Despite housing such disparate personalities and backgrounds, the Who would prove to be the most cohesive of all British rock groups, lasting intact from 1964 to 1978
Take one hot-headed rock guitarist turned singer, add one mild-mannered bass player schooled in classical music on piano & French horn, plus a guitarist and budding songwriter raised on dance music of the 30´s & 40´s through his saxophone playing father, and what do you get? Certainly not a string quartet or a jazz combo. But insert an explosive young drummer with a fondness for surf music and you get – the Who!
Despite housing such disparate personalities and backgrounds, the Who would prove to be the most cohesive of all British rock groups, lasting intact from 1964 to 1978 – and then it was only death that could disrupt the rock-solid line-up of Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (guitar), John Entwistle (bass) & Keith Moon (drums).
It´s no exaggeration to say that the special chemistry that existed within the Who was the foundation upon which their success rested. Yet it was far from plain sailing in the early days and more than once the group was poised to split up in the mid-60´s. But they prevailed and with the unprecedented songwriting talent of Pete Townshend and the dynamic energy of the individual members, the Who created a style that was to prove groundbreaking.
How odd then that their rarest and most sought-after recording is also by far their worst. In mid-`64 Fontana Records issued their debut 45, "I´m The Face", to an unimpressed world. And who could blame it – it was an awful record, trying to be hip by re-shaping Slim Harpo´s "Got Love If You Want It" with new "mod" lyrics ("face" in mod parlance meant an important person, ref. the Small Faces). But luckily for them it was issued under the name of the High Numbers, since their manager Peter Meaden wanted a flashier name than the Who.
An even more fortunate decision on Meaden´s part was to dress up the group in mod clothes (mods were the latest British youth movement, distinguished by sharp clothes and a penchant for the latest American R&B sounds). Although Meaden and the Who soon parted company, the group stuck to the mod dress code and Townshend sent Meaden a cash gift every Christmas until the latter´s death in 1978, in recognition of his influence.
Their audition for the Fontana record contract was another lucky twist of fate that would have an indelible impression on their career. The A&R man (talent scout) at the audition wasn´t impressed by their drummer, Dougie Sandom, and suggested they replace him. Dougie, being the oldest and most experienced musician in the group, disappointedly agreed to leave. They auditioned several drummers, but it wasn´t until a 17-year-old youth by the name of Keith Moon was tested for the job that they were satisfied. Despite damaging the hi-hat and wrecking the foot pedal out of sheer nervousness, he was told to come and play for their next concert. Moon duly turned up, played the gig and was asked to come to the next concert as well. Until his premature death he was never informed that he was accepted as the Who´s drummer!
Reverting to their old name, the Who, they hawked around for another record contract with little luck until they met independent American record producer Shel Talmy in early `65. He had impressed the group with his work for the Kinks, and he in turn was sufficiently impressed to agree to produce them. In quick succession they recorded their classic first 3 hits, "I Can´t Explain", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" & "My Generation" plus the "My Generation" LP. "Quick" is indeed the word, for this trendsetting album, acting as blue-print for thousands of heavy rock groups, was knocked together in a mere 6 hours!
The partnership should have prospered indefinitely , but it ended in ligitation with both parties suing each other. Unfortunately for the Who they lost, with the result that the producer ended up receiving a lifetime´s guarantee of royalties from every Who record made. They retaliated in the only way they could by dedicating the B-side – "Waltz For A Pig" – of their next 45, "Substitute", to Talmy. This instrumental recording was incidentally performed by the Who Orchestra, which was actually the Graham Bond Organisation (the tune´s composer, Harry Butcher, was none other than subsequent Cream drummer Ginger Baker, who was able to buy a car from the royalties!)
It goes without saying that this was not a happy period for the Who, and they were in fact on the point of breaking up. While Townshend & Daltrey contemplated joining forces with the Brian Epstein-managed Paddy, Klaus & Gibson (Klaus being the Beatles´ personal friend, bassist Klaus Vorman), Entwistle & Moon were in the throes of forming a group with guitarists Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page to be called Led Zeppelin.
None of this came to fruition, however, and in the end the Who ironed out their internal differencies and carried on, turning out a series of brilliant 45´s. Each one was different from its predecessor and blessed with Townshend´s quirky originality, while always carrying the unmistakable Who brand. Yet out of all the major British groups, they were the only one never to get a No. 1 hit – even "My Generation", regarded by many as THE youth anthem of the 60´s, inexplicably only reached the No. 2 position.
Unlike many of their contemporaries the Who were a consistently exciting live band, and it´s possible that as such they will ultimately go down in history as the greatest rock group ever. With Moon mercilessly bashing away on his drums, and occasionally knocking them over, Daltrey swinging the mike over his head like a lassoo, and Townshend leaping into the air or smashing up his guitar, while Entwistle stood watching the mayhem motionless, they were a hard act to follow.
But it must be recognized that just like all artists they were subject to influences. Town-shend unflinchingly admitted that he developed his legendary "windmill" guitar playing style after having witnessed Keith Richards starting a Rolling Stones concert in early `64 by letting his raised hand crash down on the guitar strings for the first chord. Three years later the Who went into the studio to record a tribute to the Rolling Stones; a cover version of "The Last Time" in support of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards at the time of their drug bust (it was recorded at such short notice that Entwistle, who was away on his honeymoon, didn´t play on the disc). And in `63, when they were still known as the Detours and had 5 members, they sacked their previous singer so that they would get the same line-up as their idols Johnny Kidd & the Pirates (whose classic "Shakin´ All over" they subsequently recorded on the "Live At Leeds" LP).
In `67 Townshend began working on what would become the Who´s greatest success, the first so-called rock opera, "Tommy". When it finally emerged in `69 it was universally hailed as a masterpiece. Others, admittedly, found it pretentious and long-winded. And there are those that rate the Pretty Things´ concept LP "S. F. Sorrow", which preceded "Tommy" by 6 months, as a far better record and deserving of wider acclaim.
Be that as it may, "Tommy" truly cemented the Who´s reputation as a world-wide attraction. They followed it up with another important recording, the "Live At Leeds" LP in 1970, produced to look like a bona fide bootleg record. More discs & tours followed until the results of a self-destructive life-style ended Keith Moon´s life in `78. To a lot of fans Moon´s percussive barrage was the very heartbeat of the Who, and his frequently hilarious flirtations with fate served to give him a reputation for being immortal, which made the shock of his passing so much bigger.
If anybody thought that such a tragedy would spell the end of the Who´s career, they´ll have to think again. For they brought in ex-Small Faces drummer Kenny Jones and can to this day still be relied upon to deliver an energetic performance reminiscent of their heyday.
[Published 2 September 2000]
|deano||maj 15 2002 6:15AM|
|the who rule the modern world and kick rocker ass|
|Henrik||nov 13 2001 3:24PM|
|The Who rocks! |
Totally agree to theabove writor about the 3 most important bands. Something that pisses me of isthat Stones and Beatles get so much publicity and The Who almost none in these days...
|Sam Kongslie||okt 25 2001 4:33PM|
|The very fact that the Who still lives on today says it all! They've outclassed everything. I would dare to say the 3 most important bands to emerge from the Sixties were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who - or in the entire history of rock and roll. Amen.|
|Make your own comment |