The Who

The Who are an English rock band that released ten studio albums between 1965 and 1982, including the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.

They started during the early sixties beat boom when singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist–songwriter Pete Townshend, and bassist John Entwistle evolved from West London hopefuls The Detours. In 1964, drummer Keith Moon joined and they settled as The Who (after a brief spell as The High Numbers). They issued three 1965 singles — “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” and “My Generation” — all UK hits and anthems of the mod movement. Their debut album, My Generation, placed them at the forefront of hard rock and spawned further hits with “The Kids Are Alright,” and “A Legal Matter.”

In 1966, The Who charted with the lyrically ironic “Substitute” and the slapstick-themed “Happy Jack.” Their second album, A Quick One, contains a six-part title-suite billed as the first “rock opera.” They psyched up for their 1967 singles “Pictures of Lily” and “I Can See for Miles,” their breakthrough hit in the US, where they floored audiences at the Monterey Pop Festival and made an explosive appearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

The Who took a conceptual turn on The Who Sell Out, which contains songs about products and eccentric people, intermixed with radio jingles. Their 1968 hit “Magic Bus” signaled an embrace of belted vocals, semi-acoustic textures, and looser, percussive passages — key features of their seventies style.

In 1969, The Who released Tommy, a four-sided rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy whose enhanced vibration senses make him the world’s greatest pinball player. It spawned the radio evergreens “Pinball Wizard” and “We’re Not Going to Take It.” The ensuing nineteen-month tour, marked by shows at the Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals, established the band as global superstars and Townshend as one of rock’s leading spokesmen.

Townshend’s next project, Lifehouse, concerned a future society where people connect to a global Grid and consume music, news, and sensations through lifesuits. While the concept was unfathomable to pre-internet seventies audiences, key songs from the project comprise Who’s Next, including the radio evergreens “Baba O’Riley,” “Bargain,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” The Lifehouse concept spawned further songs, including their 1972 singles “Join Together” and “Relay.”

In 1973, The Who released Quadrophenia, a four-sided rock opera about Jimmy, a pill-popping mod whose tribulations through work, love, family, and society drive him to double-schizophrenia. Its collection of rock anthems includes “The Real Me,” “The Punk and the God Father,” “The Dirty Jobs,” “Helpless Dancer” (Roger’s theme), “I’ve Had Enough,” “5:15,” “Bell Boy” (Keith’s theme), “Doctor Jimmy,” and “Love, Reign o’er Me” (Pete’s theme). The story spawned a coming-of-age drama film co-starring Police frontman Sting as the Ace Face, Jimmy’s role model.

The Who reached the height of their global stardom with the 1975 release The Who by Numbers. On the accompanying twelve-month tour, they played before more than 75,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan. By now, each member had released solo albums. Daltrey starred as Tommy in filmmaker Ken Russell’s musical adaptation of the 1969 rock opera.

In 1978, the band returned with Who Are You, comprised of complex songs about musical innovation (“Guitar and Pen”) and defiance (“Sister Disco,” “Music Must Change”). The title track, with its self-referential chorus, became another evergreen and Who signature. This would be their last album with Moon, who died shortly after at age 32. Moon’s legacy with the band is chronicled in the docu-film The Kids Are Alright, assembled from thirteen years of live performances and television clips. The Who hired ex-Small Faces and Faces drummer Kenney Jones and resumed touring.

Townshend broke through as a solo artist with his 1980 release Empty Glass and the hits “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Rough Boys.” Meanwhile, The Who entered the video age with Face Dances and the MTV clips “You Better You Bet,” “Don’t Let Go the Coat,” and “Another Tricky Day.” Daltrey’s acting took a serious turn in the biographical crime drama McVicar. The Who played on the soundtrack, which contains Roger’s solo hits “Without Your Love” and “Free Me.”

In 1982, Townshend released All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, a personal artistic statement with an accompanying video. Soon after, The Who released It’s Hard, a mix of uptempo rockers (“Athena”) and poignant lyrical numbers (“I’ve Known No War”). The hi-tech “Eminence Front” became another Who signature. That fall, they launched what was billed as their final tour.

The Who regrouped in 1985 for an appearance at Live Aid. In 1989, the surviving founders (Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle) toured Tommy with an enlarged band of auxiliary players. They did the same in 1996–97 for Quadrophenia, enhanced with film projections and guest-star vocalists. In the 21st century, The Who resumed touring on a semi-regular basis. After Entwistle’s death, the remaining band released Endless Wire (2006) and Who (2019).

Members: Roger Daltrey (vocals, tambourine, harmonica, guitar), John Entwistle (bass, French horn, piano, vocals, 1961-2002), Pete Townshend (guitar, organ, synthesizer, piano, vocals, 1962-present), Keith Moon (drums, percussion, vocals, 1964-78), Kenney Jones (drums, 1979-88)


The Who evolved from Acton-area combo The Detours, formed in 1959 by 15-year-old ruffian Roger Daltrey, who initially played guitar. In 1961, he recruited bassist John Entwistle into the band, which purveyed the era’s instrumental rock (The Shadows, The Tornados). The following year, 30-year-old Doug Sandom assumed the drum seat.

The Detours stabilized in late 1962 when Daltrey became the singer and they hired Entwistle’s friend, guitarist Pete Townshend, to round out the lineup. They opened for some of England’s leading pre-Beatles rock acts, including Shane Fenton & the Fentones and Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. After learning that the name Detours was already in use, the band changed its name to The Who.

By early 1964, The Who was drawing crowds on the London club circuit. They secured an audition with Fontana Records, but complaints arose over Sandom’s drumming. He was promptly cut from the band, which used a stand-in drummer for several weeks. In April, they were approached by 17-year-old drummer Keith Moon, who broke a drum skin during his audition. His arrival completed the classic Who four-piece that would last fourteen years.

That spring, The Who hired publicist Pete Meaden as their manager. He suggested they change their name to The High Numbers and adopt the mod image. Under this guise, they issued the June 1964 Fontana single “Zoot Suit,” a song about dress-up, named after the 1940s Harlem V-line suit with a tune lifted from “Misery” by the American R&B group the Dynamics. The b-side, “I’m the Face,” transforms the R&B standard “Got Love If You Want It” by bluesman Slim Harpo into a tune about being ‘The Face’ (the most stylish mod on the scene). Meaden penned both sets of lyrics. When the single failed to chart, the band reverted to The Who and fired Meaden.

The Who were then taken under the managerial wing of filmmakers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who filmed the band during a gig at the Railway Inn on King’s Road for use in a promo film. On a subsequent date, Townshend (a six-footer) accidentally broke the neck of his guitar against the low ceiling of the Railway and, in a rage, smashed the instrument against the stage. At the close of the following week’s set, Moon kicked his bass drum afield. These antics, along with Townshend’s windmill strum and Daltrey’s mic-cable whipping motions, became features of The Who’s live act.

In November 1964, The Who cut their first proper single at Pye Studios in London with American producer Shel Talmy, a soundman on recent singles by The Fortunes, The Hearts, and The Kinks‘ riff-fest “All Day and All of the Night,” which influenced Townshend’s new writing.

1965: First Three Singles, Album

“I Can’t Explain”

On January 15, 1965, The Who released “I Can’t Explain,” a three-chord rocker about the perplexing emotions of first-time love (“Dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue”). The verses are driven by a closed-cadence, three-chord riff (E→DD→A→EE), followed by an open-cadence, four-chord sequence on the chorus (E…E…C#…C#…A…A…B…B…). Vocal group The Ivy League performs backing vocals and hand claps on the song.

“I Can’t Explain” appeared on Brunswick, backed with the Talmy-penned “Bald Headed Woman,” a song recorded by The Kinks on their debut album and subsequently cut by Swedish popsters The Hep Stars. It’s a blues lurch with a fluid, crashing outro; sung by Daltrey in an unrecognizable low register. Jimmy Page, a prominent London session guitarist, plays the fuzz solo.

In the United States, the single appeared on Decca on December 19, 1964; four weeks ahead of its UK release. “I Can’t Explain” reached No. 8 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 14 in France.

The Who played more than ninety shows between January and May 1965. They mostly played the London area but also appeared in Manchester (4/23/65: Oasis Club), Newcastle (5/3: Majestic), Bristol (5/19: Corn Exchange), and Sheffield (5/30: King Mojo Club). On May 6, they played the Two Red Shoes Ballroom in Elgin, Scotland; their first of three consecutive shows north of the border.

“Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”

On May 21, 1965, The Who released “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” a four-chord rocker about unrestrained freedom and fearless defiance (“Nothing gets in my way, not even locked doors; Don’t follow the lines that been laid before”). It opens with a thundering, reverb-laden bar-chord strum (D… C… A), followed by flowing, harmonized verses (D… G→A). Townshend employs feedback on the middle eight, where they jam in A major. Session pianist Nicky Hopkins guests on the track.

“Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” was their second of three consecutive singles on Brunswick and the only Who original joint-credited to Townshend and Daltrey. It reached No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart. The UK b-side, “Daddy Rolling Stone,” was written by American pianist Otis Blackwell, who wrote early rock ‘n’ roll hits for Elvis Presley (“Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up”) and Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls of Fire”).

In the US, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” appeared on June 5 on Decca, backed with the Garnet Mimms cover “Anytime You Want Me.” The Who performed “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” on the July 1, 1965, episode of the ITV music program Ready Steady Go!

The Who played their first cross-channel show on June 1 at L’Olympia in Paris, France. On July 15, they played the Ritz in Llanelli, Wales. On Saturday the 19th, The Who played the Uxbridge Blues & Folk Festival, which also had sets by Marianne Faithfull, Solomon Burke, the Spencer Davis Group, Zoot Money, and The Birds, a Decca shortplayer act with bassist Kim Gardner and guitarist Ron Wood. That fall, The Who played shows in the Netherlands (9/21: De Marathon, The Hague), Denmark (9/25: K.B. Hallen, Copenhagen), and Sweden (10/10: Johanneshovs Isstadion, Stockholm).

“My Generation”

On October 29, 1965, The Who released “My Generation,” an anthem of youthful defiance (“I hope I die before I get old”) and new-breed exclusivity (“Why don’t you all f-fade away… Don’t try to dig what we all s-s-s-say”). The song’s riff — four down strokes of G, followed by four of F — modulates one whole step for the second verse (A–G) and another whole step for the third (B–A), then crests on C for the explosive, pile-driving finale. Between the first and second verse, Townshend and Moon do tradeoffs with Entwistle, who plays four virtuoso runs (two bars each) across a sixteen-bar instrumental sequence. Daltrey’s stuttering vocals were influenced by the John Lee Hooker number “Stuttering Blues.”

“My Generation” reached No. 2 in the UK and Australia and No. 3 in Canada. It also went Top 10 in the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, and West Germany. The b-side, “Shout and Shimmy,” is an energetic take on the 1962 hit by James Brown.

In the US, “My Generation” appeared on November 20 on Decca and reached No. 74 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Decca b-side, “Out In the Street,” is a Townshend original that starts with a variation of the “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” riff (an F#–E–B reverb-laden strum), followed with F# verses where Moon applies hurricane fills to the Bo Diddley beat.

The Who greeted the single’s UK release with an October 31 show at The Beatles‘ old stomping ground: the Cavern club in Liverpool.

My Generation

The Who released their debut studio album, My Generation, in December 1965 on Brunswick (UK, Europe) and Festival Records (Oceania). Side one features both sides of the title-sake Decca single, opening with “Out In the Street.”

Townshend wrote six new songs, including the Beatle-esque harmony rockers “La-La-La Lies,” “Much Too Much,” and “The Kids Are Alright” — all about the innocence and confusion of young courtship. On “It’s Not True,” Daltrey rebuts a slew of rumors (mixed ancestry, foreign origins, patricide, imprisonment, serial paternity) with high-minded assurance (“Cause I’m up here and you’re nowhere”).

Townshend sings “A Legal Matter,” a rejection of matrimony and garden rails with a four-note staccato guitar figure. “The Good’s Gone” has a picked slide over a droning B, inspired by The Kinks’ recent “See My Friends,” a pioneering blend of rock and Indo pop.

My Generation also includes covers of two James Brown soul ballads (“I Don’t Mind,” “Please, Please, Please”) and a bluesy take on the Bo Diddley standard “I’m a Man,” recently cultivated as a fuzz-rocker by the Yardbirds. The album closes with “The Ox,” a “Wipe Out”-style instrumental by Townshend, Entwistle, Moon, and Hopkins, who guests on the track. The group dubbed John “the Ox” because of his higher threshold for alcohol and food.

Decca photographer David Wedgbury took the My Generation cover: an aerial shot where The Who gaze skyward in mod attire. The Union Jack jacket draped around Entwistle’s shoulders is an emblem of mod style.

Talmy produced the album at IBC Studios in London, where The Who recorded the R&B covers in April 1965. That fall, the band recorded Townshend’s new originals after twice-charting with his a-sides.

My Generation reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 4 on the Finnish Albums chart.

1966: Singles, Second Album

On January 12, 1966, The Who recorded “Circles,” a mid-tempo harmony rocker (in A) with trebly bass and Entwistle on French horn. Townshend, seeking to expand the group’s sound, informed Lambert of John’s abilities as a trumpeter.

They intended to make this a single, backed with “Instant Party Mixture,” a tambourine pop singalong with a “Runaround Sue” progression and vocable. However, The Who broke from Talmy and signed to Reaction, a new label started by Robert Stigwood, an emerging mogul who recently managed Tyneside mods the Junco Partners. The Who entered Olympic Studios on February 12 to cut a new single.

“Substitute”, “Circles”

On March 4, 1966, The Who released “Substitute,” a strum-along rife with lyrical paradoxes. Townshend wrote the song after hearing the line “Although she may be cute, she’s just a substitute” in “The Tracks of My Tears,” a recent single by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. He lifted the cadence (but not the chord sequence) from “Where Is My Girl,” a single Pete reviewed for Melody Maker by Robb Storme & The Whispers (a precursor to Orange Bicycle).  

“Substitute” has a three-chord intro–chorus progression (DD→A…GG→DD) and resides in D major (verses), E minor (bridge), and A (middle eight). The lyrics mix negation (“I look pretty tall but my heels are high”), deprecation (“I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth”), and convoluted lines (“The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south”).

Townshend produced “Substitute,” which initially featured an identical remake of “Circles” (retitled “Instant Party,” but not the same song as “Instant Party Mixture”) on the b-side, but Talmy had this pressing of the single withdrawn via court order. To get the single back in stores, Stigwood licensed “Waltz for a Pig,” an unused instrumental by the Graham Bond Organization, which appears as the b-side on most Reaction copies of “Substitute.”

Talmy countered “Substitute” with a Bruswick 7″ release of “A Legal Matter,” backed with the original “Instant Party” (aka the original “Circles”). Dutch copies of this single incorrectly list the b-side as “Instant Party Mixture” (a song that remained vaulted until the 2002 reissue of My Generation). Concurrently, The Fleur de Lys issued a Jimmy Page-produced cover of “Circles” on Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label.

Meanwhile, “Substitute” reached No. 5 in the UK, No. 2 in the Netherlands, and also went Top 20 in Belgium and West Germany.

On April 24, 1966, Decca issued the band’s first album in North American as The Who Sings My Generation. This version replaces “I’m a Man” with “Instant Party” (aka “Circles”). The cover is a medium upshot of The Who with Big Ben in the background.

The Who embarked on a package tour with the Spencer Davis Group, the New Merseys, and Jimmy Cliff & The Sound System. This consisted of two nightly shows in eight cities, starting April 14 at the Gaumont in Southampton and ending on the 25th at the Pavilion in Bath. On May 7, the Who made their Irish debut at the National Boxing Stadium in Dublin.

On May 30, The Who appeared at the Sincil Bank Football Ground in Lincoln for the Whit Monday Pop Gala Festival, which also featured sets by Yardbirds; Small Faces; The Kinks; Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames; Screaming Lord Sutch; Crispian St Peters; Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich; Alan Price Set; She Trinity; and the Koobas. This marked the debut performance by The Creation, a mod band that evolved from The Mark Four.

“I’m a Boy”

On August 26, 1966, The Who released “I’m a Boy,” a pop dramedy in which Daltrey sings as Bill: a last-born boy with three older sisters (Jean Marie, Felicity, Sally Joy) whose mother wanted only girls and raises him as one. The song starts with a soft vocable over two chords (A… E…), followed by faint, nervous verses where Bill introduces his sisters. He intensifies on the bridge, where he reveals his predicament (“I feel lucky if I get trousers to wear, spend evenings taking hairpins from my hair”). The chorus is a flowing, harmonized iteration of the title (over a I-IV-V progression in A), suffixed with Bill’s allegations of his mother’s denial and how she’d likely scold him if he states out loud that he’s a boy.

Townshend conceived “I’m a Boy” as a section of Quads, an unfinished song suite about a future society in which gender engineering is commonplace. Lambert produced the song at IBC and encouraged Pete to explore other possible multi-song themes: a concept dubbed the “rock opera.”

“I’m a Boy” reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. The b-side, “In The City,” is the only Who song co-credited to Entwistle and Moon. It’s a mid-tempo singalong (in E) with beach-culture lyrics inspired by Keith’s love for American surf rock. John plays trumpet on the track.

Just ahead of “I’m a Boy,” Brunswick issued “The Kids Are Alright” as a single, backed with “The Ox.” The a-side — with its three-chord strum (D…G→A), Beatle-esque harmonies, and carefree lyrics about a guy who “must get out in the light” as his girl stays behind with his guy friends — became a Who signature.

Ready Steady Who

On November 11, 1966, The Who released Ready Steady Who, a five-song EP that contains the second version of “Circles” and a new Townshend original, “Disguises,” a psychedelic rocker with backward symbols over woodblocks and a fuzzy, jangly guitar figure (in E and F#). The flipside features three covers: “Batman,” “Bucket ‘T’,” and “Barbara Anne.” The EP is named after Ready Steady Go!, the 1963–66 ITV music program hosted by Cathy McGowan.

“Batman” — the theme to the American action comedy series starring Adam West — is a 90-second, three-note chromatic melody; instrumental apart from iterations of the title. The American surf-rock duo Jan & Dean recently covered “Batman” on a Liberty single, backed with the jumpy “Bucket ‘T’,” which Moon sings on the Who version, interjected by Entwistle on French horn. “Barbara Anne” was a 1961 doo-wop hit for The Regents and a recent hit for The Beach Boys, whose rocked-up version is emulated here.

Meanwhile, Brunswick pulled one last single from My Generation: “La-La-La-Lies” (b/w “The Good’s Gone”). It went head-to-head with The Who’s upcoming Reaction single.

“Happy Jack”

On December 3, 1966, The Who released “Happy Jack,” a quirky number with fairy tale lyrics about a sand-dwelling character that Townshend recalled from his childhood. The song begins with a nine-note melodic run that lands on a matted, closed-cadence D. Roger sings of the little man on the Isle of Man who was always happy; covered in sand as kids rode on his head. Pete and John overlay the flowing, swelling chorus; bellowing:

The kids couldn’t hurt Jack
They tried and tried and tried
They dropped things on his back
And lied and lied and lied and lied and lied

“Happy Jack” reached No. 3 in the UK and No. 1 in Canada. It was accompanied by an early music video: a b&w clip where The Who plays a gang of spivs who gain entry to a room with a safe, where a pin-striped, cigar-toting Roger mans the door while Pete and Keith monkey with the lock. Scarface John discovers a pie, which soon distracts the two would-be picklocks. A pie fight ensues; the building guard gets pied the moment he marches in on the shenanigans.

