Well now, since we are, apparently, in the business of providing daily reminders about how much frickin’ time has passed since we were actually as young as we all still feel, I give you Let My Love Open the Door, a song I reflexively file under “Pete Townshend – Recent”, which in fact comes from 1980’s terrific Empty Glass, his second solo record. 1980. Well, that was recent, when I was in my first year of university, and the Who’s glory days in the mid-Sixties seemed like ancient history, even though I was closer then to 1965 than I am now to the year Rhianna had everybody transfixed with her umbrella-ella-ella-eh-eh.
Attached above are the album cut, a nice live rendition from a 1993 concert at the Brooklyn Academy of music – lovely venue, isn’t it? – and the “e. cola mix”, which reimagines the song as a sort of power ballad, with a much heftier arrangement (and liberal use of some chords lifted from Pete’s own Baba O’Reilly). I first encountered the latter on the soundtrack of the film Gross Pointe Blank (if you’ve never seen it, for the love of all that’s holy, see it), playing in the background during the scenes at the fateful high school reunion. Over the years it’s become the version I most like.
Townshend never thought all that highly of the song himself, sometimes describing it as “a ditty” (albeit a rare Billboard top 10 ditty), to which I’d counter “maybe so, lad, but it’s a hell of a ditty”, and a particularly pleasing change of pace, too, coming from a songwriter who isn’t exactly known for his upbeat paeans to true love. Actually, I’m wracking my brains at the moment trying to think of anything comparable in his catalogue – maybe Now and Then, off Psychoderelict, though that’s a much more nuanced and psychologically complex number with some disquietingly dark undertones – because Pete just didn’t do uncomplicated romance. About the closest he came during the Who’s Mod heyday was The Kids Are All Right, in which the narrator at least seemed to like the girl, even if it would have been better for her if she’d never met him. Apart from that, anybody looking to find straight up love songs on a Who album would instead run into numbers like Pictures of Lily, about, um, making do by oneself with the help of some suitable visual aids, I Can See For Miles, about not being fooled by a lousy cheating girlfriend, and Legal Matter, which characterized settling down into stable marriage as a dive into a hopeless abyss of nine-five office jobs, drudgery, and “maternity clothes and babies’ trousers”, which, sorry baby, wouldn’t do at all: Just wanna keep doin’ all the dirty little things I do / Not work in an office all day just to bring my money home to you. Romance? Romance was for chumps.
So where did it come from, this sunny tune, with its thoroughly conventional sentiments? Was that really Pete, singing lines like this?
I’ve the only key to your heart
That can stop you falling apart
Try today, you’ll find this way
Come on and give me a chance to say
Let my love open the door
It’s all I’m livin’ for
Release yourself from misery
There’s only one thing gonna set you free
That’s my love
That’s my love
Let my love open the door
Say what now? Who are you? Where’s Pete? It’s said that his manager wanted the track excised from the album, arguing, reasonably enough, that “it doesn’t sound at all like Pete Townshend”, but there was no arguing with success, was there? Everybody seemed to like it, publics and critics alike, and what wasn’t to like? Can’t a guy have a little fun for a change? It didn’t always have to be Behind Blue Eyes and Won’t Get Fooled Again, did it? Geesh.
There’s always going to be somebody who’s only mission in life is to gripe, though, and over the years, following the song’s repeated use in TV shows and Hollywood movies, there were critics who’d had enough. I found this in an on-line magazine called Flood, under the title It’s Time to Talk About Hollywood’s Obsession with Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” :
The problem, as I see it, is not that the same song is used in a bunch of movies. Well-known needle drops are part of moviemaking now, for better or worse. But part of the problem is that this particular song, which I do think is very good, isn’t quite good enough to merit such frequent inclusion. It’s not one of our country’s strongest love ballads, I am sorry to say.
In the same article the author refers to the song as “Dad rock”.
Dad rock, is it? Not quite good enough, you say? Compared to what? Uh-huh. Black eyes to you, Mr. Grumpy-Pants. I’m sticking with the editors of the venerable industry mag Cash Box, who called it a “joyous, blissful tune [that] features a stirring keyboard-synthesizer melody and multi-tracked high harmonies.” Besides which, the song might have a deeper, more spiritual meaning than is generally understood, as discussed in American Songwriter:
Whatever. I don’t need it to be deep and meaningful, and that’s not on account of me being a big ball of superficial sweetness and light, either, as followers of the Needlefish would certainly affirm if only there were any. Listen here, Bub, nobody likes a sombre, layered, thoughtful piece about something irredeemably awful more than I do. I love Randy Newman, for chrissakes. I love Warren Zevon. I worship A Day in the Life. For that matter, I love Pete, most of whose work takes an awfully bleak and bracingly incisive view of our miserable human condition, when it isn’t examining weighty topics like the roots of faith, and his own quest for a never-achieved, but always longed-for state of spiritual grace. Sometimes, though, you just want something to lift your spirits, and, hell yes and no apologies either, to get your toes a-tappin’. If you can give me that in a sophisticated musical package, I’m sold. From where I sit, Let My Love Open the Door is a wonderful little song.
Critics. Boo. Next thing you know they’ll be telling me I shouldn’t like Wouldn’t It Be Nice, or All My Loving, sour, nasty little trolls that they are.