Popular Culture (Music) 20120217: A Brief History of The Who. 1978

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you who have been reading this series know that this will be the last installment about the history of The Who.  Although The Who continued to record new material and tour after 1978, to me the band really ended then and what was left was sort of what we now call a tribute band.

For 1978 to be such a disaster, it started off well enough, actually really well.  The Who were at the top of their game insofar as business interests went, Townshend, after being burnt by Kit Lambert, with whom he never reconciled, developed a high degree of business acumen, and The Who as a band were never strapped for cash again, although Moon and Entwistle had chronic money woes because of their lifestyles.  Daltrey was pretty conservative and also had a fairly successful acting career post 1978.

Although it pains me greatly to write this last installment, we might as well get on with it.  There are a number of ironies in 1978, and I shall point them out as we encounter them.  Please follow after the fold.

Most of the winter was occupied with continued production on the documentary The Kids are Alright, recording material for Who are You, and Daltrey filming his role in the horror camp classic, The Legacy.  While it does not really rise to the level of irony, it is interesting that Daltrey’s character dies in the film.

On 19780306, John Bundrick auditioned to become the keyboard player for The Who.  He was finally hired, and spent many, many years touring with them and playing on post Moon albums.  Known as “Rabbit” because of his buck teeth, the Texan fell out of the taxi door taking him back to his hotel after partying with Moon all night.  He broke his wrist, and was out of action for a few weeks.  He was thus unable to contribute material for Who are You

During the spring final mixing was done for Who are You, and it then became very evident that Moon was deteriorating rapidly.  During the recording of “Music Must Change”, Moon was unable to keep the 6/8 rhythm and is said to have uttered the famous phrase, after repeatedly apologizing for not being to keep that beat, “I’m the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world!”  That song really only consisted of Daltrey’s vocals and a few cymbal whacks, until Townshend and engineer Jon Astley added the coin hitting the floor, the squeaky boots walking, and the synthesizer bits.

Now, he had had no trouble with 6/8 meter as recently as 1975, because he drummed well on “They’re all in Love” on The Who by Numbers, and it was 6/8.  This was one of several warning signs that Moon was not doing well at all.

The entire album was recorded without Daltrey being present.  He did his vocal tracks at different times and Townshend and Astley mixed them with the instrumental parts that the others did together.  The famous “recording” of the title track on The Kids are Alright was staged for the film.

Track Records finally came to an end on 19780401, or at least that was when it was reported.  It ended up bankrupt with around a 70,000 pound debt.

On 19780509 production work for The Kids are Alright was finally finished, months behind schedule and tens of thousands of pounds over budget.  The only thing that remained was the filming of a live performance by the band, and that was done on 19780525.  It was Moon’s very last performance before a live, although nonpaying, audience.  Here is “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from that set, Moon’s very last song performed.

That was a masterful performance, by the band as a whole and by each individual.  This was actually the second attempt for a piece for the film, the director not being happy with the session recorded on 19771215.  It is comforting to see that Moon’s last live performance was up to his previous standard.  I like this clip also because there is a lot of camera on Entwistle.  He makes playing such complex bass look easy!

On 19780528, perhaps the most famous, or infamous, photograph of The Who was taken, and it became the front cover for Who Are You.  Terry O’Neill took the shot with Moon sitting in the chair backwards (to hide his fat belly), the chair being stenciled “NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY”.


Townshend was quite concerned about Moon’s physical and mental health, and created the position of director of promotion and publicity for Who Group, Ltd., the production company that the band had set up after getting away from Track Records.  Townshend thought that the sense of responsibility would be good for him.  His appointment became official on 19780704.  Moon would hold the position for barely two months.

On 19780814 Polydor released “Who are You” with the “B” side “Had Enough” (an Entwistle song that Daltrey sang, which was sort of rare) in the UK where it charted at #18.  MCA released the same single in the US on 19780805, where it charted to #14.  That was the last single ever released during the Moon era.  As a matter of fact, although there were a few singles released in the UK years later, they were all of material recorded when Moon was alive.

