An excellent, brief overview of the Who’s career; includes album discographies of the band and each member’s solo career.
From: Romanowski, Patricia, et. al., eds. "The Who." The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. New York: Fireside. 1995.
The Who started out as musical standard-bearers for England’s Mods and also proclaimed themselves as "Maximum R&B." But their ringing power chords and explosive beat made them one of the most influential bands in rock history. The Who were godfathers of punk pioneers of the rock opera, and among the first rock groups to integrate (rather than merely fiddle with) synthesizers. The smashed guitars and overturned (or blown-up) drum kits they left in their wake fittingly symbolized the violent passions of a turbulent band. The Who’s distinctive sound was born of the couplings and collisions among Pete Townshend’s alternately raging or majestic guitar playing, Keith Moon’s nearly anarchic drumming style, John Entwistle’s agile, thundering bass lines, and Roger Daltrey’s impassioned vocals. Ever since guitarist and main songwriter Pete Townshend declared in "My Generation," "Hope I die before I get old," he has been embraced as a spokesman, a role he assumed (he claims) reluctantly. Nonetheless, for the rest of his career with The Who, Townshend explored rock’s philosophical topography, from the raw rebelliousness of "My Generation" and adolescent angst of "I Can’t Explain," to such ambitious, emotionally rich songs as "Love Reign O’Er Me."
All four band members grew up around London – Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle in the working-class Shepherd’s Bush area. Townshend’s parents were professional entertainers. He and Entwistle knew each other at school in the late Fifties and played in a Dixieland band when they were in their early teens, with Townshend on banjo and Entwistle on trumpet. They played together in a rock band, but Entwistle left in 1962 to join the Detours. That band included Daltrey, a sheetmetal worker. When the Detours needed to replace a rythm guitarist, Entwistle suggested Townshend, and Daltrey switched from lead guitar to vocals when the original singer, Colin Dawson, left in 1963. Drummer Doug Sandom was soon replaced by Moon, who left a surf band called the Beachcombers. By early 1964 the group had changed its name to the Who. Not long afterward, the excitement inspired by Townshend’s bashing his guitar out of frustration during a show ensured it would become a part of the act.
Shortly thereafter, the group cam under the wing of manager Pete Meaden, who renamed them the High Numbers and gave them a better-dressed Mod image. The High Numbers released an unsuccessful single, "I’m the Face" b/w "Zoot Suit" (both written by Meaden), then got new managers, former small-time film directors Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. By late 1964 the quartet had become the Who again, and with Lambert and Stamp’s encouragement, they became an even more Mod band, with violent stage shows and a repertoire including blues, James Brown, and Motown covers, solely because their Mod audiences loved that music.
Despite the billing, the Who’s original songs were anything but classic R&B. The group’s demo of "I Can’t Explain," with pre-Led Zepplin Jimmy Page adding guitar, brought them to producer Shel Talmey (who had also worked the Kinks) and got them a record deal. When "I Can’t Explain" came out in January 1965, it was ignored until until the band appeared on the TV show Ready, Steady, Go. Townshend smashed his guitar, Moon overturned his drums, and the song eventually reached #8 in Britain. "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" also reached the British Top Ten, followed in November 1965 by "My Generation." It went to #2 in the U.K. but reached only #75 in the US. In Britain the Who had established their sound and their personae. Townshend played guitar with full-circle windmilling motions, Daltrey strutted like a bantam fighter, Entwistle (whose occasional songwriting effort revealed a macabre sense of humor) just stood there seemingly unmoved as Moon happily flailed all over his drum kit.
After the Who’s fourth hit single, "Substitute" (#5 U.K., 1966), Lambert replaced Talmy as producer. Their second album, A Quick One (Happy Jack in the U.S.; #67, 1967), included a ten-minute mini-opera as the title track, shortly before the Beatles’ concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Who also began to make inroads in the U.S. with "Happy Jack" (#24, 1967) and a tour that included the performance filmed at the Monterey Pop Festival in June.
