The Who are a rock band from London, England. They are a neighborhood band, formed in the working class suburb of Acton. Three of the original members attended the Acton County Grammar School for Boys. Group founder Roger Daltrey was a promising but rebellious student, fascinated by Elvis Presley and rock and roll music. Expelled from grammar school for smoking, Daltrey immersed himself in music, started his own band called the Detours, while he worked as a sheet metal worker by day. School friends John Entwistle and Peter Townshend both came from musical families. They were playing in a dixieland jazz band called the Confederates when Daltrey asked Entwistle to join his band. Entwistle agreed, and suggested he bring along his friend Townshend. After several personnel changes, Daltrey moved from guitar to lead vocalist, with Entwistle on bass, Townshend on guitar and Doug Sandom on drums.
In early 1964, the band changed its name to The Who, and made the final modification to their lineup, replacing the much older Sandom with Keith Moon from nearby Wembley. The band changed its name to the High Numbers for one unsuccessful single (“I’m The Face”, a version of Slim Harpo’s “I Got Love If You Want It”), in an attempt to capitalize on their popularity with fashion-minded young people known as Mods. They reverted back to their original name, and their next single “I Can’t Explain” became their first hit single.
Roger Daltrey was a tough young man, and dictated the band’s personnel and song selections in the early years, using his fists to resolve any differences. After attacking Keith Moon in a dispute over drugs, the other band members decided they had had enough of Daltrey’s fighting, and forced him out of the band. After a brief period of soul searching, Daltrey apologized and promised to change his ways, and was reinstated. Their next single, “My Generation”, was a big hit in Great Britain, and cemented their reputation as a top rock and roll outfit. It took a few years for their popularity to spread to the United States and the rest of the world. In 1967, appearances at the Monterey International Pop Festival and on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour introduced Americans to the Who’s dynamic stage performance, which often included the destruction of the band’s instruments as a show finale. But it wasn’t until 1969, when the band released the rock opera Tommy, and performed at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, that The Who gained extensive, worldwide popularity. The Who disbanded in 1982, but periodically reunite to tour and perform. Long considered one of the great and unique rock bands in history, the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, their first year of eligibility.
Pete Townshend (b. 1945), primary songwriter, guitar, vocals
Roger Daltrey (b. 1944), lead vocalist
John Entwistle (1944-2002), bass, vocals
Keith Moon (1946-1978), drums, vocals
Kenney Jones (b. 1948), drums
Kenney Jones, formerly of the Small Faces, replaced Keith Moon after Moon’s early death at the age of 32. Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle played a variety of additional instruments not listed, including harmonica, trumpet and trombone.
Steven Thomas Erlewine wrote a fine summary of the band’s appeal for the All Music Guide to Rock:
“Few bands in the history of rock and roll were riddled with as many contributions as the Who. All four members had wildly different personalities, as their notoriously intense live performances demonstrated. The group was a whirlwind of activity, as the wild Keith Moon fell over his drum kit and Pete Townshend leaped into the air with his guitar, spinning his right hand in exaggerated windmills. Vocalist Roger Daltrey strutted across the stage with a thuggish menace, as bassist John Entwistle stood silent, functioning as the eye of the hurricane. These divergent personalities frequently clashed, but these functions also resulted in a decade’s worth of remarkable music. As one of the key figures of the British Invasion and the mod movement of the mid-sixties, the Who were a dynamic and undeniably powerful sonic force. They often sounded like they were exploding conventional rock and R&B structures with Townshend’s furious guitar chords, Entwistle’s hyperactive bass lines and Moon’s vigorous, chaotic drumming. Unlike most rock bands, the Who based their rhythm on Townshend’s guitar, letting Moon and Entwistle improvise wildly over his foundation, while Daltrey belted out his vocals. This was the sound the Who thrived on in concert, but on record they were a different proposition, as Townshend pushed the group toward new sonic territory. He soon became regarded as one of the finest British songwriters of his era, as songs like “The Kids Are Alright” and “My Generation” became teenage anthems, and his rock opera “Tommy” earned him respect from mainstream music critics. Townshend continually pushed the band toward more ambitious territory, incorporating white noise, pop art and conceptual extended musical pieces into the group’s style. At their peak, the Who were one of the most innovative and powerful bands in rock history.”
— Steven Thomas Erlewine
I read “Who I Am”, Pete Townshend’s autobiography, while spending the last month listening to the band’s music. Townshend comes across as a bit shy and introverted, the traumatized oldest son of self-involved parents who fail to even acknowledge his interest in music. He tends to second guess himself, and is often self-critical. And yet, as chief songwriter and arranger, he became the Who’s de facto group leader and the primary force behind the band’s direction. This appeals to me; it seems more often than not, the outspoken extrovert is given the leadership role. As an introvert, who was given essentially one chance to be a leader, a role I was not mature enough to handle at the time, I’m not convinced that having a bold extrovert is the best arrangement; I like the idea of a shy conductor who utilizes the ensemble at the expense of personal glory. Whether one is extroverted or introverted, within a team the so-called leader must see their own abilities objectively, and maximize each individual’s strengths so that all make essential contributions. Pete Townshend and the Who do this so well.
In order, I recommend the following Who albums:
Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy
Live At Leeds
As with many bands, I like the earliest music best. During my recent month-long review, I kept returning to their early hit songs. Snippets of songs like “I’m A Boy”, “Happy Jack”, “Out In The Street” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” kept ringing in my head, and I’d want to hear one of these classics first thing in the morning to get the day started. The early songs are lively, humorous, and unlike anything before them. A good argument can be made for the Who as the original punk rock band.
