Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Squeeze Box" by the Who (1975)



Of those 1960s 'greats' who Baby Boomers just won't let you stop hearing, the Who are, to me, the most mystifying – with the most threadbare of a back catalogue, decent mid-sixties R&B too quickly mutating into 'rock operas' and all kinds of other humourless stuff. That's not to say there's anything (necessarily) wrong with rock operas and their ilk, but in the particular case of the Who, they just do nothing for me. The bigger their egos got, the worse the music. Maybe that's unfair – with a few exceptions, the Who's music is never bad; it's just not good either. It's merely there, like that uncle who you feel compelled to invite to all the family get togethers even though you never have anything to say to him and he mostly sits in the corner in awkward silence... at least they've given the CSI franchise enough fist-in-the-air theme songs to fill a station's syndicated daytime programming schedule.

The only thing worse, it turns out, than the Who in their humourless quasi-'majesty' is the Who trying to be funny – or worse, charming. Songwriter Pete Townshend himself says he doesn't really know why his band performed this knock-off song of his, but as for the compostion, I just imagine he was tired of all the sophomoric jokes being written by bassist John Entwistle. So here he pulls out the accordion, goes all oompah-oompah, and writes a song about his parents having sex. Or rather, his father playing with his mother's breasts. For the secret, you see, of Townshend's clever-clever lyrics are that he's not really talking about an accordion... I'm sorry if I've spoilt the innocence of any six-year-olds out there, but it's by about age seven that a child would get this song and find its humour guffaw-worthy.

It comes down again to the careful art of the novelty song. Comedy has a place in music, but it has to be carefully done in order not to become annoying after the first listen. Given that 'classic rock' stations, who regularly demonstrate a complete lack of understanding as to what makes a song 'classic', play this song with such a regularity, it had better be carefully done. Alas, it is clearly a knocked off little knees-up ditty, a follow-up to Chuck Berry's “My Ding-a-Ling”. And just as annoying.

Roger Daltrey, of course, shreiks his way through it the very same way he shreiks through ever Who song, regardless of content, meaning or form. Oh well. Shreiking is good for the soul – I know this, because listening to this song makes me want to do that very thing.

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