A look at the Who's messy canon.
Odds, Sods, & Bonus Tracks_Dr. Spin-A look at the Who’s messy canon
During the Who’s extensive music career, the band produced a wealth of recorded material, yet only released ten proper studio albums. The remainder of their body of work has been released through numerous compilations. So much exists that the Who probably could have released several more proper albums had they the vision or desire.
However, those who would like to have a complete canon of the band’s work find it very difficult, as there is no “definitive” collection of the surplus of songs. “Rarities” albums now outnumber the original releases, but too many overlap, making it very expensive and inefficient for fans to own all of the Who’s great works. Die-hards of course already own quite a bit through bootlegs, but those of us that like the quality of legitimate releases face a real nightmare.
Beginning in 1971, the Who and/or their record company began releasing albums of “lost” tracks, singles and B-sides that didn’t make it on any other album. The first of these was Meaty, Beatty, Big and Bouncy. Meaty does contain some songs included on other albums, but its material, collected from singles released between 1965 and 1969, works well as an complete album.
In contrast, 1974’s Odds & Sods lives up to its name, gathering together an eclectic group of songs from various stages of the Who’s career up to that point. Both collections are essential pieces to the Who legacy; Odds & Sods does a better job of collecting rarities, but it feels more like a grab bag. Had they worked on this collection a bit more, the Who might have come out with a more legit album.
In the wake of original drummer Keith Moon’s death, two more compilations were released, 1979’s The Kids Are Alright (soundtrack to the documentary of the same name) and 1981’s Hooligans. Both could be ignored by the average who fan, yet both contain a few previously unreleased tracks that add to the Who’s legend and should not be overlooked, especially Hooligans’ “Let’s See Action (Nothing is Everything),” “The Relay,” and “Join Together.”
1985 saw the Who unveil Who’s Missing, a whole new set of B-sides and unreleased material, thought to have cleaned the closet once and for all, until Two’s Missing was released two years later. In 1994, the Who released the box set Thirty Years of Maximum R&B, which included some, but not all, of the material contained on the two Missing albums. Maximum R&B of course also gave light to more unreleased material.
By 1998, new technology required the Who to re-master their original albums and, of course, add bonus tracks and even more unreleased music. Odds & Sods nearly doubled its size, while other albums featured alternate takes and live performances (the Who was always considered a better live band), and even a few tracks that were on the previously mentioned (and now deleted) compilations. Finally, 2004 saw the release of Now and Then, yet another compilation with two more unreleased tunes, but at least these were legitimately new songs.
The idea of adding unreleased material to generate sales is not exclusive to the Who, but the Who has taken this practice to new heights. It is nearly impossible to get complete collection of their work without purchasing duplicate copies of other songs. Even with the ability to purchase mp3 tracks off of services such as iTunes, creating the “ultimate” Who collection can quickly become expensive.
To date, most Who fans can’t get a complete set of the band’s work, unless one is compelled to spend excess money buying multiple version of albums and raid eBay for the out of print CDs. Not every song the Who recorded is essential, but each is an interesting piece to a complex and favorite band. Some songs are early sketches and attempts at what would become Tommy. Others are pieces of Pete Townshend’s enigmatic Lifehouse project (the bulk of which became Who’s Next), while others are those odd little novelty tunes, such as “Waspman” and “Dogs, part 2.” All are part of the legacy of the Who and would make a great collection, if only fans didn’t have to hunt them down CD by CD.