Harry’s Hundred: No. 87

Posted: February 8, 2012 in Music
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“Smash Your Head Against the Wall” by John Entwistle (1971)

I’ve been trying to find the attribution, but I once read something along these lines: the late John Entwistle was a good songwriter in a band with a great one.

Sure, Pete Townshend’s songs constituted the lion’s share of The Who’s repertoire, as well they should. He composed some of the most durable songs (and concept albums) in rock history.

But Entwistle’s contributions are no slouches, whatsoever: “Whiskey Man,” “Boris the Spider,” “Silas Stingy” and “Success Story,” to name a few. Then there was “My Wife,” his sardonic take on domestic bliss, and the soaring “Heaven and Hell,” which served as The Who’s concert opener during the band’s “Live at Leeds” era.

The last-named appears, recorded at a slower tempo, on “Smash Your Head Against the Wall,” the first solo release by a member of The Who. The album concentrates more on Entwistle’s songwriting than his landmark bass playing, but the results are no less impressive: nine tuneful tracks that stack up against many of the better rock songs of the period.

The album’s title is taken from a lyric in the opener, “My Size,” which combines a monumentally heavy riff with suitably nasty subject matter: an unnamed woman who “really hurt my feelings,” and John’s plans for her.

Many of the other songs explore various forms of unpleasantness, as some of the titles suggest; for example, “What Are We Doing Here?” and “What Kind of People Are They?” Even “Heaven and Hell,” which on the surface balances good and bad, contains the plea: “Why can’t we have eternal life and never die?”

“Smash Your Head Against the Wall” ends on a positive note, if you take the lyrics to “I Believe in Everything” halfway seriously. At any rate, it serves as a fitting counterpoint to the rest of what constitutes John Entwistle’s brightest moment as an artist in the spotlight.

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