Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Another Tribute to The Who

The Who? The Greatest Rock Band Ever? You Bet! by Robert Ronne

I remember the first time I heard "Won't Get Fooled Again", 1980. Keith Moon had been dead for two years but I didn't know. I had no idea who Keith Moon was. No idea who the band was that sang this classic rock anthem. In 1980, I was just old enough to appreciate rock, classic rock. I was tired of The Bay City Rollers (give me a break, I was a kid). It was time to graduate; not in a cognisant way but in a magically natural moment that grips you, no matter what age you are.

All of us experience these feelings of amazement and wonderment to something new... and never forget that moment and time. Music is that powerful. More powerful than any book or movie, music can touch your soul, stop you in your tracks with its sound and lyrics and bring back memories that, once forgotten, can touch a persons heart with joy or sadness. This is what music does to us... and more than any musician(s), The Who affect and reach me like no other band.

In the 1960's, new rock bands were born, it seemed, every week. This was an era of unparalleled creativity in music. Whether an act was European or North American, the output of music was so fresh and unique in its sound that it sent a shock wave to a new generation of kids craving more than the generic brand of pop music. This was the golden era of contemporary music. Of course, The Beatles led the way in musical output, quality and popularity. The Rolling Stones were always second to the "Mop Tops" as far as adulation and music sales go.With their rebellious image, they were the polar opposites of The Beatles in terms of image and sound. The perfect contrast to the squeaky clean Beatles.

The competition between The Beatles and the Stones is legendary, with the two bands trying to outdo each other with the next #1 hit. The Who never had a chance to eclipse The Beatles or Stones whether it be number 1 hits or album sales. They were the perennial number three rated band in the British Invasion era... there were only so many sales to go around. It didn't matter. The Who never competed with anyone. The only battles they fought were amongst themselves. Their drive to create music that mattered to them was stronger than any critics opinion or public adulation. Their irreverence and disregard of public approval is what endeared me to The Who. What mattered to The Who was something more tangible than accolades, something deeper than sales and gold records. The only way to truly reach the public in a spiritual way; to be the most entertaining and loudest live band in the world!

The Who, throughout the '60's, were constantly touring and as a result, building a reputation as a working class band. Their legendary energy and power of the live shows gave fans an infusion of Rock and Roll in its rawest form. The fans, over the years, had become fascinated with these four brilliant musicians in all their dysfunctional ways. With The Who, there was no mistaking their rage and anger towards the world and at times, each other. This anger was the engine that ran and sustained The Who and their ability to create music that was relevant to a generation. With The Beatles and Stones being watched under a microscope, The Who had the freedom to be honest with their music and fans and not have to portray a certain image or create a sound or formula that The Beatles and Stones were expected to perpetuate for the sake of sales.

The Who, since their incarnation in 1964, released 11 studio albums. Before the death of Keith Moon, eight classic Who albums were produced with the original lineup of Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon. Not a huge output of albums, considering other bands of their era averaged an album or more a year. The Who never cared about quantity... they made an album when they (more accurately, Pete Townshend) were ready. It's the quality and significance of their music, combined with an almost religious approach to their live shows, give The Who cult status. Of all the great live bands, it was The Who that added elements of musicianship, power, enthusiasm, rage (smashed guitars and destroyed drum sets) and anger. Though they were often at odds with each other, this dysfunctional foursome, once on stage were genuinely having FUN.

The rage and anger was aimed at society and an imperfect world. When they were on stage, they were brothers working towards a common goal. Feelings aside, no member would ever let the other down. As individuals, The Who were supreme musicians. If none of the members had ever met, the members would have certainly been respected musicians, though I doubt without the esteem and adoration that is held for them to this day. They would have lacked each other.

What allows Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon and Townshend to excel, is the sum of the whole. Each member feeds off the other in order to create their genius. As a group, the four created a sound and chemistry that only fate could have created and allow their evolution as musicians to be fulfilled. They met and lived in the right time and place.

Though half of The Who exist today and in reality they could never truly rekindle the classic years, Daltrey and Townshend never let the passing of Moon or Entwistle affect the passion that The Who are about. When all is said and done, it's the music that counts and give the two surviving members credit for never allowing the sound or the legacy to die.

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