Behind the Scenes at the Beginning of the Quadrophenia Sessions

The Who finally began their Quadrophenia sessions at Ramport on May 21, about nine months after Townshend had first discussed the opera in the press. Work was certainly serious by June 3, when they transferred material from eight-track to 16-track. Though Daltrey had said in the April 26 Rolling Stone that they would have a new LP out by June, that was now an impossibility. The recording console still wasn't ready; the producer would pretty much fade out of the project; and they were using an engineer with whom they'd never before worked. Yet within only a couple of months or so, they had the basis of a classic double album.

    As much as The Who yearned to work in their own state-of-the-art studio, when they assembled at Ramport, they weren't even able to do 16-track recording without some jiggling. They'd enlisted Ronnie Lane's mobile, according to Nevison, as "the studio part [for Ramport] was together, but I don't think all the modules were there on the console. They were at least a month away from getting that board ready; it was enormous. At that point, [the mobile] was only eight-track. Ronnie didn't pay for 16, and I had a lot of problems going 16, because [the Airstream trailer with the mobile was] like a tube. In those days, the tape machines were enormous. There wasn't room enough, without putting the tape machines right in the middle of the room, to go up to 16 tracks. So we had to put eight tracks down at the bottom, and eight tracks up top. I got into all sorts of problems with hum, 'cause it was right next to the motor. We finally got it all sorted out. In fact, it was the very first eight-up, eight-down Studer A80 [a two-inch, 16-track tape deck configured so that eight tracks were above the deck and eight below it] in history.

    "We cut the first half a dozen Quadrophenia tracks – maybe just four, I don't remember – with the eight tracks. The very first backing track we cut was 'I've Had Enough,' I remember that. I don't believe he had a demo; I think he just showed them the song, and they rehearsed it a bit and found parts, Pete suggested things or whatever. Then, over the course of a weekend, I converted it to 16, and we recorded the rest of the Quadrophenia's backing tracks on 16-track. And I did eight-to-16 copies on the first few backing tracks, so it ended up being 16-track. But I was only hired to actually record the initial [sessions], and they liked what I did. So when we were finished with the backing tracks and the studio was ready, I was on board as the guy; they kept me on. I was just in the right place at the right time."

    Despite the delay in getting fully up and running, Ramport did prove up to snuff, something overlooked by accounts emphasizing the construction snags and the storm which flooded the studio during one particularly crucial track (more of which in a bit). "Ultimately, I think Ramport was a huge success," feels John Alcock. "It had a great feel, sounded good, and I later produced several albums there, including both Thin Lizzy albums with which I was involved. It was one of the 'hot' studios in London for a while, and I was sad to hear it was eventually sold. As with many good studios in the 70s, the success was based more on serendipity than technical specifications - it just felt and sounded like a great place to record rock bands."

    As the engineer for most of Quadrophenia's tracks, Nevison got a close-up view of how songs were changed from Townshend's home recordings. "They weren't demos," he remarks. "These were masters. The demo aspect about them was the fact that he played drums and bass. The arrangements were set. The tempos were set. He'd be very careful to just do basic bass and drum parts. But he was very careful not to do what Keith or John would do. 'Cause he didn't want them to follow what he wanted them to do. He wanted Keith and John to do their own thing. He'd leave enough room for Keith to do his thing, and John to do his thing. Pete was very precise; he had it ready to go. And, you know, it went very easily. It was very surpris[ing]. It was very smooth. He knows exactly what he wants." As Daltrey now had a studio of his own, he was able to work on his vocals there before recording with the group, which was a big help in devising some of his acrobatic phrasing.

    Quadrophenia, even more so than Who's Next, made heavy use of Townshend's synthesizer. However, as Nevison points out, his synth parts were not recorded in the studio. "The ARP 2500, which he used exclusively during the Quadrophenia sessions, was a modular synthesizer," he explains. "He never brought that down to the studio. He kept that at home. You couldn't move that around. You couldn't keep sounds on it. You'd spend an hour getting a sound, then you'd play it, and then you'd have to take out all these patch cords and patch up for a different sound. You'd never get the sound exactly the same; you couldn't click a button and keep it. It used to go out of tune all the time., so you'd have to tune up all the oscillators. It was an enormous pain in the ass.

