A Quick One, While He’s Away: Tribute to The Who’s Classic

A Quick One album by The Who

The Who rock opera appreciation here. This is one of guitarist and song writer Pete Townshend’s compositions before the Tommy (1968) album.

It was an early mini-opera, one the band took a few years to get 100% right after its initial recordings. But once they did, boy were the results astonishing—they showcase an incredible band at its absolute, perfect peak.

The Who’s First Mini-Opera in… A Quick One, While He’s Away

Right, A Quick One, While He’s Away is a six-movement track off the A Quick One album from 1966. It was Townshend’s first proper experimentation with a proper rock-opera, after dabbling with the concept in 1968’s The Who Sell Out.

It was written in 1966 for the band’s second album A Quick One. The album version isn’t all that great, but for the band’s thunderous live act it turns into something else.

Before the Live at Leeds performance of the song in 1970, Townshend described the song as  “Tommy’s parents”. Referring to the full scale rock opera he completed in 1968.

The set up for the song is simple enough. A Quick One, While He’s Away tells the tale of a woman cheating on her partner. When the man returns from a year away, she tells him about her infidelity.

After a period of reflection, the man forgives her and they get back together.

As a song it’s broken up into six short movements. Basically, you can class it as six short songs put together to make a whole. They are:

  1. Her Man’s Been Gone
  2. The Crying Town
  3. We Have a Remedy
  4. Ivor the Engine Driver
  5. You Are Forgiven

Essentially, a mix of pop songs, rock, and opera pieced together leading towards an uplifting crescendo. It’s a complex track that splits the singing duties between Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle, and Townshend.

All three kick off with a brief a cappella intro. Then Daltrey leads the song proper.

Her man’s been gone,
For nigh on a year,
He was due home yesterday,
But he ain’t here.

Down your street your crying is a well-known sound,
Your street is very well known, through out your town,
Your town is very famous for the little girl,
Whose crying can be heard all around the world.

We have a remedy.
You’ll appreciate.
No need to feel so bad.
He’s only late.
We’ll bring you flowers and things.
Help pass your time.
We’ll give him eagle’s wings.
Then he can fly to you.

They all have roles in the mini-opera. And in the closing sections, Townshend takes on the role of the cheating lover. She/he sings:

Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald.
Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald,
Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald,
Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald, Jerrald.

I can’t believe it,
Do my eyes deceive me?
Am I back in your arms?
Away from all harm?

It’s like a dream to be with you again.
Can’t believe that I’m with you again.

I missed you and I must admit,
I kissed a few and once did sit,
On Ivor the Engine Driver’s lap,
And later with him, had a nap.

The song then closes with a manic rush of forgiveness, an outpouring of emotion that later leant itself very well to live performances (see further below).

You are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven.

An ambitious track, it marked a considerable shift away from singles such as Substitute (1966). A Quick One, While He’s Away was recorded in December 1966. Substitute was recorded in March of the same year.

You can see Townshend’s plans in full flow there, wanting to shift The Who away from being merely a singles band. He was out to reshape rock music and try out new possibilities.

The studio recorded version of A Quick One, While He’s Away is great. Psychedelic at times, but enjoyable listening from a band still finding its creative feet.

But over the following years the four members rearranged it here and there. And it turned into a glorious live behemoth that created some of rock music’s greatest live moments.

Notable Live Performances of A Quick One, While He’s Away

A Quick One, While He’s Away became a staple live song for the band at its peak. The live versions recorded in 1970 are amazing!

Particularly on The Who Live at Leeds (recorded on 14th February, 1970). There’s a long explanation before the track, offering insights to the audience what it’s all about. Pete Townshend does most of the talking, but drummer Keith Moon chips in with silly asides throughout.

And then they launch into it and it’s incredible. Probably the best live version we’ve heard of the song. Everything about it is delivered to perfection—bassist John Entwistle’s live falsetto is beyond belief, too.

We also really like the London Colosseum version from 1969, which has a fantastic closing chorus with the band’s backing vocals at their peak.

Daltrey, Entwistle, and Townshend worked perfectly together there.

It’s interesting to note the band left the song off the 1969 Woodstock performance, with a focus instead on Tommy material. Probably due to time limitations, as they had an unusually short hour-long set in August ’69.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest earlier live versions weren’t good. Although the one at the famous 1967 Monterey Pop Festival is a little wonky.

However, they performed it live at The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus and filmed on 11th December 1968. This version is legendary as it shows how exciting The Who was as a live act.

Keith Moon is particularly on it, getting water everywhere and even hurling one of his toms toms to one side after four minutes.

Famously, the performance was so good The Rolling Stones noted they needed to up their live act game.

And that says all you need to know about The Who and A Quick One, While He’s Away. Legends through and through.

25 comments

  1. The Who are a total institution! Incidentally, ‘Lisztomania’ is worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet – a 1975 flick by Ken Russell in which Daltrey played Liszt and Ringo Starr played the Pope. Soundtrack by Liszt and Wagner, as re-interpreted by Rick Wakeman (who also appeared as Thor). A wonderful combination of crassness, silliness, tasteless digs at the Nazis and more. It shouldn’t have worked, largely didn’t… and yet… and yet… (Also the story in Daltrey’s very erudite autobiography about how he used one of the props from that movie to troll his neighbour is hilarious).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen Ken Russell’s Tommy, which is a quite mental take on the album. Very daft indeed, which inadvertently triggered off the legendary Oliver Reed and Keith Moon friendship.

      I should read Daltrey’s autobiography, though. I read Townshend’s from a few years back, but it’s a bit plodding and dull. He waited a bit too long to write it.

      Like

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