Although normally associated with The Who, the superstar band’s drummer Keith Moon also released a notorious debut (and only) solo album back in 1975.
The album is an astonishing thing. With good intentions, Moon headed in intending to sing, whilst record label MCA was more than happy to back the star with a big budget. What could ever go wrong?
Two Sides of the Moon
Having left London to live next door to Steve McQueen in LA, and with The Who’s touring having dried out due to Pete Townshend‘s other projects, Keith Moon was a bit bored.
His plans for an acting career weren’t taking off, despite some minor roles, and so he did what the other members of the band had already done – went for a solo album.
As one of the best drummers in the world, you’d think he’d turn it into a thrilling drumming record using his natural genius. Instead, he made the bizarre decision to sing across a strange assortment of tracks. He only drummed on three of them.
A bit of clarity here, as Keith Moon (and read Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon for more on his biography) loved to sing. The Who’s other members – all gifted singers – blocked him due to his inadequacy.
Occasionally they relented to keep him happy. For instance, they let him sing a version of Jan and Dean’s Bucket T.
And at some point he insisted on backing vocals during live shows circa 1965. Soon enough that was blocked entirely by the others.
You can hear Townshend yelling “I saw ya!” at the end of the single Happy Jack as Moon snuck into the studio to try and provide backing vocals. The message was clear – sod off.
John Entwistle, for example, asides from being a genius bass guitar player he could also perform an astonishing falsetto.
The incredible thing about The Who circa 1969 is the constantly revolving stage act. Songs shifted between Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle.
Daltrey was the lead singer, but the lead guitarist and songwriter was also at the forefront of many of the tracks.
Townshend had a more delicate voice, whilst lead singer Roger Daltrey relied on a more masculine approach. But he could also do the high-pitched stuff, as you can hear on The Who Sell Out (1967).
Now Moon will have seen all of that and was a bit resentful he couldn’t chip in.
Heading into the studio in 1974 after The Who’s various successes, Moon saw the opportunity to prove his singing worth.
Instead, over several months of astonishing excess and wasted budget, he used the opportunity to bring his friends in and turn the sessions into an incredible mishmash of heavy drinking, drug-taking, and minimal work.
Despite not exactly having an amazing voice (and a lot of the tracks drown out his vocals with the music), the criticism of his album isn’t entirely fair.
Don’t Worry Baby we think has a sensitive and delicate touch to it.
Knowing Moon was smashed out of his mind singing Do Me Good (above) is no revelation. Whilst recording Substitute with The Who, he later admitted:
"I don't remember anything about recording Substitute. I was too stoned... later I accused the other members of the band of getting another drummer in [laughs crazily]."
But the extent of the partying for this album indicates Moon’s state of mind in 1974. Inviting in his celebrity mates, including Harry Nilsson and John Lennon, Moon riffed off his adoration for surf music and covered several Beach Boys songs.
We tried desperately hard to find a video he recorded for Don’t Worry Baby, which showed off Moon’s wonderful sense of humour.
It featured him getting a surfboard and putting it onto a paddle pool in the back of an ordinary garden. And then, with incredible vigour, pretending to splash his way out into the surf.
We remember watching that in a Behind the Music VH1 (1998) special and laughing ourselves stupid. We saw it in 2006. But it’s no surprise the Monty Python troop thought so highly of him.
Anyway, the point is the studio sessions turned into one giant pissup. The record label MCA quickly grew a bit concerned about that, but Moon’s overly assertive drunken behaviour led to demands of a flash double vinyl cover.
MCA initially refused this, but an axe-wielding Moon threatened to smash in one executive’s desks and they decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
After its release, Moon managed to turn up on the Old Grey Whistle Test to promote his solo album and kind of glosses over the total carnage of the recording sessions.
The album maintains terrible reviews. This isn’t really a reflection on Keith Moon’s musical abilities as he’s regarded as one of the best drummers in history.
What Two Sides of the Moon does represent is his wild excess, issues that would have him dead within three years of releasing his solo album.
Moon was apparently upset with the negative reviews, but it’s not much of a surprise. This wasn’t so much an album, more of a drunken romp.
It’s tempting to suggest he needed some focus here, but even if he’d remained as drunk as he evidently was through recording sessions… had he made it a drumming album, brilliance was there.
But a sense of grandiosity, ridiculousness, and delusions got the better of him. And that pretty much sums up his life, as gloriously extravagant as it was in just 32 years.