Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Who: Join Together

In the past year or so, the classic Who single “Join Together” was used for a Nissan Maxima commercial; therefore, it qualifies as today’s TV Thursday feature.

I remember buying this single at Gimbles’ record department in the Eastland Shopping center in North Versailles, PA. While National Record Mart was just outside Gimbels’ entrance in Eastland’s “Underground Mall,” Gimbles often had singles before NRM and I would often buy them there without hearing them first. I’m not sure what motivated me to buy this single, but I had penchant for getting 45s that were not slated to be released on albums – and “Join Together” would not appear on an LP until the compilation album “Join Together” (later named as “Rarities Volume II”) was issued 10 years later.

It also was the last record by The Who to be released on Decca Records in America. That year, the Music Corporation of America consolidated all of its labels (Decca, Coral, Kapp, Uni, Vocalian, and MCA Special Products) into one label: MCA Records. The Bruswick label was not included as MCA had sold this trademark to Jackie Wilson's manager, Nat Tarnopol.

If I am correct, Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock/Elderberry Wine” single was the first single on MCA – I bought that one as well. The Who’s next single, “The Relay” (another non LP release), and Pete Townshend’s “Who Came First” LP were released on the Track label distributed by MCA. I bought both of these records at Gimbles that same year. I did get “Crocodile Rock” late in 1972 as well, but purchased it at H.L. Greens in McKeesport.

I was always intrigued by the harmonica sound on this song as I never could figure out how Townshend got the sound he did – until now. Seeing this video makes it all clearer as the instrumentation now makes sense. It was obvious that two jaw harps were used, but the video indicates that John Entwhistle played a bass harmonica while Townshend is playing a Hohner chord Harmonica.

Hohner Chord Harmonicas are huge with a length of 23 inches. Like the bass harmonica, it is hinged in order to give the options of more notes, and hence, 48 chords (with 4 sets of double reeds per chord). The top row or deck has major chords in the blow position and 7th chords in the draw position. On the lower set, the blow has minor chords and the draw chords are a combination of augmented and diminished chords.

Major Chords
Dominant 7th Chords
Minor Chords
Gbm Dbm Abm Ebm BbmFmCmGmDmAmEmBm
Augmented +
Diminished 7th - 













The Hohner Chord harmonica is extremely expensive listing at $2,469.99 new. Most retailers, however, only charge around $1700.00 for this model. While I have a chord harmonica, it is a cheaper version made in China by Swan. The Swan Compact Chord 48 is much smaller at 13 inches in length and only has four single reeds for each chord. I believe I paid about $50.00 for it a number of years ago – which is much cheaper than the nearly two grand that one would need for the Hohner model. Suzuki also makes a full sized 48 chord harmonica for under $1,000. 

These full-sized 48 chord harmonicas may be the largest harps still in production, although larger models may have been available in the past.  I have read of a 72 chord harmonica, but I have never seen a picture of this mythical beast.  If there were such an animal, it would have been considerably larger than the 23 inch Hohner Chord Harmonica 267/384.

The author with an even larger model - a Hohner store display from the 1960s. 
Since it is a store display, I call it my "Merchant" Marine Band Harmonica.

Used in harmonica orchestras, the chord harmonica joins the likes of the bass harmonica and the Chromatica – which is a specialty instrument that allows for glissando effects. I don’t have a bass harmonica, but I do have an old Chromatica that I picked up used. Although, it has some problems (with some reeds sticking), it was worth the $15.00 I paid for it, as a new one is $350. It is fairly large at 14 inches in length.

Hohner also made several other more reasonably priced glissando harmonicas under the Polyphonia name. I’m not sure how many Polyphonia models they made, but I have two – a Model 5 and a Model 6. Each has a different range and I got both of mine dirt cheap back when you could purchase harmonicas at a reduced cost that had been in stores for a long time and were not in danger of ever selling to the general public. The store owners were generally glad to get rid of the inventory that they had for possibly decades.

Comparative harmonica sizes (all Hohner except when noted).  From top to bottom and left to right:
Polyphonia 5, Polyphonia 6, Chromatica, Swan Compact Chord 48,
Echo Harp (tremolo), Lee Oskar diatonic, Echo Harp (octave).

The video makes it appear that Townshend is playing the top row of the chord harmonica, but I tried that with mine and could not replicate the sound. The song is pretty straightforward in F Dorian mode with F, Eb, and Bb – so initially, I was baffled. It wasn’t until I studied the piece more that I realized that Townshend was playing the bottom row and the first chord is a Bb augmented chord that starts the progression that is performed over a repeating F bass note.

The dynamics between the major chords in the song proper and the augmented and diminished chords make sense now. While my Swan Compact Chord 48 is arranged the same as a Hohner, the pitches of the individual chords are different and impossible for me to sound like Pete Townshend – which should not be any stretch of the imagination.

“Join Together” is a great tune that features an interesting array of non-standard instrumentation.


  1. I think that harp riff is played on a Chromatica, Key of C, not on the big chord harp

  2. I couldn't replicate it on my chord harp; however, the Chromatica is glissando harp - I have not tried this but will attempt to do so - it sounds like it is a chord harp of some sort.