This is Meher Baba.
He was born in India in 1894. Beginning in 1925, until his death in 1969 he remained silent, never speaking one word.
Though I could’ve sworn I heard him say some words to The Fonz and Ralph Malph.
He gained many followers throughout the world who followed his teachings. In 1954 he declared himself “The Avatar of the age.” Which apparently meant he is a human form of God, and does not mean that he could either bend air and/or turn blue. His last words (communicated by signing) were “Do not forget that I am God.”
And you know who didn’t forget that and doesn’t want you to forget that?
Pete Townshend, guitarist for The Who.
In 1972, Pete released Who Came First, his first major label solo album.
While it got mostly positive critical reviews, it was not a major hit, as it only peaked #69 on the Billboard Album charts.
In name it is a solo album, but it is oddly made up of demo songs by The Who, other people’s songs, and lots and lots of Baba.
Who Came First starts off on a high note with “Pure and Easy.” It sounds like a song by The Who, and you know what? That’s probably because it was. It is a demo song for The Who. After the success of Tommy, Pete Townshend set out to write another rock opera. Lifehouse was originally intended to be a science-fiction film and corresponding album, but the idea was ultimately abandoned by the band. However, most of the songs intended for Lifehouse went on to be the center of The Who’s next few albums, “Baba O’Reilly”, “Bargain,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Won’t get Fooled Again,” “Who Are You” to name a few.
Whether the title of Lifehouse inspired the name of the dopey 2000’s band, that I can’t confirm nor deny.
The album’s second song is called “Evolution,” and according to Townshend’s accompanying notes on the album cover, “Ronnie Lane Sings and plays guitar. I play lead acoustic.” Okay, that’s fine if Pete doesn’t sing lead vocals on a song on his own solo record, there is a precedent for that with Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, and Ted Nugent. Also Ronnie Lane wrote the song, so basically Pete is just doing session work here, but okay, that’s fine.
Track 3 is called “Forever’s No Time at All.” According to Pete, “The words were written by Mike McInnerny’s wife, Katie. Billie Nichols sings and plays acoustic. Caleb Quaye plays everything else.” Wait a sec. So Pete I guess stood in the corner and gave them a thumbs up while they were recording? He then slapped it on his own album, which, by the way, doesn’t seem to have any pictures of these people, just him…
and of course Baba…
and a donkey.
Track 4 closes out side 1 with “Nothing is Everything (Let’s See Action.)” And it’s a really good song…what’s that? Oh, it’s another song recorded for The Who’s Lifehouse.
On to side 2, which I will call “Ode to Baba.”
Most people know Pete used Baba as a basis for the synthesizer track on one of rock’s greatest anthems, “Baba O’Riley.” While Pete sticks with the Baba stuff on this album, nothing rocks quite like “Baba O’Riley” here. This is off topic, but according to Wikipedia, “Baba O’Riley” is the official theme song of competitive eating champion Joey Chestnut.
Track 1, “Time is Passing” is the song Pete wrote to play for a gathering of Baba’s followers, when he visited India in 1972, thus it makes the album. Not a bad song, nothing too memorable, though.
Next is “Heartache” a cover of a Jim Reeves song. Well I get that, he is probably one of The Who’s influences. Oh, that’s not it? Well, according to Pete’s liner notes, “it was Baba’s favorite song along with Begin the Beguine.” I wonder if Baba ever heard “Boris the Spider?”
“Sheraton Gibson,” is a nice little ditty that seems out of place on the Baba-fest side of the album. It is sort of in the same vein of McCartney’s “Her Majesty” in that you can tell not much thought was put into the lyrics or music, yet it’s catchy and makes you feel good for a second.
“Content” is a poem written by a Baba follower, Maud Kennedy, that Pete put music to. It contains lines such as “I am receptive to the message to love” and “I am responsive to all that lives.” Pete is starting to push it here to make the awkward religious phrasing make sense in song. I have to say, out of context, those lines sound like something The Coneheads would say.
The album closes out with “Parvardigar,” a song adapted from Baba’s Universal Prayer. Pete really strains to fit “Imperishable beyond conception, beyond our minds” and “none can see you without eyes divine” into a musical meter. However, the music sounds Tommy-esque, so I’m sure the teens listening in 1972 would say, “This rocks!”
In my opinion, George Harrison was probably the best at releasing overtly religious songs while maintaining his musical integrity. On a side note, I have to say I don’t see how what Pete is attempting here is really any different from what a band like Stryper was doing in the 80’s, mixing religion with rock music.
Not that I am defending Stryper’s terrible music, nor am I favorably comparing them to one of the great rock artists of all time. I’m just saying that, in this case, Pete is mixing his religious beliefs at the detriment of his music.
Let’s see, what does this say at the bottom of the back cover?
Hmmm…a solo album that had one side with two songs written for your band, one song where you barely appeared, one that you had nothing to do with at all, and a whole side of the album pushing your religious beliefs? Ego trip? Hey, you said it. Not me.
Well, musically the two songs intended for Lifehouse are fantastic, “Forever’s No Time at All” has a neat beat to it even if Pete had nothing to do with it, “Sheraton Gibson” is a nice little song, and musically “Parvardigar” is interesting in spite of its lyrics.
So, overall, while my review may seem mostly negative, I still give Who Came First a mild recommendation. In my case, I paid $1 at a thrift store for the LP. I’d say it was well worth at least twice that.