Ok, so I am breaking from my traditional post today. Note this will be a bit longer, kind of like an essay. The reason being that I have been reading up on different bands, particularly those from the British Invasion. This has really arisen out of my newfound love for records (yes, Vinyl, the ones that sit on that big disk and spin). Two things I would like to note, however, before getting into my passion for today, is the lack of recognition that Black and African-American artist receive for their work in creating the British Invasion. And it is true. Call it however you want, but if it weren’t for Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Fats Domino, and so many more, the British Invasion would never have happened. The work of those artist, which traveled across the sea to England in the 50’s, is what opened the door for the R&B Rock which groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Kinks, and Led Zeppelin became known for. Before I can give credit to these other acts for their influence on music, I have to recognize the true founders of the movement.
Now, with that said, I would like to discuss a band which does not get nearly the recognition today which it deserves. When you hear the term British Invasion, most people immediately think of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Some may even recognize the Kinks, the Animals, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin. All of these are incredible bands which have impacted the rock genre in some amazing, breath-taking way. This list, however, overlooks easily one of the most influential bands of all time.
See, there are a group of bands which have been recognized as the holy trinity of the British Invasion. We’ve already named two of them. The Beatles; who launched Beatlemania in the US in 1962, and the Rolling Stones. These were two of the biggest and most influential bands to come from the era. The Beatles were prim and proper, polished and well spoken with just enough edge to appeal to both the young and the old. Their music came to represent far more than the band itself. They were prolific and captured the hearts and imaginations of the world round. It is easy to see why they are the best selling band of all time. The Rolling stones were their exact opposite. The Stones were the self-declared “Greatest Rock Band in the World” and did their best to live up to that. They had the long hair, the loud sound, and were obviously drug users. While the Beatles were the adult act, the Stones were the rebellious teenage act.
So then who on earth could be this mysterious third part of the trinity? Well, it is a little band not nearly as recognized today as they once were, but still a powerful act who has impacted music far more than many know: The Who.
The Who were founded in London in 1964. Originally known as the detours, they became the Who with the founding members: John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend.
So why do these guys qualify as part of a trinity when few today might consider them rock royalty? Well let’s start member by member:
Keith Moon was a late addition on drums to the band. He had an unorthodox style, relying more on his toms and crash cymbals and using no hi-hat whatsoever. He was wild and more or less dangerous on the drums. That said, look up nearly any list on greatest rock and roll drummers of all time and Moon will be in it. Typically, he and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) compete for the top spot. And Moon is the one who began tossing and flipping drumsticks inbetween beats. These days, that seems impossible that people wouldn’t do that, but it all began with Moon. But Moon was not only an amazing drummer, but he was wild. He loved to party and was notorious for damage to hotel rooms on tours. That damage carried onto the stage. Heck, Moon even blew up his own drum kit.
Next we come to John Entwistle, the Bass Guitarist. Again, he ranks among the top of Bassist all time. Check any list you like and John, “Ox” Entwistle will be there. Of course you may hear his other name in the process: Thunderfingers. I mean come on! You play the bass and they call you thunderfingers? See, John did not have the energy on stage that the others did necessarily, but when you play a bass guitar like a lead guitar, it doesn’t really matter. And that is what Entwistle did, and did well. Listen to any bass line from basically any Who song and it will blow your mind.
Now let’s talk about Roger Daltrey. Daltrey had that soulfully painful baritone. And while he is rarely considered a top 10 rock front man, he is easily a top 20. He changed the way a front man acted. And as for singers, with the emotion he shared in songs I think he is easily a top 10 singer. I mean listen to the power in his singing of See Me, Feel Me at Woodstock. Add in the fact that Daltrey was the first guy to jump around on stage with his shirt open or to whip his mike around and you can see why he was as big a part of the Who being part of the trinity.
