Popular Culture (Music) 20111216: A Brief History of The Who

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Hello, boys and girls!  Last week, until my ill advised outburst, we were finishing up 1968.  Actually, I think that some of their finest work was done then, but their commercial success was not as much as they would have liked, and Townshend in particular was in sort of a crisis of his ability to write and delivers songs that would chart well.

There were other things going on as well.  Please remember the it was Daltrey who invited Townshend to join HIS band, and by the end of 1968 is was pretty clear that Daltrey was not the “owner” of the band any more, Townshend was.  Daltrey had always been pugnacious, but he recognized that under the leadership of Townshend The Who was much more successful than The Detours ever would have been.

There were some other dynamics as well, as Kit Lambert began to spiral out of control with drink and narcotics, hard narcotics.  This was not full blown at the end of 1968, but the die had been cast and Townshend was well on his way to being the undisputed leader.

After reading LOTS of history, interviews with all of the band members, and studying the music, I think that both Townshend and Daltrey realized it and sort of came to a silent agreement that Daltrey would be the front man for the band with his leading vocals, microphone shenanigans, and other overt and crown pleasing mannerisms, but the Townshend would be the actual leader, if not quite behind the scenes.  I should expound on this a bit more.

Entwistle and Moon did not have the egos that Daltrey and Townshend have.  Of course, they were rock stars, and Entwistle DID to get songs on albums, but that was more a financial than an ego trip for him.  Face it, in addition to royalties for  playing the songs, the songwriter gets additional royalties for writing them.  That is a double whammy, if you will.  But it turns out that the writing credits are often much more lucrative than the performing credits.  Moon just loved the moment that he was in, and if it had not been for his lack of ego insofar as his position in the band were concerned, I suspect that The Who would not have made it this far.

Moon actually had the most advantageous slot in the group.  He was absolutely secure in his position of clown-in-chief, and also had the benefit of being the best rock and roll drummer who ever lived, in my opinion.  He did not have to write, rarely sang, but was what I think of as the “baby brother” that all of the other brothers loved dearly.  Being a loon was just part of his way of endearing himself to the other three, and I really believe that they actually loved him as that baby brother.

I am not saying that Moon was not creative, not by a long shot.  But his genius was at his kit, not writing, not business, not anything like his child like wonder. Not childish, but child like in the best sense of the term.

Entwistle was different.  Sure, he wanted get writing royalties, and sometimes would write songs out of his register just to get them on records.  That became more pronounced as the band aged.  But he channeled his desire to be a band leader in different directions, later.  As of the end of 1968 he was sort of in the same seat as Moon, the best bass guitar player who was living at the time, and once again in my opinion, the best one who ever lived.

But Daltrey and Townshend were in a different universe.  Both of them were high ego folks, and sort of intimidated each other, sometimes to the point of fisticuffs, with Townshend being put in hospital at least once from an assault from Daltrey.  But Daltrey was not the writer that Townshend was, and he knew it.  As a matter of fact, precious songs by The Who have Daltrey credited with writing.  Now, he was one hell of a singer, but there were lots of other excellent singers.  The same can be said about Townshend and his guitar skills.  I believe that most critics agree with me that while he was a talented player, his technical skills were not as good as those, for example Joe Walsh or in particular Steve Howe.  Frank Zappa was also excellent at the time.

So both Townshend and Daltrey knew that they were not the best in their musical genres, but I think that this knowledge led them to make the silent agreement that they had.  Daltrey agreed to cede band leadership to Townshend, and Townshend agreed to allow Daltrey to save face in the process.  I truly believe that this is what happened, either consciously or unconsciously.  I believe that both of them realized that they were in a band that included the greatest bass guitar player and the greatest drummer who ever lived, and realized that they had to let some things go in order to keep going.

I have not read this in any publication, so I can not say that others might have put forth this proposition (points to anyone who can find the extremely subtle reference to another band in that statement).  But I have never read anything that makes the point that I just made.  Thus, Daltrey ceded control of the band to Townshend, who never highlighted that fact.  I believe that if this had not been done, they would have been done by the end of 1968.  I would love to read memoirs that have yet to be published from both of them regarding this point.  I think that I have nailed it.

In any event, the future of the band absolutely depended on the success of their next album, not single.  Three albums in four years was pretty poor for a band at the time, and fans were getting ancy.  Then in a remarkable show of lack of ego, Townshend brought unfinished demos and writings for the entire band to discuss, improve, and record.  If he had not done that, failure would have been almost certain.  Whilst I love Townshend’s writing, both in writing and performing he certainly was not some kind of perfect man (another subtle reference, want points?).  By bringing the half dozen pretty much finished pieces and lots of partially finished pieces and just ideas to the entire team, including the rest of the band and Lambert and Stamp, Townshend took the risk of being criticized, and the album that eventually became Tommy benefited for his act of submission, if not contrition.

In any event, 1969 was the year in which the world finally recognized The Who of one of the small handful of really great rock and roll bands.  Much of the early part of 1969 was concerned with finishing up the music and mixing Tommy (Lambert did the mixing, or at least a lot of it before he bugged out to Egypt before it was done in March), but they were also playing at local venues to help pay the cost of producing it.  Townshend was also producing the band Thunderclap Newman for Track, and they had a huge hit later on with Something in the Air.  Townshend played bass under a pseudonym.

