Guide to British Music of the 1960s


The Who

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Vocals- Roger Daltrey, guitar- Pete Townshend, bass- John Entwhistle, drums- Keith Moon

The greatest rock band in the world ever? I guess a few would argue with that but not many. The 'orrible 'Oo came out of West London in the mid-sixties.

After one single as the High Numbers the band reverted to the Who. Unlike the Small Faces the Who were not Mods. Pete Meaden had become their publicist and suggested that the Mod look would be right for them. Keith Moon joined replacing the original drummer Doug Sanden. Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert were looking for a band to feature in a film about the Mod movement when they met The Who in July 1964. they acquired the right to manage the band from Pete Meaden for 150. Stamp and Lambert were highly supportive especially when it came to encouraging Pete Townshend's song writing. While the band's set was made up of R&B standards, the first single was Townshend's I Can't Explain. Together with the follow-up Anyway Anyhow Anywhere the singles showed that the Who were very different from anything else around. The Rickenbacker guitar gave the tracks an individual sound that was coupled with the explosive Keith Moon drumming, running bass lines and, often aggressive, vocals from Roger Daltrey. With its feedback the second single was described as a pop art track. Aggression was at the heart of the stage act. If the members were not attacking one another, Townshend would be smashing his guitar into the amplifier while Moon kicked over his drum kit. It happened by accident the first time at the Railway Hotel in Harrow but, after that, it was expected and became part of the act, helping to gain fans but lose money on new equipment. For the best video depiction of this, check out the video/DVD The Kids Are Alright.

The third single was the Who's biggest success. My Generation was another Townshend original that contained the classic line "Hope I die before I get old." Reaching number two in the UK singles chart, My Generation has become an anthem of the Mod and every other generation and an ever-present in the Who's stage set, even later in life. the track was also the title track of the Who's first album. This contained a mix of Townshend original and R&B standards. This is a classic album with Townshend's writing already showing maturity through tracks like Out on the Street, The Good's Gone and It's Not True. However, all was not well between producer Shel Talmy and the band. The group moved to the Reaction label while Talmy milked the album by releasing The Kids are Alright and, ironically, A Legal Matter as singles. The dispute was finally resolved with a CD version of My Generation released in 2002.

The first single on Reaction was Substitute. This was followed by Happy Jack and I'm a Boy. By this time the Who had become an essential live draw and were a regular on programmes such as Ready Steady Go.

The second album, A Quick One, took a different tack. It contained a mini opera called A Quick One While He's Away. Not only was this a taste of the way in which Townshend's writing was moving but it was also a powerful track that was the highlight of the Rolling Stones Rock 'n Roll Circus in 1968. Pictures of Lily was another hit and was not banned despite the nature of its subject. In the summer of 1967, the Who made a memorable contribution to the Monterey Festival in California. The Who also released a double A-side of the Rolling Stones' The Last Time and Under My Thumb to keep the Stones' music alive while they were going through their court and prison difficulties.

The third album, The Who Sell Out remains the band's worst-selling album, at least from this period. However, time has treated it better and it is now seen as a classic. Often described as a pop art album, The Who Sell Out takes a novel approach with songs interspersed with fake advertising and radio station jingles. At the time the pirate radio stations off the coast of the UK were being outlawed and the album was a tribute to them. Still the Who needed a big hit and Townshend had one up his sleeve. The outstanding track on The Who Sell Out, I Can See for Miles was probably the closest the band came to a psychedelic sound. It remains one of the band's most powerful singles, especially when played loud! Check out Moon's superb drumming on this track. However, in commercial terms both the album and the single was not as successful as they should have been. Nevertheless, the band had still had a breakthrough year in the US following their explosive performance at the Monterey Festival in California.

The following year the band toured extensively in Australia and the US, releasing two singles that were less successful in Dogs and Magic Bus. The Australian tour with the Small Faces and Paul Jones was a particular disappointment with the media turning on the artists. However, the Who made several trips to the US during 1968, building on what they had achieved the previous year and this included debut performances at the Fillmore East and Fillmore West. The Who had become the fourth biggest grossing band in the US (After Cream, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors) but the excesses meant that the band did not return with much in their pockets.

Call Me Lightning had been released as a single in the US but this was not seen to be appropriate for the UK market and Dogs was quickly recorded and released. However, it was not a major success , reaching only 25 in the singles chart. This was followed by another quick single with Magic Bus rehashed having been written back in 1965. The single was slightly less successful than Dogs, reaching only number 26, but it did prove to be a live favourite. The band had returned from major US tours to playing small clubs, including the Marquee, in the UK as well as an appearance on the children's TV show Crackerjack. Alongside the relatively unsuccessful singles, 1968 was not a strong year for the Who at home.

However, this was to change and Townshend was hinting that there was something bigger to come, possibly releasing an opera on LP. The title The Amazing Journey was also mooted. Mose Allison's Young Man Blues had been recorded but was shelved. Some time was bought with the greatest hits compilation called Direct Hits.

However, the next single showed that the Who were on the way back. Pinball Wizard reached number 4 in April 1969. This was a taste of the ground-breaking rock opera Tommy that was to come. The story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy, Tommy spawned the genre of the rock opera, whether this is a good thing or not. However, what is without doubt was that this was a major work with some excellent tracks. 1969 also marked the appearance of the Who at the Woodstock Festival in New York state where they played on day two.

So the Who ended the sixties on a high note but this would be very difficult to follow. In 1970, the only album released was the excellent Live at Leeds. Townshend was already working on a major successor to Tommy. The Lifehouse project never came to fruition, at least not until the late 1990s but many of the songs that had been written for it ended up on the superb Who's Next from 1971.

From this point on the Who did not enjoy the chart success of their 1960s heyday but they were still a major touring act and released some well received albums such as 1973's Quadrophenia. Stamp and Lambert were sacked as managers in 1973 as they were seen to have lost control of the band due to a mix of heroin and alcohol.

1978 was a major turning point in the life of the Who. The film version of Quadrophenia was released as well as The Kids are Alright, a film compilation of television and concert footage mixed with interviews. The Mod revival brought new fans to the Who. However, the death of Keith Moon on 7 September 1978 had a major impact. His drums had driven the sound of the Who and the band questioned whether they should carry on. A very able replacement was found in Kenney Jones who had been in the Small Faces and the Faces.

Manager Kit Lambert died from cancer on 24 November 2012.

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