The Who

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About The Who

Fans who hitched their wagons to The Who's star early on were in for a long, wild ride. After brief stints as the Detours and High Numbers, lead singer Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle, guitarist Pete Townshend (all schoolmates in West London), and drummer Keith Moon released their debut single as The Who, “I Can’t Explain,” in 1964. The pop-art-meets-maximum-R&B commandos quickly developed into rock's most dynamic live act, and a string of galvanizing hit singles—including "My Generation," "Substitute," and "I Can See for Miles"—followed, filled with guitars and drums sacrificed to the gods of feedback and distortion. (A prelude, perhaps, to The Who’s unparalleled post-show hotel-room demolition.) The band’s kinetic alchemy roiled throughout 1970's Live at Leeds, as Daltrey's working-class swagger and Townshend's windmilling power chords tottered on the rhythmic edifice of Entwistle's stealth virtuosity and Moon's inspired percussive lunacy. Their studio work displayed no less bravado and even more sophistication. Townshend's spiritually motivated Tommy took the rock opera mainstream in 1969, but it was 1973's Quadrophenia, a marvelous mirror gaze into their mod-movement roots, that became the musical masterpiece they would tour into the 21st century. Disillusionment and depression fueled some of Townshend's finest music, including much of 1975's The Who By Numbers, but tragedy followed with Moon’s death in 1978. Townshend broke up the band five years later, only to reunite for a 25th-anniversary jaunt in 1989—for all his misgivings, the show had to go on. Entwistle died the night before a 2002 US tour, but Daltrey and Townshend forged ahead with a replacement, encouraged by Entwistle’s son. In 2019, more than half a century after The Who proclaimed "I hope I die before I get old," the band released Who, a raucous rumination on the fates of aging rock stars.

London, England
February 1964
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