Music is evocative. Music helps us to imagine places and events, even if those places and events are embellished upon, exaggerated or completely imaginary. Listening to a song, the place that song describes becomes visceral and real. The emotions are tangible. We can touch, see and smell.
We are the kid “Standing in the rain, with his head hung low. Couldn’t get a ticket, it was a sold out show” in Foreigner’s 1982 “Jukebox Hero.” We can feel the rain dripping down our face. We can smell the damp.
We feel the loneliness of Eleanor Rigby, who “picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been. Lives in a dream. Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door” in The Beatles 1966 “Eleanor Rigby.” We can feel the sun shining on our face through the leaded window, we feel the musty draft of the large church sanctuary.
We are the lost loner, driving down the highway, and seeing “a dark cloud rising from the desert floor. I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm. Gonna be a twister to blow everything down that ain’t got the faith to stand its ground” in Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 “The Promised Land.” We feel the fear and dread. We can smell the storm in the air, and we literally don’t know what will come next.
Time and place. Music and stories. Imagination and creativity. The Who, a gangly, ragtag bunch of four ultra talented London misfits, featuring Pete Townshend as primary songwriter, guitarist and auteur created short stories, monster anthems and epic rock operas that imagined entire worlds and tragic, apocryphal stories out of nothing. We can see what Townshend is imaging, we can feel what Townshend is saying, and nowhere is the power of The Who’s storytelling and creativity more evident than in “The Song is Over” from 1971’s masterpiece Who’s Next.
A searing electric guitar picks out a beautiful melody, accompanied by a lone piano. Townshend sings first. His gentle voice laments the end of a song, the end of a relationship. The song is quiet. Intimate. Personal.
It’s all behind me
I should have known it
She tried to find me.
They’re all ahead now
I’ve got to learn it
I’m gonna to sing out.”
And then drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwhistle crash the quiet with monster drums and a thumping bass. The quiet and intimacy is gone. Lead vocalist Roger Daltry brings us into the wide open with a cool breeze, boundless optimism, strength and energy.
“I’ll sing my song to the wide open spaces
I’ll sing my heart out to the infinite sea
I’ll sing my visions to the sky high mountains
I’ll sing my song to the free, to the free‘“
Yes, Julie Andrews, the hills are indeed alive with the sound of music, but you can take a break. The Who have arrived, and thanks to their imagination and creativity, we can now picture ourselves on a barren windswept mountain. Our arms are raised, and we are singing to the world around us.
The song quiets down. Townshend sings again, and we are reminded of the sad story of a lost love that brought us to this moment.
“When I walked in through the door
Thought it was me I was looking for
She was the first song I ever sang
But it stopped as soon as it began”
Love and music. Music and love. These things are one in the same, and we can feel the pain and the loneliness. In “Jukebox Hero,” we can feel the rain dripping down our face, in “The Song is Over” we feel the wind, the sun and the cold.
Back and forth. Townshend in the small, quiet room. Daltry in windswept mountains. Townshend signing of heartbreak and sadness, Daltry singing…booming…bellowing of becoming one with the natural world, and singing to the mountains, the sea and the wide open spaces.
We feel the intimate sadness. We react to the boundless energy and breathless optimism. We are in two places at once, and they both feel as real to the listener as the suburban basement or the shared city bedroom where the song is being heard for the first time. This song is not over. It has just begun.
“The Song is Over”
Written by Pete Townshend
Performed by The Who
Released August 14, 1971