I can't believe that by the time you are reading this, I will have purged my collection of not one but two copies of a favorite album, all as a result of this review. But it is true. I have made a pact with myself -- primarily due to space limitations -- that when something new goes into the collection, something old must go out. In this case I realized I suddenly found myself beholding four -- count 'em, 4! -- copies of Pete Townshend's first solo album, Who Came First. It is a great album that holds important pieces of the puzzle which makes up Pete's once unfinished second rock opera called Lifehouse, much of which ended up on the Who's Next album (along with a bunch of single b-sides) made with his regular band.
However great this album is, four copies is overkill even for me.
Here's how my collection of these discs stack up and how I am going to decide which to get rid of:
LP - I have a nice condition original pressing of the album, complete with the poster. However, it is not a UK pressing and not even a U.S. edition, but one made in Canada on a blue track label. It sounds quite good. But, since its a Canadian pressing so it doesn't have any significant value as a collectors piece nor as an audiophile piece. It just is what it is...
Rykodisc CD - the first issue of this album came out on CD in the '90s with bonus tracks. Sad to report, this one sounds the worst of all the versions I have so it will be going, for sure. The cover art is kinda washed out and greenish, like the Canadian and U.S. LP versions.
HipO Records/Universal CD - I picked up this reissue from 2006 at a thrift shop last month for $2; it is in perfect shape and I hadn't seen it out on that label before. It actually sounds pretty good and has bonus tracks not found on the Ryko issue. All the once-exclusive bonus tracks from the Ryko issue are also on this version. So this one is a big win and a keeper!
Classic Records HDAD - This 2004 edition is a two sided disc -- a UK version of a DualDisc, in reality -- that has uncompressed 192/96 fidelity files on the DVD Audio side and 96/24 quality PCM on the DVD Video side of the disc. This disc sounds terriffic and is just that extra bit more true to the music than the CD. It is cleaner sounding than the LP versions I've heard, with more distinct details such as the little bells at the start of Pure & Easy. For me it is wonderful to have a pristine version of his prayer song Parvardigar to listen to -- it sounds just gorgeous!
So how does all this impact you, dear reader? Well, I would guess that most of you would be happy with the 2006 remastered CD. If you are a hardcore collector, you probably have an original Track Records UK pressing which probably sounds super spiffy -- someday I'll find one (there are a bunch up on eBay going for around $30 each). Or, if you have the $$ to spare, you can find the HDAD on eBay (going for some serious coin, I might add - yikes!). In any event, Who Came First is an excellent album with a lot of personal feeling oozing from the speakers.
You can't miss with the HipO CD for basic listening. Whether you go for the HDAD or an original Track LP is your call. I suspect you'll find both experiences blissful as Pete Townshend originally envisioned.
Mark Smotroff is a
freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in
marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video
games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T
and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine,
Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine
and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a
musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville
and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling
out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com