Saturday, May 3, 2014

The 50th Anniversary of The Who

It was fifty years ago today that Keith Moon first played with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle. And while Messrs. Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle had been calling themselves "The Who" since 14 February 1964, a very strong argument can be made that on that evening of 2 May 1964 they truly became The Who.

The Who had evolved out of a band called The Detours, a skiffle band formed in 1961. That same year Roger Daltrey, lead guitarist of The Detours, persuaded bassist John Entwistle to join the band. It was John Entwistle who brought Pete Townshend into The Detours as an additional guitarist. The band would undergo some membership changes before they became "The Who". Original vocalist Colin Dawson left the band in late 1962, to be replaced by Gabby Connolly, who left in 1963. Afterwards Roger Daltrey handled the lead vocals, leaving the guitar work mostly to Pete Townshend.

It was in February 1964 that The Detours learned that there was another band going by that name. It was Pete Townshend's room mate of the time, Richard Barnes, who suggested that they call themselves "The Who".  It was following a failed audition with Fontana Records in April 1964 that their drummer of the time, Doug Sanborn, left the band. Afterwards The Who relied upon session drummer Dave Goulding until they could they could find a permanent replacement. It was at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford, London that Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and John Entwistle met Keith Moon, who had been drumming with a cover band called The Beachcombers. After an extemporaneous audition, Keith Moon was hired as the new drummer for The Who. His first official gig with the band was at a birthday party held at a pub on the North Circular in London.

While it could be said that The Who, at least as most of us knew them (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon), was born on 2 May 1964, the band would undergo a few more changes in the coming year. It was in the summer of 1964 that The Who hired Peter Meaden as their manager. It was Peter Meaden, a Mod himself, who would shape The Who so as to appeal to the Mod subculture. He renamed the band "The High Numbers" and dressed them in Mod fashions. He also wrote their first single, "Zoot Suit", backed by "I'm the Face". "Zoot Suit" was based on The Dynamics' song "Misery", while "I'm the Face" was based on Slim Harpo's "I Got Love If You Want It". The single failed to chart and in August 1964 Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp took over the management of The High Numbers from Peter Meaden.

It was in November 1964 that The High Numbers once more became The Who. It was also in late 1964 that the band signed with American music producer Shel Talmy, who had already produced The Bachelors and The Kinks. Shel Talmy arranged to have their records released through Decca. Their first single as The Who, "I Can't Explain", was released in the United States in December 1964 and in the United Kingdom in January 1965. While the single only reached #93 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, it went all the way to #8 on the UK singles chart. At last The Who had arrived. The rest, as they say, is history.

It may well be impossible to gauge the entirety of The Who's impact on rock music. In fact, it seems likely that every single rock 'n' roll artist who has followed them has felt their impact in some way. Indeed, The Who would play a pivotal role in the creation of entire subgenres of rock music. It was in in the 20 May 1967 issue of The New Music Express that Pete Townshend coined the term "power pop" to describe the music The Who was playing at the time. It should then come as no surprise that the subgenre of power pop owes more to early sound of The Who than any other band except perhaps The Beatles and The Kinks. The Who's influence can be heard in such power pop bands as Cheap Trick, The Posies, Weezer, and Fountains of Wayne.

The Who would also prove to have an impact on other subgenres of rock as well. Proto-punk bands MC5 and The Stooges were both heavily influenced by The Who. As a result, punk bands from The Sex Pistols to Green Day would also feel The Who's impact. While garage rock had developed to some degree before The Who, they would have an impact on the garage bands that followed them, including The Ramones,  The Chesterfield Kings, and The Fuzztones. The Who would even have an impact on heavy metal. The band's use of power chords and the excessive volume of their music in the mid to late Sixties would prove pivotal in the development of metal.

Beyond making lasting contributions towards various subgenres of rock music, The Who would have a lasting influence in other ways. They recorded one of the earliest concept albums in rock history. The Who Sell Out was released in December 1967 and was made to sound like a broadcast of Radio London, complete with commercials. The Who would also prove pivotal in the development of rock opera. It was in 1966 that The Who recorded "A Quick One, While He's Away" for the album A Quick One. "A Quick One, While He's Away" was essentially a 9 minute and 10 seconds medley that Pete Townshend has described as a " mini-opera". May 1969 would see The Who release a full fledged rock opera, Tommy. While it was not the first rock opera (British band Nirvana's The Story of Simon Simopath, side two of Small Faces' album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, and The Pretty Things' S. F. Sorrow all came out before it), Tommy may well be the most influential rock opera of all time.

The Who would also have a lasting impact on rock culture in general. The Union Jack imagery, as well as the target motif (both borrowed from the Mod subculture),  often utilised in the band's early days has remained a part of rock iconography ever since. The film Quadrophenia, based on their 1973 rock opera of the same name, would help spark the Mod Revival that lasted from 1978 into the early Eighties. As might be expected, many of the Mod Revival bands, such as The Jam and The Chords were heavily influenced by The Who.

Of course, The Who's most obvious legacy may be their music. From the release of "I Can't Explain" in 1964 onwards The Who have created one of the most lasting catalogues of songs in rock history. While The Who might not boast as many top 40 hits as other artists, many of their songs have remained memorable nonetheless. "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "Happy Jack", "Pinball Wizard", "Behind Blue Eyes", The Real Me", and many other songs by The Who have remained popular through the years when other bigger hits by other artists have long been forgotten. And it was through those songs that The Who changed rock music forever. In the end, it would seem The Who's lasting contributions to rock music are such that any reasonable accounting of the greatest rock bands of all time would have to include them at the top.

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