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The Who at Shepherds Bush Bingo Hall, 1964: two decades of greatness.
ROCK IN PRINT
THE BEST BAND WAS: WHO?
‘By TERRY ATKINSON
“BEFORE I GET OLD—THE STORY
OF THE WHO." By Dave Marsh (St.
Martin's Press: $10.95).
I he's the greatest band rock
music has ever known?
That may sound like a variation on the
old Abbott and Costello “Who's on First"
sketch. but it's true: The Who. which
recently disbanded after a 20-year ca-
reer, is right up there with the Beatles
and the Rolling Stones when people get
into those“greatest group" debates.
' There are four good reasons for rank-
ing the Who so high: Pete Townshend.
Keith Moon. John Entwistle and Roger
Daltrey. Immensely talented and just as
temperamental. these four musicians
formed not only one of the best but one of
the longest-lasting (from 1964 until
Moon's death in 1978) unaltered bands in
The quartet‘s accomplishments are
towering. “My Generation" is the model
for all rebellious rock anthems. "Tom-
my" established a new musical form. the
rock opera. Unless one is a stickler for
technical purity. Moon is unquestionably
the drummer of the rock era. And
Townshend is . . . well. you could write a
bookjust about Pete Townshend.
No one has done that. but we've
already had several quite good books on
the Who. However. Dave Marsh's “Be-
fore I Get Old" easily tops them all. It's
not often that a rock band gets as full a
portrait as this painstaking 546-page
volume. Previous Who bios. like many
rock books. generally took a breezier.
wilder approach. as if trying to emulate
the music and attitude of the band. That’s
not necessarily a bad method, but since
Marsh incorporates much of the earlier
works on the Who, as well as doing a
great deal of additional research. there’s
little reason to go elsewhere for informa-
tion on the group. (Richard Barnes'
"Maximum MB" is still the best source
fdr photos of the Who 'and all the
Who-associated paraphernalia. ) ‘
Marsh covers all the bases with both
factual details and the knowledgeable
analysis of a devoted yet critical fan. He
incorporates everything from large. ab-
stract topics like the artistic philosophy
of Townshend to small but fascinating
revelations: Jimmy Page played guitar on
the Who's first single. "I Can't Explain."
Entwistle was the first person to play
through the now-ubiquitous Marshall
amplifiers. and Townshend got his fa-
mous “windmill" guitar style from
watching the Rolling Stones' Keith Rich-
If there is any drawback to the book. it
is that Marsh slants things in Town~
shend's favor when dealing with the
personality clashes in the band—a run-
ning theme that's one of the biography's
most interesting aspects. Daltrey. Town-
shend's chief antagonist. gets the short
end of the quotes. Also. Marsh‘s tone gets
a little too serious and philosophical at
These minor flaws are easy to live with
in the world of rock books. where the
tone is usually so insubstantial that the
pages seem made of tissue paper. For the
most part. Marsh strikes a fine balance
between dealing with serious subjects
(such as Townshend's and Moon‘s de-
feating drug use) and depicting what
uniquely exhilarating fun the Who rep-
resented. A must-read for rock fans. U