The Who are an English rock band formed in 1964. Their best known line-up consisted of lead singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon. For much of their career they have been regarded as one of the three most important British rock acts along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
The Who developed from an earlier group, the Detours, before stabilizing around a line-up of Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle and Moon. After releasing a single (billed as the High Numbers), the group established themselves as part of the mod movement, specialising in auto-destructive art by destroying guitars and drums onstage. They achieved recognition in the UK after support by pirate radio and television, and their first single (as the Who), "I Can't Explain" reached the top ten. A string of hit singles followed including "My Generation", "Substitute" and "Happy Jack". Although initially regarded as a singles act, they also found success with the albums My Generation and A Quick One. In 1967, they achieved success in the US after performing at the Monterey Pop Festival, and with the top ten single "I Can See for Miles". They released The Who Sell Out at the end of the year, and spent much of 1968 touring the US.
The release of their fourth album, Tommy, in 1969 was a major commercial and critical achievement. Subsequent live appearances at Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival, along with the live album Live At Leeds, transformed the Who's reputation from a hit-singles band into a critically acclaimed rock act. With their success came increased pressure on lead songwriter Townshend, and the follow-up to Tommy, Lifehouse was abandoned in favour of 1971's Who's Next. The group subsequently released Quadrophenia (1973) and The Who by Numbers (1975), oversaw the film adaptation of Tommy and toured to large audiences before semi-retiring from live performance in 1977. The release of Who Are You in August 1978 was overshadowed by the death of Moon on 7 September, at the age of 32.
Kenney Jones, formerly of the Small Faces and the Faces, replaced Moon and the group resumed touring. A film adaptation of Quadrophenia was released in 1979 along with the retrospective documentary The Kids Are Alright. The group continued recording, releasing Face Dances in 1981 and It's Hard the following year, before breaking up. They occasionally re-formed for live appearances such as Live Aid in 1985, a 25th anniversary tour in 1989 that drew mixed reviews, and for a tour of Quadrophenia in 1996. The Who resumed regular touring in 1999, with drummer Zak Starkey, to a positive response, and were considering the possibility of a new album, but these plans were stalled by Entwistle's death in June 2002 at the age of 57. Townshend and Daltrey elected to continue as the Who, releasing Endless Wire (2006), which reached the top ten in the UK and US. The group continue to play live on a regular basis, and in 2012 they began a further tour of Quadrophenia.
The three founding members of the Who, Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle, all grew up in Acton, London. All three passed the Eleven Plus exam and went to Acton County Grammar school. Townshend's father, Cliff, had played saxophone and his mother, Betty, had sung in the entertainment division of the RAF during World War II, while Entwistle's father, Herbert, played trumpet, and his mother, Queenie, played piano. The pair became friends in the second year of Acton County, and formed a trad jazz group, the Confederates, while Entwistle also played french horn in the Middlesex Schools' Symphony Orchestra. However, both became influenced by the increasing popularity of rock 'n' roll, with Townshend particularly admiring Cliff Richard's debut single, "Move It". Entwistle had decided to move to guitar as his instrument of choice, but after struggling with it due to his large fingers, and on hearing the guitar work of Duane Eddy, decided to move to the bass. He was unable to afford his own instrument and so built one at home. Townshend and Entwistle both left school aged 16. Entwistle went to work with the Inland Revenue, while Townshend started a course at Ealing Art College, a move that he would subsequently describe as profoundly influential on the course of The Who.
Daltrey, who was in the year above them, had moved to Acton from Shepherd's Bush, a more working-class area. He had trouble fitting in as an outsider, and discovered gangs and rock 'n' roll. He was expelled from school aged 15 and found work on a building site. Daltrey maintains that his subsequent musical career saved him from a dead-end working man's job, and in 1959 he started the band that would later evolve into the Who. The band, called the Detours, played professional gigs from the very beginning, such as corporate and wedding functions, with Daltrey keeping a close eye on the finances as well as the music.
Daltrey met Entwistle by chance on the street, telling him "I hear you play bass", which Entwistle subsequently said was strange "considering I was carrying one without a case!" In the summer of 1961, Entwistle suggested Townshend as an additional guitarist. In the early days of the Detours, the band played instrumentals by the Shadows and the Ventures, as well as a variety of pop and trad jazz covers. The line-up consisted of Daltrey as lead guitarist, Townshend on rhythm guitar, Entwistle on bass, Harry Wilson on drums and Colin Dawson as vocalist. Daltrey was considered the leader of the group and, according to Townshend, "ran things the way he wanted them." Wilson was fired in the summer of 1962 in preference to Doug Sandom, who despite being significantly older than the rest of the band, and married, was a more accomplished musician, having been playing semi-professionally for two years at that point. Dawson subsequently quit after arguing too much with Daltrey.
With the departure of Dawson, Daltrey moved to performing as lead vocalist, and Townshend, with Entwistle's encouragement, became the sole guitarist. Through Townshend's mother, the group obtained a management contract with local promoter Robert Druce, who started booking the band as a support act, and they became increasingly influenced by bands they were supporting, including Screaming Lord Sutch, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. The Pirates in particular became a strong influence on the group since they also only had one guitarist, Mick Green. Green inspired Townshend to take up a combined rhythm and lead guitar style, while Entwistle's bass became more of a lead instrument. In February 1964, they became aware of the group Johnny Devlin and the Detours, so they decided to change their name. Townshend and his room-mate Richard Barnes spent a night considering potential names, focusing on a theme of joke announcements, including "No One" and "The Group". Townshend preferred "the Hair", while Barnes liked "the Who" because it "had a pop punch". Daltrey listened to suggestions the next morning and decided The Who was the best choice.