Entwistle wrote the b-side, “I’ve Been Away,” a simple waltz comprised of bass (in G), piano (accented fifths), and cymbals. The lyrics concern a newly freed innocent man who did time for a crime committed by his brother Bill.

A Quick One

The Who released their second album, A Quick One, on December 9, 1966, on Reaction. Lambert encouraged each member to write two songs for the album.

Entwistle, initiating his role as the band’s secondary writer, contributed the creeping dark-comedy ditties “Boris the Spider” and “Whiskey Man.” Moon also wrote two numbers, including “Cobwebs and Strange,” a Dixieland circus instrumental run amok. Daltrey, in his first of only two solo writing credits for the band, contributed “See My Way,” a galloping two-chord pop song all of 113 seconds.

Townshend composed the album’s four remaining originals, including the opener “Run Run Run,” a harmonized R&B–beat rocker with a dirgy guitar groove in G minor. On side two, his contributions include “So Sad About Us,” a Beatle-esque harmony-pop tune; and “Don’t Look Away,” a jangly upbeat number with a cataclysmic pre-chorus (“There’s a stone in my shoe, so I can’t catch you up; My head’s in a lion’s mouth, wants to eat me up”).

“Boris the Spider” is a comedy–horror tune about a small, hairy tarantula that John spots crawling up a wall (first verse). The spider escapes from his view (second verse), but John soon finds it motionless (third verse). To make sure it’s dead, he smashes the spider with a book, leaving Boris “embedded in the ground.” The song’s theme is a rumbling, chromatic bassline (D–D–C–B–B–F–G…) where John sings the title in a deep, haunting voice, interjected with a frightened “creepy, crawly” refrain.

“Whiskey Man” is a character that emerges when the narrator either hallucinates or self-intoxicates. It’s unclear whether the whiskey man is an imaginary friend or a Mr. Hyde-like drunken alter ego. By the third verse, the narrator is confined to a gloomy padded cell. Musically, the song is a tight, deep, bass-driven number with a descending pattern rooted in G.

The album concludes with Townshend’s first completed rock opera: a nine-minute suite titled “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” It chronicles the story of a woman who has an extramarital affair while her engine driver husband (later identified as Jerrald) is out on the road for an extended period. The suite consists of six parts:

1. An a cappella that twice states “Her Man’s been gone for nigh on year; He was due home yesterday, But he ain’t here.”
2. A jangly folk-rock verse (in D) where word seems to travel to the missing husband about his lonely wife “Whose crying can be heard all around the world.”
3. A
harmonized pop section with “Fa-la-la-la-la” vocables (in B). Someone presents a present to the wife: “We have a remedy… we’ll give him eagle’s wings.”
4. A drum-rolled, creeping two-note guitar figure. She meets her seducer: “My name is Ivan, I’m an engine driver.” He knows her husband and relays his messages.
5. A three-note boogie (in C) where the speaker ensures the wife that hubby will “soon be home.”
6. A flowing, harmonized rocker (in D) where Pete (Jerald) returns in disbelief as she repeats his name in glee. She confesses her infidelity, but he chimes “you are forgiven.”

A Quick One also includes a cover of the Holland–Dozier–Holland Motown classic “Heat Wave,” a 1963 hit for Martha & the Vandellas.

Sessions took place between late August and November at IBC, Pye, and Regent Sound Studios. Lambert produced A Quick One and its surrounding singles in succession with three Fontana singles by the pop-vocal duo The Merseys, a spinoff of The Merseybeats that charted with “Sorrow.”

A Quick One has cover art by illustrator Alan Aldridge, who supplied a Pop Art illustration of The Who with a song title from each member emitted with onomatopoeic letters. The back cover shows their four disembodied heads against a black background. Aldridge notched further visual credits on albums by Cream (Farewell) and Family (Family Entertainment).

In North America, the album appeared on Decca in February 1967 as Happy Jack. The song was added to US copies (in place of “Heat Wave”) to capitalize on its popularity in Canada and the US, where “Happy Jack” became their first Top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (at No. 24). A Quick One reached No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart.

On December 31, The Who appeared at London’s Roundhouse as part of Psychedelicamania, billed as a New Year’s Eve All Night Rave with performances by rising stars The Move and Pink Floyd. On March 25, 1967, The Who made their US live debut as part of a 5th Dimension package tour at the RKO 58th Street Theater in New York City, where they did a nine-day engagement of three nightly shows through April 2.

1967: Singles, US Tour and Third Album

“Pictures of Lily”

On April 22, 1967, The Who released “Pictures of Lily,” a harmony-pop number concerning a teenage boy’s lustful obsession with an old-time pinup. The boy falls in love with the subject, only to learn that she’s been dead since 1929. The pinup in question is purportedly based on Edwardian actress–socialite Lillie Langtry (1853–1929). This was their first single on Track Record, a new label established by Lambert and Stamp.

“Pictures of Lily” consists of polychord descents that start in C and land in G. On each pivotal third line where the father speaks, the progression shifts to A minor and lands in E minor. After revealing that his “nights ain’t quite so lonely,” Roger sings call-and-response with the band, who double-emphasize the line “I don’t feel bad at all.” The chorus follows the same progression as the verses; dropping to A major for the “solved my childhood problem” line. The post-chorus features stop–start power chords (E-E-E→D→E) that became commonplace in future Who rockers. Entwistle’s French horn solo, played in emulation of the WWI klaxon alert, pivots the song to a new verse.

Entwistle wrote the b-side, “Doctor, Doctor,” a fast, banging proto-punk song with frantic vocals, buzzing guitar, and hyperactive percussion. The lyrics concern a hypochondriac with a litany of suspected ailments. The song is mostly in A but drops to a dominant chord and zigzags between sevenths, sixes, and fourths — a further example of their increased complexity.

On April 5, 1967, The Who embarked on a two-week tour of Germany, where they played thirteen shows. While there, they performed “Pictures of Lily” for the May 1 broadcast of the Radio Bremen music program Beat-Club. By now, their mod look had given way to longer hair and looser cuffs. In the clip, Moon sports a white ruffled shirt that frills out from his black velvet jacket. After that taping, The Who played their first shows in Finland (4/30: Ice Hall, Helsinki), Norway (5/2: Njårdhallen, Oslo), and Belgium, where they performed at the May 20 Woluwe Festival in Brussels.

“Pictures of Lily” reached No. 4 in the UK, No. 5 in Germany and the Netherlands, No. 6 in Belgium, and No. 9 in Austria.

First US Tour

On June 14, 1967, The Who embarked on their first proper US tour in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they opened for Herman’s Hermits at the Fifth Dimension Club. The following night, The Who played the Cellar, a teen club in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where the power failed after fifteen minutes. They performed “Substitute,” “Happy Jack,” and roused the crowd with “My Generation” as the lights flickered.

The Who flew out to California for a June 16–17 engagement at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco with Oakland soul-rockers the Loading Zone. The Who consolidated their stateside breakthrough at the Monterey International Pop Festival, a three-day event at the Monterey County Fairgrounds with sets by Al Kooper, The Electric Flag, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Hugh Masekela, Janis Joplin, Lou Rawls, Laura Nyro, Otis Redding, and the Steve Miller Band. The Who played their six-song set on the evening of day three (June 18) ahead of the festival’s other breakout act, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Burdon introduced The Who’s set, which featured the last-four singles (barring “I’m a Boy”) plus “A Quick One” and the Eddie Cochran standard “Summertime Blues.” At the climax of “My Generation,” Townshend smashed his guitar into an amp stack that Moon rigged with smoke bombs. As concert staff rushed the stage before a stunned audience, Keith kicked over his drum kit and the band walked off. After a three-song set by the Grateful Dead, Hendrix played a nine-song set of material from his recent debut, Are You Experienced?, along with several covers, including The Troggs‘ recent “Wild Thing,” which he ended by setting his guitar on fire.

On June 28, The Who rush-recorded cover versions of The Rolling Stones hits “The Last Time” and “Under My Thumb.” Though done as a fund-raiser for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards — both recently jailed on drug charges — the pair were freed and acquitted by June 30 when the single hit shelves. Townshend played bass on this recording in lieu of Entwistle, who was away on his honeymoon.

The Who commenced a two-month North American tour on July 7, 1967, at the Shore Club in Lido Beach, NY. They covered forty-seven cities, including Portland, Ore. (7/14: Memorial Coliseum), Seattle (7/15: Center Coliseum), Houston (7/22: Sam Houston Coliseum), Baton Rouge, Louisiana (7/26: Redemptorist High School Football Stadium), Chicago (8/5: International Amphitheater), Boston (8/8: Boston Gardens), and Philadelphia (8/24: Civic Center). On August 12, they played the Asbury Park Convention Center with the Blues Magoos. The tour wrapped on September 9 at the International Center Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii.

On September 17, The Who performed “My Generation” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, a CBS sketch–variety show hosted by the team of Tom and Dick Smothers. During the song’s closeout jam in C major, as smoke billowed behind a pair of amps, Townshend hammered his Gibson into the left amp and sparked a blast. As Pete continued thrashing his guitar, Moon kicked over his left bass drum and then the right one, which (unbeknownst to him) was spiked with three (not one) cherry bombs. This set off a huge explosion that knocked Keith to the ground with shrapnel in his arm. Pete, who suffered tinnitus from the second blast, unstrapped the acoustic guitar from Tom Smother’s arm and smashed it to the ground.

“I Can See for Miles”

The Who’s eighth proper single, the psychedelic anthem “I Can See for Miles,” appeared in the US first on September 19, 1967, on Decca. It’s about a man who claims to have “magic in my eyes,” which allows him to see the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal from anywhere on clear days. Consequently, he saw the little tricks his girl played when he was far away. Now, she’s “gonna lose that smile.”

“I Can See for Miles” opens on a sizzling low E chord with unrestrained drum fills. On each verse, Roger reveals what he knows amid Townshend’s overdubs (acoustic strum and searing, sitar-like leads) on a three-chord progression (E… G→A) overlaid with cymbal mist. The two-line verse is followed by a slow, harmonized pre-chorus: “I can see for (G) miles and (A) miles and (C) miles and (D) miles and (E) miles….”

A second verse (modulated to A) is followed by a terse, chilling bridge, where Roger tells the lying subject “here’s a poke at you, you’re gonna choke on it too; you’re gonna lose that smile, because all the while,” which opens the proper chorus: a windy two-chord floodgate: “I can see for (D) miles and miles (A), I can see for…” (repeat). After Townshend’s one-note guitar solo (a briskly strummed, low open E string) and a repeat of the main parts, the group crests in G for a harmonized repetition of the words “miles and miles and miles and….” The song fades on a runout of the proper chorus.

The backing track to “I Can See for Miles” was recorded in May 1967 at CBS Studios in London. The vocals and overdubs were added in August at Talentmasters Studios in New York during a stop on their US tour. The Decca b-side was “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand,” a three-chord acoustic folk-pop harmony song about a pretty girl who, despite here tremors, fascinates the singer more than his prior dance partners (Linda who cooks, Jean who reads, Cindy who sews).

“I Can See for Miles” reached No. 4 in Canada and No. 9 in the US, where it became their highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100. On October 13, “I Can See for Miles” appeared in the UK (Track) and Europe (Polydor) with a different b-side: Entwistle’s “Someone’s Coming,” a brassy mid-tempo number with tense two-note bass and unrestrained drumming. It concerns forbidden love; the title refers to the subject’s disproving father.

Townshend wrote “I Can See for Miles” a year earlier but saved it for their transatlantic breakout juncture. With its phasing and modulated, elongated chorus, the song remains a radio evergreen and a Who signature.

On October 22, 1967, The Who played London’s Saville Theatre with American psychsters Vanilla Fudge. They embarked on an eleven-date UK package tour with Traffic, The Herd, Marmalade, and The Tremeloes, playing two nightly shows between October 28 (City Hall, Sheffield) and November 10 (Adelphi, Slough).

The Who Sell Out

The Who released their third album, The Who Sell Out, on December 15, 1967, on Track (UK) and Decca (US). It features eleven proper songs, including both sides of their preceding Decca single (“I Can See for Miles,” “Mary-Anne with the Shaky Hand”), plus multiple interludes that mimic advertisements and public service announcements. The tracks are sequenced to resemble a pirate radio broadcast.

The Who Sell Out opens with a brassy mock radio indent (“Monday… Tuesday…”) followed by “Armenia City in the Sky,” a phased, droning psychedelic rocker with buzzing layered sustain — written and sung by band-friend Speedy King, the vocalist of Track signees Thunderclap Newman.

Side one also contains three Townshend originals: “Tattoo,” “Our Love Was” and the product-themed “Odorono,” a comedic romp about a pretty young hopeful who fails an audition due to body odor. Pete sings “Odorono” and “Tattoo,” an echoey ballad with descending finger-picked chords (mostly in B, Fmajor7, and D) and lyrics about two young brothers expressing themselves with tattoos. “Our Love Was” uses similar chords with stormy drumming, vocable bridges, and buzzing guitar breaks.

Side two opens with a mock advert for a Charles Atlas exercise course, which purports to turn each customer into “A BEAST OF A MAN” (spoken by a deep-voiced Entwistle). Townshend sings lead on two further contributions: “I Can’t Reach You,” a mid-tempo piano ballad with a descending chromatic melody (in C major); and “Sunrise,” a sparse, plucked acoustic ballad with virtuoso cadenzas. He harmonizes with Roger on “Relax,” a flowing organ-psych tune.

Entwistle contributed two mock advert shorts (“Heinz Baked Beans,” “Medac”) and “Silas Stingy,” a creeping harmony-psych number with icy cathedral organ and lyrics about an old miser who starves for pennies, wears tattered unwashed clothes and carries bags of money in a heavy black box with a big padlock.

The Who Sell Out climaxes with “Rael (1 and 2),” the band’s second mini-opera. It begins as a stately organ march in C major that laments the downfall of Rael, the narrator’s spiritual home. Weary of encroachment and the loss of his heritage, the protagonist sets sail. He instructs the captain to return to the same spot on Christmas and check the color of the waving flag: yellow means flee; red means stay. The second movement has a staccato guitar figure (in D) with the chant “He’s crazy if he thinks we’re coming back again,” spoken by the Captain on behalf of his crew. This cuts to an instrumental passage of stormy drums and descending power chords.

Original vinyl copies of the album end on a locked runout groove of a crackling vintage gramophone sound: an intended advert for Track Record.

Sessions for The Who Sell Out took place in September–October 1967 at multiple London studios (IBC, Pye, De Lane Lea, CBS). Stamp co-produced the album with Lambert, who co-engineered Sell Out with Damon Lyon-Shaw, an emerging soundman who worked on the upcoming albums by Eclection and Pentangle. American musician–producer Al Kooper (then of Blood Sweat & Tears) plays organ on the first half of “Rael.” The jingles were produced by PAMS Productions in Dallas, Texas.

The Who Sell Out is housed in a single sleeve that depicts each member in a mock advertisement for a giant-sized food or hygiene product. The front cover shows Roger in a tub of Heinz Baked Beans and Pete applying a giant container of Odorono. On the back cover, Keith applies a giant tube of Medac to an enlarged pimple and John, clad in a leopard-print toga, caresses a beach blond in one arm and a teddy bear in the other, in emulation of an Atlas ad. Photographer David Montgomery and designers David King and Roger Law also did cover visuals for Track labelmate Jimi Hendrix on his 1967/68 albums Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. Law later co-conceived the satirical puppet show Spitting Image.

The Who Sell Out reached No. 13 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 48 on the Billboard 200. Early Track copies came with a six-fold poster of an upside down conehead character with butterfly wings on brown panels over a checkered background. “I Can See for Miles” was the album’s only single outside Japan, where “Armenia City in the Sky” appeared on a Polydor 7″ (b/w “Mary-Anne with the Shaky Hand”).

1968: Singles

“Call Me Lightning”

On March 16, 1968, The Who released “Call Me Lightning,” an uptempo surf-rocker with searing psych guitar and a damp bass solo. Its lyrics concern a sly guy with the confidence to approach any girl he fancies. To show his friends “why they call [him] lightning,” he chats up a girl on the dance floor and wows her with talk of his shiny XK-E (the Jaguar E-Type, a sixties British sports car). The song consists of two chords (E→A, later modulated to G→C) with four downbeats per bar. Each line of lyrics is followed by a harmonized “dum dum dum doo day” vocable.

“Call Me Lightning” has a video in which Pete, John, and Roger have sips of tea, then unbox a life-size wind-up toy figure (Keith) who escapes their bounds. A Benny Hill-style chase ensues through an abandoned factory.

Entwistle wrote the b-side, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” a comedic horror-psych number inspired by the 1886 gothic novella by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. It opens with a stark, semi-tone chordal shift where John twice cries out “Hyde,” extending the vowels as the song lands on a thundering C major. Roger, in the character of Dr. Jekyll, wonders about the disappearance of his money (first verse) but acknowledges the effects of his potion (second verse) and warns in the third verse “Whenever you’re with me make sure it’s still me; I’ve got to the stage I can’t tell which I’ll be.” Musically, the song persists in nervous 3/4 time with a pensive three-chord progression (EEE–CCC–BBB–E…) amid echoing tremors and irregular downbeats.

“Call Me Lightning” appeared as an a-side in North America, Oceania, Japan, and multiple European territories, but not the UK. It reached the Top 30 in the US, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. Lambert produced both sides of the single in January 1968 at IBC.

Between the single’s completion and release, The Who embarked on a package tour of Australia with Small Faces (performing material from There Are But Four Small Faces) and ex-Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones. The Who performed two shows nightly in Brisbane (1/20/68: Festival Hall), Sydney (1/22–23: Sydney Stadium), Melbourne (1/25–26: Festival Hall), and Adelaide (1/27: Centennial Hall). Amid hostile press and hotel vandalism, The Who were arrested after a midair disturbance and banned from the country by Prime Minister John Gorton. They flew to New Zealand for two nightly shows in Auckland (1/29: Town Hall) and Wellington (1/31: Town Hall) — the last of their efforts in this region.

In late February, The Who embarked on a six-week tour of North America, where they played three-straight Bay Area shows with jazzman Cannonball Adderly (2/22: Fillmore Auditorium; 2/23–24: Winterland) and two NYC dates with Buddy Guy and jazz-rock pioneers Free Spirits (4/5–6: Fillmore East).


On June 14, 1968, The Who released “Dogs,” their ninth proper UK a-side. It’s a medium–uptempo pop song about a couple who meet at the dog track and become happy greyhound parents. Daltrey sings in a Cockney accent on this song, which has a three-chord verse (A→B→A→G) with a vocable melody and a harmonized chorus where the man reveals “There was nothing in my life bigger than beer” before becoming a dog person. Moon plays woodblock throughout the piece, which ends on a spoken-word coda with harmonica played by photographer Chris Morphet, a friend of Townshend’s.

“Dogs” appeared as a single on Track (b/w “Call Me Lightning”) and European Polydor (b/w “Circles”). Lambert produced the song on May 22 at Advision Studios. Entwistle later remarked that “Dogs” would have been better suited for the Small Faces, whose Cockney-accented “Lazy Sunday” (from their 1968 concept album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake) bears similar English traits.

