. No band before or since, besides, of course, the incomparable Beatles
, has ever made such a whirlwind impact on the world of rock
know it or not). The Who (Pete Townshend
, Roger Daltrey
, John Entwistle
, and Keith Moon
, respectively) broke-nay, exploded onto the pop scene in 1964 with "Can't Explain
." The first chord of this first single made all ears perk
up and go "what in the hell
?" (at least, that's what my mom said she thought the first time she heard it).
From the raunchy
sound of that song, to this summer
's tour, The Who have earned themselves the title they were given by NME
in the 70s-"The Best Rock and Roll band on Earth
Let's start at the beginning. Which is a very good place to start for a rock 'n' roll story-or any story, for that matter. Beginnings usually have to do with births. So here goes nothing:
The Kids Are Alright
Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend (guitar, keyboards, vocals) was born on 19 May, 1945, in Chiswick, England. He later attended Ealing Art College with the intention of graduating as a graphic designer, but for then, Pete played the banjo. He was in a trad jazz/skiffle band with another young lad from Ealing Art School, by the name of...
John Alec Entwistle (bass, horns, vocals). Born 9 October, 1944, in Chiswick as well. John lived in a very musical family and very early on took up the piano, and then later, trumpet. He fiddled around with the guitar for a little bit, but then took up the electric bass (that is, when he was able to afford one. He constructed his first by himself). While still in Townshend's band, he was asked "I hear you play the bass?" while walking down the street by another young man...
Roger Harry Daltrey (lead vocals) was born on March 1, 1944, in London. He attended and excelled in Acton County Grammar School (the same school Entwistle and Townshend had attended, but they never knew each other). Roger, like John, constructed his first guitar himself, and soon formed his own band, The Detours, which he sang lead and played guitar for. The other members, Doug Sandom and Colin Dawson, were soon joined by Entwistle (by request of Daltrey), who recommended Townshend.
So, what about Keith Moon? The ferocious, patent British exploding drummer that drove the band's energy, stamina, and power? Where's his glorious story about joining the Who?
Um...well, there isn't one. Contrary to popular belief, Keith's grand story about jumping onstage and blowing the band and the audience away with his drumming isn't true. Not that the truth was any less exciting, dear boy!
He simply auditioned. Well, in the world of Keith John Moon; born 23 August, 1946, in Wembley, London; nothing was ever simple.
Ever since Keith was very young, he always had the personality and zaniness he is mostly remembered for. One of his grade school teachers once wrote about him that he was "Retarded artistically, idiotic in other respects.", another one saying "His behaviour is rather young for his age." Not everyone was always amused by him, but he always enjoyed the attention.
When he was just a 17-year old bright-eyed kid, Keith auditioned for The Who, while still in his band The Beachcombers. According to Entwistle and Townshend, he walked in in a ginger suit, with his hair dyed ginger, and ginger shoes. He was asked to play "Roadrunner", and needless to say, Moon proved his worth. He was in. He remained in the Beachcombers a little while before quitting and become a full-time Who member.
I'm The Face
1964. The Who was the Who as we all know them. Well, except their name had been changed to the High Numbers, and then The Who again. But what's in a name? Once Moon had joined, Townshend had felt that The Who had gained "assertiveness" and were now serious musicians, and there was no turning back.
A friend, fan, and the semi-manager of the band, Pete Meaden, suggested marketing The High Numbers as mods. He actually suggested that they change their name to "The High Numbers" to appeal to mods-short for modernists-the youth of Britain that lived on pills, scooters, and R&B music. The band weren't really mod, they just dressed the part. It was marketed as Roger being the "ace face", or main mod, and the rest of the band being "tickets", or regular mods. As the High Numbers, The Who recorded the single "I'm The Face"/"Zoot Suit" (both non-Townshend compositions) and it bombed. They changed their name back to The Who and started recording R&B.
