Forty years ago this week, the Who’s Face Dances debuted on the Billboard 200 where it was beaten out by the likes of Styx’s Paradise Theater (Number One), REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity (Number Two), Rush’s Moving Pictures (Number Three), the Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta (Number Seven), and Blondie’s Autoamerican (Number 12).
But even if they couldn’t manage to top the next generation of arena bands that had taken over the rock scene, the album was still a milestone for the Who. This was their first release since the death of drummer Keith Moon and leadoff single “You Better You Bet” was already generating airplay, which would help Face Dances reach Number Four in the coming weeks.
They launched a tour on January 25th, 1981, in Leicester, England to promote Face Dances where they previewed new songs like “Don’t Let Go the Coat” and “Another Tricky Day” weeks before they actually came out. The tour wrapped up on March 28th, 1981, in Essen, Germany with a show that was broadcast on the German rock show Rockpalast. Here’s video of “Another Tricky Day” from that night. It’s a great showcase for John Entwistle’s virtuosic bass playing, which is fantastically high in the mix.
Four months later, MTV debuted in America, and “You Better You Bet” was one of the first videos they showed. The channel’s video library was pretty tiny at the time, and the clip aired over and over along with Pete Townshend solo videos for “Rough Boys” and “Let My Love Open the Door.” In 1982, the Who’s “Eminence Front” also went into rotation, giving them credibility with the New Wave crowd.
The Who were one of a handful of Sixties bands to seamlessly transition into the Seventies. And for a brief moment around 1981 and 1982, it seemed like they might make it big in the Eighties. But then Pete Townshend decided he’d had enough and split up the band following their 1982 It’s Hard tour. When they re-emerged seven years later, it was as a heritage act and they’ve basically maintained that status ever since despite releasing new albums in 2006 and 2019.
But take a look at this incredible Rockpalast footage. It proves that even when Styx and REO Speedwagon were ascendant, the Who weren’t ready to concede that their time was up.