From the Stacks

From The Stacks: Pete Townshend, “Bargain” (Single)

This record is my peanut butter cup: My favorite Who song on my favorite Pete Townshend album–two great tastes that taste great together.

The Who were an amazing band in their prime, equal parts dangerous and brilliant. Roger Daltrey is about iconic as front men get. John Entwistle was the overly talented multi-instrumentalist providing both lead bass lines and a rock steady rhythm to counter drummer Keith Moon’s chaotic, beautiful mess. And then there’s Pete, at once both the dependable rhythm player and lead guitarist.

And songwriter. All of the great moments in the Who catalog were written by Townshend–“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Baba O’Riley,” Quadrophenia, most of Tommy. Pete wrote big, powerful, anthemic songs that are as much a part of the collective conscious as the Mona Lisa. One of the reasons that they endure is that like Da Vinci’s best known painting, there’s more lurking behind the smile of Townshend’s best songs.

Take “Bargain,” for example, a simple love song: “I’d gladly lose me to find you,” “One and one makes one,” “I’m looking for you.” Throw in some power chords and Roger’s rock god histrionics and what’s not to love? But imagine that the song’s speaker isn’t looking for romantic love. Imagine instead that he’s looking for something much more profound. Imagine that it’s God he seeks and read these lines:

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I had
To find you I’d suffer anything and be glad.
I’d pay any price just to get you
I’d work all my life and I will
To win you I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed.

Viewed through the lens of spiritual yearning, “Bargain” becomes a different song–still a great one, but something more than an arena rock singalong.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but strip away the production trimmings–the Who-ness of it all–and that spiritual component comes through loud and clear in Pete’s “Bargain” demo. Available on bootlegs throughout the ’70s, Townshend’s classic demos got their first official release in 1983 with the first volume of his three part Scoop series.

While “Bargain” is my favorite Who song, it isn’t my favorite track on Scoop. That honor goes to the beautiful “Mary,” a song written for Who’s Next  (Lifehouse, really, but that’s another topic) that didn’t make the final cut. But that’s no matter. I get why Pete (or the label) decided to release “Bargain” as Scoop’s single, though it’s not really a single kind of album. Scoop is more historical artifact than anything, a must have for Who fans and an oddity for everyone else.

You can pick up a 45 of “Bargain” for just a buck or two, but if you still have a CD player you can find the whole Scoop album for a couple bucks used. Vinyl copies of the LP regularly trade in the 10-15 dollar range, but you can find them as low as 5 bucks. Happy hunting.

2 replies »

  1. It (Bargain) always seemed too intense to be a love song. It always felt like he was charging out of the music with a question, and a question that was not getting answered any time soon. I never went to the whole spiritual idea though – it’s fascinating, and you are probably right.
    In fact, I did some digging, and you ARE right. When I was young I played the hell out of that album when I was young, but like all of my other favorites when I was young, they are too painful to listen to now. I wonder if I had continued listening to “Bargain” if I would have figured this out.


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