The Who

Direct Hits

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Direct Hits was the first official compilation of the Who's music. And it would be notable on that basis alone, even though it was planned exclusively as a European release. But it did a lot more than that, reaching far beyond its intended audience and raising some listener's consciousness along the way. Track Records, which had the band's contract in England and which was always strapped for cash, conceived Direct Hits as a cash-in effort behind the Who's then recent spate of singles, which included "I Can See for Miles," "Pictures of Lily," and their cover of the Stones' "The Last Time" (done as a gesture of support following the drug arrests of Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, and Brian Jones) -- and as Track didn't have access to the group's earliest singles, the record was filled out with B-sides, a few non-hit 45 sides, and a notable album track or two. The resulting LP packed as much pop/rock punch as any piece of 12" vinyl to see the light of day in England in 1968, as well as being weird and quirky in the best possible way, what with odd but catchy tracks like "Bucket T" and "In the City" bumping up against the familiar "I Can See for Miles" and "Substitute." It was the best snapshot of the Who's history yet put before the public, and it was good enough to be brought over to America by some enterprising importers, as one of the first U.K. albums to find somewhat wide distribution in the United States, especially at record stores serving college campuses. And that's how it came to be reviewed in the pages of Rolling Stone -- possibly the first British import LP to receive what was, in those days, a true honor. Actually, the album bore an uncanny resemblance in song lineup if not design to the U.S.-issued Magic Bus album put out by Decca Records, which was not an officially acknowledged compilation on the group. The Rolling Stone review stacked them up against each other and found the American LP wanting. And in one fell swoop, Direct Hits became the record that introduced British imports to a wider American public than had ever known about them, and established the notion that the British record labels often did better work. There would subsequently be better work done in this vein in the United States, by Decca -- which learned to straighten up a bit and fly somewhat right as the Who's audience grew exponentially, and had the advantage of access to those early singles -- on Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (which also lacked some of this album's quirkiness) -- but Direct Hits was there first, with its own odd virtues.

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