Finally we come to the songwriter and rhythm guitarist of the Who, Pete Townshend. This rhythm guitarist would rock the world in so many ways, both as a guitarist, as a presence on stage, and as a songwriter. As a guitarist, Townshend launched the use of power chords into everyday use. Everything that most punk bands, even the great Johnny Ramone, none of it would have happened without this start by Townshend. He set the stage for power chords as a main tool. And he owned it. Just as he owned sound and feedback. See the 100 watt amp and the Marshall stack, both exist because Townshend wanted to be louder. Know why Hendrix wanted a Marshall stack and why Marshall is one of the most recognized names in amp design today? This man, Pete Townshend, and his need to be louder. Don’t underestimate Pete though. Sure he was a rhythm guitarist, but the man could play. Rolling Stones magazine currently ranks his as the 50th greatest guitarist of all time. And he created a stage presence. Ever seen the windmill strum? Guess who invented it. Oh, and the idea of destroying guitars at the end of a set? Pete, once again. As the story goes, he accidentally broke the head of his guitar while jumping around on stage. When the audience cheered, an irate Townshend took the guitar off and smashed it. At his next show, the crowd obviously cheered for an encore so Moon got in on the act and auto-destructive rock became mainstream. And finally we come to songs. See, Townshend was the chief song writer for the Who, and he put all his creativity and imagination to work. He crafted works like My Generation, Baba O’Riley, and Pinball Wizard. He was a master song crafter, but rarely gets credit even though the Who’s songs are widely recognized.
So then what about the band as a whole and their legacy? Well let’s start with the fact that for nearly a decade, they were the loudest band on earth. Yes, Guinness Book of Records tracked them as the loudest band on earth. More than that, the Who were artist in every sense of the word. They were auto-destructive and emotional on stage. They were moving and innovative in their albums and song writing. I mean, their first success came from the album, My Generation. They followed this with “The Who Sell Out” which was a creative little piece including fake commercials and everything. The Who’s work was art.
Of course from 1969-1973 came some of their greatest works. In 1969, the Who would release one of the greatest Rock albums of all time. No, I’m not claiming it was their best workmanship, but it did change the world. Tommy, their Rock Opera, came out. Tommy tells the story of a young boy who is “deaf, dumb, and blind”. The kid becomes a pinball wizard and therefore the leader of a cult, but his followers turn on him. The reason this was a rock opera was because each song tied into the story and shared a part of it. People like to deride it and talk about how it really wasn’t that great of an album, and they’re right. But here is the thing, it was magical and mystical at the time and all of the modern Rock Operas we enjoy owe their existence to that album. The who then would appear at Woodstock and release their live album. See, at the time the who were considered one of the greatest live acts in Rock. Take a few minnutes and listen to any recording of their time at Woodstock. Feel the raw emotion and power coming from these guys and you might see why they were so great. Then consider the fact that the band and many others overwhelmingly agree that Woodstock was one of their worst performance of all time. And they were still great. The Who would then perform at the Isle of Wright which would be called one of their greatest performances. But then the Who release what has been called one of the greatest live albums of all time: Live at Leeds. The Who were being faulted because the energy and enthusiasm of their lives shows did not translate well to studio recording, so along came a plan to record a concert. From that came the album, Live at Leeds. Listen to it. You need to. I promise it is worth it.
And the Who did not slow down. Townshend had planned another rock opera, but scrapped it. Several of the songs from that made their way onto the Who’s next album, Who’s Next. This introduced us to songs such as Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Both became anthems for a generation, just as My Generation had 5 years earlier. More than that, both songs made use of a synthesizer. What was unique here was that this was the first use of a synthesizer as a main instrument and not as a small feature. Again, The Who began to Change music. Who’s next even included softer stuff such as Behind Blue Eyes. Next came Quadrophenia, probably the best rock opera from the band that popularized the rock opera. It included such hits as Love Reign O’er Me and Is It In My Head. This piece was far more polished in both the use of synthesizers as well as overall story. The Who were the masters. They ruled the world.
Things didn’t always go well of course. The Who struggled like other bands. Like the Rolling Stones, they found it difficult to get a spot in the US until Tommy. The band fought in other ways too. While Moon, Entwistle, and Daltrey enjoyed the shows and wanted to do more touring, Townshend wanted to stick to the theaters and give up touring. He wanted to make art and felt touring didn’t make sense.
Pete and Daltrey were not friends for the longest time. Of course, since it was Townshend who wrote the line “Hope I die before I get old” and Daltrey who sang it, there is almost a certain irony to the fact that it would be Moon and Entwistle who would die young (or younger in Entwistle’s case who died at 57). Townshend and Daltrey made up after the death of Entwistle, realizing they were the only two left. And today, they still travel and perform. While they are no longer the vibrant on stage presences they once were, they are still considered a great act and the passion and emotion they pour into their songs still seeps out of their every fiber.
See, the Who changed music. Individually, they were amazing. They rocked the world. They were the masters of the studio and gods of the arena. Cut it however you want, but these guys were amazing. Could I allow arguments for other bands to be in that trinity besides the Who, the Stones, and the Beatles? Sure, possibly. But when you consider how these three bands changed the face of rock and roll, it seems inevitable to include them.
They are the gods of rock and roll, or the British Invasion.