The Who Sell Out (#48, 1967) featured mock-advertisement songs and genuine jingles from offshore British pirate radio stations; it also contained another mini-opera, "Rael," and a Top Ten hit in England and the U.S., "I Can See For Miles." In October 1968 the band released Magic Bus (#39, 1968), a compilation of singles and B sides, while Townshend worked on his 90-minute rock opera, Tommy. The story of a deaf, dumb, and blind boy turned pinball champion/pop idol turned autocratic messianic guru was variously considered both pretentious and profound. Most important, however, Tommy was the first successful rock opera. The album hit #4 in the U.S. and its first single, "Pinball Wizard," went to #19. The band would perform Tommy a handful of times in its entirety – at London’s Colliseum in 1969, at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House on June 6 and 7, 1970, and on some dates during its 1989 reunion tour. Excerpts, including "See Me, Feel Me," "Pinball Wizard." and the instrumental "Underture," were thereafter part of the live show. Troupes mounted productions of it around the world (the Who’s performances had been concert versions), and Townshend oversaw a new recording of it in 1972, backed by the London Symphony and featuring Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Sandy Denny, Richard Burton, and others. In 1975 Ken Russell directed the controversial film version, which included Eric Clapton ("Eyesight to the Blind"), Tina Turner ("Acid Queen"), and Elton John ("Pinball Wizard"), as well as Ann-Margaret, Oliver Reed, and Jack Nicholson. Moon (as the lecherous Uncle Ernie) and Daltrey (in the title role) also appeared in the film. Townshend collaborated with director Des McAnuff on a stage version of Tommy that arrived on Broadway in 1993.
Bits of Tommy turned up on Live at Leeds (#4, 1970), a juggernaut live set, which was followed by Who’s Next (#4, 1971), a staple of FM rock radio. It included Townshend’s first experiments with synthesizers – "Baba O’Riley," "Bargain," and "Won’t Get Fooled Again," three songs that Townshend originally conceived as part of another (unfinished) rock opera entitled Lifehouse. (In 1995 a new version of Live at Leeds, whcih includes fourteen songs as opposed to the original’s six, was released.) The compilation Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (#11, 1971) was followed two years later by the Who’s second double-album rock opera, Quadrophenia (#2, 1973), a tribute to the tortured inner life of the Mods. It too was a hit and became a movie directed Franc Roddam in 1979, with Sting of the Police in the role of the bellboy.
While the Who were hugely popular, Quadrophenia signaled that Townshend was now a generation older than the fans he had initially spoken for. While he agonized over his role as an elder statesman of rock – as he would do for years to come – the Who released Odds and Sods (#15, 1974), a compilation of the previous decade’s outtakes. The Who By Numbers (#8, 1975) was the result of Townshend’s self-appraisal ("However Much I Booze"); it lacked the Who’s usual vigor, but yielded a hit single in "Squeeze Box" (#16, 1975). The band could dependably pack arenas wherever it went, but it took some time off the road after By Numbers.
The group members began pursuing individual projects. Moon released a novelty solo disc, Two Sides of the Moon, which featured such guests as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Dick Dale, Joe Walsh, and Flo and Eddie; Entwistle recorded solo LP’s with bands called Ox (with which he toured in 1975) and Rigor Mortis, and produced four tracks on the debut album by the semipopular Fabulous Poodles.
Daltrey also recorded solo. His first two efforts are widely considered mediocre, although Daltrey boasted the oft-played "Hard Life/Giving It All Away," which, like the rest of the album, was composed by a then unknown named Leo Sayer and Adam Faith. While Daltrey’s albums did decently, he had only one Top Forty single in the U.S., "Without Your Love," from the soundtrack of McVicar. The Townshend penned "After the Fire" received substantial video exposure when released in 1985. Daltrey found considerably more success as an actor. Besides Tommy, he has starred in Ken Russell’s over-the-top "biography" of composer Franz Liszt, Lisztomania (1975), and McVicar (1980), the true story of the famous British criminal John McVicar. In the mid-Eighties he played the double role of the Dromio twins in a PBS production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. In recent years, he has also appeared on the London stage (The Beggar’s Opera, 1991) and on British television ("The Little Match Girl," 1990).
In 1970 Townshend contributed four tracks to Happy Birthday, a privately released, limited-edition album recorded as a tribute to Townshend’s guru, Meher Baba. The next year, I Am, a similar limited-edition Baba tribute album, was released. It contained another Townshend track, a nine-minute instrumental version of "Baba O’Riley." As both thses records were heavily bootlegged, Townshend’s response was to create an "official" version of both albums. The result, Who Came First (#69, 1972), was Townshend’s first "real" solo album. It included the tracks from Happy Birthday and I Am, plus new songs, and demos of theWho tracks "Pure and Easy" and "Let’s See Action." His second solo release was a collaboration with ex-Faces Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix (#45, 1977), which featured a number of FM/AOR radio staples: "Street in the City," "My Baby Gives It Away," and "Heart to Hang On To."
