2020 Album Draft- Round 13 Pick 5- Film- Badfinger20 selects- The Kids Are Alright.
I acquired a VHS copy of this in the mid-eighties. It wasn’t a great copy but my friends and I wore it out. One of them worked at a small cable station. The station was in a small county that usually aired farm reports and advertisements. Basically, it was a very small building in the middle of nowhere. All they would do there is broadcast videos.
We had the tape in hand and wanted to see it so we went there one afternoon. He popped it in the VHS player and played it. He had no idea but it was going out live all over the region. Near the end of the film, he took a phone call from his boss. I didn’t think anyone ever watched that station…but it turns out they did and they were not fans of The Who. He didn’t get fired but they took his key for the door for a little while. It was a big subject the next day at school as some teenagers loved it but their parents didn’t appreciate their farm reports being interrupted by My Generation and Keith Moon in bondage.
I’ve seen this film so many times I can almost quote it while it’s playing. The Who albums made me a huge fan of their music…this film made me a huge fan of band.
This film covers the original Who and being such a Who fan I’m glad Jeff Stein (director) was so persistent in doing this because many of the tapes he was able to borrow probably would have been erased and used again by the BBC as was their policy.
Jeff was a fan of the band and pestered them until they let him do this. He had no prior experience in filmmaking but this was the 1970s and he got the gig. His timing was eerily perfect. He caught the original band at the very end of their tenure with Keith Moon.
He searched high and low for clips of the band in earlier years. Stein keeps the appearance mostly in order. There is sadness in this. You see the band through the years from 1964 to 1978… you see all of them gradually age of course but Keith Moon ages faster than any of them. I’ve read where it hit him hard while watching the rough cut right before he died. His lifestyle had taken its toll on him. He saw himself as a young energetic kid that looked like Paul McCartney’s younger brother to a man who was 32 and looked like he was in his 40s at least.
This may be the first or one of the first film bios on a major rock band. Led Zeppelin had The Song Remains the Same but it focused on one concert in New York… The Beatles had Let It Be but those films didn’t show their history like The Kids Are Alright.
In this film you see a band that is fun… unlike their peers Zeppelin and Sabbath the Who were more open to their audience and didn’t have a dark mystique hanging over them. They would crack jokes from the stage…Moon and Townshend treated it like a High School talent show until they started to play…then they got serious.
You see film segments that were fun like the video of Happy Jack, the interview on the Russell Harty Show, Keith with Ringo, and Keith and Pete sharing a joke that only they could understand. One of my favorite segments is The Who playing Barbara Ann with Keith singing and the band having a good time. They also played I Saw Her Standing There but it didn’t make the final cut…you can watch it in the outtakes. I can’t imagine the big bands of that time doing Barbara Ann and goofing for the camera.
The Who did a couple of live shows for the film besides being interviewed. Stein mostly used old clips but he convinced the band to do a couple of free concerts in May of 1978 where he could get a definitive version of Won’t Get Fooled Again… which personally I think is the greatest live performance song live you will ever hear. You see Keith’s last performance as he is looking pudgy, older, and slower but still pulls it off. Pete wasn’t too thrilled about doing the concerts for the film but it turned out good. They ended up only using a version Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley from the 78 live show.
Keith died a few months before The Kids Are Alright debuted on June 15, 1979. The film showed The Who at it’s best. Kenney Jones from the Faces replaced him but it was never the same. You cannot replace Moon…he was the engine that drove the Who. Later on in the 90s Zak Starkey…who was Ringo’s son and Keith’s God son played drums for the Who and still does.
If you haven’t watched the film…stop what you are doing and watch it. It still holds up as one of the best music documentaries that rock has produced.
Below a young Zak Starkey and Keith Moon.