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Looking at Face Dances On Its 40th Anniversary

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Rather Than face Dances, The Who's Album Still Leaves Fans With a Constant Smile of Contentment


Well, he did not die, thank God, before he got old.

Had young Pete Townshend's wish on the Who smash “My Generation” actually come to fruition, fans of his music would have missed out on a lot of the songs he still had to offer after that declaration. He was not yet twenty when he wrote that line, so Townshend probably considered old age to start at forty.

He was close to that milestone age when he composed the songs for what is arguably the Who's most underrated album, Face Dances from 1981. Unlike the albums before it, Face Dances is devoid of anger and rage and bitterness.

One would almost expect all of those emotions to be rampant on Face Dances, it being the first record the group did without drummer Keith Moon. Two years before, Moon had passed away from complications brought on from drug overuse.

Townshend's feelings after the death of his lifelong friend had been vented on a solo album, Empty Glass from 1980. The title itself is a symbol of the passing of Moon, who had battled alcoholism most of his life.

A year later on Face Dances, Townshend seems to accept life with less outrage and more appreciation. He is embracing simple pleasures, rather than attacking the people or institutions around him.

His message throughout his seven songs is to stop trying to change the world, for its highs come with too many lows. Experiencing life as a roller coaster of emotions results in face dances, just as the title suggests, so slow down and enjoy the simple aspects of life.

For example, there is an abundance of references to the simplest and most lovable creatures on earth, known as Man's Best Friend.

“Your dog keeps licking my nose” Townshend writes in the opening track You Better You Bet whose video, as appropriate for the overall theme of the album, is simple footage of the quartet performing in black and white.

Dogs are also mentioned in the single “Don't Let Go the Coat,” a song of the need to cling to what you enjoy.

“I won't let go like stray at heel”, promises Townshend in the bridge.

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A song about freeing oneself from worries, “Cache Cache” also mentions our canine pets.

“Did you ever cause their dogs to bark, their guests to curse their noisy hosts,” asks Townshend through vocalist Roger Daltrey, who erases fears about bears or other perceived dangers being present.

Along with companionship with dogs, Townshend's Face Dances lyrics seek inner peace by leaving the rock and roll rat race. The toned down guitar work and jaunty keyboards complement the words, revealing a much more relaxed songwriter who no longer stresses to keep up with up and coming bands.

“Forget the war dances, Go blind and hang on, don't try the slang son,” is the closing advice on Don't Let Go the Coat, while Daily Records a few tracks later reiterates that message.

“I just don't quite know how to wear my hair no more, no sooner cut it than they cut it even more,” Townshend gladly concedes in the bridge of the song, which takes delight in the making of music without the incessant touring and business that goes along with it. “I just want to keep making daily records.”

Nowhere is the inner peace emphasized more than on the album's final cut, “Another Tricky Day.”

Townshend realizes that problems with the music industry or band mates or any other element of his life are not social crises, therefore do not treat them as such. He also sounds determined to enjoy the moment the music is being made, instead of worrying about how it will be received.

“Don't push the hands just hang on to the band,” Daltrey pleads in the second verse. “You can dance while your knowledge is growing.”

Face Dances headed the Who toward a more serene approach to music as well as lifestyle, one which should still be a goal now forty years after its release. It is hard not to find comfort in a record that starts and ends with carefree images, first of a dog licking your nose and finally a day spent ice skating on a frozen pond.

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