Warm Heart Pastry: Guess Who Came for the Feast?
In 1971, Pete Townshend and Keith Moon were among the very many special guests to play on the debut album by the Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron, Smiling Men With Bad Reputations. The song to which they contributed, “Warm Heart Pastry,” also featured Ronnie Lane on bass, with John Cale on backing vocals and viola. The finished mix was not quite the dream team you would hope for from getting members of the Who, the Velvet Underground, the Faces and the Incredible String Band together in the same room, with Joe Boyd producing the results, largely because the song itself, six minutes long, is really not much of anything. (Lyrically, it’s a rather desperate rewrite of the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” idea, all sordid metaphors for female body parts, but that neither makes nor breaks the song, which lacks sorely for melody if not rhythm.) The uncharitable could even suggest that on “Warm Heart Pastry,” Townshend and Moon are merely going through the motions.
But in 1971, the Who were at their creative and performing peak, which means that, however sub-Who “Warm Heart Pastry” may have ended up, the pair dominate the track from start to finish, with Moon delivering a particularly spirited performance, free of the constraints that Glyn Johns rightly put on him when recording Who’s Next. Around the four-and-a-half minute mark, by which point Heron has given up singing and just before Moon enjoys a brief “a capella” roam around the kit, you can even hear John Cale’s heavily treated viola come in, a wonderfully eerie complement for Moon’s drums and Townshend’s power chords.
Despite the additional presence of Richard Thompson, Steve Winwood and Elton John – such a star-studded line-up that the latter’s contribution was actually left off the original album! – Smiling Men With Bad Reputations did not sell well on release, and the album gathered dust until being reissued on CD by Fledg’ling Records a couple of years back. Even then, it failed to set the collectors’ world alight; word has been unusually slow to spread across the Internet. iJamming! Pubber Keif Spoon recently found this 2006 story about the album by NPR’s Tom Moon, complete with streamable audio of “Warm Heart Pastry” and two other songs. (The NPR Playlist window is a magnificent invention; load up new releases from All Songs Considered and you’ll be as up to date on your music as just about any magazine editor.) Obviously, if you like what you hear you should consider buying the album; if, like me, you find it dated and disappointing but still want to hear what the various special guests contributed, you may want to visit Lost-in-Tyme. I searched around a bit more and found at least one person who considered Smiling Men With Bad Reputations a complete classic – interestingly, he was a String Band folk fan with little exposure to rock’n’roll. You can read Norman Lamont’s personal recollections and track-by-track review here.
One reason for buying the re-issued Smiling Men… would be to see if it clarifies exactly who appeared on which song, for various web pages assert that John Entwistle and Jimmy Page also appeared on the album. Presumably, several such guests had to appear, for contractual reasons, under pseudnyms. For his part, Tom Moon notes that
“Warm Heart Pastry” features the Who rhythm section credited as “Tommy & The Bijoux.”
Moon and Townshend as the rhythm section? There’s a Freudian slip if ever you heard one.
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