It's nothing short of ironic that a group that first got noticed for the line "I hope I die before I get old" (from "My Generation"), lasted over forty years.
In great bands each member contributes something valuable and irreplaceable. The Who was one of the few bands not dominated by their lead singer. Roger Daltrey had to compete with the guitar antics of Pete Townshend, who was also the band's chief songwriter. There was also Keith Moon's over-the-top manic drumming. Meanwhile, bassist John Entwistle stood stoically off to the side providing a solid foundation. Somebody had to.
The Who arrived in the mid-'60s with youth anthems like "My Generation" and "The Kids Are Alright." In addition, The Who's concerts were frenzied experiences. They destroyed their instruments long before it was fashionable. In '67, they unleashed "I Can See For Miles" which was one of the most intense songs ever recorded. They brought down the house with a smashing performance at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival. All that would have insured them a place in Rock history. But there was more. As the '60s were coming to a close there was news that Townshend was composing a Rock opera. Most everybody laughed at the idea and expected The Who to take a big dive. They didn't. "Tommy," the simple story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid who was a "Pinball Wizard" became both a commercial and artistic success.
"Live At Leeds" came next in '70 and was one of the all-time great live Rock albums. But The Who's greatest achievement came a year later with "Who's Next" containing the incredible "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Bargain," and "Baba O' Riley." By the late '70s though The Who seemed to run out of steam, which was probably inevitable. With Moon's passing in '78 it might have been a good time to hang it up. Proclaiming Moon irreplaceable, they replaced him anyway with ex-Faces drummer Kenney Jones. The Who also launched a series of successful "farewell" tours. Jones didn't last long and The Who continued, for a period, as a trio.
In '02, Entwistle died from an apparent cocaine-induced heart attack in Las Vegas just prior to the launch of the band's U.S. tour. Not wanting to upset fans or concert promoters, Daltrey and Townshend pressed on with the tour as a "tribute to John." Declaring Entwistle "irreplaceable" (hey, we've been here before!), they hired Pino Palladino, who had worked on Townshend's solo projects. Two years later, the career retrospective "The Who - Then and Now: 1964 -2004" was released. Basically, it was a re-package of the earlier "Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy" compilation with a couple tracks from "Live At Leeds," "Tommy," "Who Are You" and "Who's Next" included. "Real Good Looking Boy" was one of the new songs.
The sad truth is The Who will probably be remembered for their "operas;" the worthy "Tommy" and the lesser "Quadrophenia." There's much, much more but the operas get the attention. Complete versions of both appear on '05 DVD "Tommy And Quadrophenia Live." "Tommy" was taped in '89 while the "Quadrophenia" show came seven years later. These two recordings are so far past The Who's prime that it's ridiculous - even if the group rarely performed either opera in its entirety. The relative high points are the same as the studio versions.
The Who's "Endless Wire" dropped in late October of '06. It was The Who's first studio set since '82's "It's Hard." "This is not the old Who, we never said it would be," said Townshend covering himself.
The Who teamed with the U.K.'s Teen Cancer Trust for an '09 holiday fundraiser, Who Cares. "At a time when your body is changing, your social life is everything and you're still trying to figure out who you are, getting cancer can seem like an impossible blow to take," said Daltrey who was spearheading the effort. "But thanks to Teenage Cancer Trust, thousands of teenagers are taking it, and coming out fighting."
1965 - My Generation
1966 - A Quick One
1967 - The Who Sell Out
1969 - Tommy
1970 - Live At Leeds
1971 - Who's Next
1973 - Quadrophenia
1975 - The Who By Numbers
1978 - Who Are You
1981 - Face Dances
1982 - It's Hard
2006 - Endless Wire
The Who always pushed the edge, either in terms of concept or performance. They were one of the groups that put an end to Rock 'n' Roll and launched Hard Rock. A sound with a louder, harder edge and potent lyrics. Early Who albums are spotty but each has their moments. From their early period "The Who Sells Out" is the best. It's one of the first concept albums and follows a radio format complete with mock commercials. Singles, hits and misses, are culled for "Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy." Even though it came out in the early '70s everything is from the '60s. The Who had trouble getting off the ground and almost didn't make it. Their tours lost money and singles consistently failed to crack the Top 10. No wonder. They were far more bombastic than their Brit Invasion counterparts. And with the possible exception of the Kinks' Ray Davies, Townshend was virtually alone in creating moral fables like "Happy Jack," the sexual ambiguity of "I'm A Boy" or the aggressive "The Seeker." Great songs. The album scores with "My Generation" and their all-time best song "I Can See For Miles" featuring the rough interplay between Townshend's guitar and Moon's drums - each playing for maximum dramatic effect. Only Moon would have the nerve or gall to challenge a brilliant guitarist for the spotlight. The Who are responsible for the first "successful" Rock opera "Tommy."
While "Tommy" earned a lot of press and praise, The Who was just warming up. They had always been an exciting live act pouring their heart and soul into performing. With Moon's wildman attack, Townshend's windmill guitar and Daltrey's lasso twirling of the microphone cord, they were easily worth the price of admission. A live album seemed obvious. But after recording several concerts, The Who decided they didn't want to sift through all the material to find the best tracks. They ditched the tapes and showed up for a concert in the college town of Leeds. "Live At Leeds" features a blasting rendition of "Summertime Blues." According to Townshend, the Leeds show was not the all-time best Who concert. Rather, a prime example of how the group sounded on stage. Well, all right! Every song's a Rocker. And every Rocker is cut loose from its moorings and attacked. It's an awesome display of their raw, emotive power. Next came their best album, "Who's Next." Yes, there was a time when keyboard loops were new.
Townshend's writing and the group's performances are at their peak. Had this album been released as "The Who's Greatest Hits" no one would have complained. "Quadrophenia," another opera, followed. They hit a rough patch in the mid-70s but bounce back in '78 with "Who Are You." After that, forget it. Jones is no Moon and Townshend appears short on ideas.
Townshend is a great guitarist. But he was never considered in the upper echelon with Hendrix, Clapton, Beck or even Page. Yet nobody plays a chord like Townshend. It's instantly recognizable. Even incidental licks have an unmistakable ring. Daltrey too, has a unique style - a pure, forceful, emotive voice. "Endless Wire" works when these two sound like The Who of old. "It's Not Enough," "Sound Round," "Black Widow's Eyes," "Pick Up The Peace," "Mirror Door" and the album's stellar track, "We Got A Hit" are the reasons to get this album.
There is a tendency, as one grows older, to be contemplative and/or reflective. This is a distracting tendency, especially for someone like Townshend. The Who's appeal is distilling complex issues down to their essence (like "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" from "Won't Get Fooled Again"). People have always looked to The Who for slogans, not analysis.
There are a disproportionate number of acoustic ballads on "Endless Wire. Some are good ("They Made My Dreams Come True") but most are forgettable as Daltrey tries various vocal affectations. But ballads are not the reason people buy The Who's albums. Sure, Daltrey and Townshend are older and slower but they still can rattle the windows.