Happy Birthday (Pete Townshend album)
|Studio album by Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Mike Da Costa, Ron Geesin|
|Label||Universal Spiritual League/Eel Pie|
|Pete Townshend chronology|
The album was originally released in February 1970 (in commemoration of Meher Baba's birthday on 25 February) as the first in a series of tribute albums dedicated to Pete Townshend's spiritual mentor Meher Baba.
Only about 2,500 copies were pressed in the original 1970 issue.
The album was reissued in similar numbers in 1977.
Later albums by Pete Townshend and friends dedicated to Meher Baba included I Am, With Love, and Avatar (a compilation of the previous three albums, later released as Jai Baba). Several songs from Happy Birthday and I Am reappeared in the 1972 Pete Townshend's solo album Who Came First.
The first of three albums in Pete Townshend's devotional trilogy to his spiritual master, the late Meher Baba. Assembled and produced by Pete Townshend, the disc also includes contributions from poet Maud Kennedy, Ronnie Lane, Alan Cohen, Ron Geesin, and Mike Da Costa. Meher Baba had passed in 1969, and the album, issued before Who Came First, was released on the avatar's birthday, less than a year after his death. Pete Townshend sings Maud Kennedy's beautiful untitled poem to kick things off, accompanied only by a mandolin, an acoustic guitar, a piano, and an acoustic guitar, there is an innocence so uncharacteristic of his work, the listener gets startled by its optimism:" I am ready/to learn and to grown/I am alone with the truth/I am brave/what is there to fear/I am strong the dark supports me/I am patient/each moment of eternity/I am able to help whenever necessary." While its sentiment is simple, it is no more so than "See me/Feel me/Touch me/Heal me," from The Who's album Tommy. It's a beautiful way to begin an album of devotional material. Next up is the rowdier aspect of divine inspiration in Ronnie Lane's "Evolution." Lane digs in deep with a song reminiscent of the material he recorded with The Faces, such as "Debris." It's a crazy skiffle tune that could have been penned by Bob Dylan in a drunken moment. Its story offers a tale not so much of evolution, which is the song's logical tack, but one of transformation. The protagonist begins life as a stone that becomes a blacksmith named Dan. But in another life, he is a sword that cuts like hell and kills, before rusting unto dust. Again, this sword comes back as a daisy eaten by a goat that falls in a moat. It's relative, carries the same weight. Even as a grub living in mud that becomes a butterfly and then St. Luke. Ronnie Lane's humour and rough and raucous demeanor are infectious and the listener feels as if she were being treated to a song in a barroom rather than on a record of offerings to a spiritual master. Perhaps Meher Baba wouldn't have had it any other way. Ronnie Lane's track is followed by a small piece by Pete Townshend, with piano, harmonica, and strings, called "Day of Silence." It's a profound song, full of contemplative grace and sage wisdom about living everyday life. It's an invitation with a John Lennon-esque pop melody – complete with eight-bar bridge – to step back and observe and let it all go. The more esoteric aspect of the album begins here as Alan Cohen teaches from Meher Baba's biography with sitar accompaniment. Mike Kennedy jumps in with his own skiffle tune – Meher Baba must have liked skiffle – performed by Pete Townshend. His vocal and banjo accompaniment slips two guitars in the middle of the mix to flesh it out. Entitled "Mary Jane," you already know what it's about. It's one of the first anti-drug songs of the era. Alan Cohen speaks again about Meher Baba before Pete Townshend moves back into the album's mix more firmly in control than ever before. Performing "The Seeker", with a minimal accompaniment, but it's a demo version of the song with Pete Townshend singing with a grain in his voice that is both menacing and tired. And if it's not Keith Moon on drums, the cat's got me fooled. It's a great version, perhaps the definitive one. This is followed by Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," performed by Pete Townshend. The reason it's included here is that it was Meher Baba's favourite pop song. Pete Townshend's reading is full of solemnity and the intention of performing the song straight. But he can't. Too bad Elvis Costello wasn't around then to sing it for him. But you have to give the man props for trying. His guitar playing is flawless, despite the swift key changes, and chording and time shifts. He's trying hard to feel the tine through Meher Baba's heart, but it doesn't quite come off. It's fascinating to hear someone fail so sincerely and know it; yet he carries on until the end of the end. Ron Geesin's neo-serialist tone poem, "With a Smile Up His Nose They Entered" follows as a bizarre inclusion here before Pete Townshend begins the close out with "The Love Man." Again, it's a demo with sweeping backing vocals, acoustic guitar, and a killer drum part – this time whoever it is, is very fine but it isn't Keith Moon. This is one of Pete Townshend's storied love songs, directed somewhere else but deep in from the guttersnipe child in his heart who finally reaches out to say hello to the "love man" who will enter his heart and transform him. It's a solid rock tune, as good as anything the man's written. A poem by Mike Da Costa officially ends the record, but Pete Townshend's song with the pedal steel break in the middle is where it really moves off the player. There's nothing else to day; the birthday gift is complete, perfect in and of itself. As an album Happy Birthday stands the 30-plus years of time very well. While its recording quality is not state of the art, Pete Townshend did his level best to remaster the disc with care and concern for the original sound of the record while opening its range for listeners with a digital prejudice. For The Who or Pete Townshend collectors, this is as necessary as any of the man's solo works – despite its occasional excesses. It can be purchased only as part of the two-CD set (that contains all three of the Baba devotional albums) Jai Baba, directly from Pete Townshend's website.
- Pete Townshend: "Content" (words (poem) by Maud Kennedy)
- Pete Townshend with Ronnie Lane: "Evolution" (words and music: Ronnie Lane)
- Pete Townshend: "Day of Silence" (words and music: Pete Townshend)
- Meher Baba's Universal Players: "Alan Cohen Speaks" (Sitar accompaniment Vytas Serelis)
- Pete Townshend: "Mary Jane" (words: Michael Westlake, music: Pete Townshend)
- Meher Baba's Universal Players: "Alan Cohen Speaks" (words by Meher Baba)
- Pete Townshend: "The Seeker" (version, words and music: Pete Townshend)
- Mike Da Costa: "Meditation" (poem by Mike Da Costa)
- Pete Townshend: "Begin the Beguine" (words and music: Cole Porter)
- Ron Geesin: "With a Smile Up His Nose They Entered" (instrumental, music by Ron Geesin)
- Pete Townshend: "The Love Man" (words and music: Pete Townshend)