Members: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey
Genre: Rock, Hard Rock
Hometown: London, England
Albums: My Generation (1965); A Quick One (1966); The Who Sell Out (1967); Tommy (1969); Who's Next (1971); Quadrophenia (1973); The Who by Numbers (1975); Who Are You (1978); Face Dances (1981); It's Hard (1982); Endless Wire (2006)
Awards: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, Lifetime Achievement Grammy
Hits: "My Generation", "I'm a Boy", "I Can See for Miles", "Pinball Wizard", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "You Better You Bet"
Other: The Broadway adaptiation of Tommy won five Tony Awards.
The early 60's in London witnessed the birth of a band that would go on to be one of the most influential in rock history, and strike fear into the wooden hearts of many a guitar. It all begins with Pete Townshend and John Entwistle playing Dixeland Jazz as "The Confederates." On a chance meeting, Roger Daltrey invited Entwistle to join his band, The Detours. Entwistle brought Townshend onboard quickly after accepting the offer. By 1964 the original drummer departed, and Keith Moon asked to join up. The line-up set, The Detours changed their name to The Who.
Briefly, that is, before changing it once more to The High Numbers and releasing a single targeted to the growing "mod" population in England. The single flopped and they quickly returned to The Who. Their mod following did grow, and, as their popularity increased, the band sought to set themselves apart in a London filled with bands all competing for the same audience. In 1964 they found it, though not exactly intentionally.
One night at the Railway Tavern, Pete Townshend accidentally broke his guitar. Reacting angrily to the amusement of the crowd, he smashed the broken guitar, picked up another, and continued to play. Rolling Stone would later call this one of the "50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock 'n' Roll." The next night larger crowed showed up, expecting to see some more smashing. That night it would be Keith Moon and his drums that obliged. The Who would incorporate the destruction of instruments for years to come in their live shows. They weren't the first to destroy an instrument on stage, but they ended up iconifying the practice.
Electric, instrument-smashing live performances generated buzz, and the band released their debut album, My Generation, in 1965. The album peaked at #5 on the UK charts and spawned a number of singles that are staples of classic rock radio play even today, including the title track. Townshend, doing most of the writing for the band, wanted their albums to be more cohesive than a simple collection of songs. His first attempt at what would be described as "rock opera" was the track "A Quick One, While He's Away" on the band's follow-up album: A Quick One.
The Who Sell Out continued the trend. Released in 1967, the entire album styled itself as a broadcast from a pirate radio station, with faux commercials between the tracks. While not as commercially successful as their previous two efforts, Townsend would effectively define the genre of rock opera with their next album.
Tommy arrived in 1969. While the album peaked at #2 on the UK charts, it would go on to become one of the most historically significant rock albums in history. Consistently ranked as one of the top albums by Rolling Stone, VH1, NME, and Q, it was adapted for orchestras, film, and a Broadway musical. The Who performed most of the album at Woodstock, considered one of the crowning moments of the historic festival.
The Who's success continued through the 70's, returning to the rock opera well successfully with the album Quadrophenia in '73. At the peak of their chart success in 1978, drummer Keith Moon died of an overdose of prescription drugs. The band continued to tour and produce albums before formally breaking up in 1983. They reunited on a number of single occasions over the 80's and 90s, including the Live Aid concert in '85.
A performance of Quadrophenia in 1996 was the prelude to The Who mostly staying together until the present day. Unfortunately John Entwistle passed in early 2002, but Daltrey and Townshend have remained together playing as The Who to this day. The Who remain one of the most influential rock bands of all time, cited by a long list of the biggest rock bands to hit the charts since the The Who formed in the 60's. The band that revolutionized rock and live performances shouldn't be missed.