It was 40 years ago today (March 16th, 1981) that the Who released Face Dances — the group's first studio album since the 1978 death of drummer Keith Moon and first of two with Kenney Jones behind the kit. The collection, which was part of the band's new multimillion dollar deal with Warner Bros., was instantly compared poorly to Pete Townshend's 1980 solo set Empty Glass, which was deemed both a critical and commercial triumph.
The album peaked at Number Four on the Billboard 200 — spending eight weeks in the Top 10. The album's lead single, “You Better You Bet,” hit Number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the magazine's Mainstream Rock list. “You Better You Bet” was the fourth video played on MTV the day the newtork was launched on August 1st, 1981. In Britain, Face Dances peaked at Number Two.
The album is best remembered for the success of “You Better You Bet” and the two other tracks — “Don't Let Go The Coat” and “Another Tricky Day” — which became MTV mainstays that earned the band a whole new generation of fans.
Kenney Jones told us that looking back today, 1981's Face Dances feels like a pulled punch. He feels that had his drums been mixed properly, the album might not have gotten such a slagging from fans for being quite so tame sounding — which he blames on the Who tapping Eagles producer Bill Szymczyk (pronounced: SIMM-zick) to man the boards: “It's very strange, 'cause when I joined the band and we did Face Dances with Bill Szymczyk, the producer — and I always felt that . . . as much as I loved Bill Szymczyk and what he was doing — he suppressed my drums so much; I wanted ringing — and big power stuff, like (Led) Zeppelin — that's what I thought I was gonna get. It's like 'The Who go 'Eagles,'' y'know? And I didn't like it at all. Me being the new boy in the Who, I thought 'Okay, that's the direction everyone (laughs) wants to go in,' y'know? But, I should have spoke up more, really.”
Pete Townshend's early-'80s work — created while writing, recording, and touring the globe with the Who — admittedly left him physically and emotionally fried. He takes umbrage at all the Who fans that felt as though he hoarded his best material for himself, rather than give to the Who: “This was a mistake that I ever embarked on a solo career. I understand that now. I shouldn’t have done it. But, y’know, to be honest, that type of Who fan-ism, it irritates me. Because what it’s actually doing is, it’s so easy to make these comments after the fact. Everything is easy in hindsight. Y’know, what was actually going on at the time was that I was trying to satisfy my own peculiar creative urge. My unique creative urge, which wasn’t classic ‘Rough Boy’ Who stuff.”