Of Polyester and Camel Toe: Remembering John Entwistle, Badly

John Entwistle - So Who's the Bass Player: The Ox AnthologyJohn EntwistleSo Who’s the Bass Player: The Ox Anthology (Sanctuary)

The Who is my favorite band, and has been since I saw The Kids Are Alright documentary as a kid. In high school I got into the habit of listening to my own version of Quadrophenia in its entirety every other day (alternating it with The Wall for the ultimate teenage angst experience). I had painstakingly created an amalgam of the studio album and the far-superior-fidelity movie soundtrack album on cassette tape.

By 1990, I owned every Who album that had been released on CD, including the unlistenable Who’s Last and the awful box set that was released after their 1989 reunion tour. I had even bought up every bootleg and out-of-print record I could find to feed my obsession.

The author as a young Who obsessive...Luckily, about the time I moved on to collecting the solo albums of the various band members—the last brick, as it was—I came across something that caused me to rethink my desire to own every single recording ever made by my favorite band.

No, it was not Pete Townshend’s Iron Man, though that’s proof of just how far gone I really was. (Among other embarrassing traits, I was known at my high school for wearing a jean jacket with “Can you see the real me?” scrawled in permanent marker above the British flag backpatch.)

Nor was it Roger Daltrey’s Ride a Rock Horse, which to-date I have somehow resisted buying. (Though I must confess to once owning a copy of the Tommy movie soundtrack, which has since disappeared from my collection. If you borrowed it, no need to give it back.)

No, the record that was so bad that it caused me to sell off most of my Who collection, including everything originally released after Who Are You, was an album by John Entwistle called Mad Dog. A thoroughly strange recording of unauthentic-sounding ’50s-style pop, it was cut in 1975 with Entwistle’s backing band at the time, Ox.

If you can listen to this album more than once all the way through, you are, as the saying goes, a better man than I. And just to give you the opportunity, my copy of the album is going to hit eBay about the time you’re reading this. See, it’s been replaced in my collection of music-I-really-shouldn’t-own-but-do by a review copy of the new two-disc John Entwistle compendium, So Who’s The Bass Player?

If you think this photo is awkward, just wait until you see the one with an N shaved into his head...If you think the title is kind of awkward, just wait until you hear the music. “Awkward” doesn’t begin to describe it. Trust me, there’s really no reason to buy this thing. John Entwistle did not record a single CD worth of music worth listening to today, let alone two. If you are skeptical of my judgment here, I don’t blame you. I was genuinely excited to review this album. Entwistle was indeed a great guy, a likeable figure, and his handful of Who classics are wonderful music. But think about it, can you name more than six Entwistle songs you’d bring with you to the proverbial desert island?

To be entirely cruel, I’m going to start my Mad Dog auction at a buck. Have at it, and you’ll discover the worst of the music to be included on this new retrospective. If you pay more than fifty cents for my record, you’re an idiot, but you’ll still be less of an idiot than if you buy the two-CD set.

Granted, So Who’s The Bass Player? has about three or four mildly interesting songs on it. (For those that like to keep score, count “My Size,” the druggy studio version of “Heaven and Hell,” and “Bogeyman” as the tracks that didn’t tempt me to use the skip button on my iPod.) But when sleepy Who covers (of non-Entwistle songs even!) and uninspired live versions of “Boris The Spider” and “My Wife” are among the best cuts on a 38-song album that careens wildly between goofball crap and cheesy hard rock, you’re better off just being happy with your current perspective on who The Who were.

It’s sad enough that Entwistle is dead, but this album is not doing any real justice to his memory—they might as well have included a copy of the coroner’s report and autopsy photos in the liner notes. But let’s not end on that downer. The good news is that all of John’s classic cuts are available on Who albums, songs from “Whiskeyman” to “The Quiet One,” and even picking up a copy of Face Dances would be money well spent in search of a tangible record of the greatness of one of the best bassists ever.

Our Mad Dog auction will be running through May 21. Bid early and bid often!

12 thoughts on “Of Polyester and Camel Toe: Remembering John Entwistle, Badly”

  1. I recall Entwistle’s first two solo records were pretty good, although i haven’t heard any of the songs in over 30 years. “Smash your Head” was a cool song as I recall and I always liked “My Wife”. What I liked about these early albums was that at the time it was a real treat to have guest artists on records. This is before they wore that out to death. I believe Frampton played on at least one of these early records and this was before his solo career took off, so there were some pretty good guitar chops on these records. Never heard Mad Dog, but I’d like to hear some of the other cuts to see if they were as good as we thought they were in 1972-73 (??).

