I remember the day when my ears were first graced by the aggressively raucous yet melodic sound of The Who. I was eleven, up early on a Sunday morning to watch Match of the Day from the night before, and Gary Lineker and co. showed a recap of the thrilling 3-3 draw between Man City and Sunderland. It was then that ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ rocked my world to no end.
Growing up, I didn’t have a serious interest or appreciation in music. I was primarily brought up on Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5, and the Congolese sensation Koffi Olomide, and the development of my music taste stemmed from my first love: football. I loved the beautiful game (and still do to an extent) – the music that accompanied the various football games I played, the compilation videos I watched on YouTube, and the live coverage of the games would inform my musical taste. Bands such as The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs in particular spring to mind as ones that I appreciated early on. However, my palette was more open to the pop persuasion: artists like Ellie Goulding, The Script, Plan B, and Tinie Tempah were proudly on my radar too.
The Who opened the door to classic rock for me. Although I’d heard some music by The Beatles at this point, The Who fired me into the ’60s and ’70s rock deep dive. This experience essentially provides the foundation of my current taste and eventually my approach to listening and understanding what I enjoy in music. Although this is only clear in hindsight, The Who resonate so deeply with me because they were an outsider’s band (one of the few British bands in their generation whose name avoids overt pluralism), engaging in salient topics judiciously – rich with delightful musical chaos, potent melodicism, and ambition executed mostly well. Be it three-minute pop songs or rock operas; tracks surrounding youthful frustration, masturbation, childhood trauma, or political realities, The Who covered all the bases – hitting multiple home runs, and for someone who was never a lady’s man growing up, they were a godsend. The band (alongside my beloved Kinks) definitely prevented The British invasion prior to 1966 from being a total saccharine affair. In this sense, The Who was one of the building blocks in my attempt to make sense of the world around me.
Pete Townshend’s songwriting will forever be a signpost in my personal development
Musically also, The Who have left a lasting impact. Upon reflection, I’m amazed how they’re not really credited as a proto-punk band. Many people think of Velvet Underground or The Stooges as the first proto-punk bands, however, few can get punker than a band whose lead guitarist was truly their bassist, whose drummer played way too many notes yet sounded amazing, whose songwriter avoided common pop songwriting tropes, and whose lead singer commanded so much authority that one forgot he stood merely at five foot five. They even popularised the power chord. They are a group who are immensely proficient at what they do individually, but dynamite when brought together, as shown in projects like Who’s Next and their singles catalogue full of countless displays of terrific power pop (‘Substitute’ especially) that bands like Weezer can only wish to match.
Consequently, I tend to enjoy music from a band much more than from solo artists – the chemistry in a well-trained band is second to none. There’s nothing more inclusive and communal than a group playing music together, an art whose beauty is rooted in such a thing. My appreciation for songwriting proficiency, both musically and lyrically, is partly thanks to The Who as well, which definitely informs my music reviews for example in the level of detail I tend to provide in my analysis of individual songs. I’m more disposed to older music generally and their demands, be it in active lyric writing on the artists’ part, or, in the case of rock especially, getting to a performance standard where quantising isn’t necessary or encouraged. These elements help to provide much personality and fluidity in music, and if there’s anything that The Who and much of the remembered classic rock artists had that can’t be disputed, it was character and groove.
Pete Townshend’s songwriting will forever be a signpost in my personal development because he was the first one for me (and perhaps the first in pop) to voice the observations and feelings of those who felt isolated or missed the “milestones” of adolescence, capturing the frustration to a T. He made being self-aware, critical, and ambitious cool, beautiful, and accessible. The rest of the band were the perfect supporting cast for Townshend’s vision: John Entwistle on bass, Keith Moon on drums, and Roger Daltrey on vocals. It’s stuff of legend at this point. I’ll be forever indebted to The Who. Their tracks sparked my love for music and my understanding of life, subsequently illuminating my appreciation for writing.