It can be argued effectively that he was the first “punk” — the brash guitarist and chief songwriter of The Who. In 1965, the up-and-coming 20-year-old musician wrote one of the most profound, honest and transparent lyrics in rock history — “I hope I die before I get old.” Subsequent classic Who albums, including Tommy (1969), Who’s Next (1971) Quadrophenia (1973) and The Who By Numbers (1975) and coinciding international tours cemented Pete Townshend’s uncompromised rep as a riveting live performer, a superb musician, a prolific songwriter and a master storyteller.
While most rock-crazed kids of my generation praised and worshiped such personal idols as Hendrix, Page, Richards and Clapton — Townshend always was MY guy. He had (and kept) his thumb firmly on the pulse of youth culture. And with glistening golden god, Roger Daltrey, serving as his bare-chested translator, Townshend’s songs spoke to me directly like no one else’s — teenage wasteland, indeed.
During the late ‘70s, The Who were at their apex — an unstoppable rock force. Despite the untimely September 1978 death of iconic co-founding drummer, Keith Moon, the band punished album charts worldwide with Who Are You. In the summer of 1979, their documentary/concert film The Kids Are Alright and the companion soundtrack both were wildly successful. However, The Who soon would face additional massive tragedy when eleven fans died at their December 1979 concert in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the dawn of the new decade, Townshend struck out on his own once again. And 40 years ago this week (April 21, 1980), his long-awaited sophomore solo slab arrived via Atco Records. Given the recent economic recession, concerns loomed within the music industry regarding the timing of new record releases. However, Empty Glass was an instant Top 10 hit around the world.
Produced by Chris Thomas (Paul McCartney, Elton John, Sex Pistols, The Pretenders, INXS), the 10-song set was an irresistible collection of ripe-for-the-pickin’ pop/rock tracks. In fact, Townshend was accused, even by members of his own longtime band, of using his best “A-List” material for Empty Glass rather than for the next Who record, Face Dances, which he was writing for simultaneously. The Townshend album also featured an impressive roster of studio players, including bassist Tony Butler (Big Country, The Pretenders) and drummer Simon Phillips (Tears for Fears, Toto).
Oozing homoerotic innuendo, “Rough Boys” is a hard-hitting opener and it quickly became an oft-played video. The legendary Scottish rock band, Nazareth, soon began using the song as their concert intro track — a snippet of “Rough Boys” can be heard at the tippy of Nazareth’s 1981 double live album, It’s Naz. “Rough Boys” has since become considered by many to be Townshend’s signature solo track.
Bursting with Townshend’s unique poetic appeal, “I Am An Animal” and “And I Moved” are both refreshing, yet familiar-feeling — reminiscent of his lighter pop contributions to the By Numbers record. A sweet, playful love song, “Let My Love Open the Door” is a timeless treasure. Straight out of the box, it danced magically across the grooves and was an immediate smash on Casey’s weekly Top 40 countdown.
But the record also possesses a distinctive edge. “Cat’s in the Cupboard” owns a crispety Telecaster jingle-jangle — bathed in warm keyboards and accented by gritty harmonica, while the spirited title track is a stylistic collision of Townshend’s authentic mid-‘60s snottiness and his anthemic early ‘70s allure. Seemingly a cocky “pick-up” tune, “Gonna Get Ya” is an urgent record closer. The back-and-forth guitar/piano banter during the extended instrumental break is a particular delight.
Four decades later, the album still stands tall — fresh and relevant. Personally speaking, if trapped on that mythical deserted island with only TWO Townshend discs, Empty Glass most certainly would be one of them — along with that one Who record. You know the one.
Empty Glass Track Listing:
1. Rough Boys (4:02)
2. I Am an Animal (3:51)
3. And I Moved (3:21)
4. Let My Love Open the Door (2:44)
5. Jools and Jim (2:36)
1. Keep on Working (3:23)
2. Cat’s in the Cupboard (3:34)
3. A Little Is Enough (4:42)
4. Empty Glass (5:25)
5. Gonna Get Ya (6:25)
Run Time: 39:46
Release Date: April 21, 1980
Record Label: Atco Records