Everyone except Entwistle (he was trying to finish up the mixing for The Kids are Alright) flew to New York to promote Who Are You on 19780804.  They were interviewed by David Hartman for Good Morning America, and that segment, which is now know to be Moon’s LAST interview, aired on 19780807.  Thanks to the marvel known as You Tube, here it is.  Note that they got the names reversed for Moon and Townshend.

The next day after departure to the US, 19780805, Peter Meadon, the first producer for The Who, was found dead at his parents’ house, only 36 years old.  He died of barbiturate overdose, and the coroner did not rule whether it was an accidental overdose or a suicide.  In large part Meadon was responsible for their early success, and Townshend and Meadon were close until Meadon died.

On 19780818 Polydor released Who are You in the UK where it charted at #6.  MCA released it on 19780821 in the US where it charted to #2.  Here is the link to my piece on that album.  I knew that it was about to be released, so I had been saving up the money to buy it.  I got it the first day that it came to Fayetteville, Arkansas and the former Mrs. Translator and I hosted several friends and neighbors to come over to listen to it on my Klipsch Heresys, played on my BIC turntable, and amplified through my Kenmore 200 watt per channel integrated amplifier.

On 19780830 Entwistle, still mixing The Kids are Alright, needed some drum crashes and asked Moon to come and hit a few.  Entwistle was alarmed at who he saw.  Moon could barely get around, was seriously overweight, and acted like a man of 79 years rather than one who had just turned 32 the week before.  Cy Langston, an engineer helping Entwistle with the mix, recalled:

We sat his kit up and Keith came in and started to play what was required.  Then after two or three hours, he just got more and more sluggish, he could barely hold a drumstick.

After such a wonderful performance in late May, I really think that Entwistle should have taken notice of the severe deterioration in only three months, but he either was too busy trying to finish up mixing, just figured that Moon had had a bad night, or that there was not anything that he could have done anyway.  Please do not get me wrong, I am not blaming Entwistle for anything.  However, if it had been me, I would have gone to Townshend straightaway and would have tried to get an involuntary commitment for Moon for what in retrospect was an actual medical emergency.  But that never happened.

Now come a couple of real ironies.  On 19780906 Moon and Annette went to Paul McCartney’s house to begin a week long celebration of Buddy Holly Week, McCartney’s musical spiritual leader.  Moon was actually doing pretty well that evening, was sober (for Moon), and shared a booth with Paul and Linda McCartney and, among others, Kenny Jones!  Then they went to the theatre to see the opening of The Buddy Holly Story, probably Gary Busey’s finest work.  Remind me to tell you about him in a future installment in this series, because I have been familiar with him since I was around 14 years old (does Mazeppa ring a bell with anyone?).

Moon was not in the mood for the film, so he and Annette went back to the apartment that he had just bought (with 15,000 pounds borrowed from Townshend) in Mayfair.  Here is another irony:  that was the same flat in which Cass Eliot had died in 19740729.  He was hungry, and Annette cooked a late dinner.  They watched the Vincent Price thriller, The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  He also took “a couple” of his meds, prescribed to take the edge of of cutting back on alcohol.  The drug was clomethiazole, a particularly dangerous drug that should, for alcohol withdrawal, be used only under controlled clinical (inpatient) settings.  Here is the structural formula for the bugger:


Modern practice is discouraging the use of this drug, with safer and more effective ones available.  Unless under inpatient care, modern guidelines also specify prescription of no more than one day’s worth of the medication, and new prescriptions being given after evaluation every day.  With alcoholism as serious as Moon had, he should have been put in a rigorous rehabilitation facility, quaintly called at the time, “sanitoria”.  Obviously there is no 100% assurance of recovery even with the best of medical treatment, but chances are improved.  Townshend had enough money to take care of Moon, and I honestly think that he would have if he had known how ill Moon really was.  Before we get back to the timeline, here is what Moon was going through the last couple of months.

He began to realize that drink was killing him, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  He kept quitting, but kept going back to drink.  When he quit, he was so physically addicted to alcohol that he would have seizures and delirium tremens.  Most alcoholics never have DT, but Moon was so far gone that his system could not function without alcohol.  He would quit to be human, and start again to stop the pain.  He began falling and hurting himself, and often had no memory of how he hurt himself.  Annette began to fear for his safety (it was falsely reported at the time that she said that she feared for HER safety), and called a doctor.

