pkeets at hotmail.com
Sat Aug 28 15:30:00 CDT 2004
Did we see this back in the spring? Thanks to Lauren on Relayers:
[7 April 2004]
by Adam Williams
"A nice rock and roll band from Shepherd's Bush, London, Thee 'oo..."
Gazing up at the carved images on rock music's Mount Rushmore, one will see
greatness in a variety of forms: The Beatles as mop topped pioneers; the
Rolling Stones as sneering pop marvels; Led Zeppelin as bombastic virtuosos;
and the Who as, well, the Who. It can be argued that success and immortality
were assured for three of the four, but somehow the Who survived in spite of
themselves to become the best of the bunch. Forty years have elapsed since
the band's first single, and the passage of time has been marked by
remarkable successes, crushing failures, break ups, break downs, death,
destruction, and of course a catalogue of timeless material.
>From the band's original incarnation as the Detours, into the High Numbers,
then finally the Who, no grouping of musicians has ever been so ill
conceived or mismatched. Fronted by blue-collar street tough turned golden
Adonis Roger Daltrey, the band was to become a vehicle for art student Pete
Townshend's pent up childhood insecurities and frustrations. Townshend's
introspective songwriting and unique style of rhythm guitar were augmented
by Daltrey's unpolished vocals, while the frenetic drumming of Keith Moon
and brilliantly understated musicianship of bassist John Entwistle
contributed to the maelstrom of sights and sounds.
The early '60s tidal wave of Beatlemania and the ensuing British Invasion
proved to be an unexpected obstacle for Townshend and Company's fledgling
group. The optimism of The High Numbers' inaugural release on 3 July 1964
quickly waned as the single "I'm The Face/Zoot Suit" was a commercial
disappointment, and the band found itself languishing in the shadows of its
musical contemporaries. Although record sales and chart success were not
part of the early equation, the band established itself as leaders of the
English Mod movement. Townshend's creative sensibilities led to the group
embracing all things "Mod", an attitude that was cleverly exploited by
managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. To a certain extent, the High
Numbers/Who were originally marketed as a style over substance act, from
trend setting fashion icons to purveyors of auto destruction. That label
soon fell away however, as Townshend's writing began to take hold with
legions of disenfranchised youth, and the group's aggressive stage show won
converts all over England.
As the band soldiered forth into 1965, finally settling on the Who as its
official moniker, a reputation for smashed instruments and battling
personalities preceded it. Intra group clashes were not uncommon, nor were
exorbitant bills reaching far above the means of a young working band.
Although cash poor, the Who was fast becoming a fan favorite with a regular
slot at the venerable Marquee Club, (the famous Maximum R & B gigs), and
various television appearances. The release of two singles, "I Can't
Explain" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", brought a modest amount of chart
recognition, as the band decided to shed its Mod image and embrace a "music
as pop art" mindset. Electrifying performances and Union Jack coats aside,
it was not until the latter part of 1965 that the Who cemented its legacy
with the release of My Generation.. The title track embodied all that
angst-ridden teenagers could imagine: Rebellion, anger, resentment, and of
course, a mantra for the masses, "Hope I die before I get old." That single
lyric, spat out by Daltrey with such disdain, would define the Who for years
After releasing a variety of singles in 1966, (as well as the album A Quick
One), the Who crossed the pond in 1967 and showed the Yanks what the growing
fuss was all about. The band barnstormed its way through a series of Murray
the K shows, then performed a memorable set at the Monterey Pop Festival.
The crowd of San Franciscan flower children was left slack jawed in
disbelief; if not for Jimi Hendrix setting his Strat ablaze, the Who would
have been the unchallenged victors of the festival. The stateside visit was
significant not only as an opportunity for band visibility, but also for the
chance to unfurl the "mini-opera" format of A Quick One's title track to a
wider audience; the concept would soon evolve into the momentous Tommy.
While four decades is an eternity in band years, the Who reached its
creative zenith in 1969, then peaked in roughly 1972. During that brief
period, the band introduced the world to the "rock opera," performed
historic gigs at Leeds and the Isle of Wight, (two of the most ferocious
live sets ever recorded), and released the masterpiece album Who's next.
Interestingly, either Tommy or Who's next could have been the death knell
for the Who, but instead each became the crowning achievements in the
group's storied career.
The importance of Tommy cannot be overstated as the album rescued the Who
from impending financial ruin, while earmarking the band as one of the
world's most impressive acts. Tommy lent a certain degree of credibility to
the Who, as it proved the band to be more than mere equipment bashing
hooligans, but rather a dynamic musical force capable of writing/performing
distinctly cerebral material. The album also supported the consensus thought
that Townshend was a blossoming song writing genius, on par with Brian
Wilson and Lennon/McCartney.