Meanwhile punk was burgeoning in Britain, and the Sex Pistols among others were brandishing the Who’s old power cords and attitude. Townshend’s continuing identity crisis showed up in the title of Who Are You (#2, 1978), but the title song became a hit single (#14) that fall, and the album went double platinum. It was the last and highest-charting album by the original band.
The next few years brought tradegy and turmoil, and what Townshend later described as the end of the Who in the death of Keith Moon. Moon always reveled in his reputation as the madman of rock, and his outrageous stunts – onstage and off – were legend. His prodigious drinking and drug abuse (he was once paralyzed for days after accidentally ingesting an elephant tranquilizer) had begun to diminish his playing ability. In 1975 he left England for Los Angeles, where he continued to drink heavily. He returned to England and was trying to kick his alcoholism, but on September 7, 1978, Moon died of an overdose of a sedative, Heminevrin, that had been prescribed to prevent seizures induced by alcohol withdrawal. Although the group continued for another three years, each of the three surviving original members has stated repeatedly that the Who was never the same again.
In 1979, the Who oversaw a concert documentary of their early years, The Kids Are Alright (soundtrack #8, 1979), and worked on the soundtrack version of Quadrophenia (#46, 1979), which also included a number of Mod favorites performed by the original artists (such as Booker T. and the MG’s "Green Onions" and James Brown’s "Night Train"). Kenney Jones, formerly of the Small Faces, replaced Moon, and session keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick began working with the Who. The new lineup toured, but tradegy struck again when 11 concertgoers were killed – trampled to death or asphyxiated – in a rush for "festival seating" spots at Cincinatti’s Riverfront Coliseum on December 3, 1979. The incident occurred before the show, and the group wasn’t told of it until afterward.
After 15 years with Decca/MCA, the Who signed a band contract with Warner Bros., and Townshend got a solo deal with Atco. His Empty Glass (#5, 1980) included the U.S. Top Ten hit "Let My Love Open the Door" and "Rough Boys," a song long believed to have been an angry reply to a punk musician who had insulted the Who during an interview. Much later, in a 1989 interview with writer Timothy White, Townshend denied that was the case, saying, "It’s about homosexuality," and adding that "And I Moved" was as well. Townshend’s admission of having "having a gay life" and his statement that "I know how it feels to be a woman because I am a woman" came as a suprise to many, including his bandmates.
In 1981 Townshend performed solo with an acoustic guitar at a benefit for Amnesty International, whcih was recorded as The Secret Policeman’s Ball. His falling asleep onstage was the first public sign of his deepening drug addiction. Since the years before, Townshend had been abusing alcohol, cocaine, and freebase cocaine mixed with heroine. He subsequently developed an addiction to Ativan, a tranquilizer he was prescribed during treatment for alcoholism. Ativan combined with freebase cocaine and heroine resulted in a highly publicized, near-fatal overdose during which he was rushed to the hospital from a London club. Townshend subsequently underwent electro-acupuncture treatment and cleaned up in 1982.
Amid all this, the revamped Who soldiered on. Face Dances (#4, 1981) included the hit single "You Better You Bet" (#18, 1981) and "Don’t Let Go the Coat." But Townshend later called the new lineup’s debut album a disappointment. One month after Face Dances came out, the Who’s former producer/manager, Kit Lambert, died after falling down a flight of stairs: He was 45. (Pete Meaden had died three weeks before Moon, in 1978.) Townshend released the wordy All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (#26, 1982), and soon followed it with the group’s It’s Hard (#8, 1982), an album Daltrey has since been quoted as saying should never have been released. It produced the group’s last Top Thirty hit to date, "Athena" (#28). The Who then embarked on what they announced would be their last tour, ending with a concert in Toronto on December 17, 1982.
Although the group officially broke up in 1982, the quartet has reunited to perform several times since, appearing at Live Aid in 1985 and at a UK music-awards program in 1988. They celebrated the group’s silver anniversary in 1989 with a 43-date US tour, which included guest-star-studded performances of Tommy in Los Angeles and New York City, and later in London. For this tour Jones was replaced by session drummer Simon Phillips. Townshend, whose hearing was extremely damaged from years of listening to loud music through headphones, had to play standing behind a plastic baffle to block the onstage noise.