By the time the Detours had evolved into the Who, they had already found regular gigs including the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford, the White Hart Hotel in Acton, the Goldhawk Social Club in Shepherd's Bush, and the Notre Dame Hall in Leicester Square. They had also replaced Druce as manager with Helmut Gorden, with whom they secured an audition with Chris Parmeinter for Fontana Records. At the end of the audition, Parmeinter explained the drumming was a problem. Sandom claims that Townshend immediately turned on him and verbally assaulted him, threatening to fire him if his playing did not immediately improve. Sandom quit in disgust, but was persuaded to lend his kit to any potential stand-ins or replacements. Sandom and Townshend did not speak to each other again for 14 years.
During a gig in late April at the Oldfield, using a stand-in drummer, the band met Moon for the first time. Unlike the other members, Moon grew up in Wembley, and had been drumming in bands since 1961. At the time he was performing with a semi-professional band called the Beachcombers, but wanted a full-time role. Moon played a few songs with the group, breaking a bass drum pedal and tearing a drum skin in the process. The band were immediately impressed with his energy and enthusiasm, and offered him the job. Moon performed with the Beachcombers a few more times, but eventually a clash of dates occurred and he had no option but to devote himself full-time to the Who. The Beachcombers decided to audition Sandom as a replacement, believing his clashing with the rest of the Who to be the reason he left, but were unimpressed with his playing and passed on the offer.
In the summer, the group switched management again to Peter Meaden. He decided that the group would be ideal to represent the growing mod movement in Britain which involved fashion, scooters and music genres such as rhythm and blues, soul, and beat music. He renamed the group the High Numbers, dressed them up in typical mod clothes, secured a second, more favourable audition with Fontana and wrote the two sides for their single "Zoot Suit"/"I'm the Face" as an attempt to appeal to mods. Meaden had in fact merely written the lyrics, as the tune for "Zoot Suit" was "County Fool" by the Showmen, while "I'm the Face" borrowed from Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It". Although Meaden attempted to promote the single, it failed to reach the top 50 and the band reverted to calling themselves the Who.
Meaden was replaced as manager by two filmmakers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. They were looking for a young, unsigned rock group that they could make a film about, and had seen the band playing at the Railway Hotel in Wealdstone, which had become a regular venue for the band. Lambert found affinity with Townshend in particular, due to his art school background, and encouraged him to write songs. In August, Lambert and Stamp filmed a promotional film featuring the group and their audience at the Railway. To highlight their music style, the band changed their set towards soul, rhythm and blues and Motown covers, and created the slogan "Maximum R&B".
In June 1964, during a performance at the Railway, Townshend accidentally broke the head of his guitar on the low ceiling above the stage. Angered by laughing from the audience, he smashed the instrument on the stage, then picked up another guitar and continued the show. The following week, the audience were keen to see a repeat of the event. Moon promptly obliged and kicked his drum kit over. Subsequent auto-destructive art, as described by Townshend, became a feature of The Who's live set. The incident at the Railway Hotel is one of Rolling Stone magazine's "50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock 'n' Roll".
By late 1964, the Who had started to become popular in London's Marquee club, which attracted a rave review in Melody Maker over their live act. Lambert and Stamp had managed to attract the attention of American producer Shel Talmy, who had already found success by producing the Kinks. Townshend had written a song, "I Can't Explain", that deliberately sounded like the Kinks in order to attract Talmy's attention. Talmy saw the group in rehearsals and was immediately impressed. He signed the group to his production company, and sold the recording to the US arm of Decca Records, which meant that the group's early singles were released in Britain on Brunswick Records, UK Decca's label for US artists.
The Who achieved a major boost in popularity when they appeared on the television programme Ready Steady Go! Lambert and Stamp had been given the task of finding "typical teens", and simply invited the group's regular audience from the Goldhawk Social Club. Their enthusiastic reception on television, aided by regular airplay on pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline, helped the single slowly climb the charts during early 1965, eventually reaching the top 10. For the follow-up single, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", credited to both Townshend and Daltrey, Talmy arranged the deliberate use of guitar feedback, which was so unconventional that the US arm of Decca rejected the master tapes. The single also reached the top 10 in the UK.
The transition into a hit-making band with original material, eagerly encouraged by Lambert, did not sit well with Daltrey, particularly after a session of recording R&B covers for an album was shelved. The Who were not particularly good friends either, with the notable exception of Moon and Entwistle, who enjoyed clubbing together. The group experienced a particularly fraught time when touring Denmark in September, which culminated in Daltrey throwing Moon's amphetamines down the toilet and physically assaulting him. Immediately on returning to Britain, Daltrey was sacked from the Who. After a band meeting, he was reinstated on the strict condition that the group became a democracy without his dominant leadership. At the same time, the group enlisted Richard Cole as a roadie.
The group recorded a follow-up single, "My Generation" in October. Townshend had written it as a slow blues, but after several abortive attempts, it was turned into a more powerful song with a bass solo from Entwistle. It became the highest charting single the group have achieved to date, reaching number 2. The debut album My Generation (The Who Sings My Generation in the US) was released in late 1965. It included original material written by Townshend, including the title track and "The Kids Are Alright", as well as several James Brown covers that Daltrey favoured, from the aborted session earlier that year.
