Jem Records salutes Pete Townshend with inventive covers album

jem records celebrates Pete Townshend review

The cover of the multi-artist tribute album, “Jem Records Celebrates Pete Townshend.”

Jem Celebrates Pete Townshend is the third in a series of covers album the Jersey-based label has put together — following tributes to John Lennon and Brian Wilson in 2020 and 2021, respectively — and it has special meaning for label founder Marty Scott. As he writes in the album’s liner notes, Jem began 50 years ago as a label for imports (i.e., albums not released in the United States) after he sought out an import by Townshend’s band, The Who, and realized other Americans must be interested in the album, and other imports, as well.

Scott also mentions that Townshend invented the term power-pop, which ties everything together, since Jem specializes in original power-pop by bands from New Jersey and elsewhere.

The lively and frequently inventive album’s most radical reinterpretation comes from Lisa Mychols & Super 8, who turn in an intriguingly slow and relaxed — almost introspective — version of The Who’s urgent garage-rock anthem, “I Can’t Explain” (listen below). The Grip Weeds, conversely, speed up “I’m Free” (listen below) to exhilarating effect, with a bit of another Tommy song, “Listening to You,” added at the end.

Other bands mix songs together, too. Mychols’ beguiling, pop-flavored “Baba O’Riley” segues briefly into “Who Are You”; The Anderson Council’s satisfyingly squalling “Glow Girl” adds some of Tommy‘s “It’s a Boy” (changed to “It’s a Girl”). As you might expect, The Airport 77s’ “Substifool” blends — quite cleverly — elements of “Substitute” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

The Grip Weeds also smoothly negotiate the tricky twists and turns of The Who’s mini-rock opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” Richard Barone embraces Townshend’s earnest, folky side on “Let’s See Action” (listen below), adding some wildly imaginative guitar lines. Joe Bellia’s Keith Moon-like drumming helps The Weeklings do justice to the explosive “I Can See for Miles.”

With the exception of Townshend’s 1980 solo hit “Let My Love Open the Door” (made to sound heavier than ever by The Midnight Callers) and the “Who Are You” fragment, all the songs on this album were written in the years from 1964 to 1971. It was an amazingly creative, groundbreaking time for Townshend and The Who, as well as — fittingly, for this project — the years leading up to the founding of Jem.

For more on this album and Jem’s other releases, visit jemrecordings.com.

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