>Self-Requested Review: "Rough Mix" by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane


two friendly dudes

Requested reviews are slow in the making! Oh no!!

Sorry for the whole “no updates” thing over the past couple of weeks. I promised myself I wouldn’t have to spend the first three paragraphs of a review explaining my lack of updates but here we are again. Let’s get the excuses out of the way: the next requested album I’m reviewing is Sebadoh’s The Freed Weed, and it’s really long and as such I haven’t listened to it enough yet. This is mostly because I have been listening to a bunch of other records I have been picking up on whim after whim after whim. Also, I’m completely lazy.

But hey, enough excuses. Why don’t I talk about one of the albums that’s been distracting me from my requests? So you can see that I haven’t just been hiding under my bedsheets in deathly silence these past couple weeks? Yeah! What a good idea!!

Rough Mix was a 1977 collaboration between Who guitarist/songsmith Pete Townshend and Small Faces/Faces bassist/songman Ronnie Lane. I’d never listened to this record before because I never knew who the hell Ronnie Lane was – I’d always dismissed it as a record by “Pete Townshend and some dude.” But then, miraculously, I recently discovered the greatness of the Faces AND the Smaller Faces and realized – hey, “some dude” is that Faces bassist! The one who charmingly speak-sings the opening verses during the Faces cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed”!! So I figured a collaboration between two British rock dudes I liked would be something memorable. And hey! I was all too right.

“Collaboration” is actually a loose term here. Rough Mix is, essentially, two solo EPs combined into one full-length record. The structure of the album is literally just “Pete song, Ronnie song, Pete song, Ronnie song…” etc. etc. It’s as if the two of them just said, “Hey, we’ve both got a bunch of good solo songs – why not just throw them together??” And that’s not just in regard to the track layout – their songs sound completely different! Different genres, even. Pete’s songs are all studio-polished pop-rock, unsurprisingly not too dissimilar to what the Who were doing around that time; Ronnie’s songs are all country tunes, laid-back and amiable, accentuated by the charm of his regular-guy voice. This makes the flow of the first half of the album a little jarring – I mean, how does the unassuming beauty of Ronnie Lane’s “Annie” fit between the studio-perfect (and Eric Clapton-cameoed) jam of the title track and the Whoish pop-rock of Pete’s “Keep Me Turning”? It almost sounds as if the two weren’t even in the studio together. And maybe they weren’t!

That’s only for the first half, though. During the second this so-called “collaboration” becomes a little more clear; Ronnie’s late-night acoustic “April Fool” flows perfectly into Pete’s slower “Street In The City,” and the two actually sing together! on the lovely “Heart To Hang On To.” And honestly, I enjoy the songs so much on this album that the unusual flow of the first side doesn’t bother me much at all. With Pete, you’ve got the pop-rock of “My Baby Gives It Away” (a song comparing his wife to a prostitute, I’m guessing), the spiritually Who-worthy “Keep Me Turning,” the kinda-dumb “Misunderstood” (although lyrically it’s a pretty funny song about Pete’s desire to be elusive and mysterious) and the bizarro “Street In The City” which starts off as a nice acoustic number and somehow morphs into a string-laden opera full of Townshend’s trademark overwritten “serious” lyrics. Despite a few snags here and there, Pete’s stuff is all solid, and if anything these songs proved he was viable enough as a solo artist (a notion confirmed when he recorded Empty Glass a few years later).

But hey! I almost like Ronnie’s songs better. And I barely even know the guy! “Nowhere To Run” and “Annie” are two of the loveliest, most laid-back songs I have heard in a while; “April Fool,” with its subtle acoustic backing and crackling vocals, might be my favorite song on the album; and his verse-singing on “Heart To Hang Onto” is all too charming. “Camelody” is kind of a dumb honky-tonk thing but what can you do? Ronnie Lane’s songs are just so damn nice that I can’t resist them. His voice is like a cross between George Harrison’s and Bob Dylan’s. I like him! Makes me sad that I hadn’t discovered this guy until just recently.

So there is a whole lot to like on Rough Mix. If you’re a Pete Townshend fan, pick it up for some lost gems in his solo catalog, along with a bunch of songs by some guy you’ve never heard of but who is actually really great. If you’re a Ronnie Lane fan then you probably already have this album because this was probably the most popular record this guy had any part in besides those Faces albums. And if you’re not a fan of either – come on!! What are you, a Peter Frampton fan?

But no. Forget about this review. You all want your “requested reviews” don’t you? You don’t want to hear about albums I want you to listen to! How boring is that? Well, I assure all of you that the requested reviews coming up will all be hilarious corkers that you will relish for years and years to come. The Sebadoh one might not be too exciting (SPOILER ALERT: it’s pretty good), but the rest of them, hoo-ee! You’ve got so so many more genres that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Your southern rock. Your electro-indie-pop. Your 70’s prog. Your techno. Limp Bizkit. It’s all gonna be heard and talked about by yours truly as soon as possible.

(“As soon as possible” obviously meaning “whenever I get tired of listening to Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “The Great Airplane Strike” on a continuous loop”)

(Also something I forgot to mention in the review: during the recording of Rough Mix Ronnie Lane was diagnosed with MS. He lived in agony for another two decades before his untimely death. Just thought I’d let you know!)