The Who

  • British rock band formed in 1964 from London England. The classic lineup was Roger Daltrey (lead vocals, harmonica), Pete Townshend (guitars, vocals, songwriting), John Entwistle (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Keith Moon (drums).
  • Townshend and Entwistle were schoolmates in London, becoming friends and forming a jazz band. Daltrey went to the same school, but was a year ahead of Townshend and Entwistle, and he was expelled when he was 15 years old. In 1959, Daltrey founded a band called The Detours, with Daltrey playing lead guitarist. They performed at weddings and business functions. Daltrey happened upon Entwistle walking on the street with his bass guitar, and Daltrey recruited Entwistle to join The Detours. In 1961, Entwistle suggested to Daltrey that Townshend should join the band.
  • With Daltrey and Townshend on guitar, Entwistle on bass, Harry Wilson on drums and Colin Dawson on vocals, The Detours covered jazz and pop songs of the day. Wilson was fired in 1962, replaced by Doug Sandom, who was nearly 15 years older than his teenage bandmates. Dawson soon left after arguing too much with Daltrey – he was briefly replaced, but The Detours became a quartet when Daltrey took over vocalist duties. They began to perform as an opening act for other British 60s rock and roll bands. In 1964, they discovered another band named Johnny Devlin and the Detours, so they decided to change their name. Townshend spent a night thinking of possible names – Townshend preferred The Hair, but Daltrey chose another name, The Who.
  • Their manager got them an audition with a record label. The label complained that their drummer was not good enough, and Townsend threatened to fire Sandom. Sandom subsequently quit. Within a month, the band met Moon at a gig. Moon was the drummer for a band called The Beachcombers. After watching Moon perform, The Who asked Moon to join. He played with both bands for a short time, but when both bands had conflicting show date, he chose to join The Who full time.
  • Changing managers, they shifted to the mod movement in England, and their music incorporated more R&B and soul. The changed their name to The High Numbers and they cut a single called Zoot Suit with I’m the Face as the B-side. The single failed, and the band reverted to their old name of The Who. They began to refine their stage presence, with Daltrey whipping his microphone cable, Moon throwing his sticks in mid-song, and Townshend jumping wildly and windmilling his arms while playing guitar. At a show in June 1964, Townshend accidentally broke the head of his guitar on the low ceiling of the stage. The crowd started laughing, and Townshend smashed his guitar on the stage in anger. Seeing the reaction of the crowd, the band started to incorporate destruction into their performances, with Moon kicking his drum kit and Townshend continuing to destroy guitars.
  • By late 1964, they were signed to a record company, and their single I Can’t Explain was released. It reached #8 in the UK and barely charted in the U.S. Their follow-up single, Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, was a top 10 hit in the UK. This set the stage for their debut album, My Generation, released in 1965. By now, they were a sensation in Europe – the title track to the album peaked at #2 in the UK and was top 10 in other countries. In 1966, a non-album single titled Substitute was released, and another single, I’m A Boy, soon followed. Both were top 10 hits throughout Europe.
  • Their popularity in the U.S. rose with their second album, Happy Jack (released as A Quick One in the UK). The title track reached #24 in the U.S. Their next album, 1967’s The Who Sell Out, included their first top 10 hit in the U.S. – I Can See For Miles. The following year, they released Magic Bus, and the title track peaked at #25 in the U.S.
  • As their popularity rose, their concerts and behavior became more noticed. They continued their act of destroying equipment while performing, and Moon took a liking to explosives – he frequently set off cherry bombs in hotel rooms, and an explosion in his drum set at one performance led to a cymbal cutting his arm.
  • Townshend’s songwriting had evolved to a point where he was writing concept albums. In 1969, The Who released the rock opera Tommy, about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard and his attempt to communicate with others. The double album was lauded by critics as one of the most important rock albums of all times – it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. The singles from the album Pinball Wizard, I’m Free and See Me, Feel Me are all classic rock classics.
  • In 1971, The Who released Who’s Next, which makes my list of one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The songs are all classic, particularly the singles Won’t Get Fooled Again and Behind Blue Eyes. My personal favorite, and one of their best known songs, was never released as a single in the U.S. or the UK – Baba O’Riley and its chorus refrain of “Teenage Wasteland” is a monumental part of rock history. It is on Rolling Stones’ list of the Greatest Songs of All Time (as is My Generation, Won’t Get Fooled Again, I Can See For Miles, and I Can’t Explain).
  • They continued with classic rock albums during the 70s. The tour de force rock opera Quadrophenia was released in 1973. It contains Love, Reign O’er Me, one of my picks for greatest song of all time (Daltrey’s vocals make him a ‘rock god’, and the crescendo at the end, complete with gong, is unforgettable). The Who By Numbers in 1975 included the tongue-in-cheek Squeeze Box. 1978’s Who Are You was their final album to include Moon on drums – he died 3 weeks after its release of an overdose of clomethiazole pills, a sedative he was taking to alleviate his alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • The band continued on without Moon – he was replaced by Kenney Jones, who previously was the drummer for Faces. In 1979, the documentary film The Kids Are Alright was released, along with the soundtrack album. The film was a retrospective of the career of the band. A single from the album, Long Live Rock, was released, peaking at #54, and becoming yet another rock classic for the band.
  • Their final hits came with their 2 albums released in the early 80s – You Better You Bet reached the top of the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, and Athena and Eminence Front were top 5 hits on the same chart. After a farewell tour in 1982, the band split up. In 1985, they performed a single show at Live Aid, and in 1988, they played a set at Brit Awards when they received a Lifetime Achievement award – it was the last show that Jones performed as drummer with the band. They toured in 1989 with 50 performances, and Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle officially revived the band in 1996. Ringo Starr’s son Zac Starkey became their tour drummer at that time, and he continues to perform with The Who. Entwistle remained until his death in 2002. They toured frequently during the 00s and 10s, and albums were released in 2006 and 2019.
  • The Who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 (Jones was excluded). They had 7 albums listed on Rolling Stones’ GOAT album list, and Rolling Stone ranks them at #29 on their Greatest Artists of All Time list. They have a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and 3 albums are in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The Broadway version of Tommy won 5 Tony awards. In 2008, Townshend and Daltrey received the Kennedy Center Honors award – the first rock band to receive this award. Can’t say much more about this iconic band. Here’s the band performing my fave, Baba O’Riley, in 1978. Yes, that is Keith Moon on drums. Want more? You should! Take 9 minutes to watch Won’t Get Fooled Again. Long Live Rock!

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