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The Who Hardcover Review

6 min read

A visual record of the exploits of one of the legends of rock.

Creative Staff
Marcus Hearn

What They Say
From the pub gigs of summer 1964 to the group’s triumphant performance at Live 8 in summer 2005, this book traces the progress of The Who from sharp-suited mods to psychedelic stars and pioneers of the rock opera.

Following the band on the road and during the recording of numerous television shows, as well as stunning images of The Who’s festival appearances at Monterey and the Isle of Wight, plus shots from performances at such diverse venues as the Marquee Club and Wembley Stadium.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The Who is a band that is a bit of an odd duck in some ways. They had a fair number of chart toping hits and bestselling records (mostly at a time when this literally meant “records”) and yet somehow, at least in the interactions I have had with a number of people, they seem to be an afterthought for some reason. While many know of some of their biggest hits they have fallen into the large shadow cast by both the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and yet in their heyday they were a competitor with these bands and at times managed to surpass them in the eyes of some fans with their risk taking and high energy antics.

Perhaps this has to do with the time they were rising up in which had so many brilliant artists or perhaps it has as much to do with the fact that they didn’t end on a spectacular, shocking or tragic note (not that the band didn’t have its share of tragedy with drummer Keith Moon’s all too young passing) but in a relatively quiet manner as far as rock bands go as they seemed to acknowledge they had simply reached a period where it was the proper time to walk away. Maybe it has to do with the change in how music was consumed as they left just as the music video was becoming a dominant force and one which may have helped them get their stage craft out farther but for whatever reason they seem to have fallen into the cracks of modern music to the point that some wondered when they were announced why this band was playing the halftime event at a Super Bowl a few years back.

For those who are ardent fans as well as those somewhat curious about the band will get a glimpse perhaps into some of its appeal as Titan Books has a new re-release of photos taken of the band from various points in their history, though the book does focus a bit on certain periods like their early days as well as later reunion a bit more than some other points along their journey. In some ways it feels like an odd premise that a book can give so much life to a look at a group of guys know for their music and yet that is the state that is created here.

In the pre-MTV days (let alone the current access that a band can create through a website) the music industry was a bit different as it relied somewhat heavily on print publications for a good deal of  the access it had to fans which was symbiotic in nature as the music  oriented print publications relied just as heavily on the access they got to the bands to keep their sales numbers up and stay in business. To maximize the benefit to both sides, the print industry worked to cultivate photographers who could maximize the limited time spent with a band and who had an eye for striking images- either through ones they helped stage to feature the group or the occasional spontaneous ones that captured a moment and the photographer happened to be in the right place at the right time and recognize that what was happening before them was special and have the reflexes to capture it.

Today with cameras everywhere at the beckon call it can be easy to forget just how much power any given photo can have until coming across a special one. This book is a powerful example of just what emotions still images can posses as Marcus Hearn has collected some very evocative and wonderful images from across the time and various publications that recorded the exploits of the group from their earliest days through (at the original time of the book’s publication) their latest reunion project in 2005.

To help really sell the images Hearn uses his eye for presentation to assemble a near perfect balance when it comes to which images work best to tell a narrative and let the reader follow what is in essence a visual journey through the years and notes that brought these members so much acclaim. To do this at times there are images that are presented as half page shots above other image while some pictures get a full page to double page spread that highlights the captured moment in time beautifully while the publisher adds to the presentation by using very glossy white pages to help give the pictures an addition “pop” factor.

The story here is largely one that is told through the images and there is a minimalist approach taken to establishing a written narrative as most of the writing that is present in the book exists mostly to frame the location of the photos more than anything that the band may have been going through at the time (though there are a few hints at times to some of the internal disagreement that the band dealt with) which reinforces the nature of this book as capturing some of the less open moments of the band’s public life. It isn’t a tell all sort of book and it largely eschews more tabloid moments to focus on the effort the band put into in creating their public displays which at time creates a bit of an odd dynamic as one gets some really powerful and often intimate looking images that are still wrapped in a image that the band –or each individual member- may be looking to display.

That such intimacy can be conveyed in many of the images is a testament to both the original photographers as well as the eye of Hearn as he shifted though decade’s worth of images to pick out ones that carry the maximum amount of impact both in terms of giving a record of the band as well as helping to connect these moments frozen in time with an audience who may not even have been born when they were recorded yet who can still appreciate the power that is locked inside them. The choice in photos here helps the book reach beyond just fans of the band and will appeal to those who enjoy the storytelling that can be created through photography which chronicles the journey one band made from its early days to one of the highest points in rock stardom and the many years that lay on the road between their founding to the present day.

In Summary:
With a rather famous and successful band as its focus, this release of The Who collects together a fairly large number of photos that showcase the band over the four decades of their existence. One doesn’t need to be a fan of the group in particular to enjoy this journey from their earliest days to their later reunions as the camera presents a record of their path as well as some of the striking personas that they worked to create that are fascinating just for the set up and the progression of the years as it etches its mark into the faces of each of its subjects. While it is difficult to label a book as “essential” when it deals with one of the more successful bands of all time, it certainly is a treat that fans of that band would be remiss in passing up as well as serving as a visual spectacle for those who may be of more passing acquaintance with them or those who just love the time capsule like appeal that the pictures over the years present.

Content Grade:  B+
Packaging Grade: A

Released By: Titan Books
Release Date: July 31st, 2012
MSRP: $19.95

 

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