After My Generation, the Who fell out with Talmy which meant an abrupt end to their recording contract. Lambert and Stamp claimed the royalty rate was poor, while Talmy claimed it was due to Lambert wanting to take control of the recordings away from him. The resulting legal acrimony resulted in Talmy holding the rights to the master tapes, which prevented the album from being reissued. The dispute was finally resolved in 2002, when it saw a proper remix and CD reissue. Meanwhile, the Who were signed to Robert Stigwood's Reaction Label, releasing "Substitute". Talmy took legal action over the B-side, "Instant Party", and so the single was withdrawn and replaced with "Waltz for a Pig", recorded by the Graham Bond Organisation under the pseudonym "the Who Orchestra".
Subsequent singles released in 1966 included "I'm a Boy", about a boy dressed as a girl, taken from an abortive collection of songs called "Quads", "Happy Jack" and an EP, Ready Steady Who that tied in with their regular appearances on Ready Steady Go!.
In order to alleviate some of the financial pressure on the band, Lambert arranged a songwriting deal which required each member to write two songs for the next album. Entwistle contributed "Boris the Spider" and "Whiskey Man" and found a niche role as a second songwriter in the band, but after recording the material, the band found they needed to fill an extra ten minutes. Lambert encouraged Townshend to write a longer piece, which became "A Quick One, While He's Away". The album was subsequently titled A Quick One (released as Happy Jack in the US), and reached number 4 in the charts. It was followed in 1967 by the UK Top 5 single "Pictures of Lily."
By 1966, Ready Steady Go! had stopped being broadcast, and mod was no longer as popular. The Who found themselves in competition with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience on the London gigging circuit. Lambert and Stamp realised that commercial success in the US was paramount to the group's future, and so arranged a deal with promoter Frank Barsalona for a short package tour in New York. The group's performances, which still involved smashing guitars and kicking over drums, were well received, and led to them being on the bill at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was their first major appearance in the US. Immediately afterwards, the group toured the country with Herman's Hermits. Moon by this point had also attracted a reputation of destroying hotel rooms while on tour, with a particular interest in explosions, which was evident when the group appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour where he detonated his drum kit.
The next album was The Who Sell Out—a concept album based on pirate radio, which had been instrumental in raising the Who's popularity, but had been banned that August. It included several humorous jingles and mock commercials between songs, a mini rock opera called "Rael" whose closing theme ended up on Tommy, and the Who's biggest US single, "I Can See for Miles". Later that year, Lambert and Stamp formed their own record label, Track Records, with distribution by Polydor. As well as signing Hendrix, Track became the imprint used for all the Who's UK output until the mid-1970s.
The group started 1968 with a fairly disastrous tour of Australia and New Zealand with the Small Faces, where the New Zealand Truth called them "unwashed, foul-smelling, booze-swilling no-hopers", and continued to tour across the US and Canada during the spring and summer.
By 1968, the Who had started to attract attention in the underground press. Townshend had stopped using drugs by this point, and became interested in the teachings of Meher Baba. In August, he gave a major interview to Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner in which he described an album project he was working on, describing the plot of what eventually became the Tommy album in intricate detail. The basic concept was to describe the life of a deaf, dumb and blind boy, and his attempt to communicate with others. Some songs, such as "Welcome" and "Amazing Journey" came directly from Townshend's studies of Baba, while others came from observations within the band. "Sally Simpson" was written about a fan trying to climb onstage at a gig by the Doors that they attended and "Pinball Wizard" was written to attract the interest of New York Times journalist Nik Cohn. Townshend later said "I wanted the story of Tommy to have several levels ... a rock singles level and a bigger concept level", containing the spiritual message he wanted as well as being entertaining.
By the end of the year, 18 months of continuous touring had led to a well rehearsed and tight live band, which was evident when they performed "A Quick One While He's Away" at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, a planned television special. The Stones considered their own performance lacklustre, and the project was shelved and never broadcast. However, The Who had not released an album in over a year, and recording on Tommy was still not complete, which continued well into 1969. Lambert was a key figure in keeping the group focused and the album completed, and typed up a script to help them understand the storyline and how the songs fitted together.
The album was eventually completed and released in May with the accompanying single, "Pinball Wizard", and a debut performance at Ronnie Scott's, after which the group set out on tour, playing most of the new album live. The album was an immediate success, selling 200,000 copies in the first two weeks of release in the US. In addition to commercial success, Tommy became a critical smash, Life saying, "... for sheer power, invention and brilliance of performance, Tommy outstrips anything which has ever come out of a recording studio," and Melody Maker declaring, "Surely the Who are now the band against which all others are to be judged." Daltrey's singing had become significantly better, and it translated well into performing the new material. He had grown his hair and tended to wear open shirts on stage, and this set the template for rock singers in the 1970s. Townshend, meanwhile, had taken to wearing a boiler suit and Doctor Martens on stage, and settled on the Gibson SG Special as his main live instrument, using one for every gig until 1973. Today, Gibson manufacture a signature Pete Townshend SG.
In August, the Who performed at the Woodstock Festival, despite being reluctant to do so and only agreeing after being paid $13,000 up front. Originally scheduled to appear at 10pm on Saturday 16, the festival ran late and the group did not take to the stage until 5am Sunday, where they played most of Tommy. During their performance, Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman interrupted the set to give a political speech about the arrest of John Sinclair, before being kicked offstage by Townshend (who infamously shouted "Fuck off my fucking stage!"). During "See Me, Feel Me", the sun rose almost as if on cue (Entwistle later said "God was our lighting man"), while at the very end of the set, Townshend threw his guitar into the audience. The set was professionally recorded and filmed, and portions of it appeared on the Woodstock film, The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Kids Are Alright.