One night in 1964, a 26-year-old filmaker, Kit Lambert, was shooting a documentary about mods, and heard a loud commotion about where the Who was playing. He entered the club and was immediately blown away by the energy of not only the band, but the kids who were watching them as well. Soon after, he and Chris Stamp signed The Who to his LTD company, New Action.
So, things were taking off for The Who. Soon enough, they had a record deal (Shel Talmy had signed them to Decca Records, who had turned down the Beatles...), and they had a new single, "I Can't Explain." Released one year into the "British Invasion", "I Can't Explain" reached #8 on the charts and secured the Who in the pop charts. They had brought mod and pop art into the mainstream, reflecting the agression of teenagers in their music and performances. However, it wasn't until their single "My Generation"
that the Who made their statement. The bluesy, loud, and racous peice of pop power featured a sarcastic
call-and-response chorus, a proclamation of "I hope I die before I get old", and the best bass solo in rock and roll history.
The Who had landed. So much so, that Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones named them "The only group doing something new.", and Paul McCartney of the Beatles hailed them as "The best thing to happen in '65."
The release of their album The Who Sings My Generation only further confirmed their arrival, and it seemed that nothing could stop the Who.
And nothing did, for the next thirteen years.
With the next '65 single "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", the Who were regulars on shows like Beat Club and Ready Steady Go!. The next year, 1966, proved even more successful for them, first with the single "Substitute". This song was written by Pete Townshend about the Rolling Stones. Pete says that at the time, he felt that the Who were a substitute for the Stones, but it's also about the mix of real and unreal in the music world. In America, the line "I look all white but my dad was black" was changed to "I try walking forward, but my feet walk back", changing it to an even more poignant statement towards racism, even though the first was considered controversial. It flopped in the USA, anyway.
Next came the Who's second album A Quick One. This album featured the John Entwistle composition, and instant classic "Boris the Spider" about our arachnid friends, and it immediately became Entwistle's signature the rest of his life. The most poignant and significant track, however, was the mini rock-opera "A Quick One (While He's Away)". The story of the song is about a woman-a girl guide, actually-pining for her absent lover. As said above, she gets tired of waiting for her paramour to return, and has an affair with an engine driver. The man returns, and discovers them fornicating. However, he tells her that she is forgiven. The 8 and 1/2 minute song, composed entirely by Townshend, paved the way for the song "I'm A Boy" (a story about transvestism!), "Rael", and 1969's magnificent Tommy. But that's later. The Who and Townshend had proved themselves as one of the best bands around. And there was no turning back.
I Can See For Miles
Next up was The Who Sell Out in 1967. An album of commercial jingles such as "Odorono" and "Heinz Baked Beans", it also featured the single "I can see for miles", including one of Keith Moon's best drum lines yet. Also that year was the single "Pictures of Lily". This song was inarguably the first song to take the subject of masturbation firmly...uh....in hand.
1967 was also the year that the rest of America (The Who didn't make a big splash in the states until then) was introduced to this band called the Who. And what an introduction they made.
The Who appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour this year. They mimed to "I can see for Miles" and "My Generation." During the latter, the band proceeded, like normal, to smash their instruments. Moon had planned for a small explosion in his drum kit, and the one during rehearsals was not to his liking, and he asked for the TNT in it to be doubled. Well, without anyone knowing, Keith quadrupled the amount the stagehand had ALREADY doubled, causing a HUGE explosion. The cameras shook and went offline for a split second, and shrapnel went flying everywhere, cutting Keith in the arm. The noised caused Pete Townshend to go almost deaf in one ear, and legend has it that Bette Davis, standing in the wings, fainted.
Like that wasn't enough, Townshend proceeded to smash Tom Smothers' acoustic guitar.
Well, America had seen the Who. And they wanted more. Later that year, the Who, along with acts like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, played the Montery International Pop Festival.
Also in 1967, John Entwistle married Alison Wise, his longtime girlfriend. Pete Townshend had discovered a new spirituality in Meher Baba's teachings, and quit using drugs. His newfound beliefs would lead to his development of Tommy.
