Mr. Mixtape-ptlk, Track #9: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by The Who (1968)

I know there is a musical out there already based on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I am not a big fan of the show Jekyll & Hyde. I think it's OK, though I will freely admit that I have never seen a stage production of the show (nor have I watched more than a couple minutes of the video starring David Hasselhoff; I have only heard the Original Broadway Cast Recording that was released to the public). For me, the show feels a bit too much like it is playing catch up with The Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd, trying too hard to grab a slice of the Tony pie, as it were. (Instead, while it was nominated for four Tonys, it did not win any.)

And hearing Jekyll & Hyde for the first time, I was only reminded of one thing: what if, instead of creating their groundbreaking work Tommy, the Who had created a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde rock opera?

On what evidence or suggestion did I pose such a question, you may ask? In 1968, the Who released a song titled Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, written by their bassist extraordinaire John Entwistle, who often tackled darker, more perverse subject matter than regular songwriter Pete Townshend. A year and a half previous, Entwistle had written and sang the marvelous Boris the Spider, released on the album A Quick One, which went on to become a crowd favorite in concert and has held great radio longevity despite never being released as a single in its own right.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, too, never really got the love it deserved on the charts, being relegated to the "B" side of not one, but two singles in 1968: in the UK, it was on the flip side of their Magic Bus single; in America, it played second fiddle to Call Me Lightning. While I became a fan of Call Me Lightning because of Joan Jett's cover on her Bad Reputation LP, I will be first in line just to make the case that the Who missed an opportunity to make an entire album based around Stevenson's story. And I bet it would have been terrific.

But first, give Dr. Jekyll a listen (if you haven't heard their song) and check out the lyrics...



Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1968) by The Who

"Hyde, Hyde.

Someone is spending my money for me,
The money I earn I never see,
In all things I do he interferes,
All I know is trouble as soon as he appears.

Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Hyde.

When I drink my potion my character changes,
My whole mind and body rearranges,
This strange transformation takes place in me,
Instead of myself everybody can see...

Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Hyde.

Whenever you're with me make sure it's still me,
I've got to the stage I can't tell which I'll be,
The loveable fellow who'll buy you a drink,
Then when he's drunk his he'll change in a wink into...

Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Hyde."

Music and lyrics by John Entwistle | Published by Gowmonk, Inc. Copyright 1968.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde song
lurks on this compilation album.
This is a wonderfully dynamic song with a rumbling melody and a haunting refrain in its chorus that gets more and more addictive the more you hear it. Since much Who material tends to be autobiographical, rest assured this song is not merely based on a classic horror tale, but is also based on Who drummer Keith Moon, whose prodigious drinking and often mad state of mind could make him more than a handful to deal with at times, often on stage.

While his bandmates and famous friends (Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Mickey Dolenz, Alice Cooper) were fiercely protective of him, Moon's behavior got him into a lot of trouble. Besides his addiction to alcohol, he had a penchant for destroying toilets with explosives, ransacking hotel suites, and causing general mayhem. This sometimes ended in tragedy, including when he ran over his own chauffeur with his Bentley in 1970, and his eventual death from misadventure with a massive dose of sedatives, ironically from a prescription that was intended to help alleviate his alcoholism.

You don't have to squint when you read the lyrics to to envision Moon embodied inside of them at any given point. He is mostly certainly alive in the verses, as is the good doctor of the story and the creature of his darker being. But two and a half minutes of this sublime track are just not enough for me, and how I long for an previously undiscovered treasure trove of lost Who tracks to be unearthed wherein a full suite of Jekyll and Hyde material had been produced. Alas, it is not to be. It is merely my mind at play, wishing upon a fantastic flight again.

And who's to say that if the Who had busted their rock opera cherry fully on Dr. Jekyll instead of Tommy, that the band may never have broken through in the way that they did. They were well known before Tommy, but they were singles not album artists, and when Tommy went huge, it made them world-beaters. That album and its tour gave Roger Daltrey the confidence and drive for the rest of his tenure in the band, solidifying the band as a focused unit going into the 1970s. Ahead lie Who's Next and Quadrophenia. Would those have occurred if they had swerved in the slightest? It's the stuff of science fiction, the most minute change in a timeline leading to a disruption of events seemingly already established. Would Tommy and the rest have happened at all, and would you like to live in that world?

There might be some people out there (especially movie reviewers of the time) that would be happy if a film where Ann-Margaret rolls around on a bed covered in Heinz baked beans was never made, but I am not one of them...

RTJ

Comments

Erick said…
I love this song! I had the 45 when I was a kid and always this to this side. :)

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