While Woodstock in general has been regarded as culturally significant, the Who have been critical of the event. Roadie John "Wiggie" Wolff, who arranged the band's payment, described the event as "a shambles", while Daltrey declared it as "the worst gig we ever played" and Townshend said "I thought the whole of America had gone mad." A more favourable appearance came a few weeks later at the second Isle of Wight Festival, which Townshend later described as "a great concert for us".
By 1970, the Who were widely considered to be one of the best and most popular live rock bands, with Chris Charlesworth describing concerts as "leading to a kind of rock nirvana that most bands can only dream about." They decided a live album would help demonstrate the contrast of their gigs to the studio work on Tommy, and set about listening to the hours of recordings they had accumulated. Townshend baulked at the prospect of doing so, and insisted that all the tapes should be burned. Instead, they booked two shows, one in Leeds on 14 February, and one in Hull the following day, with the specific intention of recording them for a live album. Technical problems from the Hull gig resulted in the Leeds gig being used, which became Live at Leeds. The album is viewed by several critics as being one of the best live rock albums of all time, including The Independent, The Telegraph, Rolling Stone and the BBC. The original album contained six songs, taken from the middle and end of the set, and has been reissued several times in expanded and remastered versions, which remedy technical problems and contain the performance of Tommy, as well as renditions of earlier singles.
The Leeds University gig was part of the Tommy tour, which not only included gigs in European opera houses but saw the Who become the first rock act at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. In March the Who released the UK top twenty hit "The Seeker", continuing a theme of issuing singles separate to albums.
The success of Tommy had secured the Who's future, and made them millionaires. The group reacted in different ways—Daltrey and Entwistle lived comfortably, Townshend was embarrassed at his wealth, which he felt at odds with Meher Baba's ideals, while Moon spent frivously. Entwistle, tired of not getting enough of his own songs on Who albums, recorded Smash Your Head Against the Wall, his first solo effort.
During the latter part of 1970, Townshend thought of a suitable follow-up to Tommy. He came up with Lifehouse, which was designed to be a multi-media project symbolising the relationship between an artist and his audience. He developed numerous ideas in his home studio, creating various layers of synthesizers, and the Young Vic theatre in London was booked for a series of experimental concerts. Townshend approached the gigs with optimism; the rest of the band were just happy to be gigging again. Eventually, the others confronted Townshend, complaining the project was too complicated and they should simply record another album. Things deteriorated to the point at which Townshend had a nervous breakdown, and Lifehouse was abandoned.
In March 1971, the Who began recording the available Lifehouse material with Kit Lambert in New York, which had to be abandoned due to Lambert's increasing dependency on heroin, and then restarted the sessions with Glyn Johns in April. Selections from the material, with one unrelated song ("My Wife") by Entwistle, were released as a traditional studio album, Who's Next. The album became their most successful album among critics and fans, reaching' reached No. 4 in the US pop charts and No. 1 in the UK. Two tracks from the album, "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again", are early examples of synthesiser use in rock music; both tracks' keyboard sounds were generated in real time by a Lowrey organ, and on "Won't Get Fooled Again", it was further processed through a VCS3 synthesiser. Townshend was credited with "VCS3 Organ" and "ARP Synthesizer" on the final album credits. "Baba O'Riley" also featured a violin solo by Dave Arbus, produced by Moon.
The Who continued to release Lifehouse related material over the next few years. In October they released the UK top twenty hit "Let's See Action" which came from the project, followed by further singles "Join Together" and "Relay".
Following the success of Who's Next, the band went back on tour, replacing much of the old Tommy material with the new songs. On 4 November they opened the Rainbow Theatre in London and played for three nights, continuing on to the US later that month. The Los Angeles Times Robert Hilburn described the Who as "the Greatest Show on Earth." The tour was slightly disrupted, however, at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on 12 December, when Moon passed out over his kit after an overdose of brandy and barbiturates. He recovered and completed the gig, playing to his usual strength.
Following the tour for Who's Next, and needing time to write a follow-up, Townshend insisted that the Who take a lengthy break. Having been continually touring since the band started, there was no group activity for the first part of 1972. They then started recording new material, but the results were uninspired, and the sessions were abandoned. Tensions began to emerge between the group members—Townshend believed Daltrey just wanted a money making band; Daltrey, conversely, thought Townshend's projects were getting pretentious. Moon's behaviour was also becoming increasingly destructive and problematic. Daltrey had also discovered that Lambert and Stamp had left significant amounts of money unaccounted for, and believed them to be no longer effective as managers, which Townshend and Moon disputed. Following a short European tour, the remainder of 1972 was spent working on an orchestral version of Tommy, with Daltrey and Townshend collaborating with Lou Reizner.
By 1973, the Who had decided to record an album about mod and its subculture, set against clashes with Rockers in the early 1960s in the UK, particularly at Brighton, called Quadrophenia. The story is about a boy named Jimmy, who undergoes a personality crisis, and his relationship with his family and the mod culture. By the time the album was being recorded, relationships between the band and Lambert and Stamp had broken down irreparably, and Bill Curbishley replaced them as manager. Townshend played a variety of multi-tracked synthesizers, and Entwistle played several overdubbed horn parts. The album became their highest charting cross-Atlantic success, peaking at No. 2 in the UK and US.