    "So Pete would work at night feverishly recording these things on his 16-track. There was no way that we could spend as much time as he needed for the synthesizer parts, so on these synthesizer tracks, Keith would play to a click [track], and we'd record the drums and bass and guitar. Three of them would play – well, four of 'em, you know, Roger would sing. And we'd just keep going over it until we got it right. That was mainly because Pete wanted to use the hours and hours and hours of synthesizer stuff that he'd put in on these demos. The straight-on rock and roll ones, like '5:15,' we just cut without a click" – just possibly accounting for why no demo of '5:15' has ever emerged.

    Townshend may have been very much the auteur of Quadrophenia – in fact, it is the only Who album on which he wrote all of the material – but the tracks and material did leave a lot of room for the rhythm section to shine as instrumentalists. Entwistle in particular played not only some of the best bass of his career, but some of the best electric bass by anyone, his nimble and pungent runs combining grace and throbbing power. The songs, and perhaps the production, lent themselves far more to Moon's unpredictable torrent than Who's Next had, especially on the more uptempo numbers, such as 'Bell Boy' and 'I've Had Enough.'

    "Keith had so many drums, I couldn't get microphones everywhere," remarks Nevison. "He had two hi-hats, he had like eight tom-toms, he had I don't know how many cymbals, and a gong. And two kick drums, and oh my god ... so that was a challenge. The rest of it was very easy. Recording John's bass, I used mostly the amp. His amp sounded great. He had a great feel and a great sound. And Pete, same thing with the guitars. They weren't real, real picky about their sounds either. I mean, they were picky, but they weren't like up your ass about it."

    While Entwistle had played horns on Who records since 1966, his brass had been relatively underutilized on the group's early 70s recordings, despite having been key ingredients of hits such as 'I'm a Boy' and 'Pictures of Lily,' as well Tommy's 'Overture.' He reasserts himself in this department on several Quadrophenia tracks with tasteful versatility, whether it's the forlorn windblown call of 'I've Had Enough" or the chunky, almost jazzy riffs on '5:15.' The interplay of his horns with Townshend's synthesizers remains an underrated asset to the diversity and depth of Quadrophenia's sonic textures.

    "When you think of Quadrophenia, you don't think of synthesizers so much," feels Nevison. "You think of strings and you think of horns. [Townshend] used synth horns, and of course, Entwistle used his real horns. All the different themes that Pete had for Quadrophenia were perfect for that. It was a nice blend." The horn parts (50 in all, Pete told NME) were, like Townshend's synthesizer contributions, not recorded at Ramport, as "I never recorded any of the Entwistle horns. He did them in his studio. He would take the tapes home at night, and Pete would take the tapes home at night; they'd all record stuff at their own studios. John had his own studio in his house, and he had his own engineer." (John Alcock confirms that at the time he met Entwistle, the bassist "had a simple studio setup in his house," and thinks it was set up for him by Who soundman Bobby Pridden and Who roadie Cy Langston.)

    The Who also got a little outside help from Chris Stainton, who played piano on 'The Dirty Jobs,' '5:15,' and 'Drowned.' Ordinarily Nicky Hopkins would have been the first keyboardist they'd called. But Hopkins was unavailable, and Stainton had gotten to know the band while playing with Joe Cocker, who supported The Who on a few shows in Chicago in May 1969. "Pete had watched the Joe Cocker set and seemed to be very impressed by the piano riffs I was playing in 'Hitchcock Railway,' which I lifted from Jose Feliciano's version," says Stainton. "He never forgot it and years later asked me to play in that style on the Quadrophenia album."

