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The Who

Though from the very outset, rock 'n' roll's most obsessive pre-occupations have been directed towards word-painting the myriad aspects of the 'teenage myth,' few artists have been better equipped to deal so explicitly with the subject than The Who.

Indeed, The Who themselves had originally been violently fashioned out of a labyrinth of adolescent inhibitions and hang-ups which could only find a release through the medium of rock 'n' roll.

To quote Pete Townshend: "The success of any truly great rock song is related to the fact that people who couldn't really communicate in normal ways can easily communicate through the mutual enjoyment of rock music. And that was simply because, for them, it was infinitely more charismatic than anything around at the time." Despite the fact that The Beatles are often freely credited with single-handedly re-shaping the '60s social consciousness, for many The Who exerted a much more lasting and profound influence.

For whereas many of the much-publicised peripheral tangents that The Fab Four are alleged to have instigated turned out to be nothing more than blind alleys and transient fashion, The Who managed to crystallize an almost total lifestyle - as valid today as it was over a decade ago.

In an instantly-disposable profession where popular heroes are remorselessly dispatched much faster than they're installed - where, for one reason or a dozen, innovators rapidly lose all perspective of their original vision - The Who were the first group not only to seriously suggest the possibilities of a self-contained alternative youth culture but, together with their extrovert charter aficionados, first put the theory into practice on their memorable "Ready, Steady, Go" TV debut. From that crucial juncture they rapidly substantiated the immeasurable possibilities of rock music being adjunct to one's everyday (and often mundane) routine.

Originally a parochial movement-within-a-movement, in less than 12 turbulent months, The Who - via such singles as "I Can't Explain," and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," but particularly the anthemic "My Generation" and the album of the same title - had established The Mod ethos nationally.

As The Who's original mentor, the late Peter Meaden, so accurately summed it: "Mod-ism was an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances."

I can do anything right or wrong
I can talk anyhow to get along.
I don't care anyway, I never lose.
Anyway, anyhow, anywhere I choose.

Even in their first (albeit brief) recorded manifestation as The High Numbers, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and the ubiquitous Keith Moon vehemently displayed the rare and perceptive qualities of observation found in the more durable work of such teen myth chroniclers as Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Leiber & Stoller, Phil Spector, Holland, Dozier & Holland, Brian Wilson, Lennon & McCartney, Jagger & Richard, Dylan, and The Doors and, more recently, in the stances of Bruce Springsteen, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and Elvis Costello.

Whereas rock's original poet laureate Chuck Berry (along with other First Rock Generation writers) often portrayed the teen protagonist in the third person, both Brian Wilson and Pete Townshend invariably preferred the highly vulnerable first person persona.

Both of them may have genuinely been committed to the delineation of their respective lifestyles, but whilst Wilson faithfully followed Berry's idyllic Hollywood-derived promised land fantasies, where "Hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day," a teenage heaven stocked with "Two girls for every boy," and where the only thing that could shatter the illusion was "fun, fun, fun", (till Daddy takes the T-Bird away); Pete Townshend depicted a much more realistic state of affairs. One, more often than not, fraught with frustration, boredom and alienation,

"People try to put us down
just because we get around.
The things they do look awful cold
I hope I die before I get old.
This is my generation, this is my generation, baby.
Why don't they all fffff-fade away."

So, if The Beach Boys are revered as The All-American Rock Band: keepers of The Great (illusory and often unattainable) American Teen Dream, then The Who must stand unchallenged as the first quintessential British Rock Band.

Like their contemporaries, The Who may have cut their milk-teeth on various forms of imported ethnic American popular music - they used boldly to advertise their appearances as 'Maximum R&B' - but, in the final analysis, once the influences had been absorbed and personalized, the end product was indelibly hall-marked 'Made In England'.

No Mid-Atlantic affectations for The Who. Not only did they sing and write, they played their respective instruments with a hitherto unrealised pronounced accent as British as the Union Jack which they flamboyantly draped over their speakers and - amidst much controversy from retired military pukkas - had tailored into jackets.

The basic imagery may have been indigenous to The Who's origins, but the appeal proved international.

In the affluent sun-drenched climate of Southern California, The Beach Boys' only concern may have been fighting off bikini-clad beach bunnies in order to ride the wild surf, but in the Mod World, The Who had more immediate priorities to contend with.

However, The Who weren't factitious enough to attempt to offer full-proof money-back solutions to the recurring dilemmas of growing- up, co-existence, self-realisation or just plain survival in the face of adversity, just points of logical reference with a self-imposed Mod moral code.

