Pete Townshend’s 3rd solo album was a divisive record; many critics called it pretentious, over-thought, and an “ambitious failure”.  But it contains at least two Townshend masterpieces, including “The Sea Refuses No River”, a song with deep spiritual meaning to Townshend.  This episode, we explore this eloquent, graceful classic.

“The Sea Refuses No River” (Pete Townshend) Copyright 1982 Eel Pie Publishing Limited

— This show is part of the Pantheon podcast network — THE place for music junkies, geeks, nerds, diehards and fans!

TRANSCRIPT:

Music can inspire, music can unite; it can challenge, it can enlighten, it can heal. Here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, we don’t take music for granted. On this podcast, we take an in depth look at an individual song to discover what goes into making a song work. I’m your host, Brad Page, here the Pantheon Podcast Network where each episode, we explore the arrangements, the performances and the production that make a song great.

On today’s edition of the show, we’re taking a look at a song by a man who I think is one of the greatest songwriters in history. A man who is not only one of the most electric live performers you’d ever see, but a brilliant composer, writer, and a visionary, and one of my favorite guitar players, too. This is Pete Townshend with “The Sea Refuses No River”.

Pete Townshend is, of course, the primary songwriter, guitarist and sometimes vocalist for The Who, one of the greatest and most important bands of all time. But by 1982, their legendary drummer, Keith Moon, had died. The band was struggling to find a place in the post punk, new wave landscape, and Townshend was disillusioned with, well, everything. He had left his family the year before and went on a binge of drugs and alcohol. He eventually cleaned himself up and went back to his family.

While all of this was going on, he was working on his third solo album, which he named “All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes”. He would later say he should have won the “Stupid Title of the Year Award” for that one.

Considering everything that was going on in his life, it’s no wonder that the songs on this album are deeply introspective. And though they incorporate sounds and approaches that were contemporary at the time, none of the songs were recorded with rock or pop radio or MTV in mind.

When he played the finished album to his record company, they were dismayed. They didn’t hear any hits. But Townshend wasn’t writing for hits. He was pursuing the path he’d started on his last solo album, “Empty Glass”, and the previous album by The Who, “Face Dances”.

He was always literate, but these songs were the most wordy he’d ever written. It’s Townshend at his most poetic. To many fans and critics, it was a bit much. It was considered to be pretentious– like, really pretentious. And some tracks are more successful than others. But I think when these songs really work, it’s magical when the music and the lyrics gel really come together. I think these songs have real emotional impact, and on this track, a spiritual impact, too.

The album features a huge band and some great players, including Tony Butler on bass, Mark Brzezicki on drums; both of those guys played with Big Country. Simon Phillips also plays drums on this record. Honestly, I’m not sure which one of them plays drums on this track. You’ve also got Virginia Astley on keyboards, John Lewis on synthesizer, Peter Hope Evans on harmonica– he plays a big part in this song. Jody Linscott on percussion, Poli Palmer on tuned percussion. Chris Stanton plays some additional keyboards. And Pete Townshend plays all the guitars, some keyboards and the lead vocals. The brass arrangement was by Anne Odell.

The album was produced by Chris Thomas and the song was written by Pete Townshend and Alan Rogan. It’s one of the few songs I can think of where Townshend shares a writing credit.

Okay, let’s get into the song. Peter Hope Evans harmonica is the focal point, and John “Poli” Palmer, who was in the band Family, is adding some accents on something like a Glockenspiel.

[Music]

There’s also a nice bass part going on underneath, played by Tony Butler from the band Big Country. Then there’s a short drum fill and we’re into the first verse.

[Music]

There’s a guitar in there playing choppy staccato chords, followed by a sustaining ringing chord. That is classic Pete Townshend -style guitar playing.

[Music]

The verses open on a minor chord, which gives it a darker feel. But then after a couple of lines, it shifts to a more buoyant melody.

[Music]

And right before the next part of the verse, there’s some guitar feedback that fades in. Let’s listen to the rest of that verse.

