The Who inspires

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Fri Mar 2 07:10:13 CST 2007

Cover story in today's (Friday 3/2) Northwest Herald Sidetracks:

Listening to you: The Who has inspired a wide variety of bands


Battle of the bands competitions aren’t limited to high school gymnasiums and neighborhood festivals.

No, these contests live in the conversations of rock fans everywhere, as listeners fight for their favorite bands and try to decide which is better. Sometimes the battle is Beatles vs. Stones, sometimes it’s Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam. It could be Tupac vs. Biggie, Chuck Berry vs. Elvis or U2 vs. R.E.M.

When I was in high school, however, late-night debates always reverted to Led Zeppelin vs. The Who.

The comparison is irresistible. Four guys in each band. Each contained some of the most talented musicians in rock history. Both are among the most dynamic, hardest-rocking groups ever. This is a clash of the rock titans.

Their timelines are nearly parallel: both bands became hit-makers in the late ’60s and surged to superstardom with their most complicated work in the ’70s, only to be halted/damaged by the drug-related deaths of their drummers as the decade closed.

Although I love and respect most of Zeppelin’s music and recognize their enormous influence over what would become heavy metal, I was always on the Who side of the battle. My friends and I would debate song writing, live records and the merits of each band’s “great” albums, but the tie-breaker (for me, at least) always came down to the bands they inspired – not just the number, but the variety.

That’s where The Who triumphs. Sure, the Zeppelin guys are the forefathers of metal, but The Who can count groups as varied as Alice Cooper, Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Sex Pistols, The Flaming Lips, Blur, Phish, Nirvana and even Led Zeppelin among its followers.

In advance of The Who (aka Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and some other guys) concert at Sears Centre Monday, here’s a look at the entire spectrum of Who-influenced musicians. I think the list is the trump card in the Who-Zeppelin contest, even if it’s 10 years late for those late-night debates.

Power trio

Followers: Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Mountain

Yes, I can count. There are four guys in The Who, but we’re talking musical dynamics here (and Daltrey’s tambourine-shaking doesn’t count). The British Invasion rules were: bass, drums, lead guitar, rhythm guitar. By eliminating the rhythm guitar, The Who achieved a sound that was more raw, more freewheeling. The arrangement often allowed for John Entwistle’s bass and Keith Moon’s drums to become lead, and even melodic, instruments. It also allowed Townshend to play heavier, stronger and louder. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and company noticed, then created their own versions of the power trio.

Progressive rock

Followers: Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Rush, Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, Genesis, Phish

Townshend started experimenting with synthesizers during his “Lifehouse” project (which would become “Who’s Next”). The keyboard and synth-heavy progressive rock played by Genesis, ELP and Yes owes plenty to “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and other Who epics. Meanwhile, the multi-part arrangements from “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia” – as well as Entwistle and Moon’s complicated musicianship – forecasted the orchestral and winding work of acts like ELO and Rush. Phish would later perform “Quadrophenia” in its entirety in concert.


Followers: MC5, The Stooges, T. Rex, New York Dolls, Alice Cooper

While the prog bands drew from The Who’s full-sounding, synth-heavy material, other groups were influenced by the band’s first recordings. Detroit bands like the MC5 and The Stooges liked the unbridled power of “My Generation” and “I Can See For Miles” and then created their own messy masterpieces. The glam-oriented bands were inspired by the band’s artsy leanings (in terms of the attention paid to on-stage costumes and promotional videos). Cooper’s most theatrical stage performances have their roots in The Who’s full-length “Tommy” shows, in which band members voiced characters and the songs followed a storyline.


Followers: Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Ramones, The Jam, Patti Smith

“My Generation” is often called the first punk single – not only for its hard-charging chords, but because of its sentiment. While other bands were writing about love, Townshend was thinking about generational conflict and the nasty attitude the middle-aged had toward young people. No surprise, then, that The Who were considered godfathers by the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and countless others. The Clash stole the chord pattern from “I Can’t Explain” for “Clash City Rockers” and the Pistols covered “Substitute.” Paul Weller practically created The Jam in The Who’s image, from power-trio musicianship to story-songs about city or family life.

The Rock Opera

Followers: Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Green Day, Flaming Lips, My Chemical Romance

Concept records existed before “Tommy,” but no record quite told a true, linear story like the double-album about the deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard. Without “Tommy” – and, later, “Quadrophenia” – there would be no “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust,” “The Wall,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” or “The Black Parade.” Green Day even wrote the five-part “Jesus of Suburbia” (on “American Idiot”) in tribute to The Who’s mini-opera “A Quick One While He’s Away.”

British metal

Followers: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple

Hard-rocking British bands took The Who’s power trio esthetic and made it louder, faster and heavier. Although the lyrical themes of Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath songs are much darker than most of Townshend’s work, the political and social commentary found in British metal can be traced back to The Who. Plus, Daltrey’s guttural screams have inspired most of the genre’s frontmen, from Ozzy Osbourne to Rob Halford.


Followers: Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam

Although Seattle’s grunge bands of the early ’90s wore the punk banner on their flannel shirt sleeves, most were equally influenced by The Who. Kurt Cobain employed a Who-like mix of melody and rage in Nirvana, while Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder sounded like Daltrey but wrote like Townshend (many have noted the similarities between “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Better Man”).


Followers: Blur, Oasis, Supergrass, Stereophonics

The Beatles and The Kinks are always the first Britpop mentors mentioned, but The Who are nearly as important. Blur and Supergrass’ quirky character songs are direct descendants of “Pictures of Lily” and “I’m a Boy,” and Oasis’ attitude-laden rock anthems owe a debt to The Who’s boys club snarl. Plus, all these bands regularly pluck a Who chestnut to play in concert.

-Brian in Atlanta
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