As the Mods set about integrating the more acceptable leisure aspects of an eclectic rock culture into the mainstream of everyday life, they all followed one important ethic: not only to live life to the full, but to be seen to be doing so.

Mods were as obsessively dedicated to fashion as they were to music.

It was the almost subversive subtlety of the style, the ultra-sharp bespoke exclusivity of the New Couture that immediately set them apart from the rest of the proletariat - but at the same instance enabled them to infiltrate all strata of society and hold down 'normal' employment without fear of being ostracised for expressing their individual personality by the cut of their clothes.

However, Mod was much more than tickets and faces, French haircuts and bicycle shirts, (preferably white) Ivy League jackets with five inch side vents, button down shirt collars, parallel levis with turn-ups, Italian scooters and shoes, Stax, Ska, uppers and downers, laughers and screamers.

As if motivated by some unseen energy force, The Who didn't just explode onto, but from right out of the midst of what, in just a matter of a couple of years, had become a smug, self- satisfied, stereotyped British pop scene where the order of the day was to follow - as opposed to set - trends. Where, if you were fortunate, you enjoyed your statutory 15 minutes of fame (but not a minute more) and maybe a Stateside promotional jaunt, by being passed off as that week's surrogate Beatles or Stones or Sandie Shaw.

The Who were having none of that.

Firmly established as The Mods' prime movers (and with that initial loyal support to back up their offensive), The Who, quite suddenly, and in keeping with their spontaneously aggressive image, dramatically cleaved pop music into two entirely different factions: from henceforth, what would be considered cool and what wasn't.

There was no place for neutrality.

Let it be said, let it be written: The Who, and they alone, transformed pop music into rock music and, in the process, instilled it with a newly-discovered intelligence and articulation.

But then, Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and, in particular, Moon, never ever did things by halves.

From that fateful evening in 1964, when assistant movie directors Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp accidentally stumbled across our heroes (then still The High Numbers) gigging at The Railway Tavern, Harrow and Wealdstone, to the moment when (again by accident) Townshend shoved his guitar through the ceiling above the stage of The Marquee Club, smashed the neck, and then incensed by the total lack of response from the spectators, pro- ceeded to smash his precious instrument beyond repair to evoke some reaction, The Who have led where others follow.

From that point in their career, The Who became aware that the only way to capture the imagination of a we've-seen-it-all-before public was to go out and sell themselves as hard as they possibly could without ever compromising content in favour of style.

Surrounded by a towering skyline of speaker stacks, The Who became hell-bent on brazenly formulating their own distinctive brand of musical anarchy in an environment where (with few exceptions) pop music - for all its 'youth consciousness' - seemed to be earnestly seeking traditional show business respectability.

The Who promptly changed all that.

With a stage show that combined the very best elements of '50s flash, '60s suss and Pop- Art autodestruction as a finale, The Who unleashed a veritable maelstrom of controversy as, amidst the constant trashing of expensive equipment and, occasionally one another, they took a standard rock performance one giant leap beyond the long-accepted norm of staring/ screaming at a pop group self-consciously staring/screaming back.

Though rhythm, tension and energy have always been rock's three basic elements, few artists have ever been able to mix the correct chemistry so expertly as The Who. As a result, many artists try and compensate with purist dedication, others with techno-flash expertise. Not only did The Who possess these optional extras, but added the rarest of all ingredients, British poke. And, it was the elan with which they conducted themselves that prompted many persistently to proclaim them The World's Greatest Rock Group.

Initially, such an aggressive stance may have been far too threatening to an American music industry besotted with the likes of Herman's Hermits, (with whom The Who first toured America) because they originally rejected "I Can't Explain" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", mistaking the innovative feedback effects as being faults in the master tapes.

They were slow to realise that a New Order was being established.

Though, over the years, the expression Mod may have become convoluted to comply with the requirements of an ever-changing street vocabulary, in Britain the basic clean-living-under-difficult-circumstances ethic of the sub-culture remained comparatively true to the original directive as profiled by The Who.

For the best part of the '70s, it was the inspirational undercurrent of the British Northern Soul Scene and, more recently, re-interpreted as lethal ammunition for the late-'70s New Wave counter-offensive, which - in no uncertain manner - not only rightfully questioned the complacency and corruption that proliferates within rock itself, but in almost every other section of society.

The Modern World was placed under Heavy Manners.

When it was released in 1973, The Who's second magnum-opus "Quadrophenia" may have been received with mixed feelings, but it now appears that the "teenage wasteland" generation, many of whom were too young to pick up on it -the first time around, have suddenly become intrigued by Townshend's two-album parable concerning the ultimate Mod mistake, "bad timing."

