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The Who

The Who is a British rock band. They were noted for the dynamism of their live performances and for their thoughtful music, including Tommy, one of the first rock operas.

In its early days, the band was known as the High Numbers and played mostly rhythm and blues. They changed their name to The Who and became the most popular band among the British Mods, a social movement of the early 60s who rejected the older style of music favored by the Rockers[?]. The album and film Quadrophenia are based on the story of the Mods and Rockers, particularly riots between the two factions at Brighton.

The Who's first hit was the Kinks-like "I Can't Explain" in 1965, but they vaulted to fame with their album, My Generation. The album included such mod anthems as "The Kids are Alright" and "My Generation", which contained the famous line, "Hope I die before I get old". Another early favorite, showing Townshend's way with words, was "Substitute", which had the opening line, "I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth."

From the beginning, The Who drew attention because all three musicians, guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon all played, in effect, lead parts. Singer Roger Daltrey was a dynamic front man, twirling his microphone on the end of its cord while Townshend played windmill chords on his guitar with great sweeps of his arms, and the maniacal Moon bashed and crashed like no drummer ever before him. Through it all, Entwistle stood still and played intricate, innovative bass lines. At the end of their live performances in their first years, the band would smash their instruments and explode smoke bombs[?], signalling that they had given the audience all they had.

The Who were also notorious for treating their hotel rooms and dressing rooms the same way.

The band's gimmick of smashing their instruments backfired when they performed for a TV audience on the Smothers Brothers variety show. In order to give a more spectacular show for the audience, drummer Moon inserted an explosive device into his bass drum before the show began, and without the prior knowledge of the other members of the band. The drum exploded on live TV when the band smashed their instruments at the end of their set. Townshend was standing close to the drum when it exploded, however, and his hearing was permanently damaged as a result of the incident. Fans and defenders of Moon claim that Townshend's hearing damage[?] came as a result of playing with the band for a long period of time, without wearing earplugs[?] or other ear protectors.

The Who's shows have often had an extraordinary decibel output. For a period of time during the 1970s, they were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records[?] as the loudest rock band in the world, though other bands have since taken the title from them.

Although they had great success as a singles band, the Who, or more properly their leader Townshend, had their sights set higher, and over the years their music became more complex and their lyrics more evocative and involving. Townshend also began wanting to treat the Who's albums as unified works, rather than collections of unconnected songs. The first sign of this ambition came in their album The Who Sell Out, which played like an all-Who playlist from an offshore radio[?] station. The Who completed the effect by adding actual jingles and their own commercials. Tommy, the first commercially successful rock opera, followed. Townshend then attempted an even more ambitious concept album, the Lifehouse project. Although it was never finished, the Who included some of the project's best songs in Who's Next, which would become their most successful album. Who's Next was followed by the Who's final rock opera, Quadrophenia. Other later albums were more personal, and Townshend eventually transferred this personal style to his solo albums. The hit single "Pictures Of Lilly" was possibly one of the most accomplished of all European contributions to psychedelic music.

Members include:

Table of contents

The Band Name

They chose to give the band a short name because concert posters at the time typically ran a list of band names, devoting one line to each band. They figured that even if they were at the bottom of the bill their name would be printed in larger type because it was short.


Structured Discography

The Who's discography is very messy for several reasons, including the early use of different labels in the UK and the USA, the labels' habits of releasing collected materal as if it were a studio album, very long delays in the release of some material, and remastered CD releases that made changes far beyond the customary addition of bonus tracks. This discography is designed to give a fairly detailed overview of The Who's corpus without excessive distractions. It is something of a simplification despite its apparent complexity; visit the links for more details on specific albums.

Studio Albums

   YearTitleV? Genre: Concept material:
    1965My Generation "Maximum R&B"
    1966A Quick OnePop Music (with a capital 'P'). Includes 10-minute "mini-opera".
    1967The Who Sell Out Psychedelia and satire. Classic concept album; incidentally includes excerpts from an unfinished Rock opera.
    1969Tommy Rock, plus some late psychedelia. Rock opera.
    1971Who's Next Rock. Salvaged from the failed Lifehouse project.
    1973Quadrophenia Rock. Rock opera.
    1975The Who By Numbers Rock.
    1978Who Are You Rock. Includes a few elements of John Entwistle's unfinished Rock opera.
    1981Face Dances Rock.
    1982It's Hard Rock.
V? : √ = The album had a title and track list that varied between the UK and USA releases.
See the album links for more information.

