The Who's second studio album departs from the R&B emphasis of the first. Part of the marketing push for the album was a requirement that each band member should write at least two of the songs on it, though Roger Daltrey only wrote one (See My Way), so this is The Who album least dominated by Pete Townshend's songwriting. It was recorded at IBC Studios, Pye Studios, and Regent Sound in London England in 1966 by record producer Kit Lambert.
"Boris the Spider" was written after John Entwistle had been out drinking with The Rolling Stones' bass guitarist Bill Wyman. They were making up funny names for animals when Entwistle came up with the song. "Boris the Spider" quickly became Entwistle's most popular song, still performed decades later: in later years he often wore a spider necklace.
"Heat Wave", the only cover-version and the only reversion to the group's soul influences, a song by Tamla's Holland–Dozier–Holland team, was replaced by "Happy Jack" on the original US release but included on the 1974 double album repackaging of A Quick One and The Who Sell Out.
"A Quick One, While He's Away", the title track of the album, is a nine-minute suite of song snippets telling a story of infidelity and reconciliation, a first foray into extended form that led to the so-called "rock operas" Tommy and Quadrophenia.
Keith Moon's "I Need You", was originally titled "I Need You (Like I Need a Hole in the Head)". Moon thought The Beatles spoke in a secret language behind his back, and this song was his way of getting back at them. Although Moon denied that a vocal part in the song was a John Lennon imitation, Entwistle said that, in fact, it was.
"Cobwebs and Strange" was originally called "Showbiz Sonata", though Entwistle claimed that the melody came from the UK television series Man From Interpol.
The mod/pop number "So Sad About Us", according to AllMusic, is "one of the Who's most covered songs". The Merseys, Shaun Cassidy, Primal Scream, The Breeders and The Jam have recorded studio versions.
Each band member played a wind instrument on "Cobwebs and Strange": Townshend played the penny-whistle, Entwistle on the French horn, Daltrey on the trombone, and Moon on the tuba.
The album was intended to be pop music, a sonic participant in the pop art movement. The cover was designed by the pop art exponent Alan Aldridge, with the front cover depicting the band playing their instruments, as the titles of some songs form the album come out of the instruments in the form of onomatopoeiae: "Cobwebs and Strange" for Moon (top left), "Whiskey Man" for Entwistle (bottom left), "See My Way" for Daltrey (top right), and "A Quick One, While He's Away" for Townshend (bottom right). The back cover of the UK release is black, with the title and track listing across the top, and a colour head-shot photograph of each band member with the letters of "The W H O" superimposed individually over their faces. The back cover of the US release is a black-and-white photo montage of the band members accompanied by a short personality sketch of each (infamous among Who fans for Keith Moon's humorous assertion that he was keen on "breeding chickens"). A track listing, a couple of paragraphs touting the band, an ad for their first album, and a technical blurb are also crowded onto the back cover of the US release.
Rolling Stone Magazine's Steve Appleford said that the album's cheerful pop style has an authentic quality with trifles like "Cobwebs and Strange" that are reconciled by "absolutely perfect, poignant pop tune[s]" such as "So Sad About Us". Mark Kemp was less enthusiastic in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) and called it "a decent but flawed collection of experimental pop and rock".
In 1981, Robert Christgau included the album's American version in his "basic record library". Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the album #383 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, published in 2003.
All songs written by Pete Townshend, except where noted.
Executive Producer: Chris Stamp
1 The mono version fades out sooner, giving it a total running time of 2:33.1995 credits
Design [original vinyl sleeve]: Alan Aldridge
Design, Art Direction: Richard Evans
Executive-Producer: Bill Curbishley, Chris Charlesworth, Robert Rosenberg
Liner notes: Chris Stamp
Producer: Jon Astley
Producer [original recording]: Kit Lambert
Remix, remastered by: Andy Macpherson, Jon Astley
An early version of The Who's second album was to be titled Jigsaw Puzzle. Its preliminary running order consisted of the following tracks:The Who
Roger Daltrey - lead vocals, trombone and bass drum on "Cobwebs and Strange"
Pete Townshend - lead and rhythm guitars, backing and lead vocals, keyboards, penny-whistle
John Entwistle - bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Boris the Spider" and "Whiskey Man", keyboards, French horn, trumpet
Keith Moon - drums, percussion, backing and lead vocals, tuba