[Music]

The music sort of pauses for a breath there. And then we’re into the first chorus.

[Music]

“The sea refuses no river”. Townshend found the quote in the Oxford Book of Proverbs. Actually, I read that Pete’s daughter found it and he really liked it and wrote the song based around it. He’s using it as a spiritual metaphor. Every river, no matter how pure and clean, or dirty and contaminated, every river ends up in the same sea. You can call it the afterlife, you could call it heaven, call it space or the universe… no matter how great or how flawed you are, we all end up in the same place. We’re all individual drops that make up that ocean. It’s a beautiful idea, and I think it’s one of Townsend’s most powerful vocals. It’s a great performance. You can really feel the passion in his voice.

The harmonica melody returns…
[Music]

I like the drum part here. Let’s bring up the drums in the mix.
[Music]

“The sea refuses no river, we’re polluted now but in our hearts, still clean.” As I said, this is one of Pete’s best vocal performances. He really delivers on this song. So let’s bring the vocals to the front for this chorus.

[Music]

This leads us into the guitar solo section, played by Pete Townshend, over some great instrumental backing by the band.

[Music]

The bass and drums are laying down a nice groove here. Let’s check that out.

[Music]

That leads directly into a series of big, crashing chords. Dramatic, almost orchestral. This is the kind of big moment that Townshend and The Who did better than anyone else.

[Music]

More guitar from Pete. Nice use of feedback.

[Music]

Let’s hear what the bass and drums are doing under this section.

[Music]

For the next verse, they reel it in dynamically. After that dramatic buildup from the solo, they get a little softer for the next few lines.

[Music]

Compared to the previous sections, the instrumentation here is very sparse. Just guitar and drums, maybe some piano in the background.

[Music]

Let’s hear the instrumental tracks under the vocals. With more of the band playing here, check out the way the bass and the drums are playing off of each other and how all the other instruments are layering their simple individual parts. That, when it’s all put together, provides a really lush surrounding for the vocals. This is a great arrangement.

Now let’s add the vocals back in and listen to how it all works together.

[Music]

And from there we head into the last two choruses.

[Music]

Pete’s vocals reach their apex here. I love the way he sings this.

[Music]

You can hear Pete play some harmonics on his guitar and wiggle them a bit with his whammy bar. Then he’s going to hit a few heavy chords—Who-style– that kick off the final chorus.

There’s a nice little guitar fill there, followed immediately by a bass guitar lick. It’s just another example of the band interplay here and what great players they are.

[Music]

Pete Townshend “The Sea Refuses No River”

Townshend has released a handful of solo albums; the last one was Psycho Derelict in 1993 and of course, a dozen classic albums with The Who.


Whether with The Who or solo, I think all of these albums are worth listening to. There are few, if any, artists whose work is more significant or as meaningful as Pete Townshend.

Thanks for listening to this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. We are part of the Pantheon Podcast Network, where you’ll find a ton of other shows, all dedicated to the artists, the records and the history of the music we love.

This show will be back in about two weeks with another new episode. You can hear all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com or on your favorite source for listening to podcasts. You can keep in touch with us on Facebook, just look for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. You can post reviews or comments on podchaser.com, and if you really want to support the show, tell people about it. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.

Thanks again. And remember, as Pete Townshend says, “Whether starving or ill, or strung out on some pill, just because you own the land, there’s no unique hand that plugs the dam. The sea refuses no river.”

[Music]

The Who released a string of classic albums, but many consider Quadrophenia to be their best. It’s certainly one of their most ambitious. Pete Townshend wrote the songs, but the stunning performances by Roger Daltrey (vocals), Keith Moon (drums) & John Entwistle (bass) bring the songs to life. Nowhere is that more evident on “The Real Me”, which features all four members in top form, showing why they were one of the all-time great bands.

