The legendary British rock band The Who has enjoyed phenomenal success, selling more than 100 million records worldwide. The band, formed in 1964, consists of Roger Daltrey as the lead singer, John Entwistle playing bass, the guitar played by Pete Townsend and Keith Moon joining the group on the drums later. The band developed from an earlier group called The Detours and became part of the mod and auto-destructive art movements by breaking drums and guitars onstage.
The band’s first single I Can’t Explain, recorded in Pye Studios in 1964, reached the top ten in 1965 after becoming hugely popular with pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline. Such stations were important for up-and-coming acts due to the lack of commercial radio stations in the UK. Following the release of their most successful UK single My Generation, the group released their debut album with the same name. After attracting more and more attention in 1968, their album Tommy (released in 1969) sold 200,000 copies in the U.S. in its first two weeks. The album told the story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid, combining entertainment and a spiritual message of growth and clarity.
After several momentous performances, such as Woodstock (memorable for Townsend’s halting of an attempted political speech) and the Isle Wight Festival, The Who became a big sensation and considered to be one of the most popular live rock bands. As a result, their next album Live at Leeds was a recording of a memorable gig in the English city and received critical acclaim. Their next album Who’s Next was released in 1971, consisting mostly of material from Lighthouse: the discarded sequel to Tommy. The album featured several early examples of synthesizer usage in rock music in the tracks Baba O’Riley’ and Won’t Get Fooled Again.
The album Quadrophenia, a lively rock opera, was made into a film in 1974. Both the album and the film have been perceived as The Who talking about their generation and the clash between the Mods and Rockers of the 1960s and ’70s. The opposing subcultures, the futuristic mods and the backward facing rockers created conflicts in the young population of Britain, resulting in many considering both groups to be simply creating a teenage wasteland.
After a break from performing, the band reconvened in 1977, not long before Moon died after taking an overdose. Two years later (in 1979), the band completed their next album The Kids are Alright and later that year became the third band to grace the cover of Time Magazine. 1979 also saw one of the most infamous events in the band’s history: the Cincinnati tragedy in which eleven fans were tragically killed in a crowd-crush at a gig.
After 1985, The Who split, only to be reunited in 1999 for a UK and U.S. tour in 2000. However, two years later Entwistle was found dead of a heart attack. Earlier this year, the band reunited again for a tour and to perform in both the Hyde Park and Glastonbury festivals. The enormous turn out proved that The Who had not just faded away in the 21st century, however, it has been suggested that the events could be the band’s last UK gigs.
— Kate Dean, Correspondent (Music)