Watch John Entwistle’s Bass-Playing Genius on Display in Isolated Tracks for “Won’t Be Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Reilly”

I guess it’s easy to be “The Qui­et One” in The Who when sur­round­ed by a preen­ing singer with gold­en locks, a gui­tarist with a wind­mill arm who smash­es his equip­ment, and a com­plete­ly insane drum­mer (on and off stage). But John Entwistle helped root the band by stand­ing still and deliv­er­ing some of the meati­est and beat­i­est licks and melod­ic runs in ‘60s rock.

The above footage sal­vaged from the doc The Kids Are Alright shows the mas­ter at work. “Won’t Be Fooled Again” isn’t known as a bass-for­ward song, so this iso­lat­ed track from a live take show will make you hear it anew. Entwistle plays his bass like an elec­tric lead, dou­bling the drums some­times, oth­er times mim­ic­k­ing the vocals. He plays triplets and runs. He zooms up the neck, slides down, arpeg­giates, the lot. It’s thick. Just hit play.

As some YouTube wag points out, it’s some­thing of a bass play­er joke come to life at the end, where Entwistle leaves his bass onstage and walks off, while a girl rush­es out of the audi­ence to embrace the lead singer. Such is life in a band.

From the same shoot, you can also check out his iso­lat­ed bass from “Baba O’Reilly.” Entwistle has a three-note riff to work with. He stays true to it while fill­ing in spaces here and there with dis­tor­tion turned way up. At the end he has a sip of (I assume) water and looks about as excit­ed as when he start­ed.

In the mid-nineties, Entwistle was inter­viewed for a book on drum­mer Kei­th Moon. Author Tony Fletch­er caught him in an hon­est mood:

“I wast­ed my whole fuck­ing career on The Who,” he said between gulps of Remy Mar­tin brandy, his favourite tip­ple. “Com­plete fuck­ing waste of time. I should be a mul­ti-mil­lion­aire. I should be retired by now. I’ll be known as an inno­v­a­tive bass play­er. But that doesn’t help get my swim­ming pool rebuilt and let me sit on my arse watch­ing TV all day. I wouldn’t want to, but I’d like the chance to be able to.”

Not all rock bands con­sist of best friends, and some are down­right ran­corous. But that’s often what brings out the best in peo­ple. So as you gaze at Entwistle sti­fling a yawn dur­ing these two clips, con­sid­er his con­fes­sion and enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Neu­ro­science of Bass: New Study Explains Why Bass Instru­ments Are Fun­da­men­tal to Music

Lis­ten to Grace Slick’s Hair-Rais­ing Vocals in the Iso­lat­ed Track for “White Rab­bit” (1967)

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

What Makes Flea Such an Amaz­ing Bass Play­er? A Video Essay Breaks Down His Style

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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