Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Who, The #71 Artist of the Seventies*

This group of lead guitarist Pete Townshend, lead singer Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon formed in 1964.  It took five singles before the group finally landed a Top 10 song--"I Can See For Miles" in 1967.

Little did the group know it, but they would never score another Top 10 hit for the rest of their career.  Four subsequent singles failed to find the Top 10 before the decade ran out.  But the Who is a story of endurance, and one of live performances--the group quickly gained a reputation for their smashing of guitars and equipment after their shows.  

The Who famously performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, their first major appearance in the United States.  In 1968, Townshend, the genius behind the group, set out on an ambitious project, which ultimately resulted in the greatest rock opera in history.  Tommy was a concept album later made into a movie, and the Who closed the 60's on an upswing with a performance at Woodstock. 

In 1970, the Who recorded their concert in Leeds, and some believe Live at Leeds is one of the best live albums of the Rock Era.  The group released "The Seeker", which stalled at #44.  The "live" single "Summertime Blues" did slightly better at #27.
The band had already enjoyed minor hits from Tommy with "Pinball Wizard" and "I'm Free", and later in 1970, the Who released another single from the album, "See Me, Feel Me".  At #12, it is one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.    

Townshend spent his energy working on a follow-up to TommyLifehouse was also supposed to be a multi-media project symbolizing the relationship between an artist and fans.  But eventually, others in the Who complained to Pete that the idea was too complicated and they wanted to just record another album.  Townshend proceeded to have a nervous breakdown, and the Lifehouse project was shelved.

The Who salvaged some of the songs from Lifehouse and began recording a new studio album.  The group released the album Who's Next in 1971.  It would become one of their best studio releases.  The single "Won't Get Fooled Again" was yet another of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs*, peaking at #15.

Who's Next went to #4 on the album chart, and featured another Top Underrated Song*--"Behind Blue Eyes", which peaked at #34.

As an aside, you see the low peaks for Who songs, but also note our explanations that many of their songs are underrated.  In compiling the statistics for this special, the group gets credit consistent with the album sales and radio airplay connected with their songs, not what "peak" they were.  There are three other tracks from this outstanding album that we would like to feature.  This is the Top Track* "Baba O'Riley".

Who's Next did not go Platinum until 1993, but it is now Triple Platinum (three million copies sold), and yes, the current sales figures are the ones we used in calculating their rank in the Seventies.  Another great track on the album is "Bargain".

In 1972, the Who released another non-album single, "Join Together", which made it to #17.

The Who replaced much of their Tommy material with the new songs on tour.  Robert Hilburn of The Los Angeles Times described the Who as "the Greatest Show on Earth."  However, the "greatest show on Earth" also included a delay in their San Francisco performance after Moon took an idiotic mix of brandy and barbituates.  We would also like to feature "Going Mobile" from the album, another favorite among fans of the Who.

The group began recording an album, but results were not productive.  Tensions began to enter group dynamics between Daltrey and Townshend, and Moon continued to abuse drugs and alcohol and jeopardize the group.

In 1973, the Who released the album QuadropheniaQuadrophenia went Platinum and became the group's biggest career album, reaching #2 on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  However, the first single from the album, "5:15", failed to reach the Top 100.

Quadrophenia,  did contain another Top Track* from the group:  "Love Reign O'er Me".

The subsequent tour was wrought with problems.  Rehearsals concluded after an argument between Daltrey and Townshend, with Daltrey punching and knocking Townshend out.  At another show in Newcastle, backing tapes that Townshend had recorded malfunctioned, leading a furious Townshend to kick over amps and yell at the soundman.  Moon passed out twice in a concert at the Cow Palace in California, after which Townshend asked the audience, "Can anyone play the drums?--I mean somebody good."  He was serious--a fan (Scott Halpin) filled in for the rest of the show. 

In 1974, the Who began working on converting the Tommy project to the big screen.  Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Ann-Margret, and Tina Turner (as The Acid Queen) starred in the movie, directed by Ken Russell.  As Moon had moved to Los Angeles, the group used Kenney Jones and Tony Newman as drummers. 

Tommy opened in theaters in March of 1975, and Ann-Margret won a Golden Globe Award for her performance, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.  Townshend received an Oscar nomination for Best Film Score and for Adaptation.

In 1974, the group released the compilation album Odds & Sods, which featured several songs from the abandoned Lifehouse project, and went Platinum.  The following year, the Who released the studio album The Who by Numbers.  The best the group could do was "Squeeze Box", which stalled at #16.

So the group went out to do what it could do, which was play live.  On December 6, 1975, the Who set the record at the time for the largest indoor concert at the Pontiac Silverdome, with the group playing before 78,000 fans.  On May 31 of the next year, the group set a record that stood for over ten years in the Guinness Book of Records when their concert exceeded 120 decibels.  We are sorry for the fans who attended that show and aren't able to enjoy listening to the group's songs today.

But Townshend and Daltrey were both burned out from touring, and Moon increasingly was unreliable.  The Who only performed once that year, a show at the Gaumont State Cinema in London that was filmed for a planned documentary called The Kids Are Alright.  But the group was not at their best, and the project was put on the back burner.

The Who entered the studio in 1978 to record a new album.  Moon's drumming was so bad that the other members considered firing him.  In May, the group filmed a performance at Shepperton Sound Studios for The Kids Are Alright because their previous attempt had been so poor.  It was the last performance that Moon would ever make with the group.

The Who released the album Who Are You, which made it to #2 on the album chart.  The title song reached #14.

Meanwhile, Entwistle continued to work on the soundtrack for The Kids Are Alright.  Moon went to Paul McCartney's party on September 6.  After arriving at his home, he took 32 tablets of Heminevrin, a drug that was prescribed to help him deal with alcohol withdrawal.  Moon passed out the next morning, and was found dead later in the afternoon.  He was 32 years old.

The surviving members of the Who and their fans were stunned.  Townshend issued this statement:  "We are more determined than ever to carry on, and we want the spirit of the group to which Keith contributed so much to go on, although no human being can ever take his place."

In November, Kenney Jones, who had played drums for the group previously, joined the Who full-time.  The new lineup performed several successful shows in 1979.  The film version of Quadrophenia was released, which included an appearance by Sting.  The movie was a box office success.

Finally, The Kids Are Alright was completed.  The film, which was a retrospective of the Who to that point, was directed by Jeff Stein.  The movie included famous footage of the group's shows at the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and the concert at Pontiac.  "Love Live Rock", another great track from the Who, was released and reached #54.

The Who went on a brief U.S. tour when disaster struck.  The group was set to perform in Cincinnati, Ohio, when a crowd of rabid fans rushed Riverfront Coliseum, killing 11 fans.  The group was not told of the incident because authorities feared a riot by the crowd if the concert was cancelled.  The band was distraught after learning of the news after the show, and took precautions in the future to avoid tragedy in the future. 

In December, the Who were featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Daltrey recorded a solo album in the first part of the 80's.  Townshend realized shortly afterwards that he could not write material like he had in the group's heyday, and the Who broke up.  There have been several reunions for live shows since. 

The Who had 13 hits in the Seventies, with no Top 10 songs, far less than others in this range. They got this high because of the album tracks we featured, and the 12 million albums that they sold in the decade.

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