Townshend also released solo projects throughout the Eighties: Scoop (#35, 1983) and Another Scoop (#198, 1987) collect demo tapes, home recordings, and sundry tracks of historical interest to fans. White City – A Novel (#26, 1985) is a concept piece, the soundtrack to a long-form video of the same title, and includes "Face the Face"; The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend is the star-studded (Daltrey, Nina Simone, John Lee Hooker) soundtrack to Townshend’s rock opera based on a children’s story by poet Ted Hughes. Deep End Live!, released with an accompanying live video, barely scraped into the Top 100.
Townshend wrote in the liner notes to the 1994 box-set career retrospective Thirty Years of Maximum R&B: "I don’t like the Who much." Through the years his attitude toward the group has seemed false at worst, conflicted at best. Despite Townshend’s other projects and endeavors, including an editorship with book publisher Faber and Faber and publication of his collected stories, Horse’s Neck (1985), it is the Who legacy for which he will be remembered. In 1993 the Broadway production of Tommy won five Tony Awards, including one for Townshend for Best Original Score. The next year saw the release of Townshend’s PsychoDerelict (#118, 1994)m a concept album that includes pieces written originally for the Lifehouse project. An examination of rock stardom’s ravages, PsychoDerelict was also performed as a theater piece and filmed (it was subsequently broadcast on PBS). That year he also embarked on his first solo tour with a set list that included Psychoderelict and a number of Who classics, including "Won’t Get Fooled Again." In February 1994 Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle reunited for two Carnegie Hall concerts in celebration of Daltrey’s 50th birthday. Accompanied by a 65-piece orchestra, the trio weas also joined by guest stars including Sinead O’Connor, Eddie Vedder, and Lou Reed, and the show was filmed for cable television. As of this writing, Townshend was at work on the stage version of The Iron Man, and Daltrey was producing a film biography of Moon.
THE WHO ARE: Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend May 19, 1945, London Guitar, vocals Roger Harry Daltrey March 1, 1944, London Vocals, harmonica, tambourine John Alec Entwistle October 9, 1944, London Bass, French horn, vocals Keith John Moon August 23, 1947, London September 7, 1978, London Drums, percussion, vocals **Formed 1964, London England THE WHO -- DISCOGRAPHY
1965 - The Who Sings My Generation 1966 - Happy Jack 1967 - The Who Sell Out 1968 - Magic Bus-The Who On Tour 1969 - Tommy 1970 - Live at Leeds 1971 - Who's Next 1971 - Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy 1973 - Quadrophenia 1974 - Odds and Sods 1975 - The Who By Numbers 1978 - Who Are You (Moon's last) 1979 - The Kids are Alright soundtrack 1979 - Quadrophenia soundtrack 1981 - Face Dances 1981 - Hooligans 1982 - It's Hard 1983 - Who's Greatest Hits 1984 - Who's Last 1985 - Who's Missing 1987 - Two's Missing 1988 - Who's Better, Who's Best 1990 - Join Together 1994 - The Who: 30 Years of Max. R&B 1995 - Live at Leeds PETE TOWNSHEND: 1972 - Who Came First 1977 - Rough Mix (w/Ronnie Lane) 1980 - Empty Glass 1982 - All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes 1983 - Scoop 1985 - White City - A Novel 1986 - Pete Townshend's Deep End Live! 1987 - Another Scoop 1989 - The Iron Man 1993 - Psychoderelict JOHN ENTWISTLE: 1971 - Smash Your Head Against the Wall 1972 - Whistle Rymes 1973 - John Entwistle's Rigor Mortis Sets In 1975 - John Entwistle's Ox: Mad Dog 1981 - Too Late the Hero KEITH MOON: 1975 - Two Sides of the Moon ROGER DALTREY: 1973 - Daltrey 1975 - Ride a Rock Horse 1977 - One of the Boys 1980 - McVicar soundtrack 1982 - Best Bits 1985 - Under a Raging Moon 1987 - Can't Wait to See the Movie 1991 - The Best of Rockers and Ballads 1992 - Rocks in the Head 1994 - A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and the Who