BOOK’S JOOK: Pete Townshend’s “Rough Boys”

  • Book’s Jook is a column dedicated to placing a record within my dream jukebox, if I were to have one. The Seeburg jukebox shown below is similar to the one I have wanted since I was a kid. To read more on why I started this column, click here.

    Pete Townshend photo PTRoughBoys_label1_zps6e4dec05.jpg
    When I first saw MTV on December 24, 1981, it was in silence. Oceanic Cablevision in Honolulu were about to bring the new cable network to Hawaiian households but they were still testing it, so while I could see video, there was no music yet. I had heard it was coming, had turned a channel and there it was. I was excited but without any music, I became anxious. On December 31, 1981, the sound popped in and I was immediately sold. The new wave of my musical education would begin. Back then, MTV’s programming was delayed by a week because it wasn’t possible for MTV to send satellite signals 24 a day, 7 days a week, in stereo. That may have been normal for channels like WTCG, CNN, and ESPN, but MTV was still small time. Thus, by the time 1982 was in its first days, they were still showing Christmas programming. One of the first videos I saw was one by the guitarist from The Who, Pete Townshend. It was “Let My Love Open The Door”, which seemed cool but the one I really got into was one that they also used in a few MTV promos.

    The attitude of “Rough Boys” was loud and raunchy and felt like a Who song, or at least it felt like The Who music I had known as an 11 year old. I hadn’t explored their discography just yet but it sounded like some of the older material I heard, some of the then-recent songs and of course their appearance at Woodstock. This was another level. The video showed Townshend at a pool hall, hassling the young kids while he played his guitar with aggression. Did he really say “I wanna fight and kiss you“? It left me to wonder… “why?” Why does Townshend want to kiss the rough boys? (In truth, his lyric was “I wanna bite and kiss you“.) Regardless of what he did or didn’t mean, his guitar work was powerful and always in your face in this song, and the bass work (from Tony Butler, later a member of Big Brother) just pounded deeply and it was felt through a teeny television speaker. I hadn’t known it at the time since the music video only showed Townshend, but Kenney Jones was the drummer for the song. Looking back now, you can tell it’s him although back then, he was primarily known as The Who’s new drummer, having replaced Keith Moon after he died in 1978.

    If there’s any part of the song that I completely bow down to, it’s the rise to the climax in the last 45 seconds. Townshend plays his guitar in a minimalistic fashion, almost meditative while he plays a layer of keyboards and guitars that changes in chords, building up, calming down, before it rises to the point where it doesn’t stop and all of a sudden he yells “I WANNA SEE WHAT I CAN FIND!” and the song ends cold. Those 45 seconds remains a chicken skin moment for me, no matter how many times I listen to it, especially as it follows the powerful strength of the song’s previous three minutes. It makes you want to beat up people.

    Pete Townshend photo PTRoughBoys_label2_zps65a1418c.jpg

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