From: London, England
Few would argue that the Who were one of the best, most energetic, and quite frankly loudest rock bands of the 1960s and 70s. Their unique melodies and lyrics, topped with an unmatched rhythm section, helped them rise to the top and make them the well-deserved kings of their profession.
The group can be traced all the way back to 1959 when Roger Daltrey (vocals, tambourine, harmonica, guitar) formed the Detours and soon recruited school chum John Entwistle (bass, French horn, piano, vocals). In mid 1961, Entwistle suggested another classmate of theirs, Pete Townshend (lead guitar, organ, synthesizer, piano, vocals), join the fold. Other original members included Harry Wilson (drums) and Colin Dawson (lead vocals). Daltrey was initially considered their leader as they honed their skills playing mostly instrumental and pop covers by bands like the Shadows and Ventures. Dawson left after having frequent arguments with Daltrey and was briefly replaced by Gabby Connolly (lead vocals), before Daltrey decided to take up the position himself.
Through Townshend's mother, the group obtained a management contract with local promoter Robert Druce who started booking them as a support act for bands that influenced them like Screaming Lord Sutch, Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers, Shane Fenton & The Fentones, and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. They were particularly interested in the Pirates as they also only had one guitarist, who inspired Townshend to combine rhythm and lead guitar in his style. In early 1964, they became aware of another act that included their moniker called Johnny Devlin & The Detours, so they decided it was time to change their name and eventually settled on the Who.
The band then changed managers, hiring Helmut Gorden who secured them an audition with Fontana Records, but unfortunately they didn't dig their drumming style. According to Sandom, Townshend immediately turned on him and threatened to fire him if his playing didn't immediately improve, at which time Sandon left the audition and band in disgust. After a few stand-in drummers, they met Keith Moon (drums, percussion, vocals) while gigging at the Oldfield Hotel, who auditioned and based on his obvious prowess, quickly became a full-fledged member. This gave them their classic foursome lineup that fans are mostly familiar with.
The Who then changed managers again, bringing in Peter Meaden who decided that the group would be ideal to represent the growing mod movement in Britain, which involved fashion, scooters and music genres such as R&B, soul and beat. He dressed them up in mod clothes, renamed them the High Numbers and got them a second Fontana tryout, which went much more favorably than the first and secured them their first record deal. Meaden also wrote both sides of their debut 45 ('I'm The Face' b/w 'Zoot Suit'), which was released under the name the High Numbers in July of 1964. Unfortunately, the record didn't catch on, prompting the group to change their moniker back to the Who.
The band began to improve their stage image when Daltrey started using his microphone cable as a whip on stage, and occasionally leapt into the crowd. Moon threw drumsticks into the air mid-beat and Townshend mimed machine gunning the crowd with his guitar while jumping on stage and playing guitar with a fast arm windmilling motion or stood with his arms aloft allowing his guitar to produce feedback in a posture dubbed "the Bird Man". Meaden was then replaced as manager by two filmmakers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who had seen the band gigging at their frequent haunt the Railway Hotel and were looking for a young, unsigned rock group that they could make a film about. Lambert related to Townshend and his art school background, and encouraged him to start writing songs. At around this time, Townshend accidentally broke the head of his guitar on the low ceiling of the Railway's stage and, angered by the audience when they started laughing at him, promptly smashed the instrument and continued the show with another guitar. The following week, the audience was naturally looking for a repeat of Townshend's previous tantrum, so Moon obliged by kicking his drum kit over, thus initiating the "auto-destructive art" trend that became a routine novelty of the Who's live set. In August of 1964, Lambert and Stamp issued their promotional film featuring the group and their audience at the Railway playing soul, R&B and Motown covers, and creating the catchy slogan "Maximum R&B".
By late 1964, the Who had become a popular attraction at London's Marquee Club, and a rave review of their raucous live act appeared in the popular magazine Melody Maker. Lambert and Stamp then attracted the attention of American Kinks producer Shel Talmy with the song 'I Can't Explain', which Townshend had purposely written in the style of the Kinks. Impressed by the song and the band's ability, Talmy quickly signed them to his production company and sold 'I Can't Explain' to the U.S. arm of Decca Records, which meant that the group's early singles would be released in Britain on Brunswick Records, one of U.K. Decca's labels typically used for U.S. artists. 'I Can't Explain' was recorded in early November, 1964 at Pye Studios in Marble Arch with the Ivy League on backing vocals, and Jimmy Page playing fuzz guitar on the B-side, 'Bald Headed Woman'. The single was released in early 1965 and became a huge hit in the U.K., peaking at the #8 position.
