The Who, formed in London in 1964, is a British rock group among the most popular and influential bands of the 1960s and ’70s. Their contributions to rock music include the development of Marshall Stack, large PA systems, the use of the synthesizer, Townshend’s feedback and power chord guitar technique, and the development of the rock opera. They are cited as an influence by many hard rock, punk rock, power pop, and mod bands, and their songs are still regularly played.
Two of the original founders of the Who, Townshend, and Entwistle, met while both were students at high school in London. The two formed together a Dixieland jazz group The Confederates, with Townshend playing the banjo and Entwistle on the trumpet.
However, the pair turned to evolve themselves as a rock and roll act, as rock and roll had been increasing in popularity. Pete Townshend was born May 19, 1945, in Chiswick, West London. His father, Cliff Townshend, was a professional alto saxophonist in the Royal Air Force’s dance band the Squadronaires, and his mother, Betty (née Dennis), was a singer with the Sydney Torch and Les Douglass Orchestras. His grandmother Emma purchased his first guitar for Christmas in 1956, an inexpensive Spanish model that he taught himself to play.
John Entwistle (October 9, 1944 – June 72, 2002) was also born in Chiswick, which is now part of London. His father, Herbert, who died in 2003, played the trumpet and his mother, Maud who died in 2011, played the piano. His musical career began aged 7 when he started taking piano lessons. In the Confederates, due to his fondness for the low guitar tones of Duane Eddy, decided to take up the bass guitar instead.
He made his own instrument at home and soon attracted the attention of Roger Daltrey, who had been in the year above Entwistle at Acton County, but had been expelled and was working as an electrician’s mate. Daltrey was aware of Entwistle from school and asked him to join him as a bass guitarist for his band, the Detours. Roger was born on March 1, 1944, in Hammersmith Hospital, East Acton, London.
Daltrey made his first guitar, from a block of wood, in 1957, a cherry red Stratocaster replica, and joined a skiffle band called the Detours, who were in need of a lead singer. They told him that he had to bring a guitar, and within a few weeks he showed up with it.
When his father bought him an Epiphone guitar in 1959, he became the lead guitarist for the band and was soon expelled from school for smoking tobacco. Townshend and Entwistle joined Daltrey in his group, The Detours, in 1962; with drummer Doug Sandom they became, in turn, the Who and the High Numbers. Moon replaced Sandom in early 1964
Keith Moon (August 23, 1946 – September 7, 1978) was born at Central Middlesex Hospital in Northwest London and grew up in Wembley. He was hyperactive as a boy, with a restless imagination and a particular fondness for The Goon Show and music. the group released a self-consciously mod single, “I’m the Face”/”Zoot Suit”, to little notice and became The Who again in late 1964.
The West London quartet cultivated a Pop art image to suit the fashion-obsessed British “mod” subculture and matched that look with the rhythm-and-blues sound that mod youth favored. Townshend ultimately acknowledged that clothing made from the Union Jack, sharp suits, pointy boots, and short haircuts were a contrivance, but it did the trick, locking in a fanatically devoted core following.
Fashion, however, was strictly a starting point for the Who; by the late 1960s, the mods were history and the Who was long past needing to identify themselves with the uniform of any movement. They had picked recruited two budding entertainment entrepreneurs, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp to manage the band.
The Who later discovered their famed onstage persona by accident. While on one of their Railway gigs, Townshend accidentally smashed his guitar while throwing it up toward the venue’s low ceiling, above the high stage. The audience’s laughing reaction incited his anger, even more, proceeding to smash the guitar over and over until it was left in pieces.
Then Townshend picked up another guitar and smashed it as well. His destruction of the instruments on stage that night later made a lot of buzz, and people came into the Railway, keen to see Townshend smash another instrument. Keith Moon followed suit by attacking his drum kit.
At first, his managers were appalled, but seeing the band’s destructive attitude onstage, Lambert in particular encouraged the band to smash more instruments as this kind of gimmick helped bring a lot of publicity to them. The band’s early records dealt with alienation, uncertainty, and frustration, lashing out with tough lyrics, savage power chords,
and squalling feedback by guitarist-songwriter Townshend, the kinetic assault of drummer Moon and bassist Entwistle, and the macho brawn of singer Daltrey. The four singles between January 1965 and March 1966 were “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “My Generation,” and “Substitute”. The Who sang of unrequited lust (“Pictures of Lily”), peer pressure (“Happy Jack”), creepy insects (Entwistle’s “Boris the Spider”), and gender confusion (“I’m a Boy”).