Although it sounds like Townshend singing, in fact it is “Speedy” Keen, a friend of Townshend’s who actually had done roadie for The Who.

Townshend also helped out his friends, Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones, by playing guitar uncredited on a couple of pieces for the Small Faces.  Interestingly, years later Townshend would release an album with Lane called Rough Mix, and obviously Jones later joined The Who after Moon died.

On 19690307, “Pinball Wizard” was released on Track as a single, and on 19690322 by Decca in the US.  It charted to #4 in the UK, and to #19 in the US.  The “B” side is the very little known “Dogs Part 2” purportedly written by Moon.

One very significant event was that on 19690328, Emma Kate Townshend, Pete’s first child, was born.

Although they had been reluctant to appear on the new This is…Tom Jones show because it was inconsistent with their image, they finally agreed to do so to promote Tommy.  It was broadcast in the US on 19690418, and ironically also featured Pat Paulsen, the American comic who was a regular on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  There are a lot of connexions in popular culture.

In early May the band did a  US tour, playing lots of Tommy material before the album was released.  And then IT happened.  During the tour, which lasted until late June, Tommy was released.

Tommy was released in the US (a rare divergence from the norm) on 19690517 by Decca, where it charted to #4.  Track released it on 19690523, where it charted at #2.  After that, the Fates took over and The Who became one of the most recognizable rock and rolls bands who ever existed, but the path was still to be convoluted.

On 19690705, “I’m Free” was released on Decca in the US only.  It charted at #37, with a flip side of “We’re not Gonna Take It”.  Track never released this single in the UK.  That was to be their last record released until the next year.

Until early August, the band played local venues mainly, promoting Tommy and honing their stage presentation of it.  Then they returned to North America for a very short tour, with only two venues.

On 19690812, they played at Tanglewood in Massachusetts.  They were the first rock and roll band ever to play there, and the performance was outstanding.  I have used material from Tanglewood in many of these pieces, and I like them very much both for the energy that the band showed, but also because the video shows lots of Entwistle, too often neglected in film of them.  Just go to You Tube and type in “The Who Tanglewood” and watch some amazing material.

Not long after that, they found themselves at Woodstock, 19690816 and 17.  Townshend hated the experience, and part of his memories were immortalized in what I consider to be the best rock song ever written and performed, “Won’t be Fooled Again”.  Things went wrong from the start, and did not get much better.

First, there was the mud.  Second, there was the money.  The organizers of Woodstock had withheld much of their contracted fee, and their representative had to get ugly with them before they awakened a bank manager and got the cash.  Third, there was the wait.  Originally scheduled for 10:00 PM, they finally took the stage at 4:00 AM!  They were tired, had drunk drinks with bad acid (the “flat, brown” acid at Woodstock became notorious), and had other interference.

After they had played “Pinball Wizard”, the well known Yippie and all around disagreeable Abbie Hoffman grabbed the microphone to make a political statement about one John Sinclair being jailed.  Townshend, already angry, batted him off the stage.  I can not find the complete audio (to my knowledge there is not any video) of Townshend yelling at him, “Fuck off my fucking stage!”  Any readers who can find it, please post in the comments.

Townshend did not like the quality of their performance, but something magic happened.  Just as they were going into “See Me, Feel Me”, the sun started rising after all of the rain, as the clouds had thinned.  Imagine watching and listening to that at sunrise!

They returned to the UK shortly after that and played at the Isle of Wight music festival on 19699830.  This is not the appearance that was released later, but rather the 1970 one.

They played many venues there, mostly doing their 135 minute show that included most of Tommy as the big piece in the middle.  Normally they would open with some of their older hits and then finish either with a “My Generation” medley or an extended version of “Magic Bus”.

But on 19691010, they returned to North America for month plus tour.  Tommy had made them, and they were eager to capitalize off the success.

One of the highlights was Townshend meeting the very progressive and forward thinking composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein.  That happened during the week of 19691020, when they were playing at The Fillmore East.  Now, you have to remember that Bernstein was at the time the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, not an insignificant gig.  Townshend recalled later that Bernstein said:

Do you realize what you are doing?  Do you realize how wonderful this is?

To paraphrase, Bernstein told Townshend that he (Townshend) was making music accessible and popular.  I need to do a piece about Bernstein someday.  He was great.

The rest of the year was mostly concerned with performing in some exclusive venues, and lots of nonexclusive ones, to promote Tommy.  Their commercial success was now fully started, but there would still be lots of hurdles.  Lambert was beginning to become unstable, and he had been central to their success for a number of years.  There is more to come next time.  However, Townshend was becoming very wealthy because of good business acumen and his writing ability.  The others were making money, but not like him.

I feel that I have let you down by not embedding very many videos this time.  I shall make up for it now.  We already treated Tommy some time ago, here and here.  Pull up those pieces and play the music!  You will not be disappointed.  I just thought that the behinds the scenes history would be more interesting than things that I have posted previously.

Thank you for reading and commenting, and in particular thank you for the sincere concern that everyone showed me last time.  I promise not to do that again.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and



  1. being an extremely romantic person?  I can not help it; it is in my nature.

    Warmest regards,


  2. I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


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