As well as the Who performed together, it should be noted that they weren't close friends save Moon and Entwistle, who enjoyed visiting nightclubs together in the West End of London. A second single ('Anyway Anyhow Anywhere') followed in the spring of '65 and also became another smash, reaching the #10 spot on the charts. The track also became the theme song for the popular teen dance TV show Ready Steady Go!, which they appeared on frequently. A third single ('My Generation') followed in the fall of that year and although originally written as a slow blues riff, quickly evolved into a high energy blaster featuring Daltrey mimicking the speech of a mod on amphetamines with a prominent vocal stutter. The song became their biggest seller to date, peaking at #2 on the U.K. charts. A debut LP (also titled My Generation) including the track soon followed in late 1965.
In early 1966, the group had a falling out with Talmy and was abruptly dropped from their record contract. The Who then signed to Robert Stigwood's Reaction label and issued the single 'Substitute' in the spring of '66, which includes the outstanding 'Instant Party (Circles)' tucked away on the B-side. Unfortunately though, since the flip was recorded under their previous Decca contract, Talmy took legal action and had the record withdrawn from pressing. A new B-side (the instrumental 'Waltz For A Pig'), which was actually recorded by the Graham Bond Organization under the pseudonym Who Orchestra then took its place. It should also be noted that Talmy/Brunswick continued releasing Who singles until close to the end of 1966 without the band's endorsement, including the tracks 'A Legal Matter' and 'The Kids Are Alright'. The close of '66, saw the issue of the outstanding single 'Happy Jack', which peaked at #3 on the U.K. charts and eventually #24 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, becoming their first American Top 40 hit. A second LP (A Quick One) was also released at this time and includes the excellent deep cut 'Don’t Look Away'.
1967 saw the band switch to the Track label where they issued the single 'Pictures Of Lily' that spring, which became other big seller hitting the #4 spot in the U.K. A few months later, they curiously issued a 45 ('The Last Time' b/w 'Under My Thumb') of Rolling Stones covers, which didn't fare nearly as well as their previous original tunes. Also around this time, the band made a milestone appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival where they characteristically smashed their instruments and freaked out the hippie audience. They also made a memorable appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour where Moon bribed a stage hand to put explosives in his drum kit, who then proceeded to pack it with ten times the expected quantity. The resulting detonation threw Moon off his drum riser and cut his arm with flying cymbal shrapnel, while Townshend's hair was singed and his left ear was permanently damaged. A camera and studio monitor were also destroyed in the explosion.
In the fall of '67, the Who finally hit psychedelia head on with the release of the outstanding 'I Can See For Miles', which peaked at #10 in the U.K. and #9 in the U.S., and had actually been written by Townshend about a year earlier. A third LP titled The Who Sell Out then followed a few months later with highlights that include 'Tattoo' and 'Armenia City In The Sky', the latter of which was written by the Who's chauffeur, John "Speedy" Keen, who would later become an integral member of Thunderclap Newman.
In 1968, the band didn't release any new material until June with the disappointing single 'Dogs'. This was followed in the fall by the outstanding 'Magic Bus', which as good as it is, only made it to #26 on the U.K. charts and #25 in the U.S. During this time, Townshend had stopped using drugs and began heavy work on a concept album based on the teachings of Indian spiritual master Meher Baba, who he had become interested in. At the end of the year, the group made a memorable appearance on The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus would be British TV special performing an incredible version of 'A Quick One While He's Away', but the show was unfortunately never aired.
In early 1969, the band was still hard at work on the aforementioned concept album and that March, a taste of it was finally released with the single 'Pinball Wizard'. The record was very well received reaching #4 in the U.K. and #19 in the U.S. A few months later, the double LP Tommy was finally issued and is nothing less than a rock opera masterpiece that tells the story about a "deaf, dumb and blind" boy, including his experiences with life and the relationships with his family. In August of '69, the band made another classic live appearance, this time at the Woodstock festival where Townshend ended up kicking Abbie Hoffman off the stage for interrupting their performance, and then tossing his guitar into the audience at the end of the set.