Recommended:
  • My Generation, The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Who's Next, and Quadrophenia.
  • My Generation and Who's Next are the most accessible of the recommended set; the others will take some effort to fully appreciate.
  • In any case, if you get the remastered CDs you should program your player to play only the original tracks until you have experienced the albums in their original form. See the links for the original track lists.

Period Collections

Notwithstanding their renown as a concept-album band, The Who had an active life as a singles band at least until 1972, when the single "Join Together" made the charts but was never released as part of an album. Their singles and various unreleased materials were occasionally collected and released as albums even while the band was still active, sometimes as stopgaps for years when no album was on the horizon.

The resulting albums are distinguished from the "Late Collections" (below) because they are collections of singles and other unreleased material of the relevant period rather than "greatest hits" or late "kitchen sink" collections. The material tends to be very good, and these albums are often thought of as Classic Who Albums along with the regular studio albums.

    YearTitle Comments:
    1968Magic Bus: The Who On TourUSA only Not a live album, as the title might imply. The material is chronologically localized, and includes several psychedelic goodies.
    1968Direct HitsUK only
    1971Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy A good history of the pre- Who's Next Who. Not available as a remastered CD, though most of the material appears as bonus tracks on the other remastered CDs.
    1974Odds and Sods The title describes it best!

Recommended:
  • Odds and Sods", preferably the remastered CD.

Live Albums

    YearTitle Comments:
    1970Live At Leeds Several variant editions exist; see the link.
    1970Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 Not released until the film came out in 1996; see the filmography below.
   1990Join Together 25th anniversary reunion tour; accompanied by horn section, backup singers, etc.

All three of the live albums are available as two-CD sets including a performance of Tommy plus about an hour of other material. Live At Leeds is also available on a single CD without the performance of Tommy.

Recommended:
  • The remastered single-CD version of Live At Leeds.
  • Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970, for a live performance of Tommy.

Late Collections

  • ...

Other Albums

  • 1979 - The Kids Are Alright
  • 1999 - BBC Sessions
  • ...

EPs

  • ...


Filmography

Films

  • 1970 Listening to You: The Who at the Isle of Wight Festival (released direct to video only in 1996):Concert film of The Who's performance at the third Isle of Wight Festival. (Excerpts from this performance are also included in the film Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival, released in 1997.) For more information about the movie see the entry at The Internet Movie Database (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0116891). A recording of the The Who's performance was also released as a live album in 1996 under the name Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970, as listed in the discography above.
  • 1975 Tommy:Ken Russell's outrageous treatment of the Rock opera, with Oliver Reed[?], Ann-Margret, Jack Nicholson, and an all-star cast of Rock musicians including The Who. The soundtrack is described at the link. For more information about the movie see the entry at The Internet Movie Database (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0073812).
  • 1979 Quadrophenia:A Franc Roddam[?] film that expands on the sketchy story of the Rock opera. It tells of the coming of age of a young mod at the time the mod versus rocker[?] riots of 1964. Sting plays a prancing phony along with a cast of unknowns. The Who's participation was limited to the soundtrack, which includes songs from the Rock opera, new songs written for the soundtrack by Pete Townshend, and various Motown hits performed by the original artists. The soundtrack is described at the link. For more information about the movie see the entry at The Internet Movie Database (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0079766).
  • 1979 The Kids Are Alright[?]:A Jeff Stein[?] documentary about The Who, including live performances, TV appearances, and interviews from all phases of their career up to that point, including their US debut on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. For more information about the movie see the entry at The Internet Movie Database (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0079400).

Other Appearances

Roger Daltrey also had a minor career in film and television, unrelated to his work with The Who, notably a role as Franz Liszt in Ken Russell's Lisztomania.



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