The Who embarked on a summer ’68 North American tour, starting with a June 28–29 engagement at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles with Fleetwood Mac and Track labelmates the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. In Detroit, they played the Grande Ballroom (7/13) with the Frost and the Psychedelic Stooges, who eventually shortened their name to The Stooges. The Who also played the Pop Music Festival, a July 18 event at the Rhode Island Auditorium in Providence with Blood Sweat & Tears (then performing Child Is Father to the Man, their only Kooper-led album). On July 24. The Who played the Philadelphia Music Festival at JFK Stadium with Pink Floyd, The Troggs, and Canadian soul-rockers Mandala.

Townshend and Lambert co-produced the June 1968 Track release The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, which spawned the theatrical transatlantic hit “Fire.”

“Magic Bus”

On July 27, 1968, The Who released “Magic Bus,” an acoustic rocker (in A) with crisp open chords over the Bo Diddley beat. Roger sings about the daily ride he takes to see his baby, interjected with the harmonized backing line “Too much, magic bus.” His strong desire to buy the bus (“I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it…”) is rebuffed by the driver (Pete), who snaps back “You caaaan’t have it!” Entwistle sticks to the root note on this song, which features heavy use of maracas and claves. In live performances, the song’s loose mid-section allowed for lengthy jam sequences.

Townshend wrote “Magic Bus” in 1965 during recording sessions for My Generation. His 1966 demo was circulated by The Who’s music publicher, Fabulous Music. This led to a 1967 recording of the song by the Decca pop trio Pudding. Lambert produced the Who version on May 29, 1968, at Advision.

“Magic Bus” appeared on UK Track (b/w “Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”), European Polydor (b/w “Bucket T”), and North American Decca (b/w “Someone’s Coming”). The Decca single reached No. 6 in Canada and No. 10 on the US Cash Box Top 100. “Magic Bus” has since become a Who signature and radio evergreen.

In September 1968, US Decca issued Magic Bus: The Who on Tour, a compilation with the recent hit and stereo versions of two cuts from The Who Sell Out (“I Can’t Reach You,” “Our Love Was, Is”), one from A Quick One (“Run Run Run”), and mono versions of assorted non-album tracks, including two from Read Steady Who (“Disguises,” “Bucket T”) and the standalone sides “Pictures of Lily,” “Doctor, Doctor,” “Someone’s Coming,” “Call Me Lightning,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

Despite the title, Magic Bus: The Who on Tour contains no live material. The compilation is housed in a single sleeve that shows John, Roger, and Pete hanging from the outside of a double-deck tour bus with hippie floral art. Keith is seen through the window of the open door from which John straddles outward.

The Who toured the UK during the final three months of 1968. On October 5, they played the Roundhouse with Blossom Toes and The Fox, a shortplayer psych act with original Yardbirds guitarist Top Topham. On the 18th, The Who played an all-nighter at London’s Lyceum with CWoAB, the Alan Bown Set, Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera, Skip Bifferty, and folk newcomers Strawbs.

In November, The Who headlined multi-act bills with CWoAB, Small Faces, Joe Cocker, and the Mindbenders. Select dates featured newcomers Yes and Tea and Symphony (11/16: Middle Earth, London) and Free (11/17: Birmingham Theatre).

On December 11, 1968, The Who performed at Intertel Television Studios, Wembley, as part of the Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, a multi-act event filmed on a makeshift circus stage for an intended BBC broadcast. The show — which also featured sets by Marianne Faithful, American bluesman Taj Mahal, and newcomers Jethro Tull — went unaired due to the Stones’ dissatisfaction with their performance.

The Who also performed at ORTF Studios in Paris for the December 31 French TV broadcast “Surprise Partie,” which also featured sets by Small Faces, Booker T and the MGs, Pink Floyd, The Troggs, The Equals, Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, and local beatsters Les Variations.

Meanwhile, Townshend took to the teachings of Indian spiritual master Meher Baba, whose message of love and introspection inspired the concept for the upcoming Who album. This would be a four-sided rock opera: a format that — since The Who’s recent mini-operas — had spawned 1967/68 full-album works by Nirvana (The Story of Simon Simopath), The Pretty Things (S.F. Sorrow), and The Twilights (Once Upon a Twilight).

1969: Rock Opera, Tour, Woodstock


The Who released their fourth album, Tommy, on May 17, 1969, on Track and Decca. It chronicles the journey of Tommy, a psychosomatically disabled boy who excels at pinball and achieves guru status.

According to a plot synopsis that followed the album’s release, British Army Captain Walker went missing during WWI. Back home, Mrs. Walker gives birth to their son. Captain Walker unexpectedly returns only to catch his wife with another lover, who the irate Captain shoots in front of his young son. Mrs. Walker convinces the boy that he didn’t see or hear what happened. Tommy goes deaf, dumb, and blind and relies on his inner-psyche for senses.

Tommy’s parents — weary of his handicaps and inability to comprehend religion — leave him in the hands of abusive relatives (Cousin Kevin, Uncle Ernie) and the Hawker, a fraudulent doctor whose wife, the Acid Queen, introduces Tommy to LSD. As a teenager, Tommy’s heightened sense of vibration allows him to master pinball. His parents suspect his disabilities are psychosomatic rather than physical and place him in front of a mirror, where he stares endlessly at his reflection. When Mrs. Walker smashes the mirror, Tommy regains his senses and starts a spiritual movement.

Tommy leads his followers to a religious camp, but they soon abandon his teachings. Dejected, Tommy takes solace in self-reflection.

At 74:44, Tommy consists of twenty-four numbers — three instrumentals, fourteen proper songs, and seven interlude tracks — across four sides.

Overture” — Instrumental. Entrance chords, followed by two main themes: “See Me, Feel Me” and “We’re Not Going to Take It.” Vocable variation of “See Me” theme, followed by “Listening to You.” Horn variation of “We’re Not Going to Take It,” followed by “Pinball Wizard” strum, which leads to…

It’s a Boy” — Finger-picking acoustic number (in D) with outline of Mrs. Walker’s predicament, followed by a folksy guitar solo and the gender reveal.

1921” — “Overture”-like entrance. Townshend vocals. Jangly verses that anticipate 1921. An argument ensues over which two adults will enjoy ’21 (the fatal struggle is lyrically ambiguous). The harmonized bridge (“You didn’t hear it, You didn’t see it, You won’t say nothing to no-one”) is the part where Tommy goes deaf, dumb, and blind.

Amazing Journey” — Drop chords (C→G.. A→E.. D→A..) with backward claves. Lyrics detail Tommy’s imagination and enhanced inner-senses. Picks up with windy acoustic strum, crisp bass and hyperactive drum fills.

Sparks” — E major strum with winding sound. Backward effects. Shift to B heralds the theme to “Rael (Pt. 2)” from The Who Sell Out, which starts in its original key (D), then modulates to B before the song crests in G.

The Hawker” — Jangly chordal sustain (in E), then plucked, staccato figure (in G minor) with pounding timpani. The hookline (“You talk about your woman, I wish you could see mine”), references the quack doctor’s drug-peddling wife, the Acid Queen, who he claims can give eyesight to the blind.

Christmas” — Harmonized two-chord verse (“ooos” followed by laughter behind Roger’s vocals). Talks of the boy’s inability to understand the Christmas ceremony (“Tommy doesn’t know what day it is”) and its religious meaning (“How can he be saved?”). Townshend’s terse, repeated utterance of “Tommy can you hear me?” (in G minor) is followed by the first vocal appearance of the “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” theme.

Cousin Kevin” — Staccato, two-note figure (I-II-I-II..) over shifting root note (G…F#…). Soft harmonized verses that slowly reveal the true nature of Kevin, a self-proclaimed school bully, who wants to tie Tommy to a chair and duck his head underwater. Backward cymbals over pensive open-cadence bridge.

The Acid Queen” — Townshend vocals over staccato guitar descent and deep bass. The Hawker’s wife claims she can mend Tommy’s aching heart and make him a man, but also break his heart and tear his soul apart. She wants him for one night, then another.

Underture” (10:04) — Opens on variation of “Rael (pt. 2)” theme (in C) with acoustic guitar and cymbal spray. Swells with drums and rattling tambourine on the eight-note bridge. A full exploration of the theme’s nuances with modulations and alternating loud–soft passages.

Do You Think It’s Alright?” — Interlude where the parents debate whether they should leave Tommy with his iffy uncle Ernie.

Fiddle About” — Music hall number with French horn. Tommy is now in the care of Ernie, who brags “You won’t shout as I fiddle about.”

Pinball Wizard” — Uptempo rocker (in B, hammered thirds) with brisk acoustic strumming and raunchy electric power chords. Witnesses marvel at how “that deaf, dumb, and blind kid.. sure plays a mean pinball.” The reigning wizard hands his pinball crown to Tommy. Modulates to C# on final verse. Electric picking fadeout.

There’s a Doctor” — Piano-thumping music hall interlude about a nearby doctor.

Go to the Mirror!” — Three-chord riff (FFFFF…C→B) with the doctor’s diagnosis: Tommy is unreceptive but his pupils dilate under light. Townshend sings the second vocal occurrence of the “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” theme. Second verse→theme repeat→third verse. The doctor orders Tommy to “Go to the mirror, boy!” Expressing wonder over what is happening in Tommy’s head, the band sings the first vocal occurrence of “Listening to You.”

Tommy Can You Hear Me?” — Acoustic harmony interlude, descending from G major (hammered thirds), landing on D for repetitions of the boy’s name.

Smash the Mirror” — Blues rock interlude with pile-driving drums and belted vocals. After “rise… rise… rise…” bridge, Mrs. Walker smashes the mirror in front of Tommy.

Sensation” — Flowing track (in D) with crisp acoustic guitar, Townshend vocals, and French horn refrain (in descending C). Tommy recovers his senses and feels overwhelmed by the newfound sensations. He uses his pre-established fame and his miracle cure to marshal followers.

Miracle Cure” — News alert about Tommy’s restored ability to see, hear, and speak.

Sally Simpson” — Finger-picking folk tune with barroom piano about Tommy’s groupie. Despite her and Tommy being “worlds apart,” she runs away from home to meet him at a worship event. She rushes the stage during his sermon but a guard throws her off and she lands on her face, requiring sixteen stitches. Tommy, surrounded by stage lights, only knows that the “crowd went crazy.” Years onward, the scar on her cheek reminds her of Tommy’s smile.

I’m Free” — Syncopated uptempo guitar–piano number with ascending pattern (EE→GG→AAA) that modulates a step (to F#). Soft airy vocals start on the chorus, intercut by windy, harmonized refrains (“And I’m waiting for you to follow me”). Only one verse (“no one had the guts to leave the temple”). Crests in D for acoustic fingerpicked middle-eight. Coda: “How can we follow” over reprised “Pinball Wizard” strum.

Welcome” — Acoustic ballad in 3/4 (in G). “Come to this house” is an invitation for new commune members. Brisk 6/4 pattern (in E). Tense passage (“There’s more at the door”) indicates the Walker home is getting overcrowded with Tommy’s devotees.

Tommy’s Holiday Camp” — Vaudeville interlude with circus organ theme.

We’re Not Gonna Take It” — Flowing intro (in G) opens with “Welcome to the camp.” Tommy lays the commune ground rules (“You’ve got to play pinball”). Followers start whispering “We’re not going to take it.” They open up about their opposition (“Going to break it, going to shake it..”). Tommy continues to preach the gospel (“Here comes uncle Ernie to guide you to your very own machine”). Followers restate “We’re not gonna take it,” then add “We forsake you, going to rape you, let’s forget you better still.” Abandoned by his followers, Tommy sings “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” four times over a slow, soft piano–vocable backdrop. The full band harmonizes the “Listening to you” lyrics over a flowing, ascending open cadence with splashing cymbals and swelling organ.

The Who started work on Tommy on September 19, 1968, at IBC. The album initially had no central plot or finalized name. After several working titles (Amazing Journey, Journey into Space, The Brain Opera) Townshend settled on Tommy because it was a common British name. The album’s plot grew out of “Amazing Journey,” a summary number. Lambert wrote a script, Tommy (1914–1984), which brought focus to the project, which evolved into a double-album with an overture and narrative numbers. Sessions wrapped on March 7, 1969.

Tommy features Townshend on the Gibson J-200 acoustic and the Gibson SG solid-body electric. He also plays organ and piano: two instruments he recently learned that broadened his compositional syntax. Lambert produced Tommy, which Lyon-Shaw engineered in succession with titles by Pentangle and The Factory.

Tommy is housed in a tri-fold cover that depicts a spherical mesh of blue sky and seagulls, inter-cut with black space. The sphere fades into the dark, where seagulls swarm the edges and a fist punches out through the dark void. The inner triptych depicts a hand reaching up at vintage wall lights (left) on a wall that turns dark (center). The hand reappears in the dark before a seagull-flanked set of stain-glass windows (right). Original copies contain a twelve-page booklet with lyrics and a visual libretto of the blind boy’s impressions, which include images of obscured reflections, cracked silhouettes and magicians in the dark.

The artwork, by illustrator Mike McInnerney, is a visual representation of Tommy’s sense of the world. McInnerney, a fellow follower of Meher Baba, noticed the guru’s influence on the Tommy concept. At Polydor’s insistence, images of the four Who members were added to the black holes on the front cover. Later CD issues omit this detail. McInnerney also did the artwork to Breathe Awhile, the 1969 singular album by Arcadium.

Tommy reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200. The album spawned three singles: “Pinball Wizard” (b/w “Dogs (Part Two)”), “I’m Free” (b/w “We’re Not Gonna Take It”), and “See Me, Feel Me” (b/w “Overture”). The non-album “Dogs (Part Two)” is a Moon number.

“Pinball Wizard” reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart. The seven-minute “We’re Not Gonna Take It” — which includes the “See Me, Feel Me” and “Listening to You” passages — reached No. 2 on the Dutch Singles Chart as an unconventional epic single. Both songs reached the Billboard Top 20 and remain evergreens of American FM radio.

Tommy Tour

The Who made sporadic appearances on the UK club circuit in the winter–spring of 1969 as sessions wrapped on Tommy. On April 2, they headlined the Rag Ball at the Pavilion Ballrooms in Bournemouth, supported by the Third Ear Band. Meanwhile, Townshend helped Speedy King assemble Thunderclap Newman, which signed with Track and cut their first single, “Something In the Air.” Townshend, under the pseudonym Bijou Drains, produced and played bass on the single and their ensuing album, Hollywood Dream.

After a round of warm-up shows in Scotland, The Who played a private showcase of Tommy before invited press at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on May 1 and 2, 1969. The Who performed Tommy a total of 187 times over the next nineteen months across North America and Europe. Daltrey now sported long, curly hair and open fringe jackets.

The Who launched the first leg of the Tommy tour with a three-night engagement (May 9–11) at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. They performed three-fourths of the album, omitting “Overture,” “Cousin Kevin,” “Underture,” “Sensation,” “Sally Simpson,” and “Welcome.” Their setlist also included “Happy Jack,” “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” “My Generation,” “Magic Bus,” plus “Summertime Blues,” and the Mose Allison standard “Young Man Blues.” Performances of “My Generation” often broke into lengthy jam sections where they interpolated themes from Tommy.

The first North American leg covered Toronto and eleven US cities with multi-night engagements in Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. They played twenty-four dates total with two nightly shows in NYC and SF. Opening acts included Led Zeppelin (5/25/69: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Md.), Buddy Rich & His Orchestra (5/29–31: Kinetic Playground, Chicago), Bonzo Dog Band (6/13: Palladium, Hollywood), and Woody Herman (6/17–19: Fillmore West).

The Who commenced the second leg of Tommy at London’s Royal Albert Hall, where they played two shows on July 5 as part of a running event dubbed Pop Proms 2. They covered nine UK cities through August 9, culminating with an appearance at Plumpton Racecourse as part of the 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival, which also featured sets by Aynsley Dunbar, Blodwyn Pig, Chicken Shack, Circus, East of Eden, Fat Mattress, Groundhogs, Hard Meat, The Idle Race, Jigsaw, Keef Hartley Band, Keith Tippett, Magna Carta, The Nice, Pentangle, Roy Harper, Soft Machine, Steamhammer, and Wallace Collection. A breakout act that weekend was King Crimson, whose debut album (In the Court of the Crimson King) Townshend declared “an uncanny masterpiece” in his advance review.

The Who paused the tour and flew to New York state, where they appeared at Max Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel: the site of the Woodstock Festival, a four-day event with thirty-two acts, including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Incredible String Band, Mountain, Quill, Santana, and Ten Years After. The Who took the stage at 5:00 am on August 17, between sets by Sly & the Family Stone and the Jefferson Airplane. They were briefly interrupted by Yippie activist Abby Hoffman, who ranted about imprisoned poet and MC5 manager John Sinclair before Townshend booted him off stage.

The Who resumed their UK tour with seven further dates, including an August 30 appearance at the second annual Isle of Wight Festival, which also featured sets by the Battered Ornaments, Blonde on Blonde, Edgar Broughton Band, Eclection, Family, Gary Farr, Free, Gypsy, Heaven, Marsha Hunt, Marsupilami, Mighty Baby, The Moody Blues, and numerous acts from the Plumpton event. The Who wrapped leg two of Tommy on September 29 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

On October 5, The Who launched the third leg of the Tommy tour with thirty North American stops, including shows in Boston with The Flock (10/10: Commonwealth Armory) and Tony Williams Lifetime (11/11–12: The Boston Tea Party). On October 31, The Who played Chicago’s Kinetic Playground with The Kinks, who performed material from their newly released rock opera Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). The Kinks had just overcome a musician’s union ban that prevented them from touring the states.

The Who commenced the fourth leg of Tommy on December 4 at the Hippodrome in Bristol. They played five shows that month, breaking for the holidays after a Dec. 9 set at City Hall in Newcastle.

1970: New Material, Live Album, Tommy Shows

“The Seeker”

On March 21, 1970, The Who released “The Seeker,” a mid-tempo hard rocker (in A) with ironic lyrics about a ruthless, insatiable character. As he copes with misanthropy (“People tend to hate me ’cause I never smile; as I ransack their homes, they want to shake my hand”) and disillusionment (“I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked The Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary, but he couldn’t help me either”), he concludes that satisfaction equals death: a sentiment stated in a two-chord crescendo (“I won’t get to get what I’m after, till the day I die”).

The Who recorded and self-produced “The Seeker” in January 1970 at IBC. It features piano by Nicky Hopkins, who played on the Rolling Stones’ recent album Let It Bleed. Daltrey wrote the b-side, “Here for More,” a rustic-rock song about freewheeling that opens with strummed acoustic power chords and precedes with finger-picked, countryfied verses (in B).

“The Seeker” went Top 20 in the UK, Netherlands, Austria, and Germany. The Who performed it sporadically during 1970. Between the single’s completion and release, they resumed Tommy performances on the Continent with January shows in Paris, Copenhagen, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, and Amsterdam.

Townshend included a demo version of “The Seeker” on Happy Birthday, a tribute album to his recently deceased guru Meher Baba (1894–1969). The album features raw acoustic demos of the Baba-inspired numbers “Content,” “Mary Jane,” “The Love Man,” “Begin the Beguine,” and “Evolution,” a bluegrass duet with Small Faces co-leader Ronnie Lane. Happy Birthday appeared in a limited quantity (roughly 2.5k copies) in February 1970 on Pete’s Universal Spiritual League imprint.

