- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

With the death Thursday of Who bassist John Entwistle at age 57, it's a sure thing that old fans and classic rock stations around the country will be plowing through the band's back catalog.
Do yourself a favor and tune out Pete Townshend's guitar flourishes, Keith Moon's ecstatic drumming and Roger Daltrey's piercing scream. What's left are some of the best bass lines in rock history, the kind of parts that, listened to closely, can make even the most overplayed of tunes sound fresh and alive.
Like George Harrison in the Beatles, Mr. Entwistle was the quiet one of the bunch. He didn't turn guitar smashing into an art form (a la Mr. Townshend) or lead a life of chaos as did Mr. Moon, who died of a drug overdose in 1978. Instead, he quietly went about transforming the bass guitar into a front-and-center instrument from a dull support role in holding down the tempo.
Take "My Generation," one of the definitive songs of the 1960s. Volumes have been written about Mr. Daltrey's stuttering vocals, but Mr. Entwistle's surprising bass solo in the middle of the song is rock genius. Few musicians today, with 30 years of rock history at their fingertips, write bass parts so alive, so fat and heavy that they sound as though you could wrap your arms around the tone.
Mr. Daltrey deserves a round of thanks for giving up early on the guitar. By sticking to the microphone, the singer allowed Mr. Entwistle to add fills, rhythm parts and solos to replace the second guitar, treating his four-stringed wonder as if it were always meant to be a star attraction.
Rock-obsessed teens everywhere, with their bass knob settings turned all the way to the right, can thank "Ox" Entwistle for first rattling the dishes and shaking the floorboards of middle America.
His influence can be heard today. The Swedish group the Hives included a solo bass part midway through "Hate to Say I Told You So" that mimics the main guitar melody. It would be groundbreaking in rock, had Mr. Entwistle not come up with it three decades earlier.
Not only did he put these show-stealing bass parts in the front of songs penned by Mr. Townshend, he wrote a few fan favorites of his own. Cue up "Boris the Spider," probably the best-known tune Mr. Entwistle wrote for the band, and hear both his dark humor and quirky song structure at work.
The sinister bass line makes your skin crawl with a descending scale, and then he keeps the rhythm up with a repeated gut punch of bass. It as well as other signature Entwistle tunes such as the hard-charging "My Wife" sounds like nothing else in the Who catalog.
Add his skill at French horn, keyboards and backup vocals, and it's surprising Mr. Entwistle didn't have more success on his own. His spotty solo efforts in the 1970s and 1980s failed to recapture the glory of the Who.
Even as a nostalgia act, though, the Who clearly stole the show in the fall at the post-September 11 "Concert for New York" benefit. That remains a fitting way for American audiences to remember the band's stalwart bassist.
Like the Beatles, the Who is down to two original members. Their choice to continue touring couldn't have been easy. While other bands might toss off bass players like empty water bottles at the end of a show, Mr. Entwistle long has been irreplaceable.
Just listen this weekend. Let the floorboards shake. Hear what he brought to his generation.


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