The tour for the album started in Stoke on Trent in October, but was immediately beset with problems. Having successfully played "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" to a backing tape with the synthesizer parts live, Townshend had assembled a variety of similar tapes for Quadrophenia for the band to play along to. Unfortunately, the technology was not sophisticated enough to deal with the demands of the music, and rehearsals were interrupted due to an argument which culminated in Daltrey punching Townshend and knocking him out cold. At a gig in Newcastle, the tapes completely malfunctioned, and an enraged Townshend physically dragged soundman Bob Pridden onstage, screamed verbal abuse at him, kicked all the amps over and partially destroyed the backing tapes. The show was abandoned in place of an "oldies" set, at the end of which Townshend smashed his guitar and Moon kicked over his drumkit. The US tour started on 20 November at the Cow Palace, Daly City, California, where Moon passed out during "Won't Get Fooled Again" and, after a break backstage, again in "Magic Bus". Townshend asked the audience, "Can anyone play the drums?—I mean somebody good." An audience member, Scot Halpin, filled in for the rest of the show. After a show in Montreal, the band (except for Daltrey, who retired to bed early) caused so much destruction to their hotel room, that the Canadian Mounted Police were called, and they were arrested.
By 1974, serious work had begun on the Tommy film. Ken Russell was suggested as director by Stigwood, and Townshend had admired his previous work. It featured a star-studded cast, including the band members themselves. After auditioning David Essex as the title role, it went to Daltrey, after some persuasion by the band. The other cast members included Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson. Townshend and Entwistle worked on the film soundtrack for most of the year, but because Moon had moved to Los Angeles, they decided to use Kenny Jones and Tony Newman as drummers. A number of session men also played bass and keyboards. Elton John insisted on using his own band for his performance of "Pinball Wizard".
The film premiered on 18 March 1975, to a standing ovation from the audience. Ann-Margret received a Golden Globe Award for her performance, and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Pete Townshend was also nominated for an Oscar for his work in scoring and adapting the music for the film. The film was shown at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition, and won the award for Rock Movie of the Year in the First Annual Rock Music Awards. It was a commercial success, generating over $2M in box-office receipts in the first month of release. The soundtrack was also successful, reaching number 2 on the Billboard albums chart.
Because work on Tommy took up most of 1974, live performances by the Who were restricted to a one off show at Charlton Athletic Football Ground in May in front of 80,000 fans and a few gigs at Madison Square Garden in June Towards the end of the year, the group released the outtakes album Odds & Sods, which featured several songs from the aborted Lifehouse project that had been compiled by Entwistle.
Their 1975 album, The Who by Numbers, had introspective songs that dealt with dissolutionment, lightened by "Squeeze Box", another hit single. The group set out touring in October, playing little new material, removing most of the Quadrophenia numbers and reintroducing Tommy to the set. On 6 December 1975, the Who set the record for largest indoor concert at the Pontiac Silverdome, attended by 78,000 fans. On 31 May 1976, they played at The Valley, the home of Charlton Athletic, in what was listed for more than ten years in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's loudest concert, at over 120 dBs. Entwistle considered the Who's live performances to be at their peak at this time.
Following the end of the 1976 tour, Townshend insisted on having most of the following year off in order to spend time with his family. Halfway through the year, he discovered that Allen Klein had managed to buy a stake in his publishing company. A settlement was reached, but, feeling upset and disillusioned, he went to the Speakeasy where he bumped into the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones and Paul Cook, who were fans of the Who. After leaving the club, he passed out in a doorway, where a policeman claimed he would not be arrested if he could stand and walk. The events inspired the title track of the next album, Who Are You.
The group reconvened in September, when Townshend announced there would be no live performances for the immediate future, a decision that Daltrey endorsed. By this point, Moon was so out of shape that the Who conceded it would be difficult for him to cope with the rigours of touring. The only live gig performed that year was an informal show at the Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn, London, on 15 December, as part of an upcoming documentary film about the band, The Kids Are Alright. Having not played for 14 months, the band was weak. Moon's playing was particularly lacklustre and he had put on a lot of weight. Further filming was shelved.
Recording of Who Are You started in January 1978. Daltrey clashed with Johns over the production of his vocals, and Moon's drumming was so poor that Daltrey and Entwistle considered he should be sacked. His playing subsequently improved, but on one track, "Music Must Change", he was absent entirely. In May, the Who were required to film another performance at Shepperton Sound Studios in May for The Kids Are Alright, due to the poor performance at Kilburn. Their performance was strong, and several tracks were used on the final cut. It was the last gig Moon ever performed with the Who.
The album was released on 18 August, and became their biggest and fastest seller to that date, peaking at No. 6 in the UK and No. 2 in the US. Instead of touring, Daltrey, Townshend and Moon did a series of promotional television interviews, while Entwistle worked on the soundtrack for The Kids Are Alright.
On 6 September, Moon attended a party held by Paul McCartney to celebrate Buddy Holly's birthday. Upon arriving back at his flat, he took 32 tablets of Heminevrin—a drug prescribed to combat his alcohol withdrawal. He passed out the following morning, and was discovered dead later that day. He was 32.
The day after Moon's death, Townshend issued a statement saying "We are more determined than ever to carry on, and we want the spirit of the group to which Keith contributed so much to go on, although no human being can ever take his place". In November 1978, Kenney Jones, formerly of the Small Faces and the Faces, joined the band as Moon's successor. Keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick also joined the live band as an unofficial member. Brundrick was scheduled to have played on Who Are You, but he was unavailable due to an injury.
On 2 May 1979, the Who returned to the stage with a well-received concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London, followed up over the spring and summer by performances at the Cannes Film Festival in France, in Scotland, at Wembley Stadium in London, in West Germany, at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey and in five dates at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
1979 also saw the release of a film of Quadrophenia. It was directed by Franc Roddam in his feature directing début, and features straightforward acting rather than the musical numbers in Tommy. Sting starred as the Ace Face, a fellow mod and friend of Jimmy. The idea of casting John Lydon as Jimmy was considered, but the role eventually went to Phil Daniels. The soundtrack is notable for being Jones' first appearance on-record after taking over as full-time drummer from Moon after his death, performing on newly written material that was not on the original album. The film was a critical and box office success in the UK and appealed to the growing mod revival movement. The Jam were particularly noted for being musically influenced by the Who, particularly the relationship between Townshend and their leader, Paul Weller.
