Looking Back at Pete Townshend’s 'Scoop' Album From 1983

With Gibson issuing a new Pete Townshend-branded Les Paul guitar, the music manufacturer’s Website reprints a 2002 interview with Townshend discussing Scoop, his first of three albums (and Scooped, a best-of anthology) collecting the home demo recordings of the songs he would give to The Who to record in a proper studio environment. Because neither Townshend nor his fellow band members read music notation, working in his home studio, Townshend typically recorded guitar or piano, then added rudimentary bass and drum parts for John Entwistle and Keith Moon to build upon, and a guide vocal for Roger Daltrey to follow. At 7:10 into this BBC South Bank Show from the mid-'80s, Townshend illustrates the mechanics of the process, using Elvis's "That's All Right, Mama" as an example:

On some songs, such as “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the band restructured Townshend’s parts and built a song far more powerful than his original demo. But as Townshend’s demos got more and more complex and professional sounding, many of their songs, such as “Who Are You” stayed remarkably true to his original recording. Townshend also recorded lots of material that he knew would never be used by The Who as musical experimentation, therapy, and to test out new equipment and recording concepts.

Most of the material on the Scoop albums is multi-instrumental and fully arranged. Did you always try to completely arrange the songs before taking them to The Who?

Yes. The reason for doing this is that The Who is a simple rock band with an extremely parochial style and sound. To influence it one must be very specific about what one wants. So a full orchestral piece recorded by The Who will sound orchestral, but there will be no orchestra. The other reason for trying to deliver complete demos is because up until now—and this may well change—I have always wanted to be the composer up until the recording starts, and from then on the guitar player. I have never felt comfortable tearing my own stuff apart with the band during recording. So I become a little detached. I find myself behaving like a session man. I do my job. I play guitar with The Who much as I do on stage these days. If the demo is complete, even I am able to react to it with more detachment and objectivity than if there were deliberate “spaces” for creative and interpretative input.

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Did you consciously strive to write toward the strengths of the individual members of the band?

Always. On “My Generation,” I made the demo with a six-string bass and played a solo because I knew that would suit John. I put in a stutter because Roger and I were both huge fans of both John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash, and both [of them] occasionally stuttered. When I started to employ drums on my demos I tried not to overplay, but I certainly would have played like Keith sometimes if I could. After I heard [The Band’s] Music from Big Pink, I wanted my demos to sound tight and cool. That's why the demos for Who’s Next are so good, because I tried very hard indeed to emulate the sound of The Band to some degree.

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You’ve always seemed to have an especially intense love of the studio—much like Prince, it seems to me. Does the studio inspire you as a writer?

Yes. I love Prince and the way he uses the studio as his template for whatever is happening in his life. For people like us, the studio is like a golf-course! It's strange to think that one can be inspired by technology, but one can. For example, “Drowned” [from Quadrophenia] was written purely to test my first one-inch 8-track machine. It is a fantastic song, but I just knocked something out so that I could play. Music is something you play at. It's play—like golf, sailing, model trains, engine restoration, etc. It's quite a man thing, I think.

As Brian Eno’s old line goes, “the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”