Live at Leeds

The Who continued their fourth leg of Tommy with mid-February shows in Leeds (2/14/70: Leeds University Refectory) and Kingston upon Hull (2/15: City Hall). Their setlist now included “Overture,” “Sally Simpson,” and a new Entwistle number, “Heaven and Hell.” They also performed covers of Allen Toussaint (“Fortune Teller,” covered earlier by The Rolling Stones) and early UK rockers Johnny Kidd & the Pirates (“Shaking All Over,” a 1965 North American hit for Canadian rockers The Guess Who).

The tour resumed on April 18 in Leicester. May stops included dates with Jan Dukes de Grey (5/9: Manchester University) and Quintessence (5/15: Lancaster University). The Who wrapped leg four of Tommy on May 16 at Derwent College in York.

On May 23, 1970, The Who released Live at Leeds, a 37:43 document of their February 14 show at Leeds Uni. Side one (15:06) contains “Substitute” and three covers (“Summertime Blues,” “Young Man Blues,” “Shakin’ All Over”). Side two (22:37) features elongated renditions of “My Generation” (14:47) and “Magic Bus” (7:50). The performance is characterized by thundering volume; achieved by the band’s Hiwatt CP-103 amplification system.

Live at Leeds appeared on Track (UK), Polydor (Europe, Oceania), and Decca (North America). Original copies appear in a stamped manila fold-out cover designed to resemble a bootleg. The inner-spread contains two folders: one with the record and one with assorted mementos, including a 1965 promo photo and hand-written lyric sheets for select songs. In 1980, MCA reissued the album in a conventional sleeve. Later CD versions restore the entire Leeds show with “Heaven and Hell,” all of Tommy, and select earlier staples (“A Quick One,” “Happy Jack,” “Tattoo,” “I Can’t Explain”).

Live at Leeds reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200. “Summertime Blues” was lifted as a single, backed with the otherwise unavailable “Heaven and Hell.”

The Who embarked on their fifth leg of Tommy with a third round of US dates, starting with an afternoon and evening show on June 7 at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House. On June 9, they played Denver’s Mammoth Gardens with Sugarloaf, then in the chart with “Green Eyed Lady.” After a round of dates in California and Texas, they played the Philly Spectrum with the James Gang, an Ohio powertrio that befriended The Who. The two acts did further double-bills that summer, including a July 5 show at Detriot’s Cobo Hall where the James Gang played material from their just-released second album Rides Again. The fifth leg wrapped on June 7 at the Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., where The Who appeared with It’s a Beautiful Day and Jethro Tull, who performed songs from their recent third album Benefit.

The sixth and final leg of Tommy commenced on July 25 at Dunstable Civic Hall. The Who did seven Continental dates and twenty-five shows across the UK, including the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, which also featured sets by Black Widow, Cactus, Chicago, Donovan, Fairfield Parlour, Gracious!, Hawkwind, Lighthouse, Miles Davis, Pink Fairies, Procol Harum, Spirit, Supertramp, T2, Taste, Terry Reid, and The Voices of East Harlem. The Who appeared on day four (Saturday the 29th) along with The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Phillips, and Emerson Lake & Palmer, who did their second-ever performance that day.

The Who’s set — later released on the Columbia–Legacy CD Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 — included three new songs: “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” “Water,” and “Naked Eye,” a song that evolved from the improvised jams during “My Generation.” That summer, The Who recorded all three songs for an intended EP with two additional numbers: “Postcard” and “Now I’m a Farmer.” The live rendition of “Water” is an extended version (10:53) of the six-minute studio track: a loose, riff-laden jam (in F#) with pauses, solos, climactic velocity, and vocal caterwauling by Daltrey, whose style had shifted from his mannered sixties croon to the raspier tone of subsequent work.

The Who did their final performance of the Tommy tour on December 20, 1970, at the Roundhouse. After nearly 200 performances, they intended to retire Tommy from the road and pass it onto other mediums, including a proposed film adaptation. However, Townshend rejected Lambert’s Tommy script. As that project went on hold, Pete started work on a new concept inspired by the euphoria he witnessed among Tommy concert attendees.

Meanwhile, Moon appeared in Frank Zappa‘s surreal musical film 200 Motels and John Entwistle recorded his debut solo album, Smash Your Head Against the Wall, released in May 1971 on Track. John plays keyboards, flugelhorn, trumpet, and trombone in addition to bass on the album, which features his version of “Heaven and Hell” and eight further numbers, including “Pick Me Up (Big Chicken),” “You’re Mine,” and “What Are We Doing Here?” The guitarist, Dave “Cyrano” Langston, was a Who roadie who later worked as a soundman for Three Man Army and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Moon plays Latin percussion on “No. 29 (External Youth)” along with members of the Bonzo Dog Band.

1971: Lifehouse, Who’s Next


Townshend’s new work involved an interactive concert where synthesizers would read the biographical data of audience members. This data would translate to musical vibrations, which would form a universal cord (the One Note) that would send each attendee into an eternal state of out-of-body euphoria.

The story takes place in the distant future where rock music has been memory holed and pollution has confined most of the world’s population indoors, where people dawn lifesuits that connect to a central Grid (controlled by Jumbo). Lifesuits simulate all forms of human experience with a combination of body sensors and feeding tubes.

Bobby, a character who rediscovers 20th century rock music, hacks into the Grid and announces his rediscover to the world. (Bobby was the concept’s initial working title.) He creates the Lifehouse, a concert hall where attendees can shed their lifesuits and feed their vibrations into the music, which will then create the One Note that will transport everyone to a metaphysical higher existence.

The Lifehouse story is told through the eyes of Ray, a patriarch who cultivates food for the lifesuited masses from a farm in Northern Scotland, outside the pollution’s range. His daughter, Mary, runs away to attend the concert. Ray sets out in search of his missing daughter but encounters his younger self, Rayboy.

The concert takes place at the Lifehouse, where thousands attend and millions more tune in via lifesuits. Attendees enter their vital signs into the concert machines, which turn the vibrations into musical notes that create songs. Just as everyone’s vitals are read, Jumbo’s forces descend on the Lifehouse to stop the concert and kill Bobby. However, everyone has already disappeared — presumably having vanished to an eternal life of One Note euphoria.

Townshend wrote about twenty songs for the Lifehouse project between late 1970 and early 1971, starting with “Pure and Easy,” which lays out the One Note principle. Unlike Tommy, which presented a song-by-song narrative, Lifehouse would have individual pieces that would each invoke fragments of the story, which would then be elucidated by an accompanying movie.

Overall, Lifehouse was planned as a double-album rock opera, a movie, and an interactive concert. The movie would have plot-driven content of the Ray, Mary, and Bobby characters interspersed with actual Who concert footage from a series of Lifehouse concerts. Townshend’s ideas were inspired by Meher Baba, who claimed to be an avatar of Brahman; and Sufi musician Inayat Khan (1882–1927), who spoke of correlations between human souls, physical vibrations, and musical sounds.

On January 4, 1971, The Who held a concert at the Young Vic Theatre in London, where they intended to create music with the audience, whose vitals — when entered into Townshend’s new VCS3 and ARP synthesizers — would generate tones that would add to the songs in progress. They booked Vic for an ongoing series of Lifehouse interactive concerts on February 14–15, 22, and March 1 before exclusive audiences of press and fan club members.

Lifehouse proved untenable on multiple fronts. The Who couldn’t make ongoing use of the Vic, which had other pre-booked events. Attendees, desiring the band’s standard live routine, were unresponsive to the interactive feature. Daltrey and Entwistle couldn’t quite fathom the Lifehouse concept; John believed the plan was for the Who and their audience to live as a commune at the Vic. Plot features like the Grid (a precursor to the internet), lifesuits (a precursor to virtual reality), and people living their lives entirely indoors (a foreshadow of COVID lockdowns) were unimaginable in 1971.

Lambert — who typically explained Pete’s concepts and mediated confusion between the other parties involved — was away in New York as the project got underway. Townshend’s inability to communicate the concept to those around him led him to the brink of a nervous breakdown.

The Who decided to scrap Lifehouse as a multi-media project and focus on the proposed double-album, which had a side devoted to each main character.

Side 1 (Ray’s story) — “Teenage Wasteland” (a ballad inspired by the littered grounds of Woodstock), “Going Mobile” (about freewheeling, off-the-Grid mobile life), “Baba O’Riley” (a rocker that grew from the chorus line of “Teenage Wasteland”), “Love Ain’t for Keeping” (a country-rock ballad about living for the moment), and “Time Is Passing.”

Side 2 (Mary/Jumbo’s story) — “Bargain” (an epic rocker about spiritual devotion with the Baba quote “I’d gladly lose me to find you”), “Behind Blue Eyes” (Jumbo’s theme, a two-part song about his public scorn and high self-image), “Too Much of Anything,” “Greyhound Girl,” and “Mary” (both Townshend demos).

Side 3 (Bobby’s story) — “Getting in Tune” (about the difficulties of balancing rock stardom with spirituality), “I Don’t Even Know Myself,”  “Pure and Easy,” and “Let’s See Action (Nothing is Everything).”

Side 4 (The Lifehouse Concert) — “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (a rock anthem that rebukes the power of revolution with the line “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss”) and “The Song Is Over” (a piano-laden power ballad with the triumphant line “I sing my song to the free”).

Lambert summoned The Who to New York’s Record Plant Studios, where they recorded songs for their proposed album with added musicianship by organist Al Kooper, Mountain guitarist Leslie West, and jazz pianist Ken Ascher. James Gang frontman Joe Walsh gifted Townshend with a 1959 Gretsch Chet Atkins guitar, Pete’s instrument of choice on the ensuing album.

The Record Plant sessions proved troublesome as relations soured between Townshend and Lambert. The Who returned to England for two further Vic showcases on April 26 and May 5. They entered Olympic Studios in Barns with producer–engineer Glyn Johns to rerecord their upcoming album. At Johns’ encouragement, they trimmed the project to a single album, omitting “Teenage Wasteland,” “Time Is Passing,” “Too Much of Anything,” “Greyhound Girl,” “Mary,” “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” “Pure and Easy,” and “Let’s See Action (Nothing is Everything).”

After the Olympic sessions wrapped in June, The Who played seven July UK shows and flew stateside for a twelve-city tour, starting with shows on the 29th and 31st at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in New York City. 

Who’s Next

The Who released their fifth studio album, Who’s Next, on August 14, 1971, on Track and Decca. It features eight songs from the aborted Lifehouse project: “Baba O’Riley,” “Bargain,” “Love Ain’t for Keeping,” “The Song Is Over,” “Getting in Tune,” “Going Mobile,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Entwistle’s “My Wife,” an unrelated number intended for his next solo album, was added to the tracklist late in the sessions.

“Baba O’Riley” opens with an arpeggiated ostinato created with a looped marimba effect on the Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ — a modal movement inspired by A Rainbow In Curved Air, a pioneering electronic work by American minimalist composer Terry Riley. The song’s title combines the surnames of Meher Baba and Riley. At Moon’s suggestion, The Who invited East of Eden violinist Dave Arbus to play the climactic solo.

Entwistle handles piano and brass in addition to bass and vocals on “My Wife,” an exaggerated account of a recent domestic argument. Townshend sings lead on “Going Mobile.” Both songs were recorded by Pete, John, and Keith as a powertrio, minus Daltrey. Hopkins plays guest piano on “The Song Is Over” and “Getting in Tune.”

Johns co-produced and engineered Who’s Next in succession with albums by Ben Sidran, Boz Scaggs, Faces, Humble Pie, and McGuinness Flint. Rock photographer Ethan Russell photographed the album’s cover, which shows the Who spread about beside a urine-marked monolith on a spoil heap in Easington Colliery. The back cover shows the disheveled group slumped at a table in a ransacked backstage room inside De Montfort Hall in Leicester. Russell’s photography also appears on albums by Spooky Tooth (Spooky Two), Mary Hopkin, Jonathan Kelly, and the Beatles swan song Let It Be.

A single edit (3:36) of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” appeared in the UK six weeks before Who’s Next, backed with the non-album Lifehouse track “I Don’t Even Know Myself.” It reached No. 9 on both the UK Singles Chart and the US Cash Box Top 100. “Baba O’Riley” (b/w “My Wife”) and “Behind Blue Eyes” (b/w “Going Mobile”) were also issued as singles. The three a-sides, along with “Bargain,” remain evergreens of American FM radio.

Who’s Next reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, No. 2 on the French and Dutch charts, No. 3 in Denmark, No. 6 in Norway, and No. 9 in Finland. In North America, it reached No. 5 in Canada and No. 4 on the Billboard 200 in the US, where the album has been certified triple-Platinum by the RIAA.

“Let’s See Action”

The release of Who’s Next coincided with an August 1971 US tour that covered eleven cities in the Northeast and Midwest, including two-nighters in Boston (8/4–7/71: Music Hall) and Chicago (8/17–19: Auditorium Theater).

On September 18, The Who appeared at the Oval cricket ground in South London as part of “Goodbye to Summer: a rock concert in aid of famine relief of Bangla Desh.” The event — which also featured sets by Faces, Mott the Hoople, America, Lindisfarne, and Quintessence — was an English response to the prior month’s Concert for Bangladesh, a charitable event at Madison Square Garden arranged by George Harrison. Moon attended the Madison event’s after-party, where he demolished a drum kit that belonged to Mike Gibbins of Badfinger.

On October 15, 1971, The Who released “Let’s See Action,” a barroom piano-pop song (in C#) with shouted chorus lines (by Roger) and a reflective, acoustic middle (sung by Pete) with soul-searching lyrics. Johns co-produced this recording during the Who’s Next sessions. Townshend’s lengthier Lifeshouse demo of the song, titled “Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action),” would appear on his first solo album.

The single’s Entwistle b-side, “When I Was a Boy,” opens with a descending, horn-laden piano motif (in C) and bursts into a gruff mid-tempo rock arrangement with unrestrained drumming. The lyrics deal with adult reflection on lost youth and inaction regret. “Let’s See Action” reached No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart.

The Who embarked on a fifteen-city tour of the UK, starting on September 28 at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and climaxing with a three-nighter at London’s Rainbow (November 4–6), followed by a Nov. 9 show at Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow.

In late October, Track–Polydor issued Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, a compilation of The Who’s popular 1965–70 single a-sides, plus the Entwistle signature “Boris the Spider.” The comp is titled after the four members: Meaty (Roger, who was fit), Beaty (Keith, the wild drummer), Big (John, because of his stature), and Bouncy (Pete, the acrobatic performer). The cover, by photographer Graham Hughes (Daltrey’s cousin), shows the modern-day Who (in color) peaking out the window of a brick tenement to a vintage monochrome shot of four young boys (child equivalents of the band) posed Our Gang style on the entrance stairway. Meaty Beaty reached No. 9 in the UK and No. 11 on the Billboard 200.

The Who promoted both Who’s Next and Meaty Beaty with a fifteen-city US tour that included two-night stands in Miami (11/25–26: Convention Hall), New Orleans (11/29–30: Warehouse), Denver (12/4–5: Denver Coliseum), and San Francisco (12/12–13: Civic Auditorium). The tour wrapped on December 15, 1971, at the Seattle Center Coliseum.

1972: Singles, Lost Album, Tommy Orchestra

“Join Together”

On June 6, 1972, The Who released “Join Together,” a belted mid-tempo rocker (in F) with a distinct jawharp drone and unity-themed lyrics (“We want you to joiiiiin together with the band”) tied to the Lifehouse concept (specifically, the story’s interactive concert scene). It reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the promo video, the band mime on a soundstage before a TOTP-like audience, which Roger joins for the final verse. Moon and Entwistle take turns miming the jawharp (performed on record by Townshend). The single’s b-side is a December 1971 live cover of “Baby Don’t You Do It,” a 1964 Marvin Gaye hit written by Holland–Dozier–Holland.

Townshend wrote “Join Together” and two additional new Lifehouse-inspired songs, “Relay” and “Put the Money Down,” at Daltrey’s suggestion. They recorded the first two songs in one day (May 22) at Olympic Studios. A backing track was laid for the third, which remained unfinished until 1974.

Meanwhile, John Entwistle recorded his second solo album, Whistle Rymes, another collection of black-humored rock with titles like “Apron Strings,” “I Wonder,” “The Window Shopper,” “I Found Out,” and the horror epic “Nightmare (Please Wake Me Up).” He plays an assortment of instruments (including bass synthesizer) with eight backing players, including Peter Frampton, violinist John Weider (Family, Stud), drummer Rod Coombes (Stealers Wheel), and guitarist Alan Ross.

Rock Is Dead—Long Live Rock!

In May–June 1972, The Who recorded “Long Live Rock,” an uptempo Berry-esque rocker (in A) about showtime hi-jinks, purportedly based on events at London’s Rainbow Theatre. Each chorus counters “Rock is dead, they say” with the titular line. Midway, they slip to despair (“Rock is dead… rock is dead…”) but renew their vigor for a final go-round.

“Long Live Rock” was the intended theme song to Rock Is Dead—Long Live Rock!, a proposed Who album with a biographical arc. Nine songs were earmarked for the album, including the three new Lifehouse numbers and three songs (“Get Inside,” “Riot In the Female Jail,” “Can’t You See I’m Easy”) that Townshend presented as demos. The proposed album was set to accompany a TV documentary on the band’s history. However, they deemed its collective contents too similar to Who’s Next to act as a worthy followup.

“Long Live Rock” went unreleased for the time being but the song is sung by Stormy Tempest, a fictional pre-Beatles rocker played by actual fifties singer Billy Fury in That’ll Be the Day, a 1973 coming-of-age drama starring David Essex and Ringo Starr. Moon appears as JD Clover, Tempest’s drummer.

On August 11, 1972, The Who embarked on a sixteen-city Continental tour in Frankfurt. They played five shows in Germany, including one at the Deutsches Museum in Munich on September 4 — one day before the hostage crisis at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich that ended with the deaths of twelve Israeli athletes. The Who also played two shows each in Denmark, France, and Sweden and a show apiece in Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, and Switzerland. The tour finished on September 14 at the Palasport in Rome, Italy.

Tommy (London Symphony Orchestra album)

In October 1972, Ode Records released Tommy, an arrangement of the 1969 album by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chambre Choir, conducted by David Measham. It presents the opera in an orchestral-rock setting with a variety of vocalists enacting different characters in the story’s plot. Rod Stewart was initially tapped as the main singer but as the project developed his part was confined to one song, “Pinball Wizard.” Assorted Who members appear on half the tracks, which follow the original album’s sequence.

Townshend narrates Tommy, which features Daltrey as Tommy; Maggie Bell (Stone the Crows) as his mother; Graham Bell (no relation — Every Which Way, Bell + Arc) as her lover; Steve Winwood as the missing father; Merry Clayton as the Acid Queen; Entwistle as Cousin Kevin; Ringo Starr as Uncle Ernie; Richard Harris as the Doctor; Richie Havens as the Hawker; and Stewart as the local lad who touts Tommy’s pinball skills. Most of the tracks have one featured vocalist with the Chambre Choir. Daltrey sings “I’m Free,” “Sensation,” “Welcome,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and interacts with Winwood on “Christmas.”