The Kids Are Alright was also completed in 1979. It was a retrospective of the band's career to that date, directed by Jeff Stein. The film included footage of the band at Monterey, Woodstock and Pontiac, and clips from the Smothers Brothers' show and Russell Harty Plus. The film became significant for the band, since Moon died only one week after he had seen the rough cut of the film with Daltrey. It contains Moon's final live performance at Shepperton Studios, and an audio track of him playing drum sounds over silent footage of himself was the last time he ever played the drums.
In December, the Who became the third band, after the Beatles and the Band, to be featured on the cover of Time. The article, written by Jay Cocks, said the band had "outpaced, outlasted, outlived and outclassed" all of their rock band contemporaries.
On 3 December 1979, a short tour of the United States was marred by tragedy in Cincinnati, Ohio, where a crowd crush at the Riverfront Coliseum killed 11 fans. This was due in part to the use of festival seating—a seating arrangement in which seating is unassigned (non-reserved), so the first to enter the venue get the best positions to view the concert. Additionally, many fans waiting outside mistook the band's sound check for the actual concert, and attempted to force their way inside. When only a small number of the arena's entrance doors were opened, a bottleneck situation ensued and, with so many thousands trying to gain entry, the crush became deadly.
The Who were not told until after the show because civic authorities feared crowd problems if the concert was cancelled. The band were deeply shaken upon learning of the incident, and requested that appropriate safety precautions be taken at subsequent concerts. The following evening, in Buffalo, New York, Daltrey told the crowd that the band had "lost a lot of family last night and this show's for them."
Daltrey took a short break from the Who in 1980 to work on the film McVicar, in which he took the lead role of bank robber John McVicar. The soundtrack album is a Daltrey solo album featuring other members of The Who, and was his most successful solo release.
The Who released two studio albums with Jones as drummer, Face Dances (1981) and It's Hard (1982). Face Dances produced a US top twenty and UK top ten hit with the single "You Better You Bet" and its video was shown on MTV on its first day of airing. Both Face Dances and It's Hard sold fairly well and the latter received a five-star review in Rolling Stone. "Eminence Front" was a hit, and became a regular feature of live shows, including future reunions.
By this time, however, Townshend had fallen into a depression, realising his role as a visionary had come to an end. He was again at odds with Daltrey and Entwistle, who merely wanted to tour and play hits. In addition, Jones' consistent and precise drumming was very different from Moon's wild and unpredictable playing. There was resentment, too, that Townshend appeared to have saved his best songs for his solo album, Empty Glass. He briefly became addicted to heroin, before cleaning up at Meg Patterson's San Diego clinic in early 1982.
Townshend wanted to stop touring completely and leave the Who as a studio act, though Entwistle threatened to quit unless there were promises of further tours. Townshend did not change his mind, and so The Who embarked on their 'farewell' tour of the US and Canada with the Clash as support, including two shows at Shea Stadium in New York and ending in Toronto on 17 December.
Townshend spent part of 1983 trying to write material for the studio album still owed to Warner Bros. Records from a contract in 1980. By the end of 1983, however, Townshend declared himself unable to generate material appropriate for the Who and paid for himself and Jones to be released from the record contract. He then focused on solo projects such as White City: A Novel, The Iron Man (which featured Daltrey and Entwistle and two songs on the album credited to "The Who"), and Psychoderelict.
In July 1985, the Who reformed for a one-off performance at Bob Geldof's Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, London. The BBC transmission truck blew a fuse during the band's set, meaning that the video was temporarily lost. It resumed a short while later. At the 1988 Brit Awards, held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, the band was honoured with the British Phonographic Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award. The Who played a short set at the ceremony, which turned out to be the last time Jones played with the Who.
In 1989, the band embarked on a 25th anniversary The Kids Are Alright reunion tour. Simon Phillips played drums, and Steve "Boltz" Bolton played lead guitar, as Townshend relegated himself to acoustic guitar and some electric rhythm guitar to minimise damage to his hearing. Their two shows at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, sold 100,000 tickets in less than eight hours, beating previous records set there by U2 and David Bowie. However, some critics slated the over-produced and expanded line-up of the tour, calling it "The Who on Ice", while Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine said the tour "tarnished the reputation of the Who almost irreparably." The tour included most of Tommy with several guest stars, including Phil Collins, Billy Idol and Elton John. A 2-CD live album, Join Together, was released in 1990.
In 1990, the Who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum. The group have a featured collection in the museum, including one of Moon's velvet suits, a Warwick bass used by Entwistle, and a drum head dating from 1968.
In 1991, the Who recorded a cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" for the tribute album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin. This was the last time they released any new studio work with John Entwistle. In 1994, Daltrey turned 50 and celebrated with two concerts at Carnegie Hall. These included guest spots by Entwistle and Townshend. Although all three surviving original members of the Who attended, they did not appear on stage together except for the finale, "Join Together", with the other guests. Daltrey toured that year with Entwistle, Zak Starkey on drums and Simon Townshend filling in for his brother as guitarist.
