The Who

The Who were a unique sounding band hailing from West London in the mid-sixties. They were originally identified with the MOD sound. Then the summer of love, a rock opera and finally the best band on the festival circuit at the height of rock music. Self-proclaimed loudest band in rock, they contained some of the best rock musicians and exposed the darker, seedier, real life experience of the rock disciples.

Pete Townsend was the writer who struggled to express himself. He was frustrated with his guitar and could smash it on stage. Roger Daltrey would be the dynamic, charismatic and magnetic singer who could make Townsend’s lyrics sound believable. Keith Moon was the arguably the best ever drummer, due to his untrained, original, brilliant and random drumming. John Entwhistle, the quiet one who in keeping up with Moon was possibly the best bass player perfecting the rhythm section.

They started with some Mod anthems like My Generation and the Kids are alright. Risqué expose of youthful sexuality in Pictures of Lily and I’m a Boy appealed to the real secret lives of their audience. The albums did not come thick and fast, but the creativity of Pete produced some original work. Tommy the most ambitious in 1968 was a rock opera, again about the alienation of youth. This album plus electric performances at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 propelled them to the forefront when others were failing. They were the leading live act when massive festivals and social revolution was the order of the day.

Pete had other ambitious projects, but by 1971 Who’s Next was released and was clearly their best work. An honest declaration of the failure of the politics of the social revolution in “Won’t get fooled again”. The whole album had a consistency that made it one of the best albums of all time in a year of many.

The albums were sporadic, another rock opera Quadropenia came in 1973 and gave us another insight into the lives of their fans. Two more albums and much touring ended in 1978 when Moon died self destructively and it would never be the same.

In 1980 Face Dances was a good album, but more of a standard rock album. The amazing longevity of the band though was the performance at Live Aid when they rocked everybody off the stage despite being the oldest. Even more so 20 years later at Live Eight when they did it again.

Individual, fearless and uncompromising, they were a West London street gang and continued to relate to the kids. They rocked and could not be defined by genre. Perhaps the lack of albums showed that when they had something to say, they said it. And when they did you listened.

Conway-Laird (2017)

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