As Tommy began taking on a life of its own, performed on stages from
Woodstock to the Metropolitan Opera House, the band gained the confidence,
(and professional clout), to embark on an even more ambitious trek. The
"Lifehouse" project was to take rock opera to the next level. Conceived by
Townshend as a futuristic interactive musical experience, the magnitude of
the endeavor proved to be impossibly ahead of its time. Ultimately consuming
excessive dollars and emotional energy, "Lifehouse" never came to fruition
in its conceptualized state, with Townshend finally admitting defeat.
Ironically, the project was distilled into a single album of songs, one that
is hailed in the top echelon of all time classics. Released nearly seven
years to the day of the band's initial single, Who's Next consisted of nine
tracks that ran the gambit of emotionality, all of which were to become FM
radio staples. Somewhat lost in the brilliance and timelessness of "Baba
O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" was the John Entwistle penned "My
Wife", a song that evidenced the bassist's underutilized skills as a
Receiving the commercial and critical success it had worked so tirelessly to
attain, the band was able to enjoy its status as one of the world's biggest
touring acts. While not as prolific as the Stones, the Who had no peer on
stage, consistently delivering overpowering shows to legions of loyal fans.
The band sought to continue riding the creative wave by releasing
Quadrophenia in 1973; technically a concept album along the line of Tommy,
the new recording hearkened back to the heady Mod days a decade earlier.
Viewed by some as even better than Tommy, Quadrophenia proved to be a
challenge on stage due to its inherently complex orchestration. That said,
much of the material was to reach legendary status, from Daltrey's
impassioned rendition of "Love Reign O'er Me" to Entwistle's thunderous
calling card, "The Real Me". As a testament to both albums' artistic
qualities, each was turned into a feature film, Tommy in 1975 and
Quadrophenia in 1979; the band's exceptional full length documentary The
Kids Are Alright was also released in 1979.
By the mid-'70s, the Who could get no bigger, and the inevitable malaise
after stardom was to set in. Excessive lifestyles took hold for each band
member, and the tepid Odds and Sods and The Who by Numbers albums were
released almost as afterthoughts. Even the band's 1978 effort Who Are You
lacked the fire and passion that fans had come to expect, while the album's
cover photo held a cryptic clue that the end of the Who may have been near.
Seated on a chair with the stenciled phrase "Not to be taken away", Keith
Moon was to pass on 7 September 1978.
At the time, Moon's death was devastating to the band, but not altogether
unexpected. Losing its spiritual jester forced the Who to face a difficult
crossroads. After much consideration, the band chose to soldier onward,
enlisting the services of former Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones. While
Jones may have been competent behind the kit, he was no Keith Moon, and the
band's efforts with Jones in the fold were notably unimpressive. Face Dances
(1981), and It's Hard (1982) both failed to rekindle the original Who spark,
and the band decided to ride off into the sunset.
As the '80s passed, Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle engaged in various
individual pursuits, but the inevitable urge to revisit the past finally
convinced them to reunite in 1989 for a Twenty-Fifth Anniversary tour.
Backed by numerous musicians/singers, the older and wiser version of the Who
looked different but showed that it could still perform the classic material
to everyone's satisfaction. There were even special New York and Los Angeles
performances of Tommy featuring countless celebrity guests.
The decade of the '90s found the Who embarking on sporadic, albeit
large-scale tours as fans showed an unyielding loyalty to their heroes.
Oddly, the maturation of the band was best epitomized by the adaptation of
"Tommy" for the theatrical stage. The 'orrible 'oo on Broadway? Strange but
It seemed that the Who would go on forever in its various incarnations, and
a show stopping performance at the World Trade Center Benefit Concert
quelled all concerns as to whether the band could still be a formidable live
force, even in middle age. Rumors continued to circulate that a new album
was in the works, and the band reconvened for an eagerly anticipated 2002
North American tour. Hopes were high, energies were replenished, attitudes
were positive, and all looked wonderful in Whoville. As fate would have it
however, the band would again be shaken to its core when John Entwistle
tragically passed, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of fans the world
over. Without the Ox's shadowy presence and bass roar, common sense would
dictate that the Who was surely no more. Surprisingly, Townshend and Daltrey
opted to see the tour through, employing the talents of studio bassist Pino
Palladino to round out the group. The shows were met with equal degrees of
melancholy and enthusiasm, but without Entwistle things were not quite the
Now forty years after "I'm The Face/Zoot Suit", Townshend and Daltrey have
once again assembled the musicians for special performances in the UK at the
venerable Royal Albert Hall and Isle of Wight, scenes of the Who's greatest
triumphs. A sizable tour will certainly follow, and new material has finally
been recorded for inclusion with a greatest hits package. While the absences
of Moon and Entwistle make using the Who label akin to Ringo and Macca
touring as the Beatles, it is the music that ultimately matters.
Make no mistake, the Who will always be Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John
Entwistle and Keith Moon. However, the vibrancy of the band's work is what
continues to resonate with fans, irrespective of the personnel configuration
The Who may now be relegated to the Two, but in 2004 it is still the best
ticket in town.
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