Tommy was produced by Lou Reizner and engineered by Keith Grant with arrangements by Wil Malone, an Orange Bicycle alumnus who later did arrangements on the sci-fi concept album by the Passport Records all-star project Intergalactic Touring Band.

Tommy is housed in an elaborate package designed by Wilkes & Braun Inc. The two-record set comes in a gatefold sleeve, housed inside a box with a 28-page 11″x11″ booklet of color illustrations and photographs, including multiple images with a pinball machine in assorted outdoor settings with a nearby hovering pinball orb. The vertical gatefold depicts a colorful vintage pinball machine for a game named Tommy. The inner-gates show four stainless steel pinballs on a striped surface; two appear as closeups on the box. The booklet’s front and back leaves show two heterochromatic pinball orbs side-by-side — this image is used as the front cover on CD reissues. The artwork won the Grammy for Best Album Package at the 16th Annual Grammy Awards.

Tommy reached No. 4 in Australia and No. 5 on the Billboard 200.

In November 1972, Pete Townshend released Who Came First, his first proper solo album. It features the Lifehouse demos “Pure and Easy” (edit), “Time Is Passing,” and the extended “Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action),” plus two songs from Happy Birthday: “Content” and “Evolution,” a reworked version of “Stone” from the debut Faces album First Step. The album also contains the folksy “Sheritan Gibson” and the epic “Parvardigar,” which appeared months earlier on I Am, a second Baba-tribute album with a contribution from Billy Nicholls, “Forever’s No Time at All,” that also appears here. Townshend plays all the instruments on Who Came First apart from the Lane and Nichols tracks.


On November 25, 1972, The Who released “Relay” on MCA in the US. It’s a mid-tempo funk-rocker (in F) with play–pause drumming and processed Clavinet–wah-wah sounds: achieved on an ARP-2600 through a voltage-control filter. The lyrics concern a call-to-action over the Grid. “Relay” appeared in late December on Track in the UK, where it reached No. 21.

The b-side, “Waspman,” is a Moon-written number with no lyrics apart from garbled titular chants. It’s a three-chord rocker (D#…B–F#) with wailing harmonica and bug noises. Moon conceived the number during a turbulent flight where — after some mile-high shenanigans with the stewardess — he emerged from the bathroom with a bra on his head stating “I’m Wasp Man.” He dedicated the track to fifties instrumental rocker Link Wray.

As “Relay” neared release, John Entwistle recorded his third solo album, Rigor Mortis Sets In, a mix of pre-Beatles rock covers and originals, including a solo rendition of “My Wife.” He’s backed on the album by Ross and keyboardist Tony Ashton (of Ashton, Gardner & Dyke). The album appeared in May 1973 on Track.

1973: Daltrey Solo, Quadrophenia, Tour


In January–February 1973, Roger Daltrey recorded his first solo album at his home studio in Burwash, East Sussex. It features ten songs composed by pianist David Courtney; two with lyrics by fifties teen idol Adam Faith and eight by Leo Sayer, an emerging talent who soon landed his own deal.

Daltrey appeared in April 1973 on Track–MCA with backing by bassist Dave Wintour (IF), steel guitarist BJ Cole (Cochise), and two members of Argent: guitarist Russ Ballard and drummer Bob Henrit. Dave Arbus plays violin on “The Way of the World.” The album spawned three singles: “One Man Band,” “Giving It All Away” (both rerecorded by Sayer on his 1974 second album Just a Boy), and “Thinking,” which has a non-album b-side (“There Is Love”) with guitar by Jimmy Page. Daltrey’s cousin, Graham Hughes, photographed and designed the cover.

Daltrey reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart. “Giving It All Away,” a melodramatic ballad with the poignant chorus “I was just a boy giving it all away…,” reached No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart.

Second Rock Opera

On March 10, 1973, The Who played Pop Gala ’73, a two-day event at Vliegermolen, Voorburg, Netherlands, with sets by Argent, Billy Preston, Colin Blunstone, Chi Coltrane, Rory Gallagher, Slade, Supersister, and Wishbone Ash. The Who appeared as a last-minute replacement for Roxy Music, who were preparing the release of their second album For Your Pleasure.

As progress stalled on the Tommy film or any realization of the Lifehouse concept, Townshend conceived a new rock opera that would stand on its own as a double-album. His new idea stemmed from the biographical aspects of the aborted Long Live Rock album TV documentary. It would relate to The Who’s early history, as seen through the eyes of a young fan with his own personal struggles.

Townshend drew inspiration from one Jack Lyons, an early Who follower on the mid-sixties mod scene. Combining Jack’s character with several other fans, Townshend developed a story about double-schizophrenia: “quadrophenia,” a portmanteau of quadraphonic (the world’s then newly advanced four-channel sound systems) and schizophrenia. Each Who member would be assigned one of the central character’s four personalities. Two completed songs from the aborted 1972 sessions for Rock Is Dead—Long Live Rock! — the twangy, laidback harmony rocker “Is It In My Head?” and the rousing orchestral anthem “Love, Reign o’er Me” — were retained for the new album.


The Who released their sixth studio album, Quadrophenia, on October 23, 1973, on Track and MCA. It features seventeen songs that chronicle the exploits of Jimmy, a Brighton teenager with psychological issues who takes refuge in stimulants and mod culture. As he copes with home tensions and menial labor, disillusionment takes hold when he loses his girlfriend and discovers that his role model (the Ace Face) works as a hotel bell boy. Convinced that his feelings are beyond ordinary madness (schizophrenia), he rides his scooter to a seaside rock for an act of glory. His ultimate fate remains ambiguous.

Quadrophenia is the second of two studio double-albums by The Who and their second completed character-driven “rock opera” after Tommy and the unfinished Lifehouse. Musically, Quadrophenia advances the hi-tech arrangements of the Lifehouse numbers with tighter themes and a more direct narrative with fully realized compositions. Each member has a musical theme assigned to specific vocals tracks. These themes are first woven into the title instrumental and reprised later in “The Rock.”

I Am the Sea” — Ocean waves rescind to sparkling piano, wind, rain, and thunder. John’s French horn sounds Roger’s “Helpless Dancer” theme. Roger sings John’s “Is It Me?” theme (faintly). Keith’s theme, “Bell Boy,” is harmonized in the distance. Roger shouts Pete’s theme: “Looooove! Reign ‘ol me!” Amid swelling waves, Roger asks “Can you see the real me, can you, can you?” — which leads to..

The Real Me” — Choppy power riff (in C#) with sliding, roaming bass. A troubled Jimmy turns to his doctor, then his mother, who both give cold, indifferent replies. He cries out the chorus plea (“Can you see the real me?”) amid roaring volume and avalanche drum rolls. He grows disoriented and paranoid (“Strange people who know me, peeping from behind every window pane”). A girl he once loved now pretends not to know him. Even the preacher can’t offer consolation. The song fades on an echo of the word “,” which leads to…

Quadrophenia” (instrumental) — Piano “Bell Boy” theme over strummed acoustic chords and staccato electric guitar, which carries the “Is It Me?” theme over fluttering synth strings and stormy, cymbal-laden drums. Crests in F as French horn heralds the “Helpless Dancer” theme. The one-note piano motif is overlaid with fluttering synth strings and guitar voicings of the melody. From the smoldering key of F, they rise to A with swelling synth strings, which fade to a tender piano intro of the “Love, Reign o’er Me” theme, accented with lyrical guitar and violin-like synth. Ocean sounds carry out the climax.

Cut My Hair” — Lyrical guitar leads (in C#) amid nimble bass, misty cymbal and light piano. Pete sings about Jimmy’s concerns with hair, fashion, wardrobe, and his place in the mod scene. His mother discovers his “box of blues” (uppers). Roger takes the chorus, about “Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents.” The middle-eight concerns his social misgivings at a dance event. The coda (in A minor) deals with his hangover back at home (“My fried egg makes me sick first thing in the morning”). A news report of mods vs. rockers violence is heard over the airwaves.

The Punk and the Godfather” — Intro: strummed electro–acoustic riff (Am… D… G [open D]…G→Am) and trailing bass (bi-octave root notes). Verse: the punk admonishes the god that people created for not being mighty, compassionate, or transcendent. Bridge: the god declares his omnipotence and owns the charade with smug false prophecy (“I’m the new president, But I grew and I bent, Don’t you know? don’t it show? I’m the punk with the stutter”). Chorus: a garbled, high-pitched, stuttering utterance of “My my my my my mmmm my my my. GGGGG-g-g-g-g generation.” Middle-eight (Pete vocal): the godfather shows humility (“I have to be careful not to preach, I can’t pretend that I can teach”), suffixed with further ruthlessness.

I’m One” — Fingerpicked acoustic folk tune with electric twang (West Coast influence). Jimmy struggles with feelings of futility, redeemed by his sense of belonging within the mod subculture. Open-chord chorus (Fmaj7→D). Rocking second verse and chorus with countrified electric guitar and flowing drum fills.

The Dirty Jobs” — Grand intro (in C) with fanfare synth strings. Soaring account of the working man’s plight (“I am a man who looks after the pigs”) and the conflicts of daily life. Despite the constant setbacks, he declares “I’m not gonna sit and weep again.” Could be Jimmy, his father, or any local bloke; the third verse is clearly Jimmy (“Just like a child, I’ve been seeing only dreams”).

Helpless Dancer” (Roger’s theme) — Drizzling piano (in F), overlaid with French horn theme and briskly strummed acoustic guitar. Lands on a terse, one-note piano figure. Cabaret call-and-response (between Roger in right and left channel). Brecht–Weill influenced number about white working class dispair with caustic observations. His mounting hopelessness crescendoes on the line “You stop dancing.” The song cuts to a nearby dance where “The Kids Are Alright” pipes from the speakers. Roger sings out John’s theme: “Is it me, for a moment…for a moment…for a moment…”

Is It in My Head?” — Laidback acoustic strum (in G) with light piano and droning synth. The narrator makes wry observations about contented individuals who get by in meager surroundings (“I see a man without a problem”). Harmonized chorus (in D). Tense middle-eight (B→F) hints at confusion (“My head is empty, yet every word I say turns out a sentence”).

I’ve Had Enough” — Hurricane drum fills signal power chords (in D). Verse: the Godfather (?) scolds Jimmy (“You got altered information”), who realizes that things are counterintuitive and that he can’t play it safe. Roger’s soaring verses cut to a Pete-sung bridge that reaffirms Jimmy’s mod devotion (“My jacket’s gonna be cut and slim and checked… I ride a G.S. scooter with my hair cut neat”). Cuts to fluttering synth strings (in A minor) for a double-utterance of Roger’s “Love, Reign o’er Me” theme, which blends into a finger-picking bluegrass section (in D) with a litany of “I’ve had enough of” negations. The four sections repeat, climaxing with a scream (“I’ve had enough of trying to LOOOOOOOVE!!!!”)

5:15” — Piano intro with light guitar (in G, falling thirds) reminiscent of “Cut My Hair” with Pete’s “Why should I care” opener, repeated twice but unanswered. Staccato guitar figure leads into a new song proper: a mid-tempo brass rocker (in G) with blaring Entwistle horns and lyrics about “sexually knowing” teenage girls and seductive seats. Barroom piano bridge (in C) about drugs and escapism (“Uppers and downers, either way blood flows”). Chorus (in F): harmonized, ivory-laden moment of reflection (“Inside outside. Leave me alone”). Roger belts Marriott-like ad-libs as Pete takes over with electrified pick-licks. The song concludes with two further utterances of “Why should I care.”

Sea and Sand” — Sea-sound intro and fingerpicked electric figure (in A). Jimmy, thrown out of home, sits by the ocean and dreams of a girl who he knows but hasn’t secured. He still envisions himself as the perfect mod. Pete repeats the bridge from “I’ve Had Enough” (“My jacket’s gonna be cut slim and checked”). The song turns into a powertrio jam with cascading toms, scaling leads and thick, bottom-heavy bass.

Drowned” — Uptempo piano barroom rocker (in C). Roger belts out poetic metaphors that liken the flow of ocean waves to freedom and peace of mind (“Let me be stormy and let me be calm, Let the tide in, and set me free”). This could be Jimmy settling into his oasis. Cymbal spray and tom-tom fills dominate the finger-picked mid-section, which shifts to a grand brass theme (in A). Plays out as a powertrio rock jam.

Bell Boy” (Keith’s theme) — Massive drum rolls herald power chords (in E). Roger sings amid a synth melody (E…C#→DD) with a brisk, pounding undercurrent. Jimmy emerges from the beach and encounters the Ace Face, the mod he idolized. Bridge (in C#): Jimmy confirms the subject’s identity (“Ain’t you the guy who used to set the paces, riding up in front of a hundred faces” — face: a sharp-dressed person of stature in the mod scene). Second verse: semi-step modulation; riff more pronounced; theme resolves with a seven-chord riff (F…D→E…A→B…C→C#). The Ace Face (Keith) describes his menial job as a bell boy in garbled cockney. Calm mid-section in 6/8. Repeat verse→bridge→chorus. Jimmy informs the indifferent Ace Face “I used to follow you back in ’63.”

Doctor Jimmy” (with “Is It Me?”, John’s theme) — Ocean wind sounds; rain, thunder. Crashing theme with fluttering upward synth strings (in A). Uptempo rock verse with cocky lyrical bravado (“I’ll take on anyone, ain’t scared of a bloody nose”). Fanfare bridge with bold statements. Chorus: four-chord Jeckly and Hyde predicament (“He only comes out when I drink my gin”). Second verse: bold sexual claims (as Mr. Jim). Instrumental break (in E): somber variation of theme with cymbal spray. Tender middle; Roger sings John’s theme (“Is it me…for a moment?”) Third verse: vows revenge on the “baboon” who cut up his eye. Third bridge: couplets repeat twice, each separated by a staccato organ break. Final chorus (epic extension), followed by a recap of John’s theme. Instrumental outro: down-shifted theme, crashing drums, fluttering synth strings, drizzling piano, backward cymbal, drone fadeout (in E) blends into…

The Rock” (instrumental) — Opens on “Bell Boy” theme (in E), gradually builds to full seven-chord rock riff. Drum fill subsides for piano introduction of “Is It Me?” — accented with staccato guitar. Semi-tone shift (to F) for a slow, stormy combination of “Bell Boy” and “Helpless Dancer” elements before Roger’s theme takes hold with tight guitar notes over taut piano, soon overlaid with booming martial drums; drops to E with major–minor key variations. “Love, Reign o’er Me” theme commences with violin-like synth strings and bluesy guitar leads. Crests in E. Pete’s theme morphs into ARP recap of Roger’s theme, underlined with seven-chord Keith’s theme. Ends with lightning and rain, leading to…

Love, Reign o’er Me” (Pete’s theme) — Rain, thunder, piano etude. Gong splash, piano drizzle. Three-note piano melody in 3/4 heralds verse. Jimmy embraces the rain and the sea with romantic imagery. Roger croons the verse couplets and belts out the chorus line amid fluttering violin synth strings (in E minor). Middle-eight (in F#): Roger yearns for rain as the antidote to nights “hot and black as ink.” Final chorus ends with scream of “LOOOOOVE!!!” and stormy drum outro.

Quadrophenia is housed in a gatefold with lyrical inner-sleeves and a first-person account of Jimmy’s drug-fueled mod odyssey and slide into madness. At the end, when he comes to the rock, he leaves his fate crouched in ambiguity:

“So that’s why I’m here, the bleeding boat drifted off and I’m stuck here in the pissing rain with my life flashing before me. Only it ain’t flashing, it’s crawling. Slowly. Now it’s just the bare bones of what I am.

A tough guy, a helpless dancer.
A romantic, is it me for a moment?
A bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags.
A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign over me.

Schizophrenic? I’m bleeding Quadrophrenic.”

Sessions for Quadrophenia (barring the earlier recordings “Is It In My Head” and “Love Reign O’er Me”) occurred between May and September 1973 on Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio. Townshend self-produced the album and recorded the ARP 2500 parts at his Goring home studio. He wrote all the music but left space in the demoed arrangements so that other members could add their ideas.

Entwistle plays a Gibson Thunderbird bass on Quadrophenia and arranged the album’s brass parts. Townshend taught himself cello specifically for these sessions. For the ocean sounds, he made field recordings of splashing waves on a Cornish beach. Pianist Chris Stainton of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band plays on “The Dirty Jobs,” “5:15,” and “Drowned.” The engineer, Ron Nevison, encouraged Moon’s expressionist drum style on select tracks.

Quadrophenia contains a 44-page booklet of images that document Jimmy’s story. Townshend cast Brighton spray painter Terry Kennett (23) to pose as Jimmy in the monochrome photo spreads, taken by rock photographer Ethan Russell. The images show Jimmy at key junctures in the story: at home (arguing with his parents), at work (hauling garbage), at play (riding his scooter; engaged in turf wars), and at the scene of the story’s conclusion (the ocean rock). Hughes designed the album’s matte-finish cover, which shows Jimmy starring at the faces of each Who member in his rear-view lights.

Quadrophenia reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart and the Billboard 200. The album was later certified Platinum by the RIAA. It spawned three singles: “The Real Me,” “Love, Reign O’er Me” (b/w “Water”), and the UK Top 20 hit “5.15” (b/w “I’m One”), which preceded the album by four weeks. They performed the song for the October 4 broadcast of Top of the Pops.

Quadrophenia Tour

The Who toured Quadrophenia between late October 1973 and February 1974. To recreate the album’s layered sounds, they used backing tapes, operated by the band’s concert sound engineer Bob Pridden. This proved problematic, as the tapes constrained their playing style and malfunctioned on several occasions. Townshend wanted to include Stainton as a touring fifth-wheel but Daltrey vetoed the idea. They held two rehearsals; one ended early when Roger sucker-punched Pete.

On October 10, The Who played an eight-song set at the Sporthal de Vliegermolen in Voorburg, where they filled in for Roxy Music on a Dutch television broadcast.

The Quadrophenia tour commenced on October 28 at Trentham Gardens in Stoke-on-trent, where an enthralled crowd heard the new album live in quadrophonic surround sound. Due to the use of capos on many numbers, Townshend was forced to switch guitars multiple times. Trouble with the backing tapes forced them to cut “The Dirty Jobs,” “Is It In My Head,” and “I’ve Had Enough” from the setlist.

The tour hit Wolverhampton and Manchester, where The Who did a two-nighter at King’s Hall with Kilburn & the High Roads. Their setlist featured the bulk of Quadrophenia — “I Am the Sea,” “The Real Me,” “The Punk and the Godfather,” “I’m One,” “Helpless Dancer,” “5:15,” “Sea and Sand,” “Drowned,” “Bell Boy,” “Doctor Jimmy,” “The Rock,” and “Love, Reign O’er Me” — plus “I Can’t Explain,” “Summertime Blues,” “My Generation,” “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Naked Eye.”

On November 5, The Who played the first of three consecutive nights at the Newcastle Odeon, where a tape failure during “5:15” sent Townshend into a rage. He assailed Pridden on stage, kicked over an amplifier and threw the backing tapes out into the audience, then stormed off stage. They resumed the show fifteen minutes later with a sequence of old hits. The remaining UK dates — two further Odeon shows and a November 11–13 stand at London’s Lyceum — went by without incident.

