From Failures Come Pop Successes

the who

One of the more bizarre sayings (and something parents of an infant shouldn’t have to say to the nanny) is “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  This advice, meaning don’t throw away something good in the course of throwing out something bad, was heeded by a number of rock stars who found gems amongst musical projects they had thrown out.

The most noteworthy salvage job was Pete Townshend’s unfinished sci-fi rock opera film called Lifehouse which started as a story written around several songs.  Pete recalled: “The essence of the storyline was a kind of futuristic scene.  It’s a fantasy set at a time when rock ’n’ roll didn’t exist.  The world was completely collapsing and the only experience that anybody ever had was through test tubes. In a way, they lived as if they were on television. Everything was programmed.  The enemies were people who gave us entertainment intravenously and the heroes were savages who’d kept rock ‘n’ roll as a primitive force and had gone to live with it in the woods.  The story was about these two sides coming together and having a brief battle.”

Pete didn’t have to look far for battles as his bandmates took to his opus as well as drummer Keith Moon would have taken to an A.A. meeting.  After failing to secure a long time lease for a London theater to mount this project, Lifehouse was abandoned—but not eight of its songs which found a home on the Who’s Who’s Next.  The album proved to be a massive hit and Pete later proved in 2019 that his ego had expanded as much as his mind when he proclaimed:

“I foresaw the internet.”

Although Al Gore might disagree, Pete expounded:

“Back in 1971, I wrote a piece called Lifehouse in which I foresaw the internet.  I foresaw what we have today, which is that we consume information and we, unfortunately, suffer the consequences of consuming that information.”


But as Roger Daltrey still knows, who are we to argue with one of the great rock writers?  Three of the Kinks know this all too well when they begrudgingly indulged Ray Davies’ theatrical side. He tried and tried to compose a smash hit rock opera like the Who’s Tommy. But he did write Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire); a killer soundtrack album for a shelved teleplay.

Ray had a history of writing concept albums or what became known as “rock operas.” Ray sort of bit the hand that fed the band by sending up the highs and lows of dealing with the sleazy recording industry via Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One LP.  The BBC soon came a-calling; offering to put on a Kinks-created TV show called Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).  Ray and novelist Julian Mitchell knocked out a teleplay, only for creative indifference to rear its ugly head.  As Mitchell recalled:

Arthur had a most unhappy history.  It was originally meant to be a sort of rock opera and we got as far as casting and finding locations and were about to go when the producer went to a production meeting without a proper budget, tried to flannel his way through it, was immediately sussed and the production pulled.  I have never been able to forgive the man.”

But the no-filler soundtrack had a much happier ending; with Rolling Stone calling it the best album of 1969.

A first-time listener to Abbey Road would be immediately hooked by the opening tune (“Come Together”) which was to be used in Dr. Timothy Leary’s California gubernatorial run against Ronald Reagan. However, the campaign and Leary were put on ice when the good doctor was imprisoned for inhaling marijuana, freeing the song for Lennon and his Beatle buddies to revise and use.

Lennon may have been the song’s biggest fan: “It’s one of my favorite Beatle tracks, or, one of my favorite Lennon tracks, let’s say that.  It’s funky, it’s bluesy, and I’m singing it pretty well.  You can dance to it. I’d buy it!”

Leary was not amused, noting: “When I sent a mild protest to John, he replied with typical Lennon charm and wit that he was a tailor and I was a customer who had ordered a suit and never returned.  So he sold it to someone else.”

Not that Lennon thought that “Come Together” fit Leary at all; scoffing: “‘Come Together’ would’ve been no good to him.  You couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?”

These instances just prove that nothing is ever really wasted, especially in the rock world.

-Mark Daponte

Photo: The Who (Getty Images)

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3 comments on “From Failures Come Pop Successes

  1. It’s Townshend…with an H. I went to journalism school at Ohio University. The misspelling of someone’s name was an automatic fail.

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