By the end of 1972, in addition to their heavy workload with The Who, both Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle had recorded solo albums. Townshend had been featured on two albums inspired by the spiritualist teachings of Meher Baba and also released the moderately successful ‘Who Came First’. Enwistle had two non-charting solo albums under his belt (1971’s ‘Smash Your Head Against The Wall’ and 1972’s ‘Wistle Rhymes’). Surprisingly late to the party, Roger Daltrey’s first solo album was released in April 1973.
As part of The Who, Roger Daltrey had occasionally written songs (most notably receiving a co-write on their 1965 hit ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’), but he wasn’t really known as a songwriter. With regard to his first solo album, Daltrey reprises his role as a gifted vocalist. Simply titled ‘Daltrey’, nine the album’s songs were written by David Courtney and the then unknown Leo Sayer, with another two written by Courtney with Adam Faith.
While Daltrey himself did not contribute to any song writing, some of the songs themselves are very much suited to his vocal style. From the off, it’s obvious that ‘Daltrey’ is not a selection of tunes that Roger could have performed with The Who, each of the songs markedly different to Townshend’s style. The album tests his instantly recognisable voice, with a softer selection of musical arrangements. While the music retains almost none of Pete Townshend’s usual bombast – settling more in the radio-friendly adult rock/pop field – Daltrey’s voice, for the most part, carries its distinctive bluster, but a greater focus on piano led tunes gives Daltrey the opportunity to stretch out a little.
The album opens with ‘One Man Band’ (a song which later would become a signature tune for Sayer). Daltrey is accompanied by an acoustic guitar, followed by a bouncy approach which combines elements of theatre (of the light-weight variety) with middle of the road pop. Daltrey’s vocal has an element of fun and in all, it’s an opening track which sets out Daltrey’s solo musical journey with something a little naive. This is followed by ‘The Way of The World’ (one of the Adam Faith contributions) which has a bias toward country music. Courtney’s piano leads things off in an almost waltzing time signature, and guitar fills from Argent’s Russ Ballard add depth. A guitar solo is well executed and a violin accompaniment courtesy of East of Eden’s Dave Arbus highlights the country feel. Sadly, its lack of bridge sections or middle eight makes its three minute duration feel more like five. Thankfully, the chorus features a welcome key change and while Daltrey does his absolute best with this song, he deserved far less cumbersome.
‘You Are Yourself’ exudes confidence, as Daltrey lends a very powerful vocal to an orchestrated arrangement based around Dave Courtney’s piano. As the vocal soars into the chorus, Daltrey hits the spot as he delivers notes which are unmistakable. While half a world away from Townsend’s songwriting, this is just fantastic, as the piano compliments the vocal and the strings rise swell to give emphasis. A closing section featuring a heavily reverbed vocal weaken the track ever so slightly, as Daltrey struggles to fight the temptation to shout a few vocal lines in a way only he can. On the whole though, it’s incredible.
Some of Leo Sayer’s songs are very sympathetic to Daltrey’s voice, the best of the bunch being the absolutely gorgeous ‘Giving It All Away’. Beautifully arranged, this ballad allows Daltrey ample opportunity to wring the best out of every note, without resorting to bombast. His voice cries out against Courtney’s piano (backed by Bob Henrit’s drums on the louder sections), but something which would have been good is elevated to superb by the addition of unfussy orchestration. The strings are great – if a little obvious, but listen out for those couple of stings featuring oboe and flute. Quite simply, Daltrey’s reading of this song is a high point of orchestrated seventies pop/rock. (Daltrey scored a top ten UK hit in 1973 with ‘Giving It All Away’. It was later re-recorded by Sayer after his breakthrough, although it’s best not to think about Leo Sayer – especially since his 1976 appearance on ‘The Muppet Show’ is scary to the point of almost freak-show proportions).
‘It’s a Hard Life’ has a smooth arrangement, with Dave Courtney’s piano work laying the foundations, which is then overlaid with a lush string arrangement. Whereby most vocalists would treat this as a heart-tugging ballad, Daltrey tackles it a full bore, his loud voice even cracking as he hits the loudest notes. The closing section of the song introduces pounding drums and brass. Naturally, this is the part where Rog ought to have belted out at the top of his lungs…but it’s instrumental. The vocal ought to kill any passion carried within the song, but Daltrey is such a consummate professional, it works.
‘The Story So Far’ sounds like a quirky number at first, but it soon stumbles. Tackling a tune which wobbles somewhere between reggae and calypso, Henrit does a fine job behind the drum kit and Dave Wintour puts in a fine performance on the bass, but the other elements let the side down somewhat. Courtney’s piano playing could best be described as heavy handed, going from bad to worse as he hammers out a solo which barely stays in tune (or in time); there are strings thrown in where they don’t belong, alongside a particularly unpleasant brass section. And all the while, Rog is in there, trying his best to be a star. While ‘Daltrey’ features some great songs, this is bar far it’s worst – and possibly even one of the worst of Roger Daltrey’s solo career. ‘Reasons’ is a decent rock-based number, where Wintour’s bass work is one of the high points. Very high in the mix, the bass is really solid and played against an equally suitable drum part, this really helps the track to be one of the album’s greatest musical outings. Daltrey in turn sounds comfortable here, given ample opportunity to belt out a vocal more in keeping with his day job. Measuring this against ‘The Story So Far’ (and maybe even ‘One Man Band’), it proves there’s so much truth in the old saying that sometimes less is more.
‘When The Music Stops’ is steeped in sadness as Daltrey recounts the end of a relationship, his voice backed solely backed by a string quartet. Where normally Daltrey appears to only be capable of singing at two volumes (loud and louder), here, he offers a rare, thoughtful, almost even gentle performance, his voice really feeling the sad tones of the song. A reprise of ‘One Man Band’ (recorded live on the famous rooftop of Apple Studios) plays up the busking elements of the original opening number. Traffic noises accompany Daltrey’s vocal and acoustic guitar before he performs a scat vocal and imitates trumpets with his voice (very loudly). The sound of his voice drifts into the distance, bringing the album to a close.
‘Daltrey’ sold very well in the UK upon release, eventually peaking at #6 on the UK album chart, making it his most successful solo album. Anyone expecting something with a similar timeless quality to The Who at their best will possibly be disappointed, but anyone able to appreciate the album on its own merits will find some genuinely great songs here.