In 1979, The Who toured for the first time since Keith Moon’s death. It was mostly Europe, and East Coast cities, with the centerpiece being five nights at Madison Square Garden, which was before the tragedy that befell in Cincinnati, where 11 people were killed in a stampede.
The week after Cincinnati, Time magazine put The Who on the cover with the caption “Rock’s Outer Limits,” which was both ironic describing a band that was was trying to rebuild after a key member’s death, and weirdly apropos given what had just happened in Cincy. If I’m not mistaken, the cover story had been planned prior to the tragedy, given that in 1979, The Who were very much in the spotlight, with the tour plus The Kids Are Alright plus the film of Quadrophenia.
In any event, fast-forward to 1980, and during one of my out of town trips, maybe even the one to see The Who with Tim, Craig & Larry, I bought a bootleg of one of the nights of that 1979 show that used the Time magazine cover as the album cover — and which I always referred to as “Time Magazine Cover” — because I wanted a recording of what they sounded like with Kenney Jones.
It wasn’t a very good bootleg: an audience recording, with all of the pitfalls of audience recordings, but it had a really cool new song on it called “Dance it Away.” With Jones playing a straight, near-funk beat and Townshend clearly improvising words until he hits upon “dance it away,” what captivated me about this song was Pete Townshend’s guitar: it was all squiggles and jagged edges, literally dancing around the song itself. Sure, the recording was trash, but if this song was indicative of where they were going next, I was totally onboard.
Naturally, of course, when Face Dances came out, “Dance It Away” was nowhere to be found — and it would have been one of the best songs — so I just assumed that it was what it sounded like: a mid-set improv that was never to be repeated. So fast-forward a couple of years, and I came across the single for “Uniforms” — one of the All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes tracks I didn’t like — and noticed that the b-side was “Dance It Away.”
Finally!!! I took it home, ready to hear a studio version of this cool song I’d been secretly treasuring for a couple of years, and was incredibly surprised to find out that this “Dance It Away” was totally different. In fact, it really sounded more like a Who song than anything on All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes or even Face Dances: especially the guitar, which was pure patented Pete.
They say we’ve got nothing left
(Nothing on the ground)
They say we used it all up
(In the desert ground)
Got to be so careful with the rest
(We’ll break it down)
Or else the nukes are gonna play it tough
As the man himself once said: “Rock ‘n’ Roll might not solve your problems, but it does let you dance all over them,” so fuck the nukes, let’s dance! Fine by me. “Dance It Away” wouldn’t have been the best song on any of the four albums Pete wrote and released in 1980-1982 (well, maybe It’s Hard), but it would been absolutely welcome on any of them.
And with the benefit of the internet, I now know that the New York performance was the only performance of “Dance It Away” that sounded like what I’d heard on the bootleg, and that the song almost instantly evolved, and the reason it sounded so much like a Who song on the single was that John Entwhistle and Kenney Jones played on it.
BTW, I don’t know any of that for sure: just a couple of random internet comments, but it sure as hell makes sense given the ferocious rocking sound of the released version of “Dance it Away.”
“Dance It Away”
“Dance It Away” performed live by The Who, New York City, 1979
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