Personalities | The Who | Sixties | Rock

Originally comprising Pete Townshend (born 19 May 1945) on guitar, Roger Daltrey (born 1 March 1944) on vocals, John Entwistle (1944–2002) on bass and Keith Moon (1947–78) on drums, The Who virtually exploded onto the mid-1960s scene in a blaze of power rock that placed them at the forefront of the mod movement.

Reinforced by Townshend’s songwriting, and a stage act that saw him leap into the air, strike ear-shattering chords with a swirling windmill motion and smash his guitar, as Daltrey, swaggering menacingly, swung his microphone like a lasso, Moon went berserk on the drums and Entwistle stood without motion or expression, this London outfit helped define teen rebellion while continually pushing the sonic envelope.

From Detours To High Numbers

After meeting in their native Shepherds Bush neighbourhood during their early teens, Townshend and Entwistle joined a Dixieland band in which the former played banjo and the latter played trumpet. They then formed a rock’n’roll outfit, before Entwistle left in 1962 to join a band named The Detours that included Roger Daltrey in its line-up. Daltrey replaced Colin Dawson on lead vocals shortly after Townshend joined as a rhythm guitarist, and that same year, 1963, drummer Doug Sandom was replaced by one Keith Moon. In early 1964, The Detours became The Who, and while still semi-professional they secured regular bookings at London’s Marquee club. It was there that Townshend, frustrated with the sound system, first smashed one of his guitars, and where the group caught the attention of manager Peter Meaden. With Meaden at the helm, The Who became The High Numbers, adopted a sharp mod image and released the Meaden-penned single ‘I’m The Face’/‘Zoot Suit’. The record sank without a trace and took Meaden with it, to be replaced by Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert while The High Numbers reverted to The Who and built a sturdy following courtesy of their animated stage performances and solid R&B repertoire.

The Mod Years

A contract with Decca Records placed the band with Kinks’ producer Shel Talmy, a relationship that yielded the UK hit singles ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ and ‘My Generation’, featuring Daltrey alternately stuttering and belting out Townshend’s lyrics, including the anthemic wreckless-youth line, ‘I hope I die before I get old’. Onstage this message was reinforced not only by Townshend’s guitar-smashing antics, but also by Keith Moon regularly demolishing his kit, and the string of UK Top 10 hits continued in 1966 with ‘Substitute’, although this marked the end of The Who’s collaboration with Shel Talmy.

Kit Lambert now took over the production reins, and in 1967 the band at last achieved American success when Happy Jack (originally titled A Quick One in Britain) cracked the Top 40 and ‘I Can See For Miles’ made the Top 10, resulting in the band’s dynamic appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of that year. The Who had finally arrived, yet the mod movement was winding down, prompting Pete...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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