The Who – “The Real Me” (Peter Townshend) Copyright 1973 Fabulous Music Ltd, Towser Tunes Inc and ABKCO Music Inc

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome, all you music junkies, to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, part of the Pantheon Podcast family. My name is Brad Page, and I’ll be your host and musical tour guide as we explore a different song each episode, discovering all the little elements that make a song great. No musical knowledge or experience is required here, because we don’t get into music theory. We’re just putting our ears to work and seeing what they uncover.

On this episode, we’re digging deep into a track from a legendary album by one of my all time favorite bands– maybe the greatest rock band ever– The Who. This is “The Real Me”.

As far back as 1970, the who were toying with the idea of doing a double album where each of the four members would get one side to stretch out and showcase themselves. That never happened.

Instead, they came up with a much more ambitious project: a concept album. A story that would explore four different sides of one person, each aspect represented by a different member of The Who. The result was an album that was met with mixed reviews and would confuse some of the audience, but is now considered one of the greatest albums of all time. In some way, the germ of what would become the “Quadrophenia” album began in June 1972, when the band recorded “Long Live Rock”. This song tells the story of The Who’s early years.

[Music]

This song was never included in “Quadrophenia”, but it eventually was released in 1974 on the “Odds and Sods” album, a collection of outtakes and leftover tracks. But in the liner notes to “Odds and Sods”, Pete Townsend wrote, “I had an idea once for a new album about the history of The Who called ‘Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock’. That idea later blossomed into Quadrophenia.”

The mod culture of the 1960s was a uniquely British movement. Most Americans, then and now, are pretty unfamiliar with that whole scene. In fact, this album, “Quadrophenia”, is probably where most people in the US learned about mods.

”Jimmy” is the central character in “Quadrophenia”. He’s a kid who desperately wants to be a mod. But even among the mods, he struggles to fit in. Over the course of the story, he discovers that the mods he looks up to aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. And by the end of the tale, he ends up sitting on a rock in the ocean, waiting for the waves, contemplating suicide and finding some kind of inner strength…maybe.  The end of the story is left ambiguous.

Jimmy is a who fan. This is the early ‘60’s version of The Who, when they were the favorite band of the mods. And he eventually discovers that The Who may not be all they’re cracked up to be either. What makes “Quadrophenia” such a magical album is not the four-part split personality concept, it’s the story of a teenager who represents both the band and their audience. And through this character, they reflect back on the history of the band from their beginnings in the mod scene to where they were at the time of this recording.

In writing these songs, Pete Townsend is not only trying to understand his audience as represented by Jimmy, he’s also trying to understand The Who itself, how they got here, their successes and their failures. Townsend’s demo for “The Real Me” was recorded in the spring of ‘73. It’s slower with a different beat, there’s some guitar fills that he eventually dropped, and a fourth verse that was deleted from the final version.

With the demos, Townsend would keep the bass and drum parts pretty minimal. He wanted John Entwistle and Keith Moon to come up with their own parts and not to try to follow what he laid down on the demos. That’s all part of what makes The Who The Who.

“Quadrophenia” opens with the sound of the ocean, waves crashing on the shore.  This is actually the only who album that opens this way– not with a song, but with a natural sound effect that puts you in a physical place: on a beach near the sea. This opening introduces the four musical themes of the album, the themes that represent the four sides of Jimmy’s personality his “Quadrophenia”, as well as the four members of The Who:

  • Helpless dancer
  • Is it me?
  • Bellboy
  • and Love Reign O’er Me

And then the first actual song to kick off the album.

[Music]

“The Real Me” is a song that lashes out against psychiatry, religion, family and being rejected in love. But what the song is really about is the struggle to find our own identity, and the sheer frustration when other people can’t see us for who we really are. All of that can be felt in the performances that each band member delivers.

So much going on in this song, we’ll try to take it all in.

Besides Roger Daltry’s powerhouse vocals– in my opinion, this album represents Roger’s peak as a vocalist– the most important instrument in this song is the bass guitar. It’s what propels the song more than any other instrument. According to bass player John Entwistle, this bass part was the first take. He was messing around, playing whatever he wanted to play. They recorded a few more takes but always came back to this one.

