In these trying times for the music industry, Cleopatra Records have found a number of innovative ways to stay relevant. Through their Purple Pyramid imprint, they have found a great niche in releasing some very cool box sets. Their recent Outlaws Anthology is but one example of this. Another has been in the realm of superstar tributes to legendary bands, such as the new Who Are You: An All-Star Tribute to The Who.
While the idea of such tributes has been around for decades, they are often hit and miss affairs. In the end, it comes down to the various artists chosen to participate. Cleopatra neatly sidesteps this hazard by putting together one of a kind combinations of musicians, resulting in some fascinatingly original efforts.
The list of people involved in the 16-track Who Are You tribute is a lengthy one, and includes such legends as Todd Rundgren, Iggy Pop, the Sweet, Dave Davies, Wayne Kramer, and K.K. Downing. In fact, Downing is featured on the opening cut, “Eminence Front.” I was never much of a fan of The Who’s post-Moon albums Face Dances and It’s Hard, but the song “Eminence Front” was a highlight of It’s Hard. Along with John Wetton and Derek Sherinian, Downing gives this song the metal punch it had always cried out for. It is a great beginning for the collection.
All points of The Who’s career are explored, from the early Mod days, all the way up to the Kenney Jones period. The pilled-up Mod era is recalled on a few tunes, the best of which is the Todd Rundgren and Carmine Appice version of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” The stuttering “My Generation” is also given a go, and features two guys I never would have expected to hear together, Dave Davies (The Kinks) and Rat Scabies (The Damned).
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is arguably The Who’s best known song, and the version included here by Sweet is sublime. The same holds true for “Pinball Wizard.” Both Rod Stewart and Elton John have recorded incredible covers of this Tommy track, but the combination of artists Cleopatra have engaged here is unique to say the least: Terry Reid, Mike Pinera, and Brad Gillis.
Unexpected (and highly rewarding) groupings are the order of the day on Who Are You. How about Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits), Peter Banks (Genesis), and Ginger Baker (Cream) coming together for “Magic Bus?” Or Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere and the Raiders) and Wayne Kramer (MC5) doing “I Can See For Miles?” Possibly the oddest one of all are the duo to be found on the song “Who Are You.” I never thought I would hear Gretchen Wilson and Randy Bachman perform together, that’s for sure.
There are some very notable stand-alone versions on the album as well. Iggy Pop does a killer job with “I Can’t Explain,” and The Ravonettes hit “The Kids Are Alright” with just the right punch. The set closes with one of Townsend’s most personal tracks, “The Seeker,” done by Joe Lynn Turner and Leslie West. It is yet another unusual pairing, but somehow completely works.
In fact, the whole thing works. I applaud Cleopatra for taking such an “out of the box” approach to a project like this. Not only are these great songs, and great versions of them, but the element of matching up artists of differing musical styles adds a real edge to the whole thing. Who Are You is another very cool entry in the genre of tributes to rock legends.