I'm a sucker for classic rock photography. I love seeing the bands I love when they were young, still ascendent and writing the rules as they went. I love the fashion and the hair, forever trapping them at a moment in time, with all the evocations of history and cultural upheaval their style suggests. But most of all I love the impromptu moments, musicians caught unaware, when their guard is down and the person beneath is revealed. It adds an extra dimension not just to the band or artist but to the music itself, as if I'm sharing a secret insight into the impulses that created the songs that provided the soundtrack to my life.
The Who, a decades-spanning collection of images, promises such communion with the iconic band. The editors have dug into the vaults, uncovering hundreds of rare and previously unpublished pictures of The Who at every stage in their careers. As a lifelong Who fan, it was like unearthing lost treasure. There they are in 1964, familiar features gracing the faces of what essentially is a high school band. There they are on the set of Ready, Steady, Go! and the other mid '60s British music shows that helped break them into the mainstream. You see the sweat spraying off Keith Moon's head during their legendary performance on The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus, and the transformation of the band into arena rock behemoths, with Townshend's patented leaping windmill histrionics and Daltrey's similarly athletic delivery. In no time you see them as elder statesmen on one of their many "farewell tours," still busting the moves that made them teen idols decades earlier.
This collection will probably delight diehard who fans who revel in every scrap of found footage, and the images themselves have been lovingly restored with such vibrancy you'd think they were taken last week. Ultimately, though, as I paged through the book I felt increasingly let down. To call the liner notes and photo captions "thin" is being too generous, and there is little more context than what you'd get on a postcard. More damning, I never felt like there was little really new or revelatory. The photos are culled from a number of sources, and many seemed to capture the band members just after something interesting happened. There are a few gems here and there, but they often sit next to a close-up of a stone-faced bandmember. Some of this could likely be attributed to the Who itself (I've always felt that Roger Daltrey's facial expression throughout most of Tommy was probably his natural state), but as a music fan I always hope to see the same spark that animates the music animate the man. As comprehensive as this collection is, it rarely captures that. Having had the pleasure of reviewing Ken Regan's marvelous All Access last fall, it's hard to get excited for any anthology that doesn't do more than catalog its subject.