ out like he was 20.
Pete Townshend wrote the lion’s-share of the Who material, but Entwistle had a share of highlights, plus some tasty solo tidbits as well. Here is a list of his 10 essentials!
10. “The Quiet One” - This track is from the Who’s first album without Keith Moon, “Face Dances,” in 1981. The title quoted one of Entwistle’s nicknames, as he was less visible in interviews than Townshend or Daltrey, and certainly less infamous than Moon. But the song is anything but quiet – rocking out and becoming a concert selection for the Who in ’81 and ’82.
9. “My Generation” - Yes, you’re right, Pete Townshend wrote this 1965 hit for the young group of Mods just breaking out of London. The Who would ride the success of this single onto ‘Top of the Pops’ and the arenas of England and Europe. It was highly unusual to add lead bass breaks into a song back then, maybe it still is, but there was John Entwistle happily complying.
8. “I Believe in Everything” - John Entwistle’s first solo album “Smash Your Head Against the Wall” arrived in 1971 and it remained his best. This song would be his first solo single and it featured backing vocals from Keith Moon, who still had a great higher-register singing voice back then (that would change drastically within a few years). You have to love the way the song breaks into the chorus of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at the end!
7. “Uncle Ernie” - I mentioned a couple weeks back that Roger Daltrey said the hardest track to sing on the Who’s “Tommy” album was “Uncle Ernie.” “It’s murder!” he shouted. Indeed, the high-pitched verses are tough. But, Daltrey has to blame John Entwistle because he wrote this story instead of Townshend, who came up with almost all the rest of the 1969 rock opera. The bassist certainly had a sense of the macabre, so Townshend tasked him with writing this song about Tommy’s abuser.
6. “Talk Dirty” - This solo single came from Entwistle’s 1981 album “Too Late the Hero,” released on the heels of the Who’s “Face Dances.” It begins with a marvelously-fat bass melody over which Joe Walsh lays his guitar and Walsh drummer Joe Vitale adds the beat. In fact, the bass is so present that the song could work even without the drums. Entwistle’s basic sentiment? Don’t talk politics, talk about a strip-tease or something.
5. “Postcard” – this Entwistle-penned Who track was recorded in 1970 and is a breezier, poppier track than what most would expect from the bass player. It is basically a travelogue of a Who on tour, mentioning places the band is visiting, but Entwistle’s humor rises when he also mentions that the money is all gone! This was an unwelcome, but frequent occurrence for the early Who. He dusted this one off for “Odds n’ Sods,” the collection of Who rarities in 1974 that also featured “Long Live Rock.”
4. “My Size” – from John Entwistle’s first solo album “Smash your Head Against the Wall.” This is a hard rock track striking in its heaviness. The song could have fit comfortable on any one of Black Sabbath’s first four albums. Guitar was compliments of Dave "Cyrano" Langston, who became the Who’s first full-time road manager.
3. “Boris the Spider” - A lovable Who track you can always count on hearing somewhere on Halloween. John Entwistle’s creepy gravelly voice sells this one…”spiiiiiderrrrrrr.” From 1966, Entwistle once said this was the first song he wrote.
2. “Heaven and Hell” - this was a John Entwistle song that never got its due on a Who studio album back in the day, which would have been around 1969-1970. However, it did come out as the B-side to the “Summertime Blues” single which was a hit and sold in good numbers. As a live track, it opened many Who shows back then.
1. “My Wife“ – a song about fooling around on one’s wife, which is most-certainly based in truth in Entwistle’s case. A legendary rocker featured on the “Who’s next” album, this one was played in concert during every phase of the Who’s career after 1971. Great example of Entwistle’s brass playing here. “She’s coming!!”