Popular Culture (Music) 20111230: A Brief History of The Who

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Last week we finished up 1970, which to date had been by far the best year for The Who insofar as commercial success goes.  Sales of Tommy were still good, and Live at Leeds was very well received both critically and in sales figures.

Now, what to do?  Townshend was at sort of a crossroads, knowing that he had to do something to show that Tommy was not just a fluke.  The answer to this, at least in his mind, was turned out to be the ill-fated Lifehouse project.  Since I did a standalone piece about Lifehouse here, I shall concentrate on other aspects of 1971.

I suggest that you read this chronological treatment of other things from 1971, then take a break and read the Lifehouse piece, then come back.  It’s OK, I can wait!  I have some snacks and can answer comments all night!

Before we get started, since it is New Year’s Eve eve, how about a semisynched performance by The Who from 1968?  Sure you can!

Since 1970 had been so successful commercially, and the band wanted to keep it that way, they tried several things to keep in the spotlight, sell records, tour some, and complete Lifehouse.  Well, Townshend wanted to complete Lifehouse.  Because he was so busy with writing for that project, and since he had become the bandleader, he was too often absent or argumentative to be the cohesive force for the band.  Different members began to develop different interests, and it almost, for the second time, caused the band to splinter.

Entwistle was working on a solo project, later to be titled Smash Your Head against the Wall.  He wrote all of the material for it, with the exception of the Neil Young song “Cinnamon Girl” and that one was not released until years later when the expanded CD version was available.  More on Smash later.

Moon had some bizarre work early in the year, when none other than Frank Zappy approached him and Townshend to appear in his motion picture, 200 Motels.  Townshend declined because of his dedication to making Lifehouse work, but Moon showed up beginning 19710201 to film.  He stayed on set for a week and played the part of a nun who was portrayed as being a drugs overdosing “Hot Groupie Nun”.  Here is the trailer for it, and you can not see Moon’s face, but he is the one in the habit being elevated from over the bed.  This film was so bizarre that hardly anyone wanted to be left in the final credits, but Moon did not mind.  Ringo Starr playing Zappa is just even more bizarre.

Moon later said that he did the film because he wanted to get used to being in front of a camera because of Lifehouse!  By the way, Theo Bickel who played The Narrator was a wonderful character actor who later went on to play Mr. Worf’s adopted human father on Star Trek:  The Next Generation.

Most of the rest of the spring was dedicated to recording tracks for Lifehouse and playing at Young Vick for film pieces for the same project.  This is probably a good time to jump here to bone up on Lifehouse.  I will get a snack now.

It is about this time that the first significantly overt split started to begin the band and Kit Lambert.  Lambert was becoming increasingly unstable, and could not mix the material for Lifehouse in any cogent manner.  Remember, as the final mix for Tommy was taking place, Lambert got overwhelmed and bugged out to Greece for the last week.  This time, Townshend got Glyn Johns to do the mixing, and the result was magic.

The first recording of any type for 1971 issued by folks associated with the band was the 19710401 release of Entwistle’s solo effort, “I Believe in Everything”.  The “B” side was “My Size”.  Since these are obscure, I shall report them here.  Be aware, though that I am not positive that the one that I am giving is the actual single mix, because it was different from the mix from the album whence came it.  The release date was the one by Track for the UK, and Decca released the same record in the US on 197105.  Neither succeeded in charting.

Here is “My Size”:

Playing on the album whence came these songs were Dave Langston on guitar and backing vocals, Neil Innes for some some occasional percussion and backing vocals, Moon for the same, and Jerry Shirley for most of the drums and percussion.

The next significant date is 19710424 when Townshend’s second daughter, Aminta Alice, was born.  I am not sure whether her name was a reference to the 1573 play by Tasso, but the complex poetry that Tasso used certainly is consistent with Townshend’s respect for literature.

In early May, Townshend realized that Lifehouse was not to be.  I covered much of the background in the piece that you reading whilst I was having my snack, so suffice it to say that he later said that no one else could understand the concept “because it was so fucking simple.”  Actually, no one, including myself, has ever “gotten” it except Townshend, but that does not diminish the wonderful songwriting that went into it.

Daltrey at the time was very disillusioned.  He was very happy with the material already in the can, and very much wanted to release a very good single album, but resigned himself to Townshend’s desire for Lifehouse.  He later said that the conflict almost rent the band.

