Few bands in the history of rock & roll were riddled with as many
contradictions as the Who. All four members had wildly different
personalities, as their notoriously intense live performances
The group was a whirlwind of activity, as the wild Keith
Moon fell over his drum kit and Pete Townshend leaped into the air with
his guitar, spinning his right hand in exaggerated windmills. Vocalist
Roger Daltrey strutted across the stage with a thuggish menace, as
bassist John Entwistle stood silent, functioning as the eye of the
hurricane. These divergent personalities frequently clashed, but these
frictions also resulted in a decade's worth of remarkable music.
As one of the key figures of the
British Invasion and the mod movement of the mid-'60s, the Who were a
dynamic and undeniably powerful sonic force. They often sounded like
they were exploding conventional rock and R&B structures with
Townshend's furious guitar chords, Entwistle's hyperactive bass lines
and Moon's vigorous, chaotic drumming.
Unlike most rock bands, the Who
based their rhythm on Townshend's guitar, letting Moon and Entwistle
improvise wildly over his foundation, while Daltrey belted out his
vocals. This was the sound the Who thrived on in concert, but on record
they were a different proposition, as Townshend pushed the group toward
new sonic territory.
He soon became regarded as one of the finest
British songwriters of his era, as songs like "The Kids Are
Alright" and "My Generation" became teenage anthems, and
his rock opera Tommy earned him respect from mainstream music critics.
Townshend continually pushed the
band toward more ambitious territory, incorporating white noise, pop art
and conceptual extended musical pieces into the group's style. The
remainder of the Who, especially Entwistle and Daltrey, weren't always
eager to follow him in his musical explorations, especially after the
success of his first rock opera, Tommy. Instead, they wanted to stick to
their hard-rock roots, playing brutally loud, macho music instead of
Townshend's textured song suites and vulnerable pop songs.
this resulted in the group abandoning their adventurous spirit in the
mid-'70s, as they settled into their role as arena-rockers. The Who
continued on this path even after the death of Keith Moon in 1978, and
even after they disbanded in the early '80s, as they reunited numerous
times in the late '80s and '90s to tour America.
The group's relentless
pursuit of the dollar was largely due to Entwistle and Daltrey, who
never found successful solo careers, but it had the unfortunate side
effect of tarnishing their reputation for many longtime fans. However,
there's little argument that at their peak, the Who were one of the most
innovative and powerful bands in rock history.
Pete Townshend and John Entwistle
met while attending high school in the Shepherd's Bush area of London.
In their early teens, they played in a Dixieland band together, with
Entwhistle playing trumpet and Townshend playing banjo. By the early
'60s, the pair had formed a rock & roll band, but Entwistle departed
in 1962 to play in the Detours, a hard-edged rock band featuring a
sheet-metal worker named Roger Daltrey.
By the end of the year,
Townshend had joined as a rhythm guitarist, and in 1963, Daltrey became
the group's lead vocalist once Colin Dawson left the band. Within a few
months, drummer Doug Sandom had parted ways with the Detours, and the
group added Keith Moon, who had previously drummed with a surf-rock band
called the Beachcombers. The Detours changed their name to the Who in