In 1996, Townshend, Entwistle and Daltrey performed Quadrophenia with guest stars at a concert in Hyde Park, with Zak Starkey as the drummer. The performance was narrated by Phil Daniels who played Jimmy the Mod in the film. Despite technical difficulties the show was a success and led to a six-night residency at Madison Square Garden. The success of the Quadrophenia shows led to a US and European tour through 1996 and 1997. Townshend played mostly acoustic guitar, but eventually was persuaded to play some electric. In 1998, VH1 ranked the Who ninth in their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock 'n' Roll.
In late 1999, the Who performed in concert as a five-piece for the first time since 1985, with Bundrick on keyboards and Starkey on drums. The first show took place on 29 October 1999 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. which was partially broadcast on TV, as well as the internet, and would later see release as the DVD The Vegas Job. They then performed acoustic shows at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, on 30 and 31 October, followed by gigs the House of Blues in Chicago. Finally, there were two Christmas charity shows on 22 and 23 December at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London. Critics were delighted to see the band back on form with a basic line-up comparable to the tours of the 1960s and 1970s. Andy Greene, writing in Rolling Stone, claimed the 1999 tour to be even better than the final one with Moon in 1976.
The success of 1999 led to a US tour in 2000 from June to October, moving to the UK in October and November, to generally favourable reviews. The final date was charity show on 27 November at the Royal Albert Hall for the Teenage Cancer trust, which included guest performances from Weller, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Oasis' Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams and Nigel Kennedy. Allmusic's Stephen Tomas Erlewine described the Albert Hall gig as "an exceptional reunion concert". The band performed The Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden on 20 October 2001, which was dedicated to families of fallen New York City firemen and policemen who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. The Who were also honoured with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award that year.
The Who played some concerts in the UK in early 2002, in preparation for a full US tour. On 27 June, the day before the tour was due to commence, Entwistle was found dead at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. The cause was a heart attack in which cocaine was a contributing factor. He was 57.
Entwistle's son, Christopher, gave a statement supporting the Who continuing the tour, which began at the Hollywood Bowl on 2 July with Pino Palladino replacing Entwistle as bassist. Townshend dedicated the show to Entwistle, which ended with a montage of pictures featuring him. The tour lasted until September. The loss of a founder member of the Who caused Townshend to re-evaluate his relationship with Daltrey, which had become strained several times over the band's career. He decided their friendship was important, and this ultimately led to writing and recording new material.
As part of a general plan to combat bootlegging, the band began to release the Encore Series of officially released soundboard tapes via themusic.com. An official statement read "to satisfy this demand they have agreed to release their own official recordings to benefit worthy causes."
In 2004, the Who released "Old Red Wine" and "Real Good Looking Boy" (with Pino Palladino and Greg Lake, respectively, on bass guitar), as part of a singles anthology (The Who: Then and Now), and went on an 18-date tour playing Japan, Australia, the UK and the US. Later that year, Rolling Stone ranked the Who No. 29 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
The Who announced in 2005 that a new album was being worked on. Townshend posted a novella called The Boy Who Heard Music on his blog, which developed into a mini-opera called Wire & Glass, forming the basis for the album. Endless Wire was released on 30 October 2006 (31 October in the US). It was the first full studio album of new material since 1982's It's Hard and contained the band's first mini-opera since "Rael" on 1967's The Who Sell Out. Endless Wire reached No. 7 on Billboard and No. 9 in the UK Albums Chart. Starkey was invited to join Oasis in April 2006, and The Who in November 2006, but he declined, preferring to split his time between the two.
In November 2007, the documentary Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who was released. The documentary includes footage not in earlier documentaries, including film from the 1970 Leeds University appearance and the 1964 performance at the Railway Hotel when they were The High Numbers. Amazing Journey was nominated for a 2009 Grammy Award.
Since the release of Endless Wire, the Who have continued to tour and receive awards on a regular basis. Highlights include performing on the London stage of the Live 8 concert in July 2005, winning the Freddie Mercury Lifetime Achievement Award in Live Music at the Vodafone music awards, performing at the BBC Electric Proms at the Roundhouse in London, headlining the Glastonbury Festival and a return appearance at the Isle of Wight, being honoured at the 2008 VH1 Rock Honors in Los Angeles, appearing in the music video game Rock Band, recognition at the Kennedy Center Honors, and being the final act at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
In August 2009, Townshend announced on the Who's website that he is working on a new musical titled Floss which follows the story of an ageing rocker known as "Walter", some songs of which may appear on a future Who album.
On 19 November 2012, the Who released the album Live at Hull, the band's performance in Hull on 15 February 1970—the night after the Live at Leeds gig was recorded. The missing bass at the start of the gig was restored by using the recording from the Leeds gig and digitally realigning it. A remastered mono mix of "My Generation" was also released as a single.
The Who performed Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 March 2010 as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust series of 10 gigs. This one-off performance of the rock opera featured guest appearances from Vedder, Kasabian's Tom Meighan and the London Symphony Orchestra's Tom Norris. Townshend told Rolling Stone that the band had planned a tour for early 2010, but later stated this was jeopardised due to the return of his tinnitus. He is experimenting with a new in-ear monitoring system that was recommended to him by fellow rocker Neil Young and his audiologist. The in-ear monitoring system was scheduled to be tested out at the Quadrophenia concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 March.
In July, Daltrey stated that they had acquired new equipment, including earpieces, that he and the band are learning to use to enable Townshend to perform. The Who hoped to tour again in 2011, with "a new show," according to Daltrey, or possibly a retooled stage presentation of Quadrophenia. The tour was officially announced in July 2012, and started on 1 November in Ottawa. Bundrick was not present for the tour, having been replaced by keyboardists Chris Stainton, Loren Gold and Frank Simes, the latter of which also acted as musical director. The tour moved to Europe and the UK in 2013, ending at the Wembley Arena, London on 8 July.