Smash Your Head against the Wall was released in the UK by Track on 19710514.  It failed to chart, but a remix of it (Entwistle was not really happy with the original mix) was released by Decca in the US on 19711009 where it charted at #126.  No doubt that was largely due to their two North American tours that year.  It was becoming apparent that the US market was more important than the UK one, mostly due to the huge difference in the size of the economies.  A #10 record would make more money in the US than a #1 in the UK, but that does not help bragging rights.

During the early summer, the band alternated from playing UK venues live, and finalizing the mixes for what used to be Lifehouse and later became Who’s Next.  The really awful AM radio cut of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, with the “B” side “Don’t Know Myself” was released 19710625 by Track in the UK, where it charted to #9.  The same single, with the “B” side retitled “I Don’t even Know Myself” was released by Decca in the US on  19710717, where it charted to #15.  An interesting note was that Decca did not get the message that there would me no Lifehouse, and credited the record as being “From the Motion Picture Lifehouse“.

The AM version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is too blasphemous to embed, but since “Don’t Know Myself” is sort of obscure, here it is.  Note, I could not find the studio version, but this is a sweet live one!  If you can find the studio version, please post it in the comments.

For you true believers, the famous (or infamous) cover shot for Who’s Next was taken by the veteran photographer Ethan Russell on 19710703.  He thought, that as they were headed back to London, that a shot of them urinating on a monolith would be interesting.  There is more to it, though.  Remember, 2001, A Space Odyssey had released only a couple of year previously, and monoliths were still hot.  But even more importantly, and I have NEVER read this anywhere, just my own interpretation of the problems with Lifehouse, I think that everyone in the band just wanted, to use the vernacular, to piss on it.  What is not widely known is that at least some, and perhaps all, of the water marks were due to using a 35 mm film canister and rain puddles for the source.

On Bastille Day (19710714), Moon and his family moved into a new house, costing in today’s dollars somewhere around half a million, and the rest of the band helped him celebrate.  Of course the police were called, as they would be many times for disturbances at that address.

The last member of the band to marry, Daltrey, was joined with his long time live in girlfriend Heather Taylor on 19710719.

The band commenced a new North American tour on 19710729 to a sell out crowd in New York.  They were at the top of their popularity at the time, and the 28,000 seats sold out quickly.  They concluded the tour on 19710819 with pretty much sell out crowds for the entire effort.  It was during this tour that Who’s Next was released, in the US by Decca on 19710814, where it charted at #4, and by Track in the UK on 19710827 where it became their only #1 album.

During the past couple of months, mixes for their second official compilation album, Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy were being finalized.  Interestingly, I never covered that particular album in this series, so I shall have to remember to get to it.  In any event, it contained songs that we have covered in this series previously, so it a not a big loss that I did not treat it yet.  Released on 19711030 in the US by Decca, it charted at #11, and the Track release on 19711126 charted at #9.  This was another blow to the relationship betwixt the band and Kit Lambert, Lambert contending that he was not consulted and thought that the wrong songs were included and that the order was all wrong.  He actually got Polydor, who pressed and distributed the Track recordings in the UK to suspend sales until his changes had been made, but since way too many records had already been sold, the suspension lasted only two days.  Lambert and The Who were rapidly falling out with each other, and it was to get much, much worse.  Actually, the real problem seems to be Lambert’s increasing dependence on alcohol and hard narcotics.

They played venues in the UK up until early November, when they started a new North American tour.  During that time, on 19711015, Track released “Let’s See Action” with the “B” side “When I was a Boy” in the UK, where it charted to #16.  It was never released in the US.

That is really a nice song, and was intended to be part of Lifehouse.

I really like “When I was a Boy”!  Entwistle really could write and sing well, and was a nice compliment to Townshend’s style.

In mid November, the band returned for the second half of their North American tour, just after the US release on Decca of “Behind Blue Eyes” and “My Wife” which charted at # #34.  It was during this tour that Townshend uttered the famous paragraph to the audience when they would not settle down:

The rest of 1971 was fairly quiet, and there were no more releases either in the UK or the US.  This period of nonactivity would carry over into 1972, but we shall look at that next time.

This is the last installment of Popular Culture for 2011.  Please rejoin us next year to pick up where we now stop.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and



  1. a very good year?

    Warmest regards,


  2. I very much appreciate it.

    Happy New Year and warmest regards,


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