In 1968, most of the year was spent abroad touring. The Who had sort of come to a halt, with the failure of "I Can See For Miles" in America and the ill-charted The Who Sell Out. In a move for more cashflow, Decca records released Magic Bus: The Who On Tour against the will of the group, who had now created their own Track Records label. The "album" consisted of flops and B-sides, and the new single "Magic Bus." Although written around the time of "My Generation", "Magic Bus" wasn't recorded until that year. It peaked at #26, and things started to look down for the Who chart-wise. They weren't popping out pop-friendly singles anymore. "We'd had that tremendous two years of success and then something had gone wrong." said Pete. But that was all about to change...
Upon touring the states, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone Magazine hailed them as the "group of the year."
Pete married his girlfriend Karen, and was even more engulfed in Meher Baba's teachings. At their new house, pictures of the guru, books, and everything in between filled his abode. Pete had also begun recording demos for his new "rock opera", the working title being "Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Boy."
Now, Townshend had toyed with the idea of narrative before, telling stories in songs like the aforementioned "A Quick One (While He's Away)" , "Rael", and "Glow Girl" (the latter two of which musical themes would resurface in Tommy's instrumentals). The combination of this, Townshend's spirituality and the band's need for another original record (by 1969,they hadn't released one in two years-a big "no-no" for any 60s group)-bore Tommy.
Released 23 May, 1969, Tommy reached #2 in the UK and #4 in the United States. The Who first performed the entire Tommy song cycle 2 May, 1969 at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, a few weeks before the album was released. They played Tommy over 100 times, the last being at London's Roundhouse on 20 December, 1970. Townshend and the Who took Tommy across Europe and the US, Townshend proclaiming "assemble the musicians" before every performance of his beloved "Thomas".
The Who weren't worried about their placement in the near future anymore. Tommy was a rock phenomenon. Songs like "Pinball Wizard" (although the original plot had NOTHING to do with pinball, this commercialisation did indeed help the album win reviews by journalist Nic Cohn, a pinball enthusiast...) propelled it on the charts, but it didn't need any radio play or singles to make this truly "album rock" excell. The Who were bound to it, it was inescapable. Surely, the Melody Maker sums up the feeling of the time:
"the Who are now the group against which all others are to be judged.". Nothing confirmed this notion more than the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August of 1969.
The Who took the stage at midnight, the morning of the last (scheduled) day, 17 August. Despite an interuption from yippie Abbie Hoffman (who stormed the stage protesting someone's drug charges-Pete proceeded to hit in in the head with his guitar), the gig went off without a hitch. The band, of course, performed Tommy, and as the sun rose, the weary band belted out the finale, the majestic "See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You".
There Once Was A Note
Like I said, there was no turning back now for the Who. But how to top Tommy? The Who toured through 1970 with the rock opera, and that same year, Pete wrote "Lifehouse".
Lifehouse was to be a multimedia experience, reflecting every listener. It was a storyline, mixed in with actual Who performances. This would-be "total music" experience was staged for a few days at the Young Vic theatre in February of 1971. These were more like rehearsals that the public just walked in on.
He wanted it to be a full-blown experience, with audience participation, input, and music (like "Baba O'Riley"'s synthesizer beginning-inspired by the biorythms of Meher Baba). He filmed a series of performances in London as an experiment, he ultimately, as I said, wanted the audience to dictate what they were hearing.
Townshend intended in touching every member of the audience personally, making the songs reflect them. Which is...exactly what they do anyway, at least for me. He, however, wanted this in a literal sense. The Young Vic shows didn't last long enough to Townshend's liking, and more disagreements with Kit Lambert cascaded the project into murkier waters.
The failure of Lifehouse to materialise caused Pete to have a nervous breakdown, and the "best" songs were scraped off and made into the Who's groundbreaking, amazing, and beautiful Who's Next.