Entwistle was looking to inject some new life into his playing, so he switched to a new bass guitar for this album, a Gibson Thunderbird.

Let’s listen to that bass part from the intro through the first verse.

[Music]

So good! Here’s the second chorus, and again, listen to what the bass guitar is doing

[Music]

Let’s listen to one of those patented Roger Daltry screams. John Entwistle is not only playing the bass parts, he also played all the horn parts on this album. Here’s what the horns are playing during the chorus. And let’s check out Townsend’s guitar part during this section.

Now let’s go back and listen to the bass and drums during that same section.

[Music]

Listen to the power and the energy of the band here, just the three of them. You can see why they were one of the greatest live bands of all time. Let’s listen to Roger’s vocals.

[Music]

Let’s hear Keith Moon’s absolutely maniacal drums during this chorus.

[Music]

“The Real Me” by The Who.

In an interview with Q magazine in 1994, Townshend described “The Real Me” as having “the big, big bass of John Entwistle, the big, big drums of Keith Moon, the power chords, the huge voice of Roger Daltrey… and what they’re actually saying is ‘I’m a pathetic little wimp ‘.”

Townshend wrestled with the challenge of writing delicate, poignant pieces and then having them delivered with the thundering intensity of The Who. There was just no holding them back. But that’s part of what I love about this band– that dichotomy, that somehow they were able to make it work. Townsend and Daltrey have performed all of “Quadrophenia” live in recent years, but without Entwistle and Moon, it’s not the same. It’s still good, don’t get me wrong, it’s good. But it’s not “The Who”.

In putting this episode together, I used a few resources, including a great book called “Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia” by Richie Unterberger. Highly recommended if you’re a Who fan. It’s a great book. There’s also a very good documentary on the making of “Quadrophenia”, I believe that’s on Amazon Video. If you search for it, you can find it.

Thanks for joining me once again on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, here on the Pantheon Podcast network. You can find all the past episodes of this show on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com.

I’d love it if you’d leave a review of this show on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever it is that you listen to the show.  You can connect with us on Facebook, just search for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, or on Twitter at PopStaffTweets.

This show is a tree falling in the forest without you listening. So, seriously, thank you for listening. Remember to support the artists and the songs you love buying their music. Thanks for joining us for this episode on “The Real Me” by The Who.

It’s another episode of our “Albums That Made Us” series, where we explore how music has made a big impact on our lives. We’ll be joined by a guest to discuss an album that shaped their lives in some way.

On this edition, we’re joined by Chris Porter, who’s had a long career in the music business as a concert producer, even programmer, talent buyer, and booking manager. And he’s also an old friend. So join us for a discussion on “Aftermath” by The Rolling Stones and The Who’s “Who’s Next”.

— This show is one of many podcasts on the Pantheon podcast network — THE place for music junkies to get your fix. Check ’em out!

For the 50th episode of the podcast, we’re mixing it up a bit. I just finished reading a fascinating book by Andrew Grant Jackson where he lays out his opinion that 1965 was “The Most Revolutionary Year In Music”. Let’s have a listen to some of the sounds from ’65 and see if we agree. The Beatles, the Stones, the Byrds, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Motown… it’s all here in 1965.

You can find a copy of his book here (and no, I don’t get any $$ for recommending it– I just like the book!):
1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music (macmillan.com)

— This show is just one of many great music-related podcasts on the Pantheon network. Check them all out!

Welcome to 2019!  Let’s start the year off with one of the Greatest Rock Bands Of All Time. There is simply no other band like The Who.  Genius and violence, vulnerability and madness… all words that can be used in equal measure to describe The Who.  Four larger-than-life characters that created a dozen indelible classic albums; a band that recorded so much great music that a song like this was tossed aside, eventually released on a ramshackle album of leftovers & outtakes.  Most bands would give an arm & a leg for a song this good.

“The Naked Eye” (Peter Townshend) Copyright 1974 Fabulous Music Ltd/Towser Tunes Inc.