England, in the 1960’s, almost seemed like it was part of some strange mathematical equation thought up by the music gods. There was almost a formula to it. Take 4 or 5 males in their later teens or early twenties, add the fact that they came from middle class backgrounds and the fact they were from England, and the product of this equation seemed to equal legendary rock bands time and time again. In this case, the product of this mystical equation was “The Who”. Pete Townshend and John Entwistle met at school and in the late 1950’s and played in a Dixieland band together, in which Townshend played the banjo and Entwistle the trumpet. In 1962 Entwistle left the group to join a rock band, “The Detours” where he met Roger Daltrey. When it came time for a replacement guitarist, Entwistle recommended Townshend. Shortly after, Daltrey took over singing and drummer Keith Moon joined the team. At this point the band that was known as “The High Numbers” became “The Who.” The group worked on a demo called “I Can’t Explain” with the help of a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page, and with the assistance of producer Shel Talmy, ended up with a recording contract.
Unfortunately, no one really seemed to care about “I Can’t Explain,” but after a guitar-smashing, drum-throwing performance on the TV show “Ready, Steady, Go,” the song took off. It ended up on the #8 spot on the British charts and primed The Who for more success. After the single “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” reached the #10 spot on the charts the band released their first mega hit in 1965. The single “My Generation” reached #2 on the British charts, and although it only ranked #75 in the U.S. charts, it allowed The Who a foot in the door. In 1967 they released the album “Happy Jack” in the U.S. and the title track broke into the top 40. After being given an inch, The Who took a mile and released the record “The Who Sell Out,” which included the single “I Can See For Miles,” which climbed to a respectable #9 spot on the U.S. charts. Now with some success under their belts, the group released “Magic Bus” in October of 1968, which was a compilation of singles and B-sides. This gave fans something to digest and gave Townshend, who was the band’s main songwriter, time to work on something truly special; a rock opera.
In 1969 they released the double album “Tommy,” which was a “Rock Opera.” It soared to the #4 spot on the U.S. charts and its first single, “Pinball Wizard,” became a hit. “Tommy,” which was about a “deaf, dumb, and blind boy” was turned into a movie that featured Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tina Turner and others, and eventually became a Broadway show which in 1993 won 5 Tony Awards, including one for Townshend himself with an award for “Best Original Score.” In 1971 the band put out the album “Who’s Next” which drove home the idea that The Who were serious hit makers with songs like, “Baba O’Riley,” “Bargain,” and the extremely significant “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” “Quadrophenia,” which was released in 1973, became the group’s second rock opera. “Quadrophenia,” like “Tommy,” was also double-sided and was also later made into a movie.
Still hugely popular, the group decided to take a break from the road, and after their 1975 release “The Who by Numbers,” and its successful single “Squeeze Box,” did just that. They returned in 1978 with the album “Who Are You” which sold more than 2 million copies. Unfortunately this was to be the original group’s last album. On September 7, 1978 while being treated for alcoholism and drug abuse, Keith Moon overdosed on a prescribed sedative that was supposed to curb seizures he was experiencing due to withdrawals from alcohol. Although it was “never the same,” the band continued on with drummer Kenny Jones and keyboardist John Bundrick, but officially disbanded on December 17, 1982 after a show in Toronto.
Fortunately for fans, The Who have reunited several times since their official breakup. They played in February of 1994 for Roger Daltrey’s 50th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall in New York City. They recruited drummer Zak Starkey, son of legendary Beatles drummer Ringo Star, for performances of their album “Quadrophenia,” and after a charity concert in 1999 ended up touring. That same year they won a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, and in October of 2001 played a 9/11 benefit in New York City. On June 27, 2002, before a tour they had planed for the following summer, John Entwistle died of a heart attack in Las Vegas. More recently, in 2006, Daltrey and Townshend released the album “Endless Wire,” which has been The Who’s last album to date. The Who, as of March 2009, are currently touring and to quote Roger Daltrey, they “don’t want to stop.”
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