The album featured such radio gems as "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Behind Blue Eyes", and probably their most famous song, "Baba O'Riley". However, the central song of the whole Lifehouse theme, "Pure and Easy", was absent. The whole basis of the story was that music, and reaching a one universal note, can bring everyone together.
The instrumentation was better than ever-the Who were among the first to use the synthesizer in a rock song, Keith's drums and John's bass thundered on every track, and Pete's guitar and Roger's vocals were better than ever. The album is overall wall of sound that left a deep impression in the history of rock. Again, the Who had topped themselves. And Who's Next wasn't even half of what Pete had planned for the songs. Not until 2001 did Pete see his dream of Lifehouse come true (in some form or another)-in a radioplay on the BBC. AndAccording to Townshend, he still intends to stage that concert to bring everyone together, with that one fractal, natural, and pure tone...
However the success of Who's Next, Pete was still miserable about the failure of Lifehouse.
After touring, the Who took a hiatus, and they didn't release another album until late 1973, the product of Pete's seclusion, memories of the mod days passed, and the band members themselves.
The idea of "Quadrophenia" itself was first concieved back when Tommy was being recorded- Pete planned to have aspects of Tommy's personality represtented by the Who-which is what happens with Jimmy in Quadrophenia. Originally, Quadrophenia had about 50 songs-it could have been a quadruple album-again leaving impressions of fours-four members of the Who (representing Jimmy's personality), The quadraphonic sound, etc.
Pete didn't want another crash-and-burn like the Lifehouse project, so instead of making a film-script, he made this concept album. It was complete with sound effects and a picture booklet to supply images-because he thought this, too, would never be made.
Quadrophenia was originally released in the U.K. on October 26, 1973. But, due to a vinyl shortage due to the OPEC oil embargo, production was stopped, and only a few copies made it to stores. Most Brits had to wait until after the Who's U.K. tour to get a copy. In the U.S., Quadrophenia was released on November 3, 1973.
The album picks up toward the end of the mod culture's prime, following the story of a young boy named Jimmy. The story of Quadrophenia is a flashback, told by Jimmy on "The Rock", where he has ended up, befuddled and sorry.
Jimmy, like most teenagers, feels like he's completely and utterly misunderstood and crazy. The doctor says he has Schizophrenia (note: this is a technicality on Townshend's part, because Schizophrenia is totally different from multiple personality disorder, but anyway...)-but Jimmy feels he's got four parts to him. These are introduced in the beginning song, "I Am the Sea": the helpless dancer, "is it me?", the bell boy, and love, reign o'er me. The four themes are each assigned to a member of the band as well, Roger being the "helpless dancer", John being "is it me?", Keith, of course, being the "bell boy", and Pete with "love, reign o'er me."
The Who's most sensitive, rocking, and intuitive songs ever continue to narrate this story, songs like "The Real Me", "The Punk and The Godfather", "I'm One", and the rip-roaring ending, "Love, Reign O'er Me". These songs follow Jimmy over the course of rejection by the society, and by a girl, his realisation of how fake the whole bloody "scene" is, spiritual englightenment, and his wild trip after leaving his hometown. You could discuss this album forever (and I do, here), but the whole epiphany that Jimmy and the listeners come to- the enlightenment, is that love is the only thing that matters-that only love should control you.
Critically acclaimed but not as popularly accepted as Tommy, Quadrophenia ends up on many "best album of all time" list, and was made into a wonderful film in 1979.
Not to Be Taken Away
In 1975, the long-awaited Tommy: The Movie was released. Although the movie is a bit odd, and strays from the album's story a little, it was a box-office smash. It starred Roger as Tommy (the role propelled him, at age 30, to a position as a teen heartthrob), with a slew of other stars. Keith played Uncle Ernie, Pete was the narrator and John made a few onscreen appearances playing. Other roles included Eric Clapton as the Minister, Arthur Brown as the priest, Ann-Margret as Mrs. Walker, Oliver Reed as Frank (the lover), Tina Turner as the Acid Queen, and, of course, Elton John as the pinball champ.
