Isn’t this cute?
The Who’s take on Martha & The Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” (link for the e-mail people) is of course one of dozens of covers of this lively, bittersweet song. It would take another few years before the Who began to live up musically to their tough-guy image, but I can’t guess why someone figured a Motown/girl group tune would be a logical thing for these four guys to tackle, since there was no reason in the world to think they could get around it.
And yet… the Who’s high-speed attack on the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic is just ridiculously enjoyable. It’s like, “We know we can’t do this, so we’re gonna DO this!” Coming in at 1:55, it’s about two-thirds as long as the Vandellas’ take, and the lyrics Roger Daltrey sings have been considerably altered from the original (which is also pretty darn cute).
Where Martha Reeves sings, “And I’m filled with desire,” Daltrey sings, “And my heart’s filled with fire,” and then the next line mutates from “Could it be/There’s a devil in me/Or is this the way love’s supposed to be” into “Could it be that I’m very sentimental/Or is this the way…” These may be intentional changes made by Daltrey or Pete Townshend, or simply signs of a singer who has learned the song by ear and misheard the words. (You could get from “a devil in me” to “very sentimental” that way, I think.)
Another change in the lyrics, from “Sometimes he calls my name/So sweet and plain” to “Sometimes she calls my name/Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I can’t explain” may be just a mistake (the words “I can’t explain it” do show up later in the original lyrics, though not on the Who’s abbreviated take), or it may be Daltrey de-girlifying the words a bit, or it could even be a name-check of one of the Who’s singles.
But what does it all sound like? Guitars as surfy as Townshend can manage as he also provides the oohs and aahs, sometimes ever so slightly off pitch, and echoes Daltrey on the odd “Oh, yeah!” And as Townshend surfs, John Entwistle remains in Motown, playing a rubber-band bass that takes much more of an R&B approach than the original, where the rhythm is based largely on peppy handclaps.
After a terrific rock-steady opening few bars, Keith Moon begins to indulge his love of the cymbal splash, and indulge it, and indulge it. Moon was of course capable of many things, and does a lot of them on this record, so his adoration of cymbals in those days seems to have been based largely on their being the most effective way to make a great deal of obtrusive noise. But on “Heat Wave” it’s happy noise, and happily irrelevant to the style or the song, nearly burying at times Daltrey’s multitracked and earnest but not finally very comfortable vocal. Indeed, when Townshend pops up to sing the last line of the lead vocal, he sounds better than Daltrey does at any point in the song; Townshend should’ve done the whole thing.
But this is really a goof more than anything else, and an illustration of the delightful casualness that could creep sometimes into a recording session for a lower- to mid-level Brit band in the ’60s and even into the ’70s. Sometimes the result is merely self-indulgent and unfortunate; was there anybody who listened twice to Steeleye Span’s lazy take on “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” a version so terrible that it appears no one has even bothered to put it on YouTube? But you also get stuff like this, where “Well, why not give it a shot?” is the spirit of the day and the result is a record that, while, it doesn’t mean a thing, is something you’re just glad exists at all. And it makes you feel good!