By 1970, the Who were widely considered as one of the tightest and most popular live rock bands in the world. They has perfected their art both musically and visually, with Chris Charlesworth describing their concerts as "leading to a kind of rock nirvana that most bands can only dream about". In an effort to bottle the magic, the band smartly decided to record a live album, which was record at the University of Leeds on February 14, 1970 and issued as Live At Leeds that May. It is still touted by many critics to be the best live rock and roll recording of all time. A few months before its release however, the group issued the incredible stand-alone single 'The Seeker', which further cemented their greatness.
Tommy secured the Who's future, and made them multi-millionaires. The group reacted in different ways to their fame and fortune with Townshend being embarrassed at his wealth, which he felt was at odds with Meher Baba's ideals; Daltrey and Entwistle lived comfortably, while Moon couldn't spend his money fast enough, purchasing an extravagant mansion and expensive cars. During the latter half of '70, Townshend began work at his home studio on a follow up concept LP to Tommy that he coined "Lifehouse". It was to be about the complex relationship between him as an artist and his fans, and would include multiple levels of the newly developed synthesizer, which would become a new sound for the band. Unfortunately, Townshend felt he couldn't get the piece to where it needed to be and the project was shelved. Most of the material was eventually used on their next studio LP simply titled Who's Next in the summer of 1971. This album is also a full-fledged classic and abandons psychedelia for a more straightforward, yet highly original hard rock sound.
After an extensive tour supporting the Who’s Next LP, Townshend insisted the Who take a well-deserved break. Townshend continued to diligently write songs during this period however and the band eventually came back together in 1973 to record his follow-up rock opera/concept double LP to Tommy titled Quadrophenia, which is set around the mid 60s London mod subculture. By this time, the ever present tensions in the band began to boil over and culminated with Daltrey at one point punching out Townshend and knocking him out cold during a rehearsal. Moon too created several issues due to his drug and alcohol abuse, frequently passing out over his drum kit on stage. During one show in particular, he was so far gone that he was carried off stage and an audience member was recruited on the spot to finish up the gig.
In the mid 70s, the Who continued releasing studio LPs and touring to large audiences, but Keith Moon's health was in a sharp nose dive from his excessive chemical abuse. It all came crashing down in the fall of 1978 soon after the release of their classic LP Who Are You, when Moon overdosed on prescription pills after coming home from a party he attended at Paul McCartney’s house. He was found dead the following morning and although the band was crushed, they were determined to forge on in his spirit, recruiting former Small Faces/Faces member Kenny Jones (drums) to take over. Two more outstanding studio LPs were then released (Face Dances and It’s Hard) in the early 80s and the band continued to quickly sell out large arenas and stadiums. By the end of 1983 however, Townshend, now a successful solo artist in his own right, felt that he couldn't write anymore material suitable for the Who and that the band had run its course, thus ending there long and fabulous run.
In the mid to late 80s, the group did reunite for special concerts like Live Aid and in 1989 embarked on a hugely successful 25th anniversary "Kids Are Alright" tour. In 1990, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that includes a featured collection in the hall's museum, including one of Moon's velvet suits, Entwistle's Warwick bass, and a famously labeled drum head from 1968. In 1996, the band (without Jones who was replaced by Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums) embarked on a remastering of Quadrophenia tour with TWOS attending the July, 1997 show in Milwaukee, WI (great show!). This successful collection of shows revitalized the band and prompted more successful tours into the early 2000s, until Entwistle's untimely death of a heart attack in mid 2002. The band (now with only two original members in Townshend and Daltrey) continued on however and released a new studio LP titled Endless Wire in 2006. They also performed at several notable events, including a half-time appearance at Super Bowl XLIV in 2010 and being the final act at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. All in all, the Who have had a tremendously successful and critically acclaimed run over the years and are entitled to be labeled as one of the best rock and roll bands of all time.
Songs from this album played on TWOS:
(Original 45 Label: Track 2094 004, B - September, 1970)
(Original 45 Label: Track 604 027, A - March, 1969)