The 'first Who' (= the first band Pete Townshend
, Roger Daltrey
& John Entwistle
were members of) were The Detours
back in the early 1960
s. When John Entwistle
joined Roger Daltrey
and in turn recommended Pete Townshend
as the rhythm guitar
player, the lineup was Roger Daltrey
as the lead guitar
player, John Entwistle
on bass, Pete Townshend
on rhythm guitar, Doug Sandom as the drummer
, and Colin Dawson as the lead singer.
This lineup did not change until early 1963, when The Detours opened for a band, consisting of a lead singer, one guitar player, one bass player and a drummer. They decided to be a power trio with a lead singer, so Colin was removed, Roger became the singer, and Pete, who was actually more talented than Roger, became the lead guitar player.
The first real Who, which is the first band called The Who, were actually these power trio & lead singer Detours, who changed their name, because of an irish band called The Detours. This name was btw suggested by Richard Barnes, one of Pete's school friends. They adopted it.
This was in early 1964, two months later, Doug Sandom was encouraged to leave the band. In April 1964, a wild and crazy young drummer, called Keith Moon joined the band. His very own drumming style would change The Who's music as well as their live performances, because Pete used to smash his guitar and amplifier after Who gigs, and Keith started smashing his drum kit. "Keith Moon has destroyed more drum kits, than other musicians had the opportunity to play on."
Later that year, a young mod called Pete Meaden, became The Who's manager. Since he was a mod, he wanted The Who to look like them and appeal to them too. During this phase, they were renamed to The High Numbers, probably because that was a more "mod-like" name than the Who.
They released one single as the High Numbers, written by Pete Meaden, called I'm The Face (later this song was included on the Quadrophenia film soundtrack) with the b-side Zoot Suit. The single failed, and the management was changed again.
Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who were looking for a band they could make a movie about. The band's name was changed to The Who again. This new management organized The Who's first "real" gig, at the Marquee Club in London. They were advertised with a black poster showing Pete windmilling and with an inscription saying "Maximum R&B". This slogan was later used on posters and t-shirts too and even the big Who box set was called 30 Years Of Maximum R&B (also available as a video).
Soon after that Kit and Chris were encouraging Pete to write his own material to attract the Kinks' producer Shel Talmy. The Who's first single I Can't Explain was actually written before, but Pete kinks-ified it and indeed The Who signed a deal with Talmy, who became their manager for the next five years. He signed them to Decca records in the USA.
The band's leader at that time was Roger, a position he defended with his fists. While Pete's writing skills got better, his leader role was under attack, and there were fights inside The Who. Roger was even kicked out, but after he promised to be more peaceful he joined again. At this time, The Who's famous My Generation single was released, followed by their first album by the same name. My Generation just said what was on the minds of the kids at that time.
Various difficulties with their record company in the USA caused The Who to cancel their contract, which led to countersuits. This nearly halted the release of Substitute, a song that would become one of their favourites. The Who solved the problem, but they had to pay money to Talmy for five years, and return to their old record company in the USA.
The management continued encouraging Pete to write new songs for The Who, so Pete once said he was writing a rock opera as a joke, but Kit Lambert liked the idea. Townshend's first idea was a family who wanted four daughters, but got three girls and a boy. Nevertheless they insist on raising him as a girl. The plan releasing this as a rock opera failed, because of The Who's need for a single so it became one short song called I'm A Boy.
Kit Lambert had gotten an advance for The Who's next album, but each member of the band had to write a song. Townshend had no difficulites, John made two songs, Roger did one and even Keith Moon wrote two songs.
Later John has written more songs that often became live favourites (Heaven And Hell used to be the openening song for concerts in 1970, and My Wife was played often in the seventies).
These songs became part of the band's second album A Quick One (Happy Jack in the USA). Its title track was indeed a rock opera, A Quick One (While He's Away). It is the story about a woman, who has fun with Ivor, the Engine Driver, while her mans away.
After this album The Who started their first US tour. They started smashing their equipment again, and played a few concerts. In the summer of 1967, the summer of love, The Who returned to the USA and played at the Monterey Pop Festival, which brought them attention from american music critics. During this summer tour, Keith Moon said that he was 21 (though he was 20) in order to be allowed drinking alcohol.
The Who's next single, I Can See For Miles and the album it was on, The Who Sell Out followed later that year. Though I Can See For Miles was their biggest single hit in the US, both the single and album sold worse than the first two. The album, The Who Sell Out was a concept album based on pirate radio stations in London in the 1960s. This album included some themes Pete Townshend would later reuse on other Who albums.
The Who needed their next project to produce a hit as an effort to save the band, who had not very much money at that time. They began working on a story about a deaf, dumb and blind kid, later known as Tommy. It succeeded beyond anybody's dreams.
Tommy was released in 1969, but at first, it wasn't very successful either. The real success came when The Who performed Tommy at Woodstock in 69. Just as the famous See Me, Feel Me part was sung by Roger the sun rose over the festival. After this scene was shown in a movie about the Woodstock festival, Tommy and The Who became a sensation. They would perform Tommy over the next two years. One of these live concerts was recorded and released as perhaps the best live album, the great Live At Leeds. Though the Who performed Tommy, it was left out on the recording.
In the meantime Pete had started working on a new project, Lifehouse. It would be another rock opera with a complicated plot, but it was not completed. Instead The Who took some Lifehouse songs, mixed them with others and released the revolutionary Who's Next. It was the first rock album to feature synthesizers that much. It included three of The Who's most popular songs ever, Baba O'Riley, Behind Blue Eyes and the 8.30 Won't Get Fooled Again, the last track on the album.
While the band's success got bigger and bigger, John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey released solo albums, Smash Your Head Against The Wall by John and Daltrey by Roger. The last became a hit and Roger got power in the band he hadn't had since 1965.
In 1973 The Who released Quadrophenia their next big rock opera about Jimmy, a mod. It should have been recorded using a four channel quadrophonic system, but the technology wasn't very good. It hat to be mixed down to stereo. When played live, The Who used many tapes two create the quadrophonic sound, but this often led to chaos, since the tapes weren't always working. One time, Pete got so mad he destroyed all the tapes, because of a fault on them.
The Who started making big Quadrophenia tours; Keith's wife had left him just before the tour so he tried to drown his sorrows in alcohol. It didn't really help him however, when The Who played in San Francisco at the beginning of their tour, Keith collapsed two times during the set.
In the meantime, a Tommy movie was shot starring Roger Daltrey and famous guests. Roger became a star apart from The Who so Townshend had depressions and started drinking heavily. Playing in New York in 1974, Pete realised that his passion of performing with The Who was fading. 1975 saw the release of The Who by Numbers, which according to some critics sounded like a suicide note. There were some problems in the band, inconsistencies between Roger and Pete.
The Who continued touring in 1975 and 1976, a tour that was more successful than the 75 album. They did stop touring in 76, because a doctor told Pete he would become deaf if he didn't stop touring. The Who and their managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp had ceased to cooperate after various arguments.
After a "drinking session" with two Sex Pistols members, Who Are You (the song) was written) and an album by the same name followed. It was much more successful than The Who By Numbers, and Pete Townshend was leading the band into a new direction, away from his famous power chords to fluid lead guitar notes.
A few weeks after the album's release, Keith Moon, who had drunk heavily, gained weight and looked much older than he really was, died of an overdose of pills he ironically had been prescribed to control his alcoholism.
In my opinion this was The Who's end, though they went on releasing two albums with Kenny Jones, their new drummer. During the eighties and nineties they were doing some reunion tours, including two big Quadrophenia tours.