The doctor who finally prescribed the drugs to Moon was one Geoffrey Dymond.  Later he said that he did not remember much about his interaction with Moon (only the most famous rock and roll figure of the time in the UK) and that giving large amounts of the drug for home use was “standard practice”.  Moon started the drug, but did not stop alcohol, a deadly combination as we have just been reminded of recently with Whitney Houston, although the toxicology has not come back for her.  Whilst it looks like an alcohol and drugs combination, the sedative involved almost certainly was not clomethiazole.

There is more.  It is almost certain that Moon had serious liver function impairment, not only from the alcohol consumption over the many years, but also from other drugs and lack of good nutrition.  Serious alcoholics often develop vitamin deficiencies because alcohol calories sate hunger, so nutritious food is often passed.  In addition, alcohol also reduces the absorption of at least one key vitamin, so that was also likely another factor.  In addition, alcohol in the system slows the first pass clearing of clomethiazole because some of the liver enzymes needed to detoxify it are tied up with alcohol.  This increases the concentration of the drug over time.  All in all, he was quite toxic.

The next morning, 19780807, he awakened around 7:30 AM and was hungry again.  Annette cooked him a steak breakfast, and he took more pills and went back to bed.  Annette slept on the couch because of his snoring.  He evidently took more clomethizole capsules and went back to sleep.  Annette went to check on him at around half past three in the afternoon, and he was already cold.

At 32 years of age, Moon was pronounced dead on arrival at Middlesex Hospital in Westminster.  The soul of The Who was no more.  There was an inquiry, and more on that later.

On 19780808, a Friday, the three surviving band members went into emergency conference to address the press.  They did not talk directly with the press, but released a written statement.

We have lost our great comedian, our supreme melodramatist, the man, who apart from being the most unpredictable and spontaneous drummer in rock, would set himself alight if he thought it would make the audience laugh or jump out of its seats…  We loved him and he’s gone.  The Who?  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.

That night we held a wake in Fayetteville.  The former Mrs. Translator, several friends, and a few people that I did not know met at a friend’s house (larger than our mobile home) and played Who are You over and over and over.  We drank, keeping a chair at the table empty whilst we ate a little.  I choose not to name names of the attendees because most of those folks are still living and have actual jobs and things.  We partied on until the wee hours, and all of us pretty much passed out over there.  Since it was early September, college had just started for the semester, so everyone was in town.  That was the start of my senior year in undergraduate school.

None of us were worth much the rest of the weekend, but we did sort of get his passing out of our systems, but using the very tools that caused his demise.  Some later went on to develop similar situations, and when I used the term “most” in the past paragraph I mean that the few no longer with us have succumbed to drink and drugs for the most part.

The final determination from the coroner in Moon’s death was that he died of an acute overdose of clomethiazole with alcohol as a contributory cause.  The capsule count indicates that he took 32 capsules over the course of the evening and morning in question.  IF the current dosage was the dosage then, each capsule contained 192 mg of clomethiazole, coming to 6.1 grams.  There are known cases of alcoholics taking up to 25 grams of clomethiazole per day and living, but if his liver function was severely compromised AND he had been drinking enough alcohol, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the combination was the cause of death.  In the UK that is referred to as an “open verdict”.  Pete Meadon’s death was also an open verdict.

The inquiry did not conclude that it was suicide, but not that it was accidental either.  The coroner, Dr. Gavin Thruston, found that although Moon took the drug without coercion, there was no evidence to support the premise that he intended to kill himself.  In the UK that is referred to as an “open verdict”.  Pete Meadon’s death was also an open verdict.

Thus ended The Who.  Sure, they recorded more albums, toured, and tried to stay the band that they were, but everyone from fans to the band members themselves knew that The Who were no more, at least as they had been.  I have a few thoughts about that now.

