Quadromania: The Who Fuss, Fight and Hit The Road - Rolling Stone
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Quadromania: The Who Fuss, Fight and Hit The Road

Amidst nearly endless bickering, the Who get it back together and head back out on tour

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The Who at Shepperton Studios in England.

Terry O'Neill/Getty Images

LONDON — The cover of the Who‘s new album (Who by Numbers) is a connect-the-dots drawing by bassist John Entwistle. It should have been a jigsaw puzzle.

In the few months preceding their current tour, the band talked – or, more accurately, sniped – at each other as if they’d been not quite together on the album, or on anything else. Only their first British tour in two years and a self-imposed silence by the two antagonists, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, held them together.

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The first indication of trouble came in May, when Townshend gave a stream-of-consciousness interview to journalist/friend Roy Carr of the New Musical Express. The Who, said Townshend, were “old” as musicians and hardly seeing each other as friends. Townshend himself sounded a little old and rocked out: “When we last played Madison Square Garden, I felt acute shades of nostalgia,” he said. “All the Who freaks had crowded around the front of the stage and all I could see were those same sad faces that I’d seen at every New York Who gig . . . They hadn’t come to watch the Who, but to let everyone know that they were the original Who fans . . . It was dreadful . . . They were telling us what to play . . . I was so brought down by it all! I mean, is this what it had all degenerated into?”

Daltrey responded, through his own interview in NME in early August. The Who, he said, had not degenerated. “We could have done Madison Square Garden with our eyes closed. Only the group was running on three cylinders. The Who wasn’t bad. Wasn’t quite as good as we could have been, but it was because Townshend was in a bad frame of mind about what he wanted to do. And he didn’t play well.” Daltrey was infuriated by Townshend’s remarks: “He’s talked himself up his own ass.”

In early October, Keith Moon and John Entwistle added their own licks. Introducing one side of Who by Numbers on John Peel’s BBC show, Moon said he had not even heard most of Daltrey’s vocals and that the record was as new to him as it was to Peel. (Townshend had told Carr that he hadn’t seen Moon in nine months.) Daltrey, at BBC earlier this year, told a producer off mike that the group had cut some backing tracks – with an unnamed drummer – that were better than Moon’s.

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The night after Moon’s BBC appearance, Entwistle introduced the second side of the LP by saying that Townshend had changed the titles of a couple of tracks since the recording, so he wasn’t sure of what he was introducing. Besides, he added, the songs were so personal to Townshend that nobody else could really discuss them.

After the Peel shows, and with the tour just around the corner, each member of the Who sought to repair the damage. Townshend stayed away from interviewers, and Daltrey clammed up except for an assurance to one reporter that the sore had been lanced and cleaned and that the Who were a functioning unit again. Entwistle called any talk of breakups “absolute rubbish,” and Moon added: “When we start agreeing on everything, that’s when I start worrying.”

Entwistle also tried to defend Moon’s ignorance of the album’s sound with the reminder that Keith is allowed only two months in Britain this year because of tax difficulties.

The Who, Moon said, have never mixed socially. “People seem to think you live, breathe, drink and eat the Who. Well, you don’t. We all have lives apart from the Who, which is what’s kept the Who alive.”

As if to prove his point, the group scheduled an eight-day break in their British tour to allow members to promote their individual projects. Daltrey was going to New York to hype Lisztomania; Townshend planned a trip to India to visit a Meher Baba retreat; Entwistle was going to Manchester to tape a BBC course on how to play the bass, and Moon was recording a comedy album with John Walters, a producer for John Peel.

Moon and Walters did cut the record, but glandular fever prevented Daltrey’s leaving England and Townshend changed his mind about India.

Two days after the tour resumed in Glasgow, the Who again demonstrated their unique brand of unity. Fogged in after the Glasgow show, the band was led by a weather computer to nearby Prestwick. But that town was also fogged in and, in a fit of pique, Moon went to the nearest weather computer and kicked it. He was taken to jail and charged with creating a breach of the peace. The band, meantime, split for England where Moon rejoined the group.

The Who went on tour October 3rd and, excepting a holiday break, intend to stay on the road through next spring. The British tour opened in Stafford and concluded with three evenings in Wembley’s 8000-seat Empire Pool. The group then left for Europe and are due in the U.S. in late November.

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The contrast between the Stafford and Wembley performances showed how quickly the group can regain its composure in concert. Although dynamic as always, they were sloppy on opening night, with Moon drumming spectacularly through one of Townshend’s vocal solos as Pete snapped at him to “shut up.” At another point Townshend barked to his lighting director after a miscue: “I have to see my fucking feet!”

By Wembley, workhorse numbers like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” sounded as powerful as they had on the last tour in 1973, and a seven-song set from Tommy earned a standing ovation. But the Who introduced only three new numbers. “Acute shades of nostalgia,” indeed.

This story is from the December 4th, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.


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