Diehard fans thrive on having spirited discussions about the music of the artists they love. For example, what’s your favorite Beatles album? Or the best Rolling Stones single? When an artist or band has a beloved body of work, it’s often a difficult task to select your favorites. That’s particularly true in the case of Pete Townshend, who’s pushed the boundaries of rock and roll with The Who and as a solo artist. Townshend’s exceptional work as a songwriter and performer includes genre-defining (and genre-defying) albums like The Who Sell Out, Tommy and Quadrophenia, as well as Who’s Next, one of the greatest rock and roll records of all time.
JEM Records has previously paid tribute to the work of iconic artists like John Lennon and Brian Wilson with their wonderful JEM Records Celebrates series. This time out, JEM sets its sights on Townshend with JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend. Like the Lennon and Wilson albums, it’s an exceptional collection of covers recorded by the label’s outstanding roster of artists.
The disc kicks off with Lisa Mychols & Super 8’s fabulous rendition of “Baba O’ Riley,” which has a more ethereal vibe than The Who’s hard-edged original but packs no less of an emotional punch. Mychols & Super 8 also offer up their inspired re-imagining of “I Can’t Explain” taking the song in a very different, but extremely groovy direction. The Grip Weeds, those incomparable purveyors of psychedelic rock and pop, provide an exhilarating rendition of “I’m Free,” and also offer their fantastic interpretation of the epic title track from A Quick One, infusing that mini rock opera with their unique vibe. The Weeklings join the party and apply their British Invasion-infused superpowers to a rocking run-through of “I Can See For Miles” while Nick Piunti gives “The Seeker” a bit of a 1980s rock edge. Johnathan Pushkar lights up “The Kids Are Alright” with new wave energy, and The Midnight Callers turn in a glorious interpretation of “Let My Love Open The Door,” a track originally featured on Townshend’s solo record, Empty Glass.
In addition to some of the more well-known tracks from Townshend’s oeuvre, the album also features a number of deep cuts, including one of my favorites, “So Sad About Us,” beautifully done by The Gold Needles, who also take on “The Good’s Gone” from My Generation. Richard Barone gives a superb vocal performance on an acoustic-tinged, “Let’s See Action,” and The Anderson Council contributes dazzling versions of “Mary Ann With The Shaky Hand” from The Who Sell Out, and “Glow Girl,” from Odds & Sods. The disc wraps up with the poptastic “Substifool,” aka “Substitute” ably covered by The Airport 77s.
JEM Records president Marty Scott and Kurt Reil of The Grip Weeds have done a superlative job behind the scenes on this release, gathering together a group of top-notch bands who are passionate about making music, whether they’re covering the work of an icon like Pete Townshend, or crafting their own terrific songs.
While you might debate which tracks are your favorites, there’s no denying that JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend is one of the most enjoyable albums of the year. The disc is a fabulous tribute to the enduring work of the man who coined the term “power pop.” It’s absolutely fitting that JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend is part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of the label, as JEM has not only released many hard-to-find import discs throughout its storied existence but is also one of the pre-eminent labels for power pop music. You can find out more about JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend and the history of the label by reading co-founder Marty Scott’s excellent liner notes for the album, and by heading over to www.jemrecordings.com. Meanwhile, fire up JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend. Like all of the best rock and roll, this record should be played loud.
Photo: The Who (Getty Images)