The Who played their US premiere of Quadrophenia on November 20, 1973, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. A fan slipped tranquilizers pre-show to a nervous Moon, who passed out during a late-set rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” After a 20-minute pause, he reappeared and the band started “Magic Bus.” Seconds later, Moon fainted a second time and was rushed to a nearby hospital. When Townshend asked if there were any good drummers in the place, nineteen-year-old audience member Scot Halpin volunteered his services. Halpin, an Iowa-bred artist who hadn’t played drums in twelve months, deputized Moon for an impromptu medley of the blues-rock standards “Smokestack Lightning” and “Spoonful,” followed by the show-stopping “Naked Eye.”

The US leg of Quadrophenia resumed in Los Angeles with two nights (November 22–23) at the Forum, where Townshend introduced “I’m One” as a song about disregarding feelings of financial or physical inadequacy. By now, The Who grew accustomed to the backing tapes, which worked as intended for the rest of the tour. Lynyrd Skynyrd, then on their second album, served as the opening act. The Who rounded out November with shows in Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit, where their show at the 12k-capacity Cobo Hall featured an additional two numbers: “My Wife” and the show-closing “Let’s See Action.” Daltrey called Detroit “our home from home in the USA” and dedicated “My Generation” to the city, whose locals he cited as the only American fans to buy the single at the time of its first release.

On December 2, the Who played the Forum in Montreal, Quebec, where they held an after-show party (minus Daltrey) at the Bonaventure Hotel. Amid the festivities, Moon and rowdy crew members smashed a marble table through a wall in the suite and sent furnishings through the window. After the party cleared, a night porter discovered the damage. Moon, Entwistle, and Townshend were arrested along with fourteen members of the Who’s tour entourage. Donald K. Donald, the Forum show promoter, sprung for their bail and paid the $6,000 damage fee.

After twelve hours in jail, The Who were freed by 1:15 pm on December 3 — in time to make that night’s show at Boston Garden. “Helpless Dancer,” with its controversial subject matter, was dropped from the set. The Who wrapped the North American leg of Quadrophenia with shows in Philadelphia (12/4: Spectrum) and Washington DC (12/6: Capitol Centre).

By popular demand, The Who added four December shows (18–19, 22–23) at the Edmonton Sundown in London, where tickets for the 3.5k-capacity shows sold out within hours via mail order. Townshend, who deemed these their finest-ever performances (Quadrophenia or otherwise) described the Edmonton shows in Lifehouse terms when he told a reporter “I felt like one of The ‘Oo… but I also felt like one of the crowd,” (Melody Maker, February 16, 1974).

The Who wrapped the Quadrophenia tour with a February 1974 French leg that covered Cambrai, Paris, Toulouse, Poitiers, Nancy, and Lyon, where the Moon lineup did its last performance of the album on Feb. 24 at the Sports Palais.

1974: Compilation, Solo Work

In May 1974, The Who made select concert appearances in Oxford (5/6/74: New Theatre) and Portsmouth (5/22: Guildhall). On the 18th, they played the Charlton Athletic Football Ground in London as part of a multi-act event that included sets by Lou Reed, Humble Pie, Dave Mason, Lindisfarne, and Bad Company. In June, The Who returned to Madison Square Garden for a pair of two-nighters (10–11 and 13–14).

That spring, filming commenced on a musical adaptation of Tommy with English director Ken Russell, who recently completed Mahler, a biographical drama on Austrian Romantic composer Gustav Mahler, portrayed by English actor Robert Powell. Tommy would co-star English actor Oliver Reed (the co-star of Russell’s 1969 adaptation of the D. H. Lawrence novel Women in Love) and American actress Ann-Margret. David Essex auditioned for the titular role but Daltrey took it at Russell’s suggestion.

Odds & Sods

In October 1974, Track–MCA and Polydor issued Odds & Sods, a compilation of Who rarities spanning ten years: three from 1968 (“Little Billy,” “Faith in Something Bigger,” and the Who Sell Out outtake “Glow Girl”); three from 1970 (“Naked Eye,” “Now I’m a Farmer,” and Entwistle’s “Postcard”); three Lifehouse numbers (“Put the Money Down,” “Too Much of Anything,” “Pure and Easy”), plus “Long Live Rock” and the 1964 High Numbers a-side “I’m the Face.”

Entwistle assembled the tracklist for Odds & Sods, which was originally planned as a double-album. Material slated for the second record included five 1969–73 b-sides (“Dogs Part Two,” “Here for More,” “Heaven and Hell,” “When I Was a Boy,” “Waspman,” “Water”), two 1965 Motown covers (“Leaving Here,” “Baby Don’t You Do It”), two 1964 High Numbers recordings (“Zoot Suit,” “Here ‘Tis”), a further Lifehouse number (“I Don’t Even Know Myself”), a Quadrophenia outtake (the John-sung rocker “We Close Tonight”), a 1969 studio version of “Young Man Blues” and the full-length version of “The Seeker.” The 2020 RSD edition restores the intended four-sided tracklist.

Daltrey designed the Odds & Sods cover, which has a distressed, torn Hughs photo of The Who in red football helmets with the letters R O C K. Original copies contain a foldout poster with a live pic and Townshend’s liner notes on each recording. Odds & Sods reached No. 10 in the UK and No. 5 on the Billboard 200.

Keith and John Solo

In late 1974, while Keith Moon resided in Los Angeles, he recorded Two Sides of the Moon, his only solo album. Sessions took place at Record Plant Studios with an assortment of guests, including Joe Walsh, Jay Ferguson, Danny Kortchmar, Ringo Starr, David Foster, and Bobby Keys. Surf legend Dick Dale plays guitar on Moon’s cover of Ricky Nelson’s “Teen Age Idol.” Beatles associate Mal Evans does horn arrangements on the John Lennon cover “Move Over Ms. L.” David Bowie contributes backing vocals on the leftover track “Real Emotion.” Two Sides of the Moon appeared in March 1975 on MCA–Polydor.

In London, John Entwistle recorded his fourth solo album, Mad Dog, a set of uptempo brassy numbers with Ashton and two former members of Curved Air: guitarist Mike Wedgwood (currently in Caravan) and violinist Eddie Jobson (currently in Roxy Music). Mad Dog, credited to John Entwistle’s Ox, appeared in February 1975. One song, the Entwistle–Ashton “Cell Number 7,” recounts John’s December 1973 imprisonment with Pete and Keith in Montreal.

1975: Film, Solo, New Album, Tour

Tommy (The Motion Picture)

In March 1975, Tommy hit theaters in the UK and US. Daltrey stars in the titular role, a boy who develops enhanced vibration senses and pinball skills after a traumatuc childhood experience renders him deaf, dumb, and blind. Russell produced the film with Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood for the Hemdale Film Corporation.

In the movie, the events in Tommy are moved from the original album’s inner-war setting to The Who’s own lifetime. Tommy Walker is born at the end of World War II to Nora (Margret), an extravagant red-head and Captain Walker (Powell), a missing Royal Air Force pilot presumed dead. Nora takes up with a new man, “Uncle” Frank Hobbs (Reed), and the new family settles into domestic bliss (“1951”). However, Captain Walker reappears and a struggle ensues. In a change from the original plot, Mrs. Walker’s lover (Hobbs) prevails over the Captain. Tommy witnesses the fatal encounter and falls into a mute, deaf, and sightless state.

Years later, Nora and Frank wonder how they can help Tommy, who’s now a handicapped young man. They leave him in the company of unsavory characters: Uncle Ernie (Moon), Cousin Kevin (Paul Nicholas), and the Specialist Dr. A Quackson (Jack Nicholson). In deviations from the original album, the Hawker is replaced by the Preacher (Eric Clapton), who runs a Marilyn Monroe cult. Arthur Brown plays his manic assistant, the Priest. The Acid Queen (Tina Turner) is a prostitute who introduces Tommy to LSD.

Those around him theorize that Tommy’s handicaps are psychological, not physical. Nora places him in front of a mirror, where he stands motionless indefinitely. One day, he wanders off to a pinball match, where the platform-booted Pinball Wizard (Elton John) sings the namesake song: “That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.” Pete, John, and Keith play Elton’s backing band. The televised event lifts Tommy to celebrity status.

Soon after, a frustrated Nora shoves Tommy through the mirror. This snaps him from his mute, sightless state and he runs to the hills. With his senses restored, Tommy forms a religious movement that congregates at the Walker household. He rallies their emotions with concert events but his followers grow frustrated and demand salvation. Tommy renders his flock deaf, dumb, and blind, which sparks a riot that leaves the house burned and Nora and Frank dead. Grief-stricken, Tommy runs to the mountain for his final redemption.

Tommy hit theaters on March 19 (US) and March 26 (UK), distributed by Columbia Pictures. On a budget of $3 million, it grossed $34.3 million at the box office. The soundtrack appeared concurrently on Polydor with new recordings of the material that largely deviate from the original album.

Townshend, Moon, and Entwistle play on fourteen of the album’s thirty-one tracks. Despite their appearance in the “Pinball Wizard” scene, Elton’s own band backs him on the soundtrack recording. Margret and Reed perform the vocals on their numbers in the film, including multiple “Do You Think It’s Alright?” interludes. Daltrey’s first vocal number is the side three opener “Champagne,” a new song that accompanies Tommy’s rise to stardom.

Townshend achieved the soundtrack’s symphonic sounds with extensive use of the ARP synthesizer. Pete’s younger brother, Simon Townshend (then 14), sings “Extra, Extra, Extra,” a new interlude on side two. Other musicians on the Tommy soundtrack include Hopkins, Ross, guitarist Ron Wood (ex-Faces, soon to join the Rolling Stones), and drummers Tony Newman (May Blitz, Three Man Army, Boxer), Mike Kellie (Spooky Tooth, Parrish & Gurvitz), and Kenney Jones (Small Faces, Faces). This marked Jones’ earliest involvement on a Who-related project.

At 90:35, Tommy (OST) is 15:51 longer than the 1969 double-album. On the soundtrack album’s inner-gates, stills from different scenes appear as reflections on a shattered mirror. The soundtrack reached No. 6 in Australia and No. 2 on the Billboard 200.

Roger’s Activities

Russell contracted Daltrey for another movie: a biographical musical comedy about the life of flamoyant Hungarian Romantic composer Franz Liszt (1811–1886). Between filming, Daltrey recorded his second solo album at Ramport and CBS Studios.

On July 4, 1975, Roger Daltrey released Ride a Rock Horse, recorded with backing by Ballard, Wintour, pianist Paul Korda, percussionist Tony Meehan, trombonist Alan Bown, and the vocalists of funk-rockers Kokomo. The album features ten songs with three apiece by Ballard (“Come and Get Your Love,” “Proud,” “Near to Surrender”), Korda (“Hearts Right,” “World Over,” “Feeling”), and one by Phillip Goodhand-Tait (“Oceans Away”), plus a cover of Rufus Thomas (“Walking the Dog”). The cover depicts Daltrey as a cloud-walking centaur. “Hearts Right” has an animated video by Gerald Scarfe, who later illustrated the packaging on Pink Floyd’s The Wall and did the animation sequences in the subsequent film. Ride a Rock Horse reached No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart.

In October 1975, Lisztomania hit theatres. Daltrey portrays the hedonistic composer in a series of surreal, semi-fictional vignettes. The film co-stars Paul Nicholas as German composer Richard Wagner, Ringo Starr as Pope Gregory XVI, and Rick Wakeman as the Norse god Thor. Wakeman produced and arranged the movie’s soundtrack: a set of symphonic-rock interpretations of Liszt’s work recorded with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and the English Rock Ensemble. Daltrey sings on four cuts: “Love’s Dream,” “Orpheus Song,” “Funerailles,” and “Peace at Last.”

The Who by Numbers

The Who released their seventh studio album, The Who by Numbers, on October 3, 1975, on Polydor and MCA. It features nine Townshend originals, including the gentle, reflective ballad “Imagine a Man” and the rousing, impassioned “How Many Friends.” Entwistle contributed “Success Story,” a pile-driving number about the hectic pace of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. “Squeeze Box,” a finger-picking bluegrass singalong about accordions, became a Who concert staple. The album’s riff-based opener, “Slip Kid,” originates from the Lifehouse project.

Imagine a Man” — Intro: acoustic plucking polychordal descent (from B). Angelic vocal from Roger. Light piano, sparkly accents. Thunderous drum fills and chordal strumming heralds the bridge. Harmonized refrain (“you will see the end”). Intensity rises then rescinds without bursting out. The lyrics concern the mortality of celebrities (no man is an island) and how the reality clashes with the singer’s childhood ideals of wealth and fame.

How Many Friends” — Opening mid-tempo strum (in F) with light twangy leads. Verses: tender Roger vocals. Lyrics deal with the artificial, lonely life of the celebrities. Chorus: plunges from a windmill strum (in C) drum roll; forceful, emotive chorus line. Choice refrain (“that love me”). Mid-section: chromatic descent from C minor. Twangy light soloing over redoubled chorus… “more than a handshake”… Entwistle, deep in the mix, emerges with a run before the final chorus.

Townshend, who sings lead vocals on “However Much I Booze” and “Blue, Red and Grey,” plays banjo, accordion, and ukulele on select numbers. Nicky Hopkins plays piano on “In a Hand or a Face” and “They Are All in Love.”

Glyn Johns produced and engineered The Who by Numbers in succession with albums by Andy Fairweather-Low, The Eagles, Fairport Convention, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

The Who by Numbers is housed in a beige single sleeve with line art by Entwistle, who sketched a frazzled caricature of each member’s heads, hands, and feet with numbered dots for the missing lines.

“Squeeze Box” reached No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Who by Numbers reached No. 7 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 8 on the Billboard 200.

The Who by Numbers Tour

The release of The Who by Numbers coincided with a 79-show tour comprised of eight legs across Europe and North America. Despite the tour’s name, only “Squeeze Box” and “Dreaming from the Waist” were performed from the corresponding album. The setlist largely focused on The Who’s FM radio hits and numbers from the recently repopularized Tommy. Wild cards included “Boris the Spider” and the Bo Diddley cover “Road Runner,” plus a variation of “My Generation” titled “My Generation Blues.”

The tour commenced on October 3, the first of two nights at Bingley Hall in Stafford, England. The first European leg had two-nighters in Manchester, Glasgow, Leicester, and a three-nighter at London’s 21k-capacity Empire Pool. After shows in Vienna and Rotterdam, The Who played seven shows in Germany, culminating with a November 6–7 engagement at the Friedrich-Ebert-Halle in Ludwigshafen. Their opening act on this leg was Brummie roots rockers the Steve Gibbons Band, an offshoot of The Idle Race managed by original Who manager Pete Meaden.

On November 20, The Who launched the first North American leg at the Summit in Houston. Jamaican reggae merchants Toots & the Maytals opened the shows, which covered Toronto and eighteen US cities. They set an attendance record on December 6 in Pontiac, Michigan, where they played before 75,962 attendees at the newly built Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium.

Leg 3 of the Numbers tour consisted of a three-night Christmas engagement (December 21–23) at London’s Hammersmith Odeon with openers Charlie, a seasoned live act that recently signed with Polydor. In late February 1976, The Who and Steve Gibbons played four Continental dates (Leg 4), covering Zurich, Munich, and March 1–2 shows at the Pavillon de Paris.

On March 9, The Who returned to the US for Leg 5, which had a false start at Boston Garden, where Moon collapsed after two numbers. Two days later, he was rush hospitalized for blood loss after a frame-kicking incident at a New York hotel. The Who played twelve cities with Steve Gibbons on this leg, including a March 21 open-air show at Anaheim Stadium with two additional openers, Rufus and Little Feat. After a March 27–28 engagement at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, The Who wrapped this leg with an April first makeup show at Boston Garden.

Leg 6, subtitled “Who Put the Boot In,” covered two cities in France (Lyon, Colmar) and three in the UK, where they played before crowds of 35,000 in Glasgow (6/5: Celtic Park) and 25,000 in Swansea, Wales (6/12: Vetch Field). On May 31, 1976, The Who played to an audience of 60,000 at London football stadium The Valley, where they earned an entry in The Guinness Book of Records for the “World’s Loudest Concert” with a measured volume of 120 decibels. Little Feat opened the three UK dates along with four additional acts: Streetwalkers, Widowmaker, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and American southern rockers the Outlaws.

The Who opened Leg 7, “Whirlwind,” with two nights (August 3–4) at Capitol Canter in Landover Maryland with hard-rockers Law, who also opened the next two shows in Jacksonville (8/7: Gator Bowl Stadium, with Labelle) and Miami (8/9: Miami Stadium, with Montrose and Outlaws). After this leg, Moon had to be hospitalized for eight days.

The final leg of The Who by Numbers commenced on October 6, 1976, in Phoenix at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum with funk-rockers Mother’s Finest. The Who covered San Diego, Portland, Seattle, and Oakland, where they played two nights (Oct. 9–10) at the Alameda County Coliseum with the Grateful Dead. The tour wrapped with three dates in Canada, where Moon played his final concert with the band on October 21 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

1977: Solo Work

After the twelve-month Numbers tour, The Who paused for member solo activities. Moon sang “When I’m Sixty-Four” for All This and World War II, a 1976 docu-film with Beatles covers set to WWII newsreel clips. The 28-song soundtrack features Beatles covers by Ambrosia, Brothers Johnson, Bryan Ferry, Lynsey De Paul, Richard Cocciante, Roy Wood, Status Quo, and numerous other artists, including Peter Gabriel in his first appearance as a solo artist after leaving Genesis.

One of the Boys

Roger Daltrey commenced sessions for his third solo album, One of the Boys, in November 1976 at Ramport Studios. He’s backed on the album by drummer Stuart Tosh (Pilot, 10cc), keyboardist Rod Argent (The Zombies, Argent), and multiple guitarists, including Shadows legend Hank B. Marvin.

The album appeared in May 1977 on MCA–Polydor with songs written by Goodhand-Tait (“Parade,” “Leon”), Korda (“Written on the Wind”), Andy Pratt (“Avenging Annie”), and Colin Blunstone (“Single Man’s Dilemma”). Entwistle sings ‘Boris’ backing vocals on the title-track, a Gibbons-penned hard-rocker with ex-Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson. In the video, Roger plays multiple ruffian archetypes: punk rocker, Teddy Boy, and Hell’s Angel. The clip aired in theaters that summer in the trailer portion at screenings of Star Wars. One of the Boys spawned five singles in assorted territories, including a cover of “Say It Ain’t So, Joe” by singer–actor Murray Head, whose 1975 original appears on his namesake album.

Rough Mix

Pete Townshend collaborated with Ronnie Lane on Rough Mix, an album of trad and roots rock originals. Sessions took place during winter–spring 1977 at Olympic Studios with backing on select cuts by Gallagher & Lyle and members of the Rolling Stones and Lane’s Slim Chance. Charlie Watts drums on “My Baby Gives It Away,” the album’s rockabilly-tinged lead-off single. The orchestral “Street in the City” features string arrangements by Townshend’s father-in-law, Edwin Astley. Entwistle plays bass on “Heart to Hang Onto,” one cut with lead-vocal tradeoffs between Townshend and Lane, who wrote separately apart from the title-track, a jumpy R&B instrumental with lead guitar by Eric Clapton.

Rough Mix appeared in September 1977 on MCA–Polydor. Its release preceded Townshend’s third biographical feature in Rolling Stone. On the November 17 cover, illustrator Daniel Maffia depicts the artist as solemn and cross-armed beside the headline “Inside The Who: Reveries and Regrets.” He reflects on his status as the “aging daddy of punk rock” and mentions a recent encounter with members of the Sex Pistols. (He shared drinks with Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook and stumbled home afterward in a drunken state. The incident inspired the line “I woke up in a Soho door, a policeman knew my name.”)