Though, at this juncture, it may be too soon to ascertain whether or not The Jam Gen profit from 'Jimmy's' inability to cope with various situations, but hope springs eternal.

Ultimately, "Quadrophenia" may, despite personal reservations by The Who over the treatment and the ongoing success of "Tommy", prove to be one of the group's most important projects.

Even in their most dejected moments, there may have always been an air of optimism in their approach, however, The Who - unlike most groups one could finger - didn't squander their creative energies on either falsely glamourising the teenage myth for the sake of placating the sensitive consumer or transforming the medium into some bogus elixir of eternal youth where boy always wins girl and lives happily ever after.

"You think we look pretty good together
you think my shoes are made of leather.
But I'm a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high.
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty good but I'm just back-dated, yeah."

13K icon; 509x768 64K image For the sake of appearances, others may have persistently made capital out of cushioning the indescribable pain of either the brokenhearted or the rejected or, even worse still, irresponsibly minimised the generation gap as being just an unfortunate adolescent malady. Unlike the majority of teachers and parents, The Who prepared those who would listen to the harsh realities of life.

If, as already stated, The Who chose not to glarnourise teen angst, then, by the same token, neither did they attempt to glamourise their own position.

Unlike so many of their panic-stricken contemporaries, The Who didn't, in later life, adopt the ludicrous role of electric Peter Pans and desperately attempt to cling onto the nostalgic remains of their misbegotten youth, to the point where they emerged as grotesque parodies of their former selves.

They possess far too much respect for their achievements and those of their audience to short-change anyone.

As their current studio album "Who Are You" corroborates, even this late in the game, The Who are still prepared to take chances and admit the end of one era and the beginning of another.

For those who were there at the beginning, The Who were the future of rock 'n' roll.

Pete Townshend - not only the thinking man's rock musician/rock music's thinking man, but the precursor of the flamboyant power-chording guitar whiz-kid. Roger Daltrey - the prototype titanium-throated megastud. John Entwistle - the archetypal, strong, silent, ever-dependable sentinel who long ago cornered the black humour market. Keith Moon - rock's most notorious extrovert and, to quote himself, "The best Keith Moon-style drummer I know."

Often a contradiction in terms, The Who enjoy a career which, since 1965, has yet to peak in terms of international popularity.

Though, in the mid-60s, those groups who spearheaded the British Beat Invasion of America, scored (seemingly) overnight, paradoxically it was those who (like The Who) got off to a slow, somewhat shaky start, that stayed the course.

In 1967, appearances at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival and a guest spot on the "Smothers Brothers TV Show", affirmed that The Who were not the usual run of inanely grinning pop puppets, but meant serious business.

By 1969, "Tommy" had made the first of three separate recorded appearances, establishing The Who internationally as the intelligent face of rock. Soon-after, they became the first rock group to perform at New York's prestigious Metropolitan Opera House and headlined the Woodstock festival. And, upon the release of the movie-of-the-event, their "Tommy" double album once again scaled the American Top 20.

1971, and they were back on the road in Britain, being the first group to stage a concert (in aid aid of Bangla Desh) at The Oval Cricket Ground, whilst Stateside they broke the Forest Hills box office/attendance record previously held by Sinatra and The Beatles.

The following year, they participated in an all-star remake of "Tommy" which topped the US album charts. 1974 had The Who before the cameras for Ken Russell's movie adaptation of "Tommy" and back on the road smashing more box office records and hotel rooms: In Paris, they played before the biggest indoor audience ever assembled in the capital (over 30,000); on the strength of just one Station (WNEW) they sold out 84,000 tickets in an unprecedented four hours for four Madison Square Garden shows; drew over 70,000 to an open air event at London, Charlton Football Ground; and, back in America, attracted 78,600 fans to Michigan's Pontiac Stadium to qualify for the largest indoor concert ever. A record that remained unbroken for four years.

1975, "Tommy" proved that it had a life all of its own, and in 1976, The Who returned to San Francisco to play before 110,000 people at the Oakland Stadium while back home well over 150,000 people attended three open-air football stadium concerts.

1978, and production commences on both "The Kids Are Alright" and a screen version of "Quadrophenia" and most fans apparently refuse to believe that Keith Moon has checked in to that great Holiday Inn in the sky.

As the years flashed by, The Who grew with their music and, as can be seen, likewise their audience, as they proceeded to explore everything from existentialism to spiritual awareness.

They didn't always find the answer. Neither did they hoodwink their devotees into believing that they had.

"I'm looking for me
you're looking for you.
We're looking for each other
and we don't know what to do.
They call me the Seeker
I've been searching low and high.
I won't get to get what I'm after
till the day I die."

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