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The Kids Are Alright

The Who 1969

The Who 1969

The Who 1969

The Who 1969

Caroline Hansen, Music Columnist

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No one can deny the power of The Who. From the mod scene in the
1960s to the modern rock-opera, The Who dominated every musical realm they ever stepped foot in. It’s not an especially surprising feat for these men; their collective talent and fierce sound combined with Pete Townshend’s unrivaled songwriting has made them one of the greatest bands in history, and has allowed them to move gracefully through the ever-changing world of rock and roll.

It all began in 1961, when a 17-year-old Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle recruited then 15-year-old Pete Townshend as a guitarist for their band the Detours. Daltrey fronted said band, acting as lead guitarist and manager, while Entwistle played bass, and Townshend only rhythm guitar, along with Harry Wilson on drums and Colin Dawson as lead vocalist. By 1963, Wilson and Dawson had left the band, leaving Daltrey to take over as lead vocalist and Townshend as lead (and only) guitarist. Soon after, the band changed their name to The Who. But they weren’t complete until 1964 when they met the energetic and fanatical drummer Keith Moon; after he broke a bass drum pedal and snare skin the first time playing with the group, Moon was offered a permanent spot in the band. Thus began The Who.
It was during their early years as a mod band in London that the group pioneered their erratic playing style and wild stage tricks. Daltrey would swing his mic in the air like a lasso, while Townshend would perform his signature windmill/amp-jump combo. Shows always ended with inevitable instrument smashing, and occasionally Moon’s best stunt…filling the bass drum with cherry bombs and gunpowder. As you can imagine, these crazy shows put The Who on the map.
Over time, the band grew out of the mod scene, and moved on to explore the up-and-coming genre of hard rock in the late 1960s. Unlike other popular rock bands of the time, The Who didn’t try to soften their sound with pop or psychedelic mixtures; instead, the group jammed out with intense power-chord guitar, howling vocals, loud & dirty bass lines, and sporadic drumming. This became the sound of The Who, and would continue as their main influence for the years to come. It was 1969 when the band first experimented with the sound, toying with it while recording Townshend’s first rock opera, Tommy. This album signified a turning point in rock and roll. Before then, the Pretty Things had attempted to create a psychedelic rock opera, but it failed to chart well, and lacked the type of hard-hitting music and storyline needed for that type of album. Tommy was different than any album released before; unlike its counterparts, Tommy wasn’t a combination of different songs, it was a story with a begin, middle, and end similar to a novel or movie. Each song contributed to the story of Tommy Walker, a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who fights to overcome a traumatizing childhood. This story is what finally took the band out of London and into the states.
The late 60s and early 70s brought huge success for The Who. After the release of Tommy in 1969, the band was pegged to play at Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival, as well as The Rolling Stone’s Rock and Roll Circus. By 1970, the group had gained international fame, and in 1971 the band release another groundbreaking album, Who’s Next. This album epitomized their hard rock style, featuring Townshend’s heavily distorted guitar work, Moon’s ever-changing rhythms, Entwistle’s prominent, powerful bass, and of course, Daltrey’s signature wailing vocals. With hits like Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again, this album marked the height of The Who’s fame in the 1970s.
While many nowadays don’t remember much about The Who after Who’s Next, it didn’t stop them from creating fantastic music throughout the 70s. My personal favorite came about in 1973, with Townshend’s unbeatable rock opera, Quadrophenia. This album showed the type of diverse, riveting writing Townshend was not only capable of, but excelled at. Known now as the greatest rock opera of all time, Quadrophenia tells the story of the bipolar schizophrenic teen Jimmy Cooper, a mod growing up in London in the early 1960s, and his struggles with mental illness, abusive parents, drug addiction, rival gangs, and his place in the mod movement. While some found it to be to complex for casual listening, the album made it to #2 on both UK and US charts, making Quadrophenia their best charting album.
The Who played on into the early 1980s, with some of their greatest work coming from their 1978 album Who Are You and 1980’s Face Dances. Even now, years after the passing of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, Townshend and Daltrey still tour together, performing as The Who, now accompanied by Townshend’s brother on bass and drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo Starr’s son who was taught to play by Moon himself. I had the opportunity to see The Who in concert last May and I must say, at over 70-years-old, the men are still going strong and rocking harder than most of us ever could.

If you’re interested in hearing The Who, check out:

  • The Kids Are Alright – My Generation, 1965
  • A Quick One While He’s Away – A Quick One, 1966
  • Tommy Album, 1969
  • Substitute – Live at Leeds, 1970
  • Pictures of Lily – Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, 1971
  • Baba O’Riley – Who’s Next, 1971
  • Won’t Get Fooled Again -Who’s Next, 1971
  • Quadrophenia Album, 1973
  • Who Are You – Who Are You, 1978
  • Yoy Better You Bet – Face Dances, 1981
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