  2. OK, Sab, I’m gonna consider you a finer authority than myself on all things Who solo: which do you find more execrable, Keith Moon’s lone solo entry Two Sides Of The Moon, or John’s Mad Dog?

    Pete’s solo career is the only one worth mentioning, so it looks like.

  3. I too collected every piece of Who-analia (hmmm, that reads funny, but it was in fact pretty anal). And Moon’s album was the worst by far…the part where you could switch out the album sleeve to show his butt seemed like a message at the time.

    I also got the bootlegs (everything from the obvious Odds ‘n’ Sods to Who’s Zoo). And actually, Stampede was worse than all of ’em.

  4. No group has ever over-mined such a slim studio output for more years. No group has ever broken your heart harder. No group has ever been more shameless and cold. And yet, no group has ever made angst and confusion such a glorious and poetic experience. God bless those beautiful assholes.

    That said, Sab… Entwistle’s ‘Smash Your Head Against The Wall’ is not too bad — put the knife down. In terms of his solo career, the man seemed to have about the worst taste ever in backing bands — they seemed to be his aging drinking buddies, who were pretty thrilled to be up there onstage with such a legend. The music he/they churned out was grade C 70’s generic hard rock, but, well, you had The Ox onstage, completely blowing the roof off of whatever 300+ seat suburban bar they were playing.

    What is my point? I don’t know. I suppose I am just sad and pissed at him for dying in such a cliched way, just when The Who seemed to be making a rickety but theoretically possible attempt at a third act credibility grab.

  5. Ox’s first 2 solo records are quite good, so I don’t understand why this bash piece was written. “Smash Your Head…” has at least 6 solid songs on it, and this is the weaker of the first 2. (It’s the only one i can refer to now though). It’s superfucking heavy and kind of like a proto stoner rock record. I don’t doubt “Mad Dog” sucks, but theese have a very Who-like quality also that makes me believe you heard these records way past any real interest you had in the band. You want bad Who-solo records? Daltry, Moon, and so many of Townshend’s recorded out put sucks hard. Much harder than “Smash..” or “Whistle Rymes”.

  6. Yeah – I too am a who-phile. I have many of the solo records and I think “Smash..” and “Whistle..” aren’t bad at all. JAE is a tremendous bass player and I would take his solo records over many other side-project releases anyday. Sorry Sab – I don’t agree with what you’re attempting to say here.

  7. Lest someone get the wrong impression from Jeff’s article…

    I’m pretty sure the “awful box set after the 1989 reunion tour” to which he refered was the Join Together box. I agree, it’s awful. Total contractual-obligation style cash-in.

    But a few years later, the real Who box set, 30 Years of Maximum R&B came out, and I am absolutely adamant that this is the best box set ever released.

    So don’t let the words “The Who” and “awful box set” put you off the concept for ever. Get the Maximum R&B set if you don’t have it. It’s the box that rocks for blocks and blocks. But yeah, avoid the other pap.

    My favourite Who side project is Pete’s Empty Glass. None of Pete’s records are total disasters, they’re very hit & miss, like the Stones records of the past 25 years.

  8. Yeah – as a Whophile and Ox fan I agree with many of the comments here. Daltrey’s career was a cavalcade of shite, Mooney’s record was a farce. Pete’s solo stuff was hit n miss. (I dig Chinese Eyes & Who Came First) BUT – I must say though that John’s first 2 records are pretty cool. The lyrics are dark and somewhat morbid but endearingly goofy. Things got worse in the mid 70’s as we all know. That’s when punk started brewing. Records like Mad Dog and Ride A Rock Horse were the catalyst for the dude smashing his bass on the background of this screen. A reaction – Strummer, Lydon, Ramones, thanks to them things changed and got interesting again.

  9. Put your money where your mouth is, people. [url=http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=306&item=4728191080&rd=1&ssPageName=WDVW]Bid on it![/url]

  10. regardless of what anyone thinks of john entwistles solo albums(he was very inconsistent) he IS the best and most creative bass player ever! he was one of the few bass players to use the bass guitar as a lead instrument to supplement pete townsends playing check out the intro to who are you on the 9/11 benefit cd and youll see what i mean david dettman 6/5/05

  11. Mad dog may have sucked but whistle rhymes, smash your head, and to late the hero where good albums. I like these albums because they give you a break from the usual shit people write about. Some of them are quit funny. Damn, the guy makes one bad album and everybody takes a shit on him for it. Give the guy a break, He is the greatest bass player of all time.

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