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 Friday, 28 June, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
The how and why of The Who
The Who
The Who called their music "Maximum R'n'B"

The Who were and remain one of the best-loved bands of the rock era.

They inspired a particular devotion in their fans and survived generations of musical change.

In the 1960s they were the third-most powerful UK group, after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones - and nearly 40 years later they were set to start a major US tour.

Bassist John Entwistle and singer Roger Daltrey were west London schoolfriends who met art student and guitarist Pete Townshend and became the High Numbers.

The Who
The band's violent live show became legendary
Drummer Keith Moon joined in 1964 and they changed their name to The Who.

With a style and outlook strongly influence by the "Mod" fashion of the time, the band produced a series of classic rock singles including I Can't Explain, Substitute, I'm A Boy and My Generation - which contained the famous line "Hope I die before I get old".

Pete Townshend's clever, catchy songwriting helped the band to establish its own niche, tougher then The Beatles and less transatlantic than the Stones.

Like the Beatles, each member of the foursome had strikingly individual identities, especially on stage.

Violent energy

Moon was a manic, flailing drummer, Townshend made huge leaps across the stage and spun his arms like a windmill, and Daltrey was a preening, showy singer.

Entwistle just hung back and played bass, the cool cornerstone of the band.

The violent energy latent in their music would frequently result in the band destroying their own equipment on stage.

Their brand of rock - branded "maximum R'n'B" - was a huge hit in the US and appearances at Monterey in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 cemented their reputation as one the music's great live acts.

Pete Townshend
Townshend did get old, as it turned out, and kept touring
But Pete Townshend's mind was already elsewhere.

He created rock's first opera, Tommy, in 1969 to mixed critical reaction - but the songwriting magic remained and the set contained classics like Pinball Wizard and See Me, Feel Me.

The 1970s was a fertile period for the band, who produced a string of good albums - Who's Next, Quadrophenia, By Numbers and Who Are You.

But Who Are You was immediately followed by the death of Keith Moon.

Although his replacement Kenny Jones was musically excellent, some of the fire had gone out of the band for ever.


Meanwhile the Mod baton had passed to a new generation of groups, most notably The Jam.

Almost alone among the "new wave" bands of the late 1970s, The Jam wore their 1960s influence on their sleeves, with a look and a sound that was a direct homage to The Who's early years.

The Jam helped spark a brief revival of Mod culture in the UK pop scene which saw the emergence of other Who-influenced groups including The Chords, Secret Affair and The Purple Hearts.

And the original Modfathers helped fuel the revival by making a film of Quadrophenia in 1979, starring Phil Daniels.

The Who: Entwistle [L], Daltrey [C] and Townshend
Their 1982 album farewell was followed by a number of tours
The Who released their last studio album, It's Hard, in 1982 and went on a farewell tour - the first of a number.

After 1989 they toured sporadically, but Townshend was increasingly busy with his own projects, including his work as a commissioning editing at publisher Faber and Faber.

At their best The Who showed how a rock band could be intelligent without being pompous - and could be authentically British without losing their R'n'B roots.

And a large part of their excitement came from the marriage of Entwistle's nimble bass-playing with the surge of Moon's drumming.

Townshend once said that the band should have split after Moon's death in 1978.

And after Entwistle's death it seems unlikely The Who will try to continue under their old name.

  The BBC's Mike Sanders
"The Who caught the mood of a bright, energetic generation"

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28 Nov 00 | Entertainment
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