New Wave

The Who welcomed the new wave, whose performers acknowledged the group’s mod past as a key influence. Eddie & the Hot Rods cover “The Kids Are Alright” on their debut album Teenage Depression. The Clash lifts the “I Can’t Explain” riff in three songs: “Capital Radio” (1977), “Clash City Rocker” and “Guns On the Roof” (both 1978). The Jam, who singlehandedly sparked a mod revival, titled their 1977 debut album In the City and later issued b-side covers of “Disguises” and “So Sad About Us.” Generation X titled their first single “Your Generation,” a back-handed reference to “My Generation.” Their frontman, Billy Idol, befriended Moon.

Entwistle produced the self-titled debut album by the Fabulous Poodles, whose style blended new wave, pub rock, Western swing, and music hall. Released in September 1977, the album features Entwistle’s eight-string bass on three cuts: “Doctor,” “Mr. Mike,” and “Cherchez la Femme.”

On November 25, 1977, Moon appeared on the American CBS TV special Rolling Stone: The 10th Anniversary, where he partakes in a panel with Billy Preston, Melissa Manchester, and Phoebe Snow. In one scene, he trashes a hotel room while comedian Steve Martin comments on the scenario. The following week, Moon donned a court jester costume for a photoshoot with Kent Gavin.

As The Who reflected on its history, influence, and legacy, American fan Jeff Stein assembled clips from live performances and TV appearances for a documentary film. Stein — whose avid support of the band included a self-published book of photographs from their 1971 tour — won their blessing. He assembled adequate footage of each crucial number in their repertoire apart from “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” To capture these songs on video, The Who performed a private show at Kilburn State Theatre in December 1977. Meanwhile, work proceeded on their next studio album.

1978: Album, Keith Moon, Kenney Jones

Who Are You

The Who released their eighth studio album, Who Are You, on August 18, 1978, on Polydor and MCA. It features six Townshend originals with lyrical ruminations on writer’s block (“Guitar and Pen”), self-doubt (“Love Is Coming Down”), the band’s continued relevance (“Music Must Change”), and the confines of radio (“New Song”). He trades vocals with Daltrey on “Sister Disco,” a multi-movement number steeped in poetic metaphor. The title-track, with its self-referential chorus and extended interludes, is among the most recognized Who evergreens.

Sister Disco” — Blasts in with the line “As I walked through that hospital door, I was sewn up like a coat,” over a three-chord riff (A…G→D) perforated with synth strings, which flutter over the second stanza (“I knew then that my life took a turn”) amid cymbal-splash rhythmic accents. The chorus assails disco culture with talk of clubs, tramps, and “flashing trash lamps,” then drops a Tommy reference (“Black plastic; deaf, dumb and blind”). Pete sings the somber, winding bridge (E…B7…Am…Fmaj7…Dm…G…C), where he mentions a street fight. This cuts to an acoustic strum (in A, hammered thirds) in compound meters with pause–flow drum fills. Next, a middle eight (in C minor) with Roger’s pained lines (“I will choose nightmares and cold stormy seas, I will take over your grief and disease”). The first verse resumes with high-fluttering synth strings. Second chorus crests with shimmery string synths (in G) that subside for a solo acoustic blues-tinged outro.

Music Must Change” — Coin drop guitar lick intro with faint backing synth (D7 with open E). Verses: dark, sparse, drummer-less arrangement in 6/4. Roger sings eerie line (“Deep in the back of my mind is an unrealized sound”) amid footstep sounds. “Devil Woman”-like key change to B (“Every feeling I get from the..”) then C (“street says it soon could be”) to D7sus2 (“found”). References to drug deals and street gangs (possibly mods, rockers, punks). Bridge: Staccato notes in F (I→V) and E→B as Roger sings “But the high has to rise from the low, like volcanoes explode through the snow” (a metaphor for cyclical change). Shifts to Gm (“The mosquito’s sting brings a dream”). Chorus: grandiose metaphors for musical change (“Like the tide and the waves, growing slowly in range, crushing mountains as old as the Earth” — possibly an argument in favor of Relayer as much as Rattus Norvegicus or Real Life). Intro→verse→bridge→chorus. Pete sings the middle eight (“But is this song so different?”). Verse→bridge→chorus.

Guitar and Pen” — Staccato guitar licks over fluttering synth strings, which underscore the verse (in A) with angelic vocals and light piano. Chorus (tight cadence, in A) talks about musical inspiration (“In your hand you hold your only friend”). Bridge: flowing tempo, ascending bassline (in the scale of A); lyrics about writer’s block. Short break with saloon piano. Middle-eight: show-tune ballad delivery (“when your music proclaims, there’s no one can top you”). Repeat chorus→bridge. Intro recap (“You’re alone above the street somewhere”). Final chorus. Outro with saloon piano.

Love Is Coming Down” — Ballad with synth, piano, light cymbals and angelic vocals. Verse (Ebmaj7→F). Chorus (ascending from G) lists four chances (announced by Pete); on the third, Roger reveals “I’m cut up, life’s like a razor’s edge.” Swelling “Goin’ down” bridge (in D) with stormy drums. Ends on the conflicted line “I’m not a loser, but did I really win? I’m lookin’ forward to doin’ it all again”).

Who Are You?” — Clapped, funky intro with fuzzy leads and fizzy synths (twelve bars). Chorus (in F): harmonized title with elongated vowels over sprinting tempo. Verse (closed cadence): belted lyrics about waking up drunk in a doorway and stumbling to the tube station (after meeting the Sex Pistols). Chorus: Roger interjects the harmonized title with “I really want to know.” Second verse talks about taking the tube back home after “Eleven hours in the tin pan” (referencing Pete’s earlier meeting that day with industry strongarm Allen Klein). Chorus: Roger drops f-word. Middle: quiet guitar fiddling→riff (F…G#→Eb), belted “WHOOOOOO” chorus line→faint synth and harmonized chorus, overlaid with piano→riff. Chorus: fast fiddly licks and drizzling piano. Third verse about Pete’s 1971 visit to the Meher Spiritual Center in South Carolina. Chorus: Roger ad libs (“tell me, tell me”…”come on, come on!”). Outro: chordal shift (A, then B) as Roger gets more aggressive with the title question.

Entwistle contributed three songs, including two (both in C major) from an unfinished rock opera: “Had Enough,” a synthesized anthem about exasperation; and “905,” a cybernetic number with filtered electronic sounds. “Trick of the Light” is a riff-based rocker about sexual inadequacy from a john’s perspective. It features John on eight-string bass and Pete on four-string.

Who Are You features extensive use of the ARP 2600 synthesizer. Several numbers (“Guitar and Pen,” “Who Are You”) contain rapidfire cadenzas reminiscent of Yes. “Had Enough” is the first Who song with orchestration, conducted by Edwin “Ted” Astley.

Johns co-produced Who Are You between 1977/78 albums by Eric Clapton and Joan Armatrading. When the sessions ran overtime, his assistant Jon Astley (Edwin’s son and Pete’s brother-in-law) took over as producer. Astley also worked on 1978 albums by Judas Priest (Stained Class) and Bethnal, a violin-driven folk–punk act that included “Baba O’Reilly” in their set. The engineering assistant, Judy Szekely, earned credits on Priest’s earlier Sin After Sin and the Passport Records all-star project Intergalactic Touring Band.

“New Song” and “Had Enough” feature backing vocals by Billy Nicholls and Fairweather-Low, who also sings on “Guitar and Pen,” “Love Is Coming Down,” and “Who Are You.” Those last four songs also feature One of the Boys keyboardist Rod Argent, who played on recent albums by Gary Boyle (The Dancer) and Chris Rea (Whatever Happened to Benny Santini?).

Photographer Terry O’Neill took the Who Are You album cover. It shows the Who in front of stage equipment in an array of styles. Townshend dons neo-thirties items (tapered trousers, suspenders) that were then making a comeback via newer bands (999, Wire) while Entwistle wears familiar flared denim. Moon sports horseman’s attire (jodhpurs, boots, derby hat). To hide his enlarged mid-section, he sits on a backward chair that states “NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY.” This is their final new release where Daltrey has his lion’s mane. O’Neill, a recurrent photographer of Elton John, also took cover shots for recent albums by John Miles (Rebel), Michelle Phillips, Shanghai, and Slik.

Who Are You reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200. As a single, “Who Are You” (b/w “Had Enough”) reached the Top 20 in both countries. The Who filmed an in-studio video of the title song with all the parts (except bass and synthesizer) rerecorded for the clip.

Death of Keith Moon

In late August, Daltrey and Moon watched a rough-cut of Stein’s Who documentary. It contained footage of their sixties television segments and festival performances, interspersed with recent interviews and studio clips. When the Kilburn State footage proved too rough for inclusion, they held a second private concert in late May 1978 at Shepperton Studios, where they performed the two Who’s Next staples.

The jump-cut assortment of sight gags and mischief aroused much laughter from Who members and their associates. Snippets from late 1977 included video of Moon engaged in S&M at his Malibu home. Moon was purportedly shocked by his physical transformation over the thirteen-year span of footage.

In mid-1978, Moon sublet a fourth-floor flat at 9 Curzon Place in Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London, owned by Harry Nilsson. An earlier subletter, singer Cass Elliot (ex-Mamas & Papas), lived their at the time of her 1974 death. As part of his alcohol-withdrawal regimen, Moon took prescription Clomethiazole, a sedative craving-suppressant that, if abused, could be addictive in its own right and deadly if mixed with alcohol.

On the evening of September 6, Moon and his new partner, Annette Walter-Lax, attended a preview of The Buddy Holly Story hosted by Paul McCartney. The couple then attended an after-party at Peppermint Park with Paul and Linda McCartney, TV presenter David Frost, actor John Hurt, and drummer Kenney Jones of the briefly reactivated Small Faces. When they returned to Curzon Place, Moon watched the 1971 comedy horror film The Abominable Dr. Phibes. After a minor squabble with Annette, Moon took a dose of Clomethiazole and went to sleep.

On the afternoon of September 7, 1978, Annette discovered that Moon was dead. She first informed Who manager Bill Curbishley, who told Townshend, who informed the rest of the band. Entwistle got the call in the middle of an interview with a French reporter and broke down when asked about The Who’s future plans.

Keith Moon died at age 32. He was survived by a daughter, Amanda, borne to Kim Kerrigan, Moon’s wife from 1966–75. Kerrigan later wed ex-Small Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan and the two remained married until her death in a 2006 car collision at age 57. Moon’s ashes were spread at the Gardens of Remembrance at the Golders Green Crematorium in London.

On the day of Moon’s death, Rolling Stone ran a Who cover story with a group characterization by illustrator Robert Grossman and the headline “Why Don’t They Do It on the Road?” — a Beatles quote in reference to the Who’s non-touring status. Townshend announced that The Who would continue in honor of the musical legacy that Moon helped build.

Moon’s death was transatlantic frontpage news as tributes poured in from all corners of the entertainment world. Many who knew him — including David Bowie, Oliver Reed, and members of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Fleetwood Mac — sent wreathes. Blondie drummer Clem Burke, an avid Moon fan, kicked down his bass drum at the end of their September 9 show at the Hammersmith Odeon, stating “That’s for Keith Moon!” The same day, the second Knebworth Festival event of 1978 took place in Hertfordshire, where co-headliners The Tubes were joined by Todd Rundgren for set-closing covers of “Baba O’Riley” and “The Kids Are Alright.”

Kenney Jones

In November, The Who hired Kenney Jones as their new drummer. Jones shared their mod background as a member of the Small Faces, a band often compared to The Who during a run of sixties hits that included “All Or Nothing,” “Itchycoo Park,” “Tin Soldier,” and “Lazy Sunday.” The classic Small Faces lineup — Jones, Lane, McLagen, and guitarist–singer Steve Marriott — collapsed when Marriott formed Humble Pie with ex-Herd guitarist–singer Peter Frampton. The remaining trio hired two ex-members of the Jeff Beck Group, guitarist Ron Wood and singer Rod Stewart. This band released four albums as Faces but fell apart amid Stewart’s rise to solo superstardom. Recently, Jones drummed as a sessionist on 1977/78 albums by John Lodge, Joan Armatrading, Mike Batt, and ex-Leaf Hound singer Peter French.

Jones, a reserved and sober individual, had been the equalibrium in the otherwise rowdy, rambunctious Faces. He now brought his manner to The Who, whose members reevaluated their lifestyles in the wake of Moon’s passing.

Stein and the band agreed to make no further edits to the projected documentary, which would now serve as a timecaspule of The Who’s time with Moon. Meanwhile, Townshend began scouting for actors to star in an upcoming drama film based on the rock opera Quadrophenia. For the character of Jimmy, Townshend had his sights on two young performers: former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (now in Public Image Ltd.) and Sham 69 singer Jimmy Pursey.

1979: Films, Tour

The Kids Are Alright

Jeff Stein’s Who documentary, The Kids Are Alright, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 1979. It starts with a clip from their infamous 1967 Smothers Brothers appearance and proceeds through twenty-two studio and live clips. The earliest TV footage comes from the band’s 1965 appearances on Ready Steady Go! (“Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”) and the American musical program Shindig! (“I Can’t Explain”). From the psychedelic era, the film includes three Beat-Club appearances (“Pictures of Lily,” “Magic Bus,” “Tommy Can You Hear Me”) and set numbers from the Monterey Pop and Woodstock festivals, the latter with overdubbed bass and backing vocals.

Stein unearthed lost and unseen footage for the film, including a live performance of “A Quick One While He’s Away” from the still-unreleased Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The promo clip for “Happy Jack,” originally made for an unaired December 1966 BBC series called Sound and Picture City, made its first appearance in The Kids Are Alright. The music clips are interspersed with segments from a 1973 interview on the ITV program Russell Harty Plus, where Moon bites Townshend’s leg and strips to his underwear.

The more recent footage includes a 1975 live medley of “Roadrunner/My Generation Blues” at the Pontiac Silverdome. Home footage of Entwistle from January 1978 accompanies his Who By Numbers contribution “Success Story.” The Shepperton rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from May 25 is Moon’s final performance. The Kids Are Alright concludes with the title-track (closing credits) and their 1972 song “Long Live Rock,” which Polydor released as a single in promotional lockstep with the film.

Quadrophenia (film)

Townshend wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Quadrophenia with Dave Humphries (The Haunting of Julia, The Stud), Franc Roddam (The Family), and Martin Stellman, a onetime member of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre. Roddam directed the film, which was filmed on location in London and East Sussex. Lydon screen-tested for the role of Jimmy but distributors refused to insure him. The role went to Phil Daniels (The Naked Civil Servant, Bugsy Malone), an actor–singer who fronted the rock band Phil Daniels & the Cross. The Police frontman Sting plays Jimmy’s idol, the Ace Face. New wave singer–actress Toyah Willcox plays the minor role of Monkey.

Quadrophenia is set in 1964 London, where teenage mod Jimmy Cooper spends his days pill-popping and scooter-riding with his pals Dave, Chalky, and Spider. After Dave is beaten by a gang of leather-clad rockers, the others retaliate against one of the rockers, who Jimmy recognizes as a childhood friend. Distraught, he flees on his scooter.

On Bank Holiday, the mods and rockers descend on Brighton beach for a showdown. There, Jimmy spots the platinum-tressed Ace Face (Sting) and the girl of his dreams, Steph (Leslie Ash). Later, at a dance, he tries to impress Steph, who shows more interest in Ace. To get their attention, he does a balcony stunt that gets him ejected from the club.

In a subsequent riot scene, Jimmy secures alone time with Steph and the two slip into an alley. When they emerge, Jimmy is arrested along with multiple mods, including Ace. Tensions erupt between Jimmy and his mother, who throws him out after finding his pill stash. Jimmy rides off and crashes his customized scooter.

He then discovers that Steph has taken up with Dave, which shatters their friendship and leaves him heartbroken. Jimmy then finds that his role model, Ace Face, works a menial job as a bell boy. Shocked and disillusioned, Jimmy rides off on Ace’s scooter to Brighton beach, the site of his former glory. In a final act of adventure, he rides toward the cliff of Beachy Head, where the scooter plummets to the sea.

Quadrophenia is one of two 1979 films with Sting, who also appears in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, the Sex Pistols documentary that contains footage of the now-defunct band singing “Substitute,” a staple of their 1976 live set. Daniels did numerous film and TV roles, including the 1980 musical film Breaking Glass starring new wave singer Hazel O’Connor.

Quadrophenia premiered on September 14, 1979, in Toronto and hit theatres in November. Its release coincided with a UK mod revival that saw the words “THE WHO” spray painted in terminals across London. The movement — inspired by The Jam, who became one of England’s major bands with the 1978/79 albums All Mod Cons and Setting Sons and the hits “Down In a Tube Station at Midnight,” “Strange Town,” and “Eton Rifles” — included bands like Secret Affair, The Lambrettas, The Purple Hearts, The Chords, and The Merton Parkas. The mod revival had some tie-in with the thriving Two-tone ska scene, headed by bands like The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, and The Beat.

Entwistle oversaw the Quadrophenia soundtrack, which contains ten remixed songs from the original album: “I Am the Sea,” “The Real Me,” “I’m One,” “5:15,” “Love Reign O’er Me,” “Bell Boy,” “I’ve Had Enough,” “Helpless Dancer,” “Doctor Jimmy,” and “The Punk and the Godfather.” Another track, “Four Faces,” is one of two outtakes from the 1973 sessions (along with “We Close Tonight,” found on Odds & Sods). The soundtrack also includes two new Who numbers, “Joker James” and “Get Out and Stay Out,” their first official recordings with Kenney Jones, who talked of overseeing a tie-in mod-themed clothing line. Side three contains “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” performed by Cross Section, the band in the bar scene. The fourth side contains sixties American soul classics by James Brown (“Night Train”), Booker T. & the M.G.’s (“Green Onions”), The Chiffons (“He’s So Fine”), The Crystals (“Da Doo Ron Ron”), The Ronettes (“Be My Baby”), and the garage staple “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. The Who dedicated this album to mod mogul and original manager Pete Meaden, who died in 1978 of a barbiturate overdose.

As Quadrophenia came to fruition, Daltrey took the role of bank robber John McVicar for a biopic drama directed by Tom Clegg (Love Is a Splendid Illusion, Sweeney 2). This would be Daltrey’s fourth starring film role after the two 1975 Russell films and The Legacy, a 1978 horror film with Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott. For the McVicar part, Daltrey shed his lion’s mane for a short, disheveled hairstyle.

’79 Tour, Cincinnati, Concert for Kampuchea

The Who launched their first tour with Kenney Jones on May 2, 1979, at London’s Rainbow. That month, they played two French double-nighters in Fréjus and the Pavillon de Paris. For this tour, they added a fifth-wheel: Rough Mix keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, who played on the 1973 Free swan song Heartbreaker and joined Paul Kossoff’s subsequent band Back Street Crawler (and Crawler, the follow-through band after Kossoff’s death). The Who also hired a three-piece brass section with trumpeter Dave Caswell (Galliard), trombonist Reg Brooks (Bloodstone), and saxophonist Howie Casey, who cleared out after the first leg for Dark Side of the Moon sessionist Dick Parry.

