Pete Townshend, “Slit Skirts” (1982): Deep Cuts

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Less anthematic, in the way of his work with The Who, than it is reflective and frank, Pete Townshend convincingly argues the case for middle-aged rock with “Slit Skirts.”

That the gap between the extroversion of his band recordings and the smaller joys of his solo stuff was already disappearing makes this tune all the more memorable.

Opening in a writerly way — like you’d just barged in during a rare moment of doubt from a guy too old for some of the nonsense of youth, but too young to be calling it quits — “Slit Skirts” showed Townshend’s craft could evolve away from bloody-fingered riffing.

In fact, he’d begun his solo career (see 1972’s “Who Came First”; 1977’s “Rough Mix” with the McCartney-ish Ronnie Lane; and 1980’s superlative “Empty Glass,” featuring the zippy hit “Let My Love Open the Door”) with an easy, refreshing charm. Leaving the Who aside, Townshend at first seemed willing to focus on quieter, confessional canvases that his band would have dismissed in the demo stage.

But this early 1980s gem — a meditation on the chances we don’t take as we age — was, even by then, an obvious aberration, part of a slow progression right back into the bombast that had marked the worst of The Who’s excesses.

That makes “Slit Skirts” stand out all the more on 1982’s prosaically named, oftentimes confusingly obtuse “All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes.” It is, we now know, Townshend’s best single. His musical ambition as a solo artist hadn’t yet been sunk — as it so often was on later, more literary missteps like 1989’s “The Iron Man” and 1993’s “Psychoderelict,” — by his own overblown pretensions.

The stark opening stanza soon makes way for a cresting lyric of emotional heft — something no doubt lost on the adolescents once known for tearing through “Summertime Blues”: Can’t pretend that growing older never hurts.

The track repeats this ebb and flow, revealing along the way a depth of refined introspection. I don’t know if the Who’s Roger Daltrey, with his mic-swinging bravado, could have managed this with the appropriate restraint. (I always thought the same thing about “Behind Blues Eyes,” too — a feeling confirmed by a bootleg copy of Townshend’s demo, later officially released on 1983’s “Scoop.”)

Sure, Townshend once hoped he’d die before he reached my age. “Slit Skirts,” a bracing song with such open-hearted fragility, always makes me glad he didn’t.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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