The Destructive Keith Moon
Keith Moon died tragically of a drug overdose, a drug (clomethiazole) ironically prescribed to help him with severe alcoholism. Getting carried away using drugs and alcohol, in the unstructured lifestyle afforded a successful rock and roll musician — that I can understand. Destroying property and blowing stuff up is another. Moon certainly wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble. In a famous story, Moon packed ten cherry bombs into his drum kit for the “My Generation” finale on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The resulting explosion damaged Pete Townshend’s hearing, leading to a lifelong case of tinnitus. The video of the explosion can be found here. Moon is not the only musician to get a thrill from throwing televisions from hotel windows. Johnny Cash also had a penchant for destruction. I engaged in a couple minor instances of senseless property destruction as a schoolboy, but it’s hard to understand why anyone would do such a thing.
Young Man Blues
A special mention for Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues”, which I often cite as the greatest short song (eighty-seven seconds) in history. Not only is “Young Man Blues” a primary inspiration for “My Generation”, the Who also perform an excellent hard rock version of “Young Man Blues” on Live At Leeds.
“Well a young man, ain’t nothin’ in the world these days.
I said a young man, ain’t nothin’ in the world these days.
In the old days,
When a young man was a strong man.
All the people,
Stand back when a young man walked by.
The old man got all the money.
And a young man ain’t nothin’ in the world these days.”
— Mose Allison
“They got nothin’,
They got sweet fuck-all.”
— Added by Roger Daltrey
The words were true sixty years ago and are still true today, but changes may be coming, and a young man today might see changes by the time he is an old man.
Here is a performance of “Baba O’Riley” specially filmed for the documentary The Kids Are Alright:
A 1982 performance of “Eminence Front”:
The Who Song Notes:
1. “Substitute (U.S. Single)” and “Happy Jack (Acoustic)” can be found on The Ultimate Collection (Bonus Disc).
2. “Happy Jack (Single)” can be found on Then and Now! 1964-2004. “Happy Jack (Mono)” can be found on Thirty Years of Maximum R&B. Two more live versions of “Happy Jack (Live)” can be found on BBC Sessions and Live At Leeds (Deluxe Edition).
3. “Out In The Street (Stereo)”, “My Generation (Stereo)” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere (Stereo)” can be found on My Generation (Deluxe Edition).
4. “Magic Bus (Alt)” is a longer (about 4:40) version of the song, which was never released on CD. It can be found on the vinyl version of Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy. “Magic Bus” is a song that bassist John Entwistle did not enjoy playing, as he is required to play the same note throughout. However, it is one of my favorites, and this is the best version, worth seeking out.
5. “I’m A Boy (Live)” can be found on Live At Hull 1970.
6. All other live versions can be found on BBC Sessions and Live At Leeds (Deluxe Edition).
The Who Songs:
My Generation, The Who ★★★★★
Happy Jack (Single), The Who ★★★★
Baba O’Riley, The Who ★★★★
Magic Bus (Alt), The Who ★★★★
Behind Blue Eyes, The Who ★★★★
I Can’t Explain, The Who ★★★
Young Man Blues (Live), The Who ★★★
Substitute, The Who ★★★
Substitute (Version 2) (Live), The Who ★★★
Magic Bus, The Who ★★★
Magic Bus (Live), The Who ★★★
Boris The Spider, The Who ★★★
I’m A Boy, The Who ★★★
Acid Queen, The Who ★★★
I Can See For Miles, The Who ★★★
Happy Jack (Acoustic), The Who ★★★
Happy Jack (Mono), The Who ★★★
My Generation (Live), The Who ★★★
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere (Stereo), The Who ★★★
I’m The Face, The High Numbers ★★
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere (Live), The Who ★★
Leaving Here (Live), The Who ★★
Boris The Spider (Live), The Who ★★
Happy Jack (Live), The Who ★★
Happy Jack (Live), The Who ★★
Shakin’ All Over (Live), The Who ★★
Shakin’ All Over (Live), The Who ★★
Eminence Front, The Who ★★
Baba O’Riley (Live), The Who ★★
Summertime Blues (Live), The Who ★★
My Generation (Stereo), The Who ★★
Naked Eye, The Who ★★
The Real Me, The Who ★★
A Legal Matter, The Who ★★
Pinball Wizard, The Who ★★
Pure And Easy, The Who ★★
Won’t Get Fooled Again, The Who ★★
Join Together, The Who ★★
We’re Not Gonna Take It, The Who ★★
Substitute (U.S. Single), The Who ★★
The Good’s Gone (Live), The Who ★
I’m Free, The Who ★
You Better You Bet, The Who ★
I’m A Boy (Live), The Who ★
I Can’t Explain (Live), The Who ★
Out In The Street (Stereo), The Who ★
Long Live Rock, The Who ★
Quadrophenia, The Who ★
Love Reign O’er Me, The Who ★
Run Run Run, The Who ★
See My Way, The Who ★
So Sad About Us, The Who ★
Relay, The Who ★
The Kids Are Alright, The Who ★
A Quick One, While He’s Away, The Who ★
Pictures Of Lily, The Who ★
Song Is Over, The Who ★
The Seeker, The Who ★
Overture, The Who ★
Slip Kid, The Who ★
Who Are You, The Who ★
Squeeze Box, The Who ★
Bargain, The Who ★
My Generation (Radio 1 Jingle), The Who
Happy Jack Jingle, The Who
Coke 2, The Who
Face The Face, Pete Townshend ★
I Got Love If You Want It, Slim Harpo ★★★
I Got Love If You Want It (Live), The Yardbirds ★
Young Man Blues, Mose Allison ★★★★
Shakin’ All Over, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates ★★★
Shakin’ All Over, The Guess Who ★★★
Summertime Blues, Eddie Cochran ★★★
Summertime Blues, Blue Cheer ★★
Leaving Here, Tommy Good ★