W – is for the Who – in the beginning

Thursday 21st September

In the beginning they were the Detours, then the Hi-numbers, just another struggling band in the early Sixties, playing blues mostly and sharing the bill with other hopefuls like The Stones and Spencer Davis.  Then, like many other bands they decided to write their own material and changed their name to The Who.  And in Pete Townshend their guitarist they had a genius. From their first single “I Can’t explain” they were instant hits.  And hit followed hit with barely breathing space.  “Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere”, “My Generation”, “Substitute” “Happy Jack” and “Pictures of Lily” followed.

Almost every single was a hit.  And they connected with their increasingly ‘Mod’ fans.  We all felt a part of My Generation, and us council house kids knew all about being a Substitute.  And all boys knew exactly what Pete meant by Pictures of Lily.

The band were incredibly talented.  Roger Daltrey on vocals had such a powerful voice, interpreting Pete’s words so well.  Keith Moon was a brilliant if idiosyncratic drummer, and went wild behind the singer, but somehow this only added to the sense of something happening.  John Entwistle was the bass player, but he also wrote a few songs and was a brilliant arranger too.  Pete was a great guitarist too, who soon developed his famous jumping windmill style of playing.  They were,as they later named a compilation, “Maximum R’n’B”

Lost in history now, the Who started smashing up their guitars and drum kits at the end of their increasingly ferocious concert performances.  Some stories have it hat this was all pre-planned and Pete used already broken guitars taped up for the smashing.  Who knows, and furthermore who cares?  For me, it was always the music, and in the Sixties this was almost all singles.

But Pete always had issues which he (sometimes) disguised in his lyrics.  He decided to write a rock opera, probably the first, about a deaf, dumb and blind kid, Tommy, and how he found redemption through music.  This would become a repeating theme later.  People weren’t really sure how to take Tommy, some loved it and some hated it.  Re-listening now it sounds quite dated, but even so, many of the songs are classics.  The band toured it extensively and have returned to it many times, even making an outrageous film of it with Ken Russell.  In many ways Tommy was a turning point for the band, no longer so interested in Singles they became a serious band with Albums as the main focus.  They had grown up and the next phase was about to begin…

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