Friday, October 21, 2022

He kicked me out

The Who's Quadrophenia is never far from my mind. Lately I've been thinking about "Four Faces," a song that the band worked on in June and July of 1972 during the early stages of the Quadrophenia sessions, but ultimately abandoned. Along with a couple other tracks that didn't make the cut in '73 ("Get Out And Stay Out" and "Joker James"), "Four Faces" appeared six years later on the Quadrophenia film soundtrack, a curio. 

To my ears, "Four Faces" is a delight, a whip-smart Townshendian ode to teenage disaffection and identity crises. Buoyed by sprightly keyboards and Keith Moon's rolling drum fills, the arrangement bounces along in jaunty mid-period Who style, and the imagery in the witty lyrics evokes the growing battle inside Jimmy. "I got four heads inside my mind," Townshend sings, in his patented half-grinning, half-unhinged style,

Four rooms I'd like to lie in
Four selves I want to find
And I don't know which one is me

I get four papers in the box each day
Four girls ringing that I want to date
I look in the mirror and see my face
But I don't know which one is me
Sounds like teenagedom to me. "It's little things that are hard," Jimmy complains, "Like starting up the car and I'm still underneath." He wakes up over here, and then he's over here. And:
There are four records I want to buy
Four highs I'd like to try
Every letter I get I send four replies
And I don't know which one's from me
Great stuff. 
Jimmy fighting with his folks, from the Quadrophenia booklet. Photo by Ethan Russell
Whether the song would've fit on Quadrophenia is another matter. Was Townshend right to kick it out? Richie Unterberger in Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia feels that the tune is an "innocuous piano-driven ditty...far below the standards of any of the songs included on the original LP." Though I'm not sure that I agree with him on that second assertion, Unterberger was correct in surmising that Townshend might've written "Four Faces" "out of pressure to come up with a song that finally spelled out Jimmy’s quadrophenic personality."

In his indispensable liner notes to the “Director’s Cut” Quadrophenia boxset (2011), Townshend writes that what "Four Faces" ultimately fell victim to was bad timing: it had arrived too soon. By the summer of '72, he had decided that the Who’s next album "would be set in the Mod days of 1964." Two songs that came to define Jimmy's dilemma, "Is It In My Head" and "Love Reign O’er Me," had already been written but were not yet earmarked for the album. "With ‘Four Faces’ I was making an early attempt at setting the scene for a four-faceted central figure," Townshend acknowledges, before adding,
but this is a really light-hearted picture of Jimmy, conveyed by the boy himself. It’s almost a pre-psychiatric view: Jimmy is explaining one of his problems; he is mixed up and confused, and torn in four directions. Yet he still sounds like a jolly young man, not yet beset by the rages that would be sparked by drugs and family battles, and although this song was later replaced by the far more powerful ‘The Real Me’, it did provide me as a composer with a musical scratchpad with a good title that began at first to demand, then to cement, the way Jimmy's four personality traits felt reflected by each of the disparate members of his favourite band, The Who.
Townshend adds that the Lowrey organ he'd played "is what gives the chorus [of "Four Faces"] its clattering, optimistic feeling." (He used the same organ sound on "Cut My Hair.") I'm inclined to agree with Townshend that the drollness of "Four Faces" is at odds woth the overall vibe of Quadrophenia, a grayly dour, fairly tortured record. But a darker shade arrives in the very-Who-like bridge of the song, and some days I wonder if the tune, though comparatively trifling, might've added some adolescent spirit to things, some "pre-psychiatric" innocence. After all, teenagers move between gloom and light-heartedness in a flash, and aren't exceptionally deep thinkers, even a brooder like Jimmy, who's often more bewildered throughout the album than he is enlightened. In the alternate reality in my head—a reality where a vinyl double-album can squeeze in one more song—I sequence "Four Faces" between "Is It In My Head" and "I've Had Enough," cresting nicely to the moment when Jimmy wrecks his scooter. 

Then he's off to Brighton on the 5:15....

1 comment:

Brad Laidman said...

I've always loved that song that I found on the soundtrack. Apparently, the Entwistle mixes are better there too. It's a gem to me.