The first European leg had June 8–9 Scottish dates in Glasgow and Edinburgh. After a two-month pause, they played an August 18 show at Wembley Stadium with AC/DC, The Stranglers, and Nils Lofgren. The Who wrapped this leg on September 1 at Zeppelinfeld in Nuremberg with Cheap Trick, Miriam Makeba, Scorpions, and Steve Gibbons.

The setlist included a mix of old hits and the current radio hit “Long Live Rock,” plus select numbers from Quadrophenia (“The Real Me,” “The Punk and the Godfather”) and Who Are You (“Sister Disco,” “Music Must Change,” “Who Are You”). On the Wembley and Zeppelinfeld shows, they played “Trick of the Light,” “5:15,” and “Drowned.” The only Who By Numbers inclusion, “Dreaming from the Waist,” was dropped after Wembley.

The first US leg spanned September 10–18, 1979, with two nights at Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, and five nights at Madison Square Garden. These dates included isolated performances of the unrecorded new songs “That’s Rock and Roll,” “I’m London,” “Blue Black White,” and the eventual Townshend solo tracks “Dance It Away” and “Cat’s in the Cupboard.” The second UK leg spanned November 10–17 with two-nighters at Brighton Centre and Bingley Hall.

The fourth leg of their 1979 tour covered twelve US cities between November 30 and December 17, starting at the Detroit Masonic Temple. After a show at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, tragedy struck on December 3 when mayhem unsued at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati. The venue had a policy of festival seating, whereby seats are open to ticketholders on a first-come, first-serve basis. All 18,348 tickets sold out for the concert, which local radio announced would open to attendees at 3:00 pm. By 5:00 pm, as a massive crowd of ticketholders formed outside, only two doors had opened near the far end. At 7:15 pm, a soundcheck filtered outside and gave fans the impression that the show was underway. With the remaining doors still shut, fans around the Coliseum’s entrance flooded the two open doors. Eleven fans were fatally crushed in the stampede. The Who were not informed of the tragedy until after the show.

The Who devoted the following night’s show at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium to the eleven victims. “We lost a lot of family last night,” said Daltrey. On December 7, they made a return visit to the Pontiac Silverdome with openers Blackfoot. In Philadelphia, they did a two-nighter at the 18k-capacity Spectrum Arena. Select nights featured new, unrecorded number, including “I Sent You a Letter” “I Don’t Want To Be an Old Man” (a.k.a. “Fuck All Blues”), and the eventual Who album track “How Can You Do It Alone.” After a show in Landover, they played two shows in New England (New Haven Coliseum, Boston Garden). When their scheduled show in Providence was cancelled due to the Cincinnati tragedy, they booked a second show in Landover’s Capital Centre, where the tour ended on December 17.

On December 28, 1979, The Who performed at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as part of Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, a multi-act charitable event arranged by Paul McCartney on behalf of the wartorn nation. The event took place across four nights with sets by Queen, The Pretenders, The Clash, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, The Specials, Matumbi, Rockpile, and Wings. Townshend and Jones partook in the Dec. 29 closing act: a second assemblage of McCartney’s all-star jamboree, Rockestra, which played “Rockestra Theme,” The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” and Little Richard’s “Lucille.”

1980: Solo Albums, Tour

In February 1980, Townshend visited the Los Angeles home of filmaker Nicolas Roeg, who directed the 1970 crime drama Performance, starring Mick Jagger; and the 1976 sci-fi The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie. He intended to pitch the idea of a Lifehouse film but instead encountered Roeg’s then-girlfriend, actress Theresa Russell (who would co-star in Roeg’s upcoming psychological drama Bad Timing, starring Art Garfunkel). Pete’s infatuation with the young actress fueled a new demo, “Teresa.”

Empty Glass

On April 21, 1980, Pete Townshed released Empty Glass, his second proper solo album. It features two songs intended for Who Are You: the Kinks-inspired “Keep on Working” and the alcohol-themed title track. “Jools and Jim” is a broadside on NME journalists Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons for remarks they made about Keith Moon in their 1978 book The Boy Looked At Johnny. Townshend originally submitted “And I Moved” — a piano-spinning number where the narrator submits to the advances of a home intruder —  to Bette Midler, whose management rejected the song for its sexual content.

Empty Glass spawned two hits: “Let My Love Open the Door,” an uptempo, keyboard-laden inspirational number; and “Rough Boys,” an aggressive song with daring, ambiguous lyrics and a rising, swelling outro — dedicated to the Sex Pistols and his two daughters. Townshend is backed on the album by Bundrick, drummer Simon Phillips (Chopyn, Gordon Giltrap, Duncan Browne, Phil Manzanera), and young bassist Tony Butler, who subsequently joined Big Country. The album was produced by Pretenders soundman Chris Thomas and engineer Bill Price, the team behind Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Empty Glass reached No. 11 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 5 on the Billboard 200.

Also in April, Townshend dropped in on Bowie’s sessions at Good Earth Studios, London, to play the circular riff on “Because You’re Young,” the penultimate track on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), the singer’s thirteenth studio album.


In August 1980, McVicar hit theatres. Roger Daltrey plays the titular role of the incarcerated robber, once dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1” by Scotland Yard. McVicar escapes Durham prison and prepares to flee with his wife to Canada. To fund the move, he resorts to further crime but gets recaptured after an accomplice cooperates with authorities. During his second prison stint, he studies for a BSc in sociology and earns his release in 1978 at age 38. The film also stars Adam Faith as fellow convict and repeat-escapee Walter Probyn. Daltrey and Faith attended the film’s premiere with their real-life counterparts. The film, based on the subject’s autobiography McVicar by Himself, was nominated for Best Picture at the 1981 MystFest awards.

The Who perform on the McVicar soundtrack, which features eight Daltrey vocal numbers and a recurring instrumental theme (“Escape” One and Two) by composer Jeff Wayne, who produced and arranged the album with library musician Steve Gray. The soundtrack opens with “Bitter and Twisted” by Steve Swindells (Pilot, Hawklords) and contains four songs written by Who-collaborator Billy Nicholls: “White City Lights,” “Waiting for a Friend,” “Without Your Love,” and “McVicar.” Russ Ballard contributed “My Time Is Gonna Come,” “Free Me,” and the ballad “Just a Dream Away” — the latter originally recorded for his 1976 solo album Winning. “Without Your Love” and the declamatory rocker “Free Me” both appeared as singles; the former reached the Billboard Top 20.

’80 Tour

The Who embarked on a spring–summer 1980 transatlantic tour, their second with Kenney Jones and the keyboard–horn auxiliary players (Bundrick, Caswell, Brooks, Parry). It started on March 26 with the first of two nights at Grugahalle in Essen, Germany, followed by shows in Zurich, Vienna, Munich, and Frankfurt. The setlist featured their biggest sixties hits and three songs each from Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, and Who Are You, plus occasional wild cards like “Let’s See Action” and “Relay.”

On April 14, they began the North American leg at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum. After a two-nighter at Seattle Center Coliseum, they did a three-night stand (April 18–20) at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum Arena. While there, journalist Greil Marcus profiled the now-clean-shaven Townshend for the June 26 issue of Rolling Stone. After touch-downs in the Great Plains, The Who did an April 28 show at the St. Louis Checkerdome, where they played wild cards by Don Nix (“Going Down”), the Sex Pistols (“Pretty Vacant”), and the yet-unrecorded “How Can You Do It Alone.” They wrapped the leg with three Canadian shows in early May.

In late June, The Who reappeared in California for eight shows, including a five-night engagement at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. During a June 20 show at the Inglewood Forum, they premeired a new song, “Another Tricky Day.” After a nine-city trek through the Deep South, they finished the tour on July 16, 1980, at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium, supported by Heart, the J. Geils Band, and Nash the Slash.

1981: First Album with Kenney; John Solo

Face Dances

The Who released their ninth studio album, Face Dances, on March 16, 1981, on Polydor and Warner Bros. Townshend wrote seven of the album’s nine songs, including several inspired by strange personal experiences. This is the first of two Who albums with drummer Kenney Jones.

Face Dances opens with the radio evergreen “You Better You Bet,” a jangly uptempo rocker (in C) with lyrics about extramarital rendezvous. “Don’t Let Go the Coat,” a harmonized mid-tempo ballad (in Gmaj7), references the devotion of Baba acolytes. The closing track, “Another Tricky Day,” is a riff-driven ode to perseverance. All three songs have monochrome studio clips that went into high rotation on MTV during the US cable channel’s first eighteen months of broadcast. “You Better You Bet” was the fourth video MTV aired on its premiere day (August 1, 1981) after clips by The Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”), Pat Benetar (“You Better Run”), and Rod Stewart (“She Won’t Dance With Me”).

“Cache Cache” relates to a night Townshend spent in the wild with serious thoughts of abandoning civilization. It’s a fast-paced riff rocker (GG–DD–A…) with comedic lyrics about sleeping in bear pits. The song slows down with elongated vowels on the reassuring chorus (“There ain’t no bears in there”), interspersed with the whispered title phrase (cache: a collection of items in a hidden place).

“Did You Steal My Money” refers to an incident in LA during the Who’s 1980 tour when Townshend went out with a model who stole $50k from his tote bag. It’s a staccato mid-tempo rocker (in D) with muted vocal underlays, chorused guitars, and Brit slang ad libs — “Did you steal my lolly (money)? It fell right off my lorry (truck)! Did you pinch my brasso (brass)? Nick my gelt (money) you asshole.”

“How Can You Do It Alone” is an intense mid-tempo rocker (in D minor) where the singer tries to empathize with isolated miscreants (“I know there’s no name for what you go through”). The first verse concerns a Holland Park encounter with a shady, nervous fiftysomething who turns out to be naked under his overcoat. Realizing the man is a flasher, Roger makes the poignant observation “With eyes full of shame, for he knew that I knew.” The second verse tells of a blushing schoolboy who flees a convenience store with stolen girly mags as sirens ring.

“Daily Records” has a ringing guitar figure over tight basslines (in A). Between the closed-cadence verses and flowing chorus, the singer copes with the pains of reconciling personal health and popular trends with the simple wish to ply his trade.

Entwistle contributed two songs: “The Quiet One,” a gruff rocker that rails against his public image; and “You,” an intended solo track included at Jones’ insistence.

Sessions took place between July and December 1980 at London’s Odysee Studios with American producer Bill Szymczyk, a veteran soundman for The Eagles, Joe Walsh, and Jay Ferguson. The engineer on Face Dances, Allan Blazek, also worked on 1981 albums by Joe Vitale and Martin Briley. Townshend and Bundrick split keyboard duties. 

Face Dances sports a cover grid with four paintings of each Who member. Pop Artist Peter Blake (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) commissioned the sixteen artists, whose works — based on front, side, and profile pics — range from realist and impressionist to avant-garde. The paintings include a nose-elongated Pete, a half-skull-revealed Roger, and a mixed-up features grid of Kenney. The center-right Pete impression is a cutout of his silhouette over Pablo Picasso’s 1913 cubist work Musical Instruments and Fruit Bowl on a Pedestal.

“You Better You Bet” reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart, where “Another Tricky Day” peaked at No. 6. Face Dances reached No. 1 in Canada, No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, and No. 4 on the Billboard 200. It was certified Platinum by the RIAA.

Too Late the Hero

On November 23, 1981, John Entwistle released his fifth solo album, Too Late the Hero. It features nine originals with gruff vocals, thick bass, and sliding guitar licks, the latter supplied exclusively by longtime Who friend Joe Walsh. They recorded the album as a trio with Joe’s Barnstorm drummer Joe Vitale.

Too Late the Hero opens with “Try Me,” a searing mid-tempo rocker about drug addiction with lines about “smoking your breakfast.” John offers himself as the solution (“I could be all that you need to get high”). “Talk Dirty,” about the singer’s disintrest in talking about religion, politics, or music with his partner, reached the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. On the epic title track, a defeated do-gooder laments his inability to redo the scenario the way scenes are reshot in action movies. MTV rotated the video, where a somber Entwistle mimes amid clips of silent swashbuckling films.

1982: Pete Solo, Tenth Album, “Last” Tour

All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

On June 14, 1982, Pete Townshend released his third solo album, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. It features a mix of art pop and acoustic rock with backing by Butler, Phillips, drummer Mark Brzezicki, and Pete’s sister-in-law Virginia Astley. Townshend incorporates the Prophet 5–10 Synthesizer and Synclavier on high-tech numbers like the gallaping “Communication” and the sartorial “Uniforms (Corp d’Esprit).”

All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes has three epic numbers that tackle topics like humility (“The Sea Refuses No River”) and age (“Slit Skirts”). On “Somebody Saved Me,” Pete recounts his close calls in times of excess with a newfound gratitude in life. Songs like “Stop Hurting People” are steeped in poetic metaphor:

Tell me, friend, why do you stand aloof from your own heart?The truth confronts you, the truth confronts you as the seaCrushing with out detailImpassioned and detachedKilling with love and power in God’s name

“Face Dances, Pt. 2,” a quirky pizzicato song in 5/4, has an accomanying video with miming puppets and intercuts of Townshend singing the contrapuntal chorus lines. MTV rotated the clip along with a rerecorded “Slit Skirt.” Both clips are part of a narrative video comp of six songs from the album, including “Communication” “Uniforms,” “Prelude,” “Stardom in Acton,” and the folksy lament “Exquisitely Bored.” Pete, now heavily into the neat look, sports quiffed hair, tailored slacks, and box jackets in these clips.

All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes was produced by Chris Thomas and engineered by Bill Price. It reached the New Zealand Top 20 and the US, UK, and Norwegian Top 40. Just as the album hit shelves, The Who recorded their next album with Glyn Johns at the producer’s Turn Up-Down Studio in Surrey. Townshend also plays on “Ball and Chain,” a rockabilly-tinged track on the 1982 Elton John release Jump Up!

It’s Hard

The Who released their tenth studio album, It’s Hard, on September 4, 1982, on Polydor and Warner Bros. It features seven new Townshend numbers, including the lead-off single “Athena,” a semi-acoustic riff-rocker inspired by his encounter with Theresa Russell. Daltrey sings the main lyrics and trades the bridge (“She’s just a girl… she’s a bomb”) with Pete’s “just a girl” refrains and the tender “Look into the face of a child” middle-eight.

It’s Hard produced another MTV staple with the high-tech “Eminence Front,” a Townshend-sung number about the effrontery and superficiality of the celebrity class. The Who cut an alternate version for the video, filmed during rehearsals in Landover, Maryland. Contrary to the album’s credits, the clip implies that Daltrey performs the four-note guitar figure (F… E→FF).

“It’s Hard” is an energetic rocker about the disparity between bluff, bluster, and action. “Cooks County” was inspired by a TV documentary about Chicago’s Cook County Hospital. It sets a circular bassline (in E) to a snapping beat with repeated declarations (“People are suffering… People are hungry… People are lonely… People are bleeding”) suffixed with the line “Say it again!”

Side two opens with “I’ve Known No War,” a minimalist, martial post-punk song (in D) about the end of World War II and its aftermath: the baby boom. The narrator acknowledges that he himself will never endure what WWII combatants faced and how, as the product of peaceful and more affluent times, it’s hard to fathom such horrors. “One Life’s Enough” is a sparse piano–synth ballad about the beauty and innocense of young love. “Why Did I Fall for That” is a bouyant harmonized pop-rock number directed at herdlike voters who recurrently fall for empty political promises. “Cry If You Want” is an uptempo marching number with harsh words about youthful indiscretions: a growing sentiment among once-radical boomers now in their thirties.

Entwistle submitted three songs: “It’s Your Turn,” “Dangerous,” and “One at a Time.” Fairweather-Low plays rhythm guitar on “It’s Your Turn,” about an established performer’s conviction to his craft despite charges of irrelevance by younger, eager upstarts. “Dangerous” is a synth-driven new wave rocker about the superficial toughness that people muster to mask their inner fear. “One at a Time” concerns a volatile female; it starts with piping brass, which gives way to hyperactive drum fills and sinewy guitar–bass interplay (akin to “Communication”).

Glyn Johns produced and engineered It’s Hard in succession with albums by Nine Below Zero, Midnight Oil, and the 1982 Clash release Combat Rock. Keyboardist Tim Gorman (Lazy Racer, Pleasure, Taxxi) plays synthesizer on “Dangerous,” “Eminence Front,” “One Life’s Enough,” and “One at a Time.”

Graham Hughes took the album’s cover photo, which shows The Who in a video arcade with a small boy at the distant center playing Space Duel, an Atari game presented as the modern equivalent of pinball.

It’s Hard reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and No. 11 on the UK Albums Chart. “Athena” reached No. 5 in Canada. “Eminence Front” hit No. 5 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart.

Who’s Last

The release of It’s Hard coincided with news that the ensuing round of North American concert dates would mark the final Who tour. Newspapers implied they were breaking up; Rolling Stone ran a cover feature with the headline “The Who: The End.” However, Daltrey and Townshend insisted they would continue as a studio act.

The Who’s Last tour commenced with two shows on September 10–11, 1982, at the N.E.C. in Birmingham. On September 22, they launched the North American leg with a two-nighter at Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland. They followed with shows at JFK Stadium and the Pontiac Silverdome.

In October, The Who did two-nighters at the St. Paul Civic Arena, the Rosemont Horizon, and an October 12–13 engagement at Shea Stadium, where openers The Clash filmed their video to “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Later that month, The Who covered the West Coast with shows in Seattle (10/20/82: Kingdome), Portland (10/21: Memorial Coliseum), Oakland (10/23: Stadium), and Los Angeles (10/29: Memorial Coliseum). In late November, The Who made a swing through the Deep South. After shows in Syracuse, Worcester, and Richfield, they announced their upcoming Toronto shows as the final Who concerts.

The Who played Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on December 16–17. The final show was broadcast by radio stations nationwide and transmitted on cable via pay-per-view.

1983: First Breakup

In 1983, Townshend produced Sweet Sound, the first of two albums on Polydor by his younger brother, guitarist–singer and songwriter Simon Townshend (born 1960). Pete also plays guitar on three songs (“Fatally Beautiful,” “The Sixties,” “Hefner and Disney”) on the Warner release Proof Through the Night, the second solo album by Alpha Band alumni T-Bone Burnett, an opening act on the Who’s Last tour.

Meanwhile, Daltrey resumed his acting career. He played the role of Captain Macheath in the 1983 BBC musical production of The Beggar’s Opera, the 1728 three-act ballad opera by English dramatist John Gay. He also played both Dromios twins in the BBC TV adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, an early five-act play by William Shakespeare.

Townshend briefly considered a follow-up to It’s Hard, as The Who were still under contract for another Warner album. Unable to muster new Who-suitable material, he bought himself (and Jones) out of the Warner contract. On December 16, 1983, Townshend announced his resignation from The Who, bringing their nineteen-year story to a close (for the time being).

Daltrey, startled by Townshend’s announcement, resumed his solo career with the 1984 WEA release Parting Should Be Painless.



1 thought on “The Who

  1. First draft intro (2017): “The band’s classic 1964–1978 lineup became legendary in its own time as a powerhouse live act with four distinct and head-strong personalities. Fusing virtuosity with conceptual innovations like the rock opera, The Who were instrumental in developing rock from a state of flexible foundationalism to full-blown maximalism between the late ’60s and early ’70s.”

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