A name plenty of people know, The Who are a massively influential English rock band, formed in London in 1964. Their music has managed to sell over 100 million records worldwide, and they’ve had a massive impact on the scene of rock music. They paved the way for the use of synthesizers, PA systems and the Marshall Stack.
Originally, the band consisted of Roger Daltrey (lead singer), Pete Townshend (singer / guitarist), John Entwistle (bass guitarist and singer) and Keith Moon (drummer). But as we all know, not many stories remain so simple.
Pete Townshend happened to come from both Cliff and Betty Townshend, a saxophone player and singer in the entertainment division of the RAF during World War II. Both were very supportive of Townshend’s endeavours. He befriended John Entwistle in their second year of Acton County Grammar School, where they bonded over a mutual interest in rock.
Entwistle originally played the French Horn in their time as a trad jazz group, but attempted to move to guitar at first. He actually struggled down to the size of his hands, instead finding more success with a bass. Not being able to afford one at the time, he built his own at home.
Roger Daltrey, moved to Acton from Shepherd’s Bush. Though he found himself expelled at 15, finding work on a building site until he formed his band, the Detours. He encountered Entwistle by chance to recruit him, and Entwistle soon recommended Townshend as a guitarist.
At this time they had a vocalist named Colin Dawson. Dawson would leave after arguing plenty with Daltrey, who moved onto lead vocals during this change. Townshend ended up being the one that produced the new name, The Who, by spending the night conceptualising them with his housemate at the time, Richard Barnes. Daltrey agreed on The Who the very next morning.
Though there is still one member left from the classic lineup. The band had already gone through a drummer, Harry Wilson, before landing with Doug Sandom. Much older and more experienced than the rest of the band. However during an audition with Chirs Parmeinter for Fontana Records, the agent found issues with the drumming. There are several versions of what came next, but it left with Sandom leaving and not speaking to Townshend for 14 years after.
Finally, they met Keith Moon. A stand-in drummer at the time, seeking to play full-time after drumming for many bands since 1961. He worked with the Beachcombers, but The Who were mighty impressed by his enthusiasm which broke a bass pedal and tore a drum skin when he played some songs for them. In the end, Moon chose The Who.
During their early years, a certain performance saw Townshend accidentally break the head of his guitar. Fuming from being heckled by his crowd, he smashed up his guitar on stage before going to get another one and continuing the show. Moon kicked his drum kit over the following week to please the crowd; These two events combined formed the auto-destructive art to be part of The Who’s live set.
Unfortunately, Moon died in 1978, having overdosed on medication that had been prescribed to him to aid with his alcohol withdrawal. He took 32 tablets overnight on the 6th September and was discovered dead the next morning. Kenney Jones ended up taking his place, officially joining The Who in November 1978, previously playing with Small Faces and Faces. Further tragedy followed in 2002. On June 27, Entwistle had died of a heart attack with cocaine as a contributing factor. Pino Palladino took the helm as The Who’s new bassist.
That’s a lot of history to absorb, so let’s talk about their music now. What were their best albums? That’s a very subjective question, but we’ve looked around to find a general consensus to answer.
It’s always bold to claim one as the best, but Tommy tends to spring to people’s mind when talking about LPs from The Who that they love. Tommy is a rock opera with a pretty intense narrative around a boy of the album’s name. The events of the narrative lead Tommy to become “deaf, dumb and mute”. A very popular and highly praised song from this particular album is that of Pinball Wizard. An incredible song with immensely powerful instrumentals.
Another very heavily respected album of The Who, Who’s Next is arguably what paved the way for The Who’s success and future. The one that really got them on the map and sent them to massive arenas all around the world. Originally Townshend had planned for Who’s Next to be a project named “Lighthouse”, an expansive and ambitious rock opera. But in the end, we got Who’s Next. Opening with “Bab O’Reilly” and closing with “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, the album we got in the end is nothing short of excellent.
The debut album of The Who still holds an incredibly close place in many people’s hearts. The title track of course being a classic, another beloved song you might hear mentioned a lot is The Kids Are Alright. While this LP is certainly a product of its time, a time where artists preached the freedom of defiance and rebellion against the norms of society, The Who certainly did it right.
A very fun concept for an album, The Who Sell Out was themed around pirate radio while it had been outlawed in the same year. Including some witty jingles and fake commercials between songs, the whole album had been structured as a mock illegitimate radio broadcasting. A particular song of note in this album is I Can See For Miles. Plenty of people like to call it the big highlight of this LP.
Quadrophenia entered the ring as yet another double album rock opera. The themes of this album follow the culture of teenagers in the 1960s, around the time The Who themselves started out. The album explores the concept of subcultures of society becoming just as difficult to fit into as mainstream society itself. It’s also likely influenced by the four members of the band and their own histories, too. Love Reign O’er Me closes out the album with a massive bang.
This is just a small selection, and we said it before, but “best” is such a subjective word. Maybe your favourite album wasn’t mentioned here, or your favourite song? The small list compiled was just based on a general agreement over several different sources. Besides, with how many stellar albums The Who have, it’s hard to list every good one. That being said, it does mean we tend to see their albums come to us a lot here! It might be worth checking our store to see if we just so happen to have an album of theirs you might be looking for.