At the same time, Keith was recording his ill-fated solo album, Two Sides of the Moon. Although on the outside, with the success of the movie, The Who seemed to be still going strong, in reality, they were falling apart.
Pete still felt disillusioned about Lifehouse and his overall role within the band, and the songs from their next album, The Who By Numbers, shows this. The lyrics reflected his inner turmoil-covering his drinking ("However Much I Booze"), impotence and marital breakdown ("Imagine a Man"), buisness pressures ("They're All In Love"), and the corrupt world of the money-hungry music business ("How Many Friends"). Even John's contribution, the almost comical "Success Story", was bleak.
There was also in-fighting in the band. Pete and Roger accused each other-in the public forum of Melody Maker, no less-of performance flaws and inebriation onstage (Pete and Roger didn't really like each other, and, really, they still don't).
When The Who By Numbers was released in October of 1975, it charted in the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was clear that the Who were not the same band they used to be. Some critics called By Numbers Townshend's "suicide note", and indeed, it was the beginning of the end for The Who.
For the years of 1976 to 1977, nothing really happened. The Who took a semi-hiatus, playing gigs occasionally. Pete released an album, Rough Mix with Ronnie Lane, John toured with his other band, John Entwistle's Ox, Roger released solo albums, and Keith worked on his movie career.
In 1978, the group were preparing to release their first album in three years, and there was even talk of a full-blown tour. Things were again, looking up for the Who. However, all of these things were about to be overshadowed by a sudden, but not completely unexpected tragedy.
Before the album's release, John mixed the soundtrack for the Who's upcoming documentary The Kids Are Alright, and the group recorded shows for the final sequence. Who Are You was released 18 August 1978, and was a smash. The glory wouldn't last for long, though.
Tragically, after returning from Paul McCartney's house on the night of 7 September, Keith took too many of his perscription anti-alcoholism pills, fell asleep, and died.
Although Keith was in bad shape (his sloppy drumming on the album shows this), he was getting better. His death was a horrible loss in the rock world. Pete and Roger weren't all that shocked. When John recieved the news of Keith's death during a press conference, the always-stoic demeanor of "the Ox" broke as he burst into tears. He and Keith were best friends, and really, if it wasn't for John, Keith would have died a lot earlier.
The release of The Kids Are Alright in 1979 was a perfect tribute for Keith, showing his contagious personality, musical genius, and, of course, the destruction of some hotel rooms....
Long Live Rock
Not terribly soon after the death of Keith, The Who hired former Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones as his replacement. Jones is alright, in his own right, but he was not-and never could be-Keith Moon. In 1979, tragedy struck yet again for the Who. Outside a concert in Cincinatti, 11 people were trampled to death after trying to rush into the theatre to get the best seats possible, because it was general admission. From then on, general admission has been banned in Cincinatti.
With this and the Keith's death, Pete sunk into a deep depression, and used a lot of hard drugs. So much so, that he almost died in the early 80s.
After two albums, Face Dances and It's Hard, The Who (or as fans call this incarnation, TED-for Townshend Entwistle Daltrey) called it quits. After a reunion tour in 1989, they promised it was the end, but it was not so. Atfer hiring the wonderul Zak Starkey (son of Beatle Ringo Starr) as their drummer,
They toured again in 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000, and this summer, 2002.
But again, tragedy halted the band. On 27 June, 2002, John Entwistle was found dead of a cocaine-induced heart attack in his Las Vegas hotel room, the night before their tour began. Rumours and controversy surrounded his death, but Pete and Roger carried on and played their obligatory dates. And, this is, most likely, the end of the monster we know as "The Who". Maybe not. Who knows?
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere: The Compleat Chronicle of the Who by Andy Neill and Matt Kent, The Story of Tommy by Pete Townshend, Maximum Who by Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey, Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend by Tony Fletcher, and, of course, my brain.