Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


WHO, The

The most prominent UK rock band of the '60s after the Beatles and Rolling Stones: vocalist Roger Daltrey (b 1 March 1944); vocalist, guitarist, songwriter Pete Townshend (b 19 May 1945); John Entwistle (b 9 October 1944; d 27 June 2002, Las Vegas), bass and French horn; Keith Moon (b 23 August 1947; d 7 September 1978) on drums, replaced by Kenny Jones (ex-Small Faces). All the original members were from London; Entwistle and Daltrey were schoolfriends, played in the Detours '60, and were joined by Townshend '63 from art school; name changed to the High Numbers after which Moon joined. They made one coveted single 'I'm The Face', which established them. Managers Chris Stamp (b 7 July 1942, London; d 24 November 2012, Manhattan) and Kit Lambert (b 11 May 1935, Knightsbridge; d 7 April 1981: son of Constant Lambert, composer and critic who published Music Ho! A Study Of Music In Decline '34, and whose judgements have all been proved wrong by history) changed their name to the Who and formed the track label. Lambert encouraged Townshend to become the chief writer, though Daltrey remained lead vocalist and focal point.

They were the archetypal mod band; early stage set consisted of R&B covers; singles 'I Can't Explain' and 'Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere' appealed; breakthrough came with Townshend's anthemic 'My Generation' (no. 2 UK '65), the studio LP of that title capturing the excitment of their live act. Helped by spots on TV's Ready, Steady, Go and legendary auto-destructive live shows they became a prime Pop Art band, helped by hits like the acerbic 'Substitute', 'I'm A Boy', 'Happy Jack' (latter top 25 USA). With Lennon and McCartney and the Kinks' Ray Davies, Townshend became one of UK's leading pop songwriters, proved by A Quick One '66, with mini-opera of title, plaintive 'So Sad About Us'. The Who Sell Out '67 was their best to date, with psychedelic 'Armenia City In The Sky' and 'Rael'; the innovative use of adverts between tracks to give feel of pirate Radio London predated Sigue Sigue Sputnik by 20 years. An explosive appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival '67 established them in the USA; they toured heavily including a stunning set at Woodstock '69.

Townshend's magnum opus and rock's first opera was Tommy '69, which soon became a millstone; its strengths were 'Pinball Wizard' and 'See Me, Feel Me' (it became orchestrated LP '72 with London Symphony Orchestra, Rod Stewart, Sandy Denny, Steve Winwood; was filmed by Ken Russell '75). He couldn't top it, watched derivative rock operas follow it, abandoned a 'Lifehouse' project and returned to elementary strengths with Live At Leeds '70, still one of rock's best live LPs. He salvaged some songs from 'Lifehouse' for Who's Next '71, which many regard as their best, including 'Baba O'Riley', 'Behind Blue Eyes', 'Won't Get Fooled Again'. Two-disc Quadrophenia '73 was a further concept, more down to earth than Tommy, a retrospective on the ideology fuelling the mod movement.

With a hiatus in group, Entwistle compiled Odds And Sods '74, an 'authorized bootleg' cull of back catalogue including the rare first single. The Who By Numbers '75 was patchy, a two-disc Story Of The Who '76 a good compilation; Who Are You '78 pulled the band back together, notable for its title track and 'Love Is Coming Down'. Moon had released an idiosyncratic solo Two Sides Of The Moon; he died of an overdose of a drug he was taking to control his alcoholism. Kenny Jones joined but Townshend admitted later they should have quit. Two-disc The Kids Are Alright '79 was a soundtrack of their film history: media-conscious from the beginning, they had seen to it that much film footage survived. Two-disc Quadrophenia '79 was the soundtrack of a film of the '73 album, which starred Phil Daniels and gave an early acting role to Sting. During a USA tour '79 eleven fans were killed in crush outside Cincinnati stadium. The Who were one of the few bands who escaped the punk backlash of late '70s, named as influence by the Sex Pistols, Clash, the Jam. Face Dances '81 had hit single 'You Better You Bet', also 'Don't Let Go The Coat'; It's Hard '82 was a spirited final album with surprisingly strong selection of material; always determined unlike the Beatles to be a working band, they went out with an exhaustive US tour that year. Other compilations were Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy '71, The Who: Singles LP '84; a good book was Before I Get Old '83 by Dave Marsh. Entwistle made solo Smash Your Head Against The Wall '71, Whistle Rhymes '72, Rigor Mortis '73, Mad Dog '75 and Too Late The Hero '81. Daltrey had solo no. 5 UK hit 'Giving It All Away' '73 (written by Leo Sayer), made LPs Ride A Rock Horse '75, One Of The Boys '77, After The Fire '85, Can't Wait To See The Movie '87; acted in Russell's Lisztomania '75, TV Shakespeare, film McVicar '80 (soundtrack single 'Free Me' went top 40).

Townshend's songs have been covered by David Bowie, Tina Turner, Elton John, Billy Fury, many others; after Happy Birthday '70 and I Am '72, privately made for followers of guru Meher Baba, his first proper solo was Who Came First '72, incl. 'Let's See Action' (first official example of a Townshend demo for the Who), cover of Jim Reeves's 'There's A Heartache Following Me', Baba's favourite song. He oversaw Eric Clapton's comeback show in London '73, played own solo shows '74; Rough Mix '77 was a collaboration with Faces' Ronnie Lane, also a Baba follower. He joined Paul McCartney onstage for Kampuchean benefit '79, also appeared at charity shows for Amnesty International, Rock Against Racism and the Prince's Trust; founded Magic Bus bookshop in Richmond, Surrey '78, leading to Eel Pie publishing imprint. Empty Glass '80 was a considerable solo work, improvement on the Who's work of the period, incl. 'Rough Boys' and 'Let My Love Open The Door' (US top ten). He kicked a heroin habit, went into an alcoholic stupor, pulled himself together and made (All The Best Cowboys Have) Chinese Eyes '82, with Big Country's rhythm section, fine originals including bouncy 'Uniforms', vitriolic 'Exquisitely Bored', poignant 'The Sea Refuses No River'. Two-disc Scoop '83 featured legendary demos for the Who, works in progress, instrumental bits, songs culled from 20 years. He joined Faber and Faber (T. S. Eliot's old firm) as commissioning editor, himself published Horse's Neck '85, a collection of short prose. White City '85 was an ambitious album and video project. He worked with his Double-O anti-drug charity, worked with band Deep End including Ian Gilmour; Deep End Live '86 included 'Behind Blue Eyes', 'Pinball Wizard'; Another Scoop '87 was a further collection of demos.

Cooltalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking '96 on Eastwest was a Townshend solo best-of. The Iron Man was a song cycle based on a children's story by poet Ted Hughes, but departing pretty far from it, including John Lee Hooker in the title role and Nina Simone as the Space Dragon; he wanted to mount a stage version with Lionel Bart. He remained venerated by rock fans for his polymath energies; he told Robert Sandall that 'Tommy may have been pretentious and embarrassing, but out of it came wonderful rock songs.' His problem is that 'I am someone who believes desperately in rock'n'roll as high art'. Tommy was revived on Broadway '93 and won five Tony awards; the London opening in March '96 starring Kim Wilde and Hal Fowler (who married in September) and young unknown Paul Keating in the title role didn't do as well but won three Olivier awards. Townshend, Entwistle and Daltrey revived Quadrophenia '96 in Hyde Park with Phil Daniels narrating; Daltrey said that today's technology makes it easier to play than in '74: 'You had to put all the synthesizer tracks on to a tape machine and play to click tracks. For Keith Moon it was complete hell...'