Maximum A's & B's

by: The Who

Given the sheer number of Who compilations over the years -- including The Who Hits 50!, a career-capping retrospective that appeared just three years prior to this 2017 box -- it may be easy to cast a cynical eye upon Maximum A's & B's, which it doesn't deserve. For one, there hasn't been a large-scale Who box set since 1994's Thirty Years of Maximum R&B -- most of the comps have been simple hits collections -- and, secondly, the Who benefit from having attention being drawn to their singles. At the dawn of their career, the Who mastered 7" blasts of pop art and even when Pete Townshend toiled over rock operas, he couldn't resist the pull of a 45, releasing non-LP singles as late as 1972 and hiding excellent songs on B-sides along the way. The Who continued to release singles over three-plus decades, using them as calling cards for reunions or samplers of latter-day live albums, and Maximum A's & B's collects them all, give or take a couple of variations in international markets. Its very comprehensiveness can be something of an Achilles Heel, particularly in the late '80s and '90s when the group were cranking out singles from fine but forgettable live albums, but putting the flops and B-sides alongside the weary warhorses winds up reviving the entirety of the Who's catalog. These oddities provide a bracing jolt of context: when they were Mods, they were grooving with the "Batman" theme -- later revived by the Jam in this arrangement -- saluted the Stones once Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were imprisoned, and invented Brit-pop with the flop "Dogs." After Tommy, some of Townshend's best songs found no room on albums -- "The Seeker," "Don't Know Myself," "Let's See Action," "Join Together," and "The Relay" never found a home -- as did a performance as phenomenal as a live 1972 B-side "Baby Don't You Do It," which has never been reissued prior to this collection. But perhaps the real revelation of Maximum A's & B's is how the 21st century reunion wound up producing bittersweet tunes that serve as an effective elegiac coda to their career. Usually, this latter-day material seems like an afterthought, but thanks to the weight of this box, it's given its proper space and helps illustrate just how remarkable the entirety of the Who's career is. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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