“I’m One” – The Who from “Quadrophenia” as seen in “Freaks and Geeks”

Ever since I introduced the late 1990s TV show “Freaks & Geeks” to my son a few weeks ago, he has binge-watched the entire one-season show (18 hours) at least 5-6 times on Netflix.  It’s been nice reconnecting with the best show ever to be broadcast on TV about teenagers, if not one of the best series in TV history.

This particular scene is one of my favorites.  It’s one where the geekiest of the geeks, latchkey child Bill Haverchuck, comes home after school to watch TV by himself.  He catches an early TV appearance by comedian Garry Shandling and experiences a moment of unbridled joy laughing at Shandling and just hanging by himself.  I know that many people paint the life of a latchkey kid as unbearably tragic.  But speaking as a latchkey kid myself, sorry Dr. Laura, I had a f–king blast! And no, it’s not because I used the alone time to drink alcohol, do drugs, use my bedroom as a f–kpad, or look at porn.  I realize this is anathema to common ideas of parenting these days, but sometimes kids just need one-two hours a day to do absolutely nothing but veg.  Yes, socializing, exercising, doing school activities, etc. are important, but vegging is seriously underrated and kids these days don’t do enough of it. 

Anyway, I love the way that The Who’s “I’m One” … one of the best, but least-heralded tracks from their great album “Quadrophenia” is used in this scene.  One of the best uses of popular music for dramatic purposes ever.

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“A Quick One While He’s Away” – Green Day

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The punks meet the godfathers. Green Day mastered the mini-rock opera on “American Idiot” with two 10-minute rock operas: “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.” Here Green Day pay homage with a damn terrific cover of the original mini-rock opera, the Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” recorded as a bonus track for “21st Century Breakdown.” This is my favorite Who track of all-time and Green Day delivers magnificently.

“Who Are You?” – The Who

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The premise for this classic song came from Pete Townshend winning a 7-figure settlement in the late 1970s, which made him feel horrible, because he devoted a lot of time and energy to an endeavor that only resulted in a check. He drowned his sorrows in booze and ran into Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols at a local pub. He ranted at them, saying that the Who were finished, that the Pistols needed to take over and “finish the job” … whatever that meant. He then dramatically ripped up his check and stomped on it several times. Jones and Cook looked perplexed and expressed their sorrow about a possible break-up of the Who, to which Townshend snarled “I’m disappointed in you!” and staggered off into the night. He passed out in a shop doorway and was awakened by a patrol man who told Townshend, “As a special treat, if you can get up and walk away, you can sleep in your own bed tonight.” Townshend made it home, passed out, and the next morning wrote “Who Are You?”

The version in this video is different than the version most people know. There’s some nice footage of the band, including Keith Moon who would soon pass away, goofing around and having a great time in the studio.

“Mother of Pearl” – Roxy Music

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For those that only know Roxy Music by the smooth crooning of 1982’s “Avalon” album need to understand that the band was not always so slick. The material that Roxy recorded during the period between 1972 and 1975 was a wonderful mix of the sleazy and the sublime. “Mother of Pearl” is arguably the greatest song of that period, and arguably the greatest thing they ever recorded.

The first 1:23 of this song is pure metallic freakout by guitarist Phil Manzanera while lead singer Bryan Ferry sings about all of the meaningless sex he’s getting, albeit with a very frenetic, panicked tone. Then, the song slows down considerably and Ferry finally confesses that he’s found what he was looking for all along … true love … and that he will give up everything to spend the rest of his life with his “mother of pearl.” Critics cite the Who’s “A Quick One” as the greatest mini-rock opera of all time. I totally love “A Quick One,” but I would also add “Mother of Pearl” to that very short list. It’s an absolutely thrilling and emotional epic. The song was used in a very pivotal early episode of the hit TV show “How I Met Your Mother” and also in the film “SLC Punk.”

(On a side note, I would also add Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia” to that very short list of greatest mini-rock operas of all time. But I’ve already discussed that in an earlier post).

“Acid Queen” – Tina Turner (from Ken Russell’s 1975 film of the “The Who’s Tommy”)

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From Ken Russell’s wonderfully bats–t crazy and psychedelic visualization of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy,” is Tina Turner’s wild version of “Acid Queen.” Even wilder was that both David Bowie and Lou Reed were considered for the part eventually played by Turner. Due to heavy drug and sex references, not safe for work. However, I should note that this was a PG-rated film back in 1975. My how things have changed.

“Baba O’ Reilly” – The Who (from Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam”) 1999

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The bravura montage from one of Spike Lee’s best, and most underrated films “Summer of Sam.”  This is the sequence where Adrien Brody’s character plays his guitar along to the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” juxtaposed with clips of the craziness from his character’s neighborhood, along with the rest of NYC (including the Son of Sam murdering more people), during the summer of 1977.  One of the best films of the 1990s and one that is sadly ignored / forgotten.  Co-written by Michael Imperioli, Christopher Molisanti from “The Sopranos.”  Due to graphic violence and language, not safe for work.

“Bell Boy” – The Who

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The best song from what I would describe as the British “Catcher in the Rye”. This is the song where our protagonist Jimmy discovers his ass-kicking hero, Ace Face, is actually (gulp) a bellboy who licks the boots of people Jimmy despises.

This is the final straw for Jimmy and leads to the ambiguous finale where Jimmy either dies or becomes an adult (which in Jimmy’s mind is the same thing). Yes, on one level this is quite silly once you’ve become an adult and see it from the other side, but when you’re not quite a grownup, sometimes this s–t really seems like life and death. To Pete Townshend’s credit (and Franc Roddam’s, who directed the 1979 film version), he takes Jimmy’s issues seriously without actually supporting them. The Criterion Collection released the film version on Blu-Ray in August 2012 with all the usual bells and whistles. From what I’ve read, it was quite a cultural phenomenon in Britain back in the late 1970s. Johnny Rotten almost got the lead role, and while he would have been interesting, I’m much happier they went with Phil Daniels. A great flick.

“Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession” (1980) dir. Nicolas Roeg

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I can’t imagine a worse “date movie” than Nicolas Roeg’s psychotic 1980 masterpiece “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession.”  OK, maybe “Cruising,” “A Serbian Film,” or “Irreversible” would be worse … WAAAY worse.   But seriously, I don’t want you to underestimate how seriously f–ked up “Bad Timing” is.  Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell probably deliver their best-ever acting performances as a mutually destructive couple from hell.  Russell’s character is the stereotypical slutty “crazy woman,” and Russell does play the part very well.  Garfunkel plays an unctuous, controlling, co-dependent psychiatrist scumbag who, we later learn, may actually be more deranged than Russell.  And, of course, there’s Harvey Keitel (the patron saint of f–ked-up cinema) playing a Viennese detective interrogating Garfunkel’s character about Russell’s suicide attempt, trying to play mind games with someone who is a master of the art.  A complex, well-acted, well-written, and well-directed journey into relationship hell.   It also has a great use of music, from Tom Waits to Billie Holiday to Keith Jarrett to the Who.

Here’s Roeg’s effective use of the Who’s “Who Are You” during a couple of crucial scenes:

It was released with an X-rating in the United States, due to nudity, sex, language, and extremely disturbing subject matter.  The Criterion Collection had the good taste to release it on DVD in the U.S. and you can watch it for free on Netflix streaming.  See it with someone you love.