“This will be their last song,” I said, as The Who wound into “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” during their Super Bowl halftime performance on Sunday night.
“Why?” my daughter asked.
“Because it’s one of their biggest songs, one of the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history,” I replied, making a statement I firmly defend.
First off, it is a song that has everything going on. You initially hear it through the authority of Pete Townshend’s power-chord lead guitar and the pulsating synthesizer that are trademarks of the song. But imagine it without the late John Entwistle’s intricate bass roll, particularly in the chorus, or the late Keith Moon’s train-wreck drumming that sounds random until you focus on it and see the wonderful rhythm in it.
And then there’s Roger Daltrey. Yes, 90 percent of the vocals are more valuable in the actual lyric than the performance. But that “YEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAH!” coming out of the bridge — gotta tell you, I was praying for that on Sunday night, because The Who song lives or dies on that word being delivered with force, authority and passion. I put it up there with — I know to some, I am committing blasphemy here — the baritone “Freude!” in Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” It must be there, it must be perfect, or else, why bother? Really? Go home. Fortunately, Daltrey nailed it Sunday.
But back to those lyrics. This 1971 song sprang out of a time of pretty wide-eyed idealism that was starting to realize change wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Hmmmmm. Some people may find that a little relevant today, judging by what you read in progressive media. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” is the key lyric in this song that the National Review named as the No. 1 conservative rock song of all time in 2006, and liberal provocateur Michael Moore wanted to use as the lead-off track in his 2004 anti-Bush polemic “Fahrenheit 9/11″ — his request was rejected. One form of authority ain’t much different than the other, Townshend said, and seems to continue to say. How rock ‘n’ roll.
Pair that with one of the most exhilarating performances in history, and a deceptively simple sounding song, and you have one for the ages.
Were the kids alright with it?
Well, I didn’t hear grumbling about how old The Who looked like I did in 2006 when the Rolling Stones played the halftime show. I’d credit that to them for not trying to act like they were still in their 20s while showing that these days, the mid-60s rock – Daltrey is 65 and Townshend is 64. In fact, my son picked up his Guitar Hero controller and played along, and my daughter was vigorously defending the band against charges of lip syncing some of her friends were texting around.
The Who may not trump Green Day — Who-like in spirit, I’d say — or Lady Gaga among their faves. And there was some grumbling of why can’t a current chart-topper play the Super Bowl half time show. But this year’s did provide a moment of music appreciation.