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. 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.

The following year the band toured extensively in Australia and the US, releasing two singles that were less successful in Dogs and Magic Bus. 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 ix 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 Chris Lambert died from cancer on 24 November 2012.

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