    Townshend happily owned up to the influence in public, telling Sounds, "We were just doing 'Drowned,' which was using a Chris Stainton riff, which I pinched from 'Hitchcock Railway,' and we met a friend of his. I said it would be really nice if he came down, and the next day he came down and we did that number, and he enjoyed himself so much that we used him on a couple of other pieces."

    If Townshend was hoping for the same kind of input from Lambert as Kit had given to Tommy, however, he would be disappointed. In Nevison's estimation, "Kit had very little to do with Quadrophenia. He was there at some point, but he was just there as the manager. Pete really ran the show. Everything started when Pete got there, and everything finished when Pete left." According to Richard Barnes in The Who, The Mods, and The Quadrophenia Connection, "Pete would say [Lambert's] contribution seemed to be to turn up with some flash chef and food while we were recording, and expensive champagne." Though Lambert is credited for preproduction and (with Chris Stamp and Track Records co-founder Pete Kameron) as a co-executive producer on Quadrophenia, really The Who were pretty much on their own at Ramport, despite what Townshend might have hoped for at the outset of the recording.

    As for Lambert, feels Barnes, "unfortunately he was no longer that kind of support that Pete needed." And Barnes does feel Lambert could have been of use, had he been in the right frame of mind. "The thing about Quadrophenia, it doesn't have a great plot," he adds. "It's a bit thin. It's about a mod who sort of thinks, 'Oh fuck, it wasn't what I thought.' It's a bit subtle, really, for rock. There's no one stabbed, no murders, no love. And – this you can't emphasize more than anything – he didn't have Kit Lambert to come in and say, 'Oh, what about introducing' ... To come in and sort of say, 'Well, it's getting a bit lost here, Pete. Why don't you reprise this bit,' or whatever? 'Cause Kit Lambert's got a great understanding of film scripts, plotting, film structure, opera structure, 'cause his dad was in opera. I think it's flawed, Quadrophenia, as a work, because of that. 'Cause it gets lost in the middle. It's all muddy, and the songs all sound the same.

    "They were in many ways trying to edge out Lambert, but I do think Pete missed someone to help him with plotting. Like if you're going to introduce a character and he does something, you've got to have a resolution later on. Pete says one of the first things that turned Tommy from being some kind of rambling rock opera was Lambert insisting on reprising things. It was Lambert that came up with this sort of structure. It changes the whole story. This is where someone like the pre-Tommy, [pre-] out of his head Kit Lambert would have pulled it together in the middle and said 'no no no, it's getting a bit heavy here, put in a ballad or something,' or whatever. 'Cause it gets very turgid. The middle five tracks all sound a bit similar, with manic Moon drumming and that."

    Even more seriously, Daltrey had become dissatisfied with Lambert and Stamp's handling of the band's finances. When a check from Lambert to cover some of Ramport Studio's construction expenses was invalidated, and Townshend found that much of his publishing money was unaccounted for, the path to a break became inevitable. Bill Curbishley and Peter Rudge began to assume more of the band's management, which itself led to some confusion. "Whenever there's four managers, there's always gonna be a little push and shove, and the guys that were on the road with the show are the ones that end up with the best loyalties to the band," feels Donald K. Donald, promoter of the notorious 1973 Montreal show that found The Who thrown in jail after celebrating too hard at the after-gig hotel party. "There was probably no need for a band to have four managers. I think it probably caused some complications, because there was always little issues back and forth. You'd get a comment from one manager about the other manager and whatnot."

    Feels Keith Altham, "Kit was getting less and less reliable, and less and less likely to be there when he was needed. He was having his problem with drink and drugs, and it kind of did what it's done dozens of people in the music business – removes them from reality. Although he loved the band and he loved Pete, he just didn't have a grip on what his job was, or what it had been. Pete couldn't rely on him anymore, and the band couldn't rely on him anymore. I think that it was inevitable that somebody would step into the breach and handle the day-to-day running of the band, because it wasn't being picked up."

The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 unless otherwise specified.