In October 2013, Townshend told the London Evening Standard that The Who would stage their final tour in 2015 and will perform in locations they have never performed previously. Daltrey later clarified that the tour is unrelated to the band's 50th anniversary—which actually occurred in 2013—and also indicated that he and Townshend were considering recording new material but would be emphasizing their hits in their final stadium tour. However, some journalists were suspicious of this being a genuine "final" tour, with the Daily Mirror's Johnny Sharp pointing out that The Who previously quit touring, supposedly for good, in 1982.
Legacy and influence
The Who are one of the most influential rock groups of the 1960s and 1970s. The group has been credited with originating the "rock opera" and it made one of the first notable concept albums. Their contributions to rock iconography include the power chord, windmill strum, the Marshall Stack and the guitar smash. The band had an impact on fashion from their earliest days with their embrace of pop art and their use of the Union Jack for clothing.
Many notable artists claim to be influenced by the Who. Bono of U2 said, "More than any other band, the Who are our role models." Brian May of Queen said, "They were my inspiration." Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips said, "I already believed in rock & roll, but seeing the Who really made me feel it. I knew I had to become a musician after that." Geddy Lee of Rush said, "They were really influential on our band in a big way." Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder said, "The one thing that disgusts me about the Who is the way they smashed through every door in the uncharted hallway of rock 'n' roll without leaving much more than some debris for the rest of us to lay claim to." Jack Black has declared: "The Who are the greatest band of all time". A number of songs by the Who have been covered by various artists. The most commercially successful cover is by Elton John, with "Pinball Wizard" peaking at No.7 in the UK.
Due to their major influence in rock music, the Who have spawned a number of tribute bands. Daltrey has endorsed The Whodlums, which regularly raises money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
The Who's Mod genesis inspired Mod revival bands such as the Jam, as well as later bands of the Britpop wave in the mid-1990s, such as Blur and Oasis. The band has also been called "The Godfathers of Punk" and several punk rock bands including the Sex Pistols, the MC5, The Stooges, the Ramones and Green Day, point to The Who as an influence.
In 1967, Townshend coined the term "power pop" to describe the Who's sixties singles. Andy Summers of the Police lauded Townshend by saying "He more or less invented the power chord, and you can hear a sort of pre-Zeppelin thing in the Who's Sixties work. So much of this stuff came from him." Rolling Stone magazine said in its "100 Greatest Singers" list that Daltrey "had an uncanny ability to adapt to whatever character songwriter Pete Townshend came up with". Similarly, Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips said "You don't realize how great a singer Roger Daltrey is until you try to do it yourself". The Who's influence can also be seen in early incorporation of synthesisers, with Who's Next featuring the instrument prominently.
Television, film and games
All three versions of the American forensic drama CSI (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY) feature songs written and performed by the Who as theme songs, "Who Are You", "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley" respectively. The group's songs have featured in other popular TV series such as The Simpsons, and Top Gear (which featured an episode where the presenters were tasked with being roadies for the band).
Rock-orientated movies such as Almost Famous, School of Rock and Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny refer to the band and feature their songs, and other notable films have used the band's material in their soundtracks, including Apollo 13 (which used "I Can See For Miles") and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (for which the band re-recorded "My Generation"). Several of the band's tracks have appeared in Rock Band and its sequels. Rock Band 3 contains twelve additional Who tracks that can be downloaded and used in the game.
Awards and accolades
TIME magazine wrote in 1979 that "No other group has ever pushed rock so far, or asked so much from it." Rolling Stone wrote: "Along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who complete the holy trinity of British rock."
The Who's display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes them as "Prime contenders, in the minds of many, for the title of World's Greatest Rock Band." They received an award for Outstanding Contribution from the British Phonographic Industry in 1988 and from the Grammy Foundation in 2001, for creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording. In 2008, Townshend and Daltrey were given Kennedy Center Honors for their enduring influence on popular culture.
- Current members
- Roger Daltrey – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, percussion (1964–present)
- Pete Townshend – guitar, keyboards, synthesisers, vocals (1964–present)
- Past members
- John Entwistle – bass guitar, horns, keyboards, vocals (1964–2002)
- Doug Sandom – drums (1964)
- Keith Moon – drums (1964–1978)
- Kenney Jones – drums (1978–1988)
- Touring musicians
- Zak Starkey – drums, percussion (1994–present)
- Simon Townshend – guitar, backing vocals (1996–1997, 2002–present)
- Pino Palladino – bass guitar (2002–present)
- John Corey – keyboards (2012–present)
- Loren Gold – keyboards, backing vocals (2012–present)
- J. Greg Miller – horns (2012–present)
- Reggie Grisham – horns (2012–present)
- Frank Simes – keyboards, backing vocals, musical director (2012–present)
- Former touring musicians
- John Bundrick – keyboards (1979–1981, 1985–2012)
- Simon Philips – drums (1989–1991)
- Studio albums
- My Generation (1965)
- A Quick One (1966)
- The Who Sell Out (1967)
- Tommy (1969)
- Who's Next (1971)
- Quadrophenia (1973)
- The Who by Numbers (1975)
- Who Are You (1978)
- Face Dances (1981)
- It's Hard (1982)
- Endless Wire (2006)
- British invasion
- British rock
- List of best-selling music artists
- Mod (subculture)
- Swinging London
- The Who's musical equipment
- Further reading
- Official website
- The Who at the Open Directory Project
- A Guide to The Who from The A.V. Club
- The Who biography from Rolling Stone
- The Who at AllMusic
- The Who interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969).
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Image from Discogs