I saw The Who twice after Moon’s death.  Remember, I saw them in 1976 in Fort Worth, Texas.  The second time that I saw them the former Mrs. Translator and I, along with a couple of friends from graduate school and one of guys from the 1976 trip, drove down to the Cotton Bowl to see them, with Kenny Jones drumming.  We had a horrible seat selection, and if it had not been for the widescreen, we would not have seen anything because of the great concrete pillar in front of us.  That was on 19821204.  The playlist supplied on Wikipedia is pretty much in keeping with my memory of the concert.  Remember, this was before Mrs. Translator and I had had children.  I found the show sort of flat, but Townshend did smash a guitar.  Jones just did not fit in well, even though he is quite a talent.

The last time that I saw them was at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas on 20000827.  The entire family drove there to see them, and the venue was smaller and more intimate.  My boys were old enough to appreciate what they were seeing, and honestly if it had not been for giving them a piece of history live, I would have not have gone just for myself.  I was happily surprised, however in some ways and horrified in one specific one.  What I was happy about was how well they played.  Zac Starkey was drumming, and he became the best Keith Moon style drummer other than Keith.  Of course, he and Moon used to play together (I mean play like a kind uncle plays with a child, putting together puzzles and such, when Zac was little.  Moon NEVER became an adult mentally.) and just hang out when Zac was little.  Moon gave him some drumming lessons, and Zac’s dad, Richard (aka Ringo Starr) also did.

Zac seemed to reenergize them, taking cues and giving them to the rest of the band, just like Moon used to do.  Jones just never had that connexion with them.  The boys loved it!  I noticed something that none of the other family did, however.  I saw a very ill Entwistle leaning against a support to play.  He even allowed Daltrey to sing his signature song, “My Wife”, and then I KNEW that something was very, very wrong.  In under two years, he was dead, his heart giving out from years of drugs and drink abuse, being brought on finally by the cardiac destabilizing drug cocaine.  That was the morning before the new North American tour, slated to start on 20020627.

In retrospect, I still think of The Who as the finest band from the UK.  Townshend’s writing was superb for a long time, and every now and then he still surprises me when I find an old gem.  Although this history series is ended, when (NOT IF) I find old material that is not generally known, I shall post about them.

The future of this series is not in jeopardy, but I am not sure about where to go next.  I love to write, but sometimes have difficulty in finding good topics.  The Who were easy to write about, and they gave me topics for many months.  If I have a good topic, I can write for miles and miles.  If I struggle to find a topic, my hands are numb.  But find one I shall.  I am considering writing about the wonderful comedy series SCTV, but it does not have the universal appeal that The Who have.  I would appreciate any suggestion in the comments.

I feel sort of sad that these journeys are now ended.  However, I am encouraged by the wonderful comments that all of you, my dear readers, have contributed over the course of this Odyssey into the band.  I appreciate each and every one of them, and treasure not only them but all of you for taking the time to read and give me your thoughts.

In the next few weeks, expect me to post things that are irregular and a bit more political, but I shall always keep faith with my three series, even though the one Wednesday garnered but five comments, three of them mine!  Now and then eggs are laid.

Finally, please feel free to make comments, add videos or pictures, or give me hell for what I have said.  Feedback is the Mothers’ Milk of blogging, and tonight I feel like I need lots of it.  Finishing this series is sort of like putting an old friend out to pasture.

On a purely personal note, I made a decision this morning that promises to be life changing, and for the better.  Expect to see my mood improve over the next few weeks and for my writing to be more crisp.  Whilst I choose not to reveal exactly what that this decision was here in the open, suffice it to say that I am similar to the Republican puppies who became Democratic puppies one day.  My eyes were opened.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and



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  1. Moon’s last masterful, live performance?

    Warmest regards,


    • RUKind on February 18, 2012 at 06:41

    Moon was a terrible loss. I saw the Who many times but never with him.

    Makes me remember the other lost ones like Pigpen, Janis, Nicky Hopkins – all of who I saw many times. Plus a lot of others – all good people.

    Alcohol and drugs can be a bitch. Nearly went that way myself. I can understand the holes in their lives.

    At any rate, looking forward to your next effort.

    Thanks again.

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