These singles, while barely touching the US Billboard charts were very popular in the UK. They came out with two LPs during this period, December 3, 1965, My Generation (US – The Who Sings My Generation), and December 9, 1966, A Quick One (US – Happy Jack). The next LP was released on December 15, 1967, The Who Sell Out.
This was the skeptically humorous concept album presented as a pirate radio broadcast. It is structured as a collection of unrelated songs interspersed with fake commercials and public service announcements, including the second track “Heinz Baked Beans”. The reference to “selling out” was an intended irony, as the Who had been making real commercials during that period of their career.
Moon was excited to learn that cherry bombs were legal to purchase in Alabama. He acquired a reputation for destroying hotel rooms while on tour, with a particular interest in blowing up toilets. Entwistle said the first cherry bomb they tried “blew a hole in the suitcase and the chair”.
All that porcelain flying through the air was quite unforgettable. I never realised dynamite was so powerful.Keith Moon (recalling his forest attempt to flush one down a toilet)
After a gig in Flint, Michigan on Moon’s 21st birthday on August 23, 1967, the entourage caused $24,000 of damage at the hotel, and Moon knocked out one of his front teeth. Daltrey later said that the tour brought the band closer, and as the support act, they could turn up and perform a short show without any major responsibilities. Daltrey didn’t like the destructive behavior but he eventually realized that the lethal combination of Townshend and Moon’s behavior brought in excited new fans and press in droves — giving the Who the huge audiences they always wanted.
It was the 1969 rock opera Tommy—and a memorable performance at Woodstock that summer—that made the Who a world-class album-rock act. In the process, Townshend was recognized as one of rock’s most intelligent, articulate, and self-conscious composers. Townshend had stopped using drugs and became interested in the teachings of Meher Baba.
Surely the Who are now the band against which all others are to be judged.Melody Maker Magazine (on Tommy’s release)
Tommy secured the Who’s future and made them millionaires. The group reacted in different ways – Daltrey and Entwistle lived comfortably, Townshend was embarrassed at his wealth, which he felt was at odds with Meher Baba’s ideals, and Moon spent frivolously.
Townsend had started a project called Lifehouse but it was canceled owing to its complexity and to conflicts with Kit Lambert, the band’s manager. On August 14, 1971, the Who released Who’s Next, mostly of Lifehouse material. It has great songs such as “Baba O’Riley”, “Bargain”, “Going Mobile”, “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
The Who then released Townshend’s second magnum double album rock opera, Quadrophenia, on October 26, 1973. Set in London and Brighton in 1965, the story follows a young mod named Jimmy and his search for self-worth and importance. Quadrophenia is the only Who album entirely composed by Pete Townshend.
By 1974, work had begun in earnest on a Tommy film. Stigwood suggested Ken Russell as director, whose previous work Townshend had admired. The film featured a star-studded cast, including the band members. David Essex auditioned for the title role, but the band persuaded Daltrey to take it. The cast included Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson.
Townshend and Entwistle worked on the soundtrack for most of the year, handling the bulk of the instrumentation. Moon had moved to Los Angeles, so they used session drummers, including Kenney Jones (who would later join the Who). Elton John used his own band for “Pinball Wizard”.
Filming was from April until August. 1500 extras appeared in the “Pinball Wizard” sequence. The film premiered on March 18, 1975, to a standing ovation. Townshend was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score. It won the award for Rock Movie of the Year in the First Annual Rock Music Awards and generated over $2 million in its first month. The soundtrack reached number two on the Billboard charts.
The next album was “The Who By Numbers” released on October 3, 1975. containing the songs “Slip Kids”, and “Squeeze Box”. Next was their 8th studio album released August 18, 1978, called “Who Are You”. It was a commercial success, peaking at number 2 on the US charts and number 6 on the UK charts.
On September 6, 1978, Moon attended a party held by Paul McCartney to celebrate Buddy Holly’s birthday. Returning to his flat, Moon took 32 tablets of clomethiazole which had been prescribed to combat his alcohol withdrawal. He passed out the following morning and was discovered dead later that day.
We are more determined than ever to carry on, and we want the spirit of the group to which Keith contributed so much to go on, although no human being can ever take his place.Pete Townshend (the day after Moon’s death)
Kenney Jones, who had previously played with the Small Faces and Faces was asked to join the Who at this point. Kenney was born September 16, 1948, in Whitechapel, London, England. The Quadrophenia film was released that year. It was directed by Franc Roddam in his feature-directing début and had straightforward acting rather than musical numbers as in Tommy.
John Lydon was considered for Jimmy, but the role went to Phil Daniels. Sting played Jimmy’s friend and fellow mod, the Ace Face. The soundtrack was Jones’ first appearance on a Who record, performing on newly written material, not on the original album.
The film was a critical and box office success in the UK and appealed to the growing mod revival movement. The Kids Are Alright was also completed in 1979. It was a retrospective of the band’s career, directed by Jeff Stein. The film included footage of the band at Monterey, Woodstock, and Pontiac, and clips from the Smothers Brothers’ show and Russell Harty Plus. Moon had died one week after seeing the rough cut with Daltrey. The film contains the Shepperton concert and an audio track of him playing over silent footage of himself was the last time he ever played the drums.
On 3 December 1979, a crowd crush at a Who gig at the Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati killed 11 fans. The Who were not told until after their show and were severely shaken. The next two albums, now with Jones as the drummer, were “Face Dances” (1981) and “It’s Hard” (1982). The Who has released 12 studio albums, 16 live albums, 27 compilation albums, 4 soundtrack albums, 4 EPs, and 58 singles.
The Who played concerts in the UK in early 2002 in preparation for a full US tour. On June 27, the day before the first date, Entwistle, 57, was found dead of a heart attack at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. Cocaine was a contributing factor.
The Who have influenced many including Bono of U2, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Liam Gallaher of Oasis, Jack Black, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush
These guys changed my whole world. It’s a big part of why I do what I do.Eddie Vedder – Rolling Stone Interview on his love of the Who. He regularly covers Who tunes live and took the stage with Pete Townshend for a one-night cancer benefit concert honoring the Who.
More than any other guitarist, he taught me how to play rhythm guitar and demonstrated its importance, particularly in a three-piece band.Alex Lifeson – Rush
Four Who songs have been used as the theme songs for the TV franchise CSI. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation chose the song “Who Are You” because the lyrics seemed to fit the premise of the show which aired from 2000-2015, with 337 original episodes. CSI: Miami used — “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from 2002-2012 over 232 episodes and CSI: NY used — “Baba O’Riley” from 2004-2013 in 197 episodes. The CSI: Cyber show used the fitting — “I Can See For Miles” for 2 years, 2015-2016, and 31 episodes.
[Pete] Townshend and [Roger] Daltrey liked it, signed off on it, and it became part of our lore. And once we did Miami and NY, it was a no-brainer to keep spinning off and doing the same songs from the same band. CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker
- The Goon Show is a British radio comedy program, originally produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme. The first series, broadcast from 28 May to 20 September 1951, was titled Crazy People; the subsequent series had the title The Goon Show. The show’s chief creator and main writer were Spike Milligan, who performed the series alongside Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, and (for the first two series) Michael Bentine. The scripts mixed ludicrous plots with surreal humor, puns, catchphrases, and an array of bizarre sound effects. There were also light music interludes. Some of the later episodes feature electronic effects devised by the fledgling BBC Radiophonic Workshop, many of which were reused by other shows for decades. Elements of the show satirized contemporary life in 1950s Britain, parodying aspects of show business, commerce, industry, art, politics, diplomacy, the police, the military, education, class structure, literature, and film. [Back]
- Railway Approach, Wealdstone, Middlesex. The old Railway Hotel that used to stand on this site was a real old rock ‘n roll pub/hotel. It was here that an R&B club was run by Richard Barnes and where Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp first saw The Who starring Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. This is the site of The Who’s first-ever gig. It was also here that Pete Townshend cracked his guitar neck on the low ceiling and so began The Who’s notorious auto-destruction. You can see a photo of The Railway Tavern on the inside sleeve of Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy. Carlo Little, drummer with the Rolling Stones many gigs with his own band here. It was also here that he first met Ronnie Wood. The derelict hotel was destroyed by arsonists on 28 Feb 2000.
- Meher Baba (February 25, 1894 – January 31, 1969) was an Indian spiritual master who said he was the Avatar, or God in human form, of the age. A major spiritual figure of the 20th century, he had a following of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly in India, but with a significant number in the United States, Europe, and Australia. Meher Baba’s map of consciousness has been described as “a unique amalgam of Sufi, Vedic, and Yogic terminology”. He taught that the goal of all beings was to gain consciousness of their own divinity and to realize the absolute oneness of God. At the age of 19, Meher Baba began a seven-year period of spiritual transformation, during which he had encounters with Hazrat Babajan, Upasni Maharaj, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tajuddin Baba, and Narayan Maharaj. In 1925, he began a 44-year period of observed silence, during which he communicated first using an alphabet board, and by 1954, entirely through hand gestures using an interpreter. He died in 1969, and was buried in Meherabad. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage for his followers, often known as “Baba lovers”. [Back]