Who is The Who? The History of the Legendary Band

The Who is recognized as one of the most influential bands in rock ‘n’ roll history, their career spanned five-decades and came out with 11 albums during their time. The band is responsible for creating hit songs like “My Generation” and “Baba O’Riley.” The band members consisted of singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend, Drummer Keith Moon, and bassist John Entwistle. However, their successful career had its share of struggles.

John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, and Roger Daltrey in 1978.
John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, and Roger Daltrey of The Who in 1978. Photo by David Thorpe / Shutterstock

Like many rock stars, members of The Who were known for their substance abuse issues, particularly when it came to Keith Moon. Moon had a tendency to act in self-destructive behavior, which eventually led to his death. But his legacy was sealed in 1990 after the band was inducted into the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. From trashing hotel rooms to being featured in CSI, here are some behind the scene secrets of this iconic British band.

Settling on the Name

Before settling on “The Who,” the band went through several name changes. When they were first starting out back in 1961, they were a skiffle band known as The Detours. In 1963, the band started to change slightly; founding member Roger Daltrey took over vocals, and Pete Townshend got on the guitar. That’s when the band’s sound started to change into a mixture of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll.

Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend with Russell Harty sitting on the set of the Russell Harty Plus show in 1973.
Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend with Russell Harty sitting on the set of the Russell Harty Plus show in 1973. Photo by ITV / Shutterstock

In 1964, Keith Moon joined the band as the drummer, and one of Townshend’s friends suggested the name The Who. Later that year, the band’s publicist turned them into a mod band and changed their name to The High Numbers. After their debut album didn’t make the charts, they became The Who but stuck to their mod music style.

They Like to Break Stuff

Pete Townshend is known for smashing his guitar on stage. I would join a band just so that I could do that. As much fun as it sounds, the first time he did it, it was actually by accident. The band was playing at the Railway hotel, while they were still going by the name The High Numbers.

Pete Townshend smashing his guitar at a concert in London, March 1967.
Pete Townshend smashing his guitar at a concert in London, March 1967. Photo by Ray Stevenson / Shutterstock

Townshend just got so upset and let out his frustration by smashing (and destroying) his guitar. It didn’t take long for Keith Moon to get in on the fun. Just one week later, he smashed his entire drum set. Honestly, it sounds like a really fun and extremely expensive activity.

Daltrey was Kicked Out

Even though Roger Daltrey is a founding member of The Who, he was briefly kicked out of the band. Their music started gaining a lot of attention by 1965, but unfortunately, not all the band members weren’t getting along so well. It all came to a head one night in Denmark.

Roger Daltrey of The Who.
Roger Daltrey. Photo by Dezo Hoffman / Shutterstock

Basically, the band got in a fight, which let to Daltrey flushing Moon’s drugs down the toilet. It didn’t end there; Daltrey proceeded to assault the drummer. The band sided with Moon and collectively decided to kick him out. They ultimately allowed him to return after he promised not to let things get so out of hand again.

My Generation

The band’s biggest single in the UK was “My Generation.” The track was on the band’s debut album under the name The Who. The song peaked on the UK charts at number two. None of their other songs reached that high on the charts. The band was on top of the world, excited about their success.

John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and Keith Moon in February 1965.
John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and Keith Moon in February 1965. Photo by David / Evening News / Shutterstock

However, My Generation didn’t do as well as you would expect in the United States. It was number 74 on the Billboard charts. After the single’s popularity and topping the charts in the UK, the difference was immense. It doesn’t really matter though; the song has since become a classic for all generations to come!

Trashing Hotel Rooms

Keith Moon celebrated his 21st birthday like a true rock star. While the band was touring the United States, Moon developed a habit of trashing hotel rooms. He wanted his 21st birthday to be memorable, so he decided to create chaos and completely destroy his Flint Michigan hotel room. Let’s just say; this wasn’t his best idea.

Keith Moon at his local pub with two bartenders standing behind the bar in October 1973.
Keith Moon at his local pub in October 1973. Photo by Monty Fresco / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

Rock stars have a unique way of celebrating, but Moon should have gone out to dinner or a bar like the rest of us. At the end of this wild night, the band caused $24,000 worth of damage! If that wasn’t bad enough, Moon woke up with one of his front teeth missing. That’s what you get!

Tommy Made The Who Famous

“Tommy,” was released in 1969; it was the band’s fourth studio album and first rock opera. The album garnered a lot of attention and made it to number four in the UK and number two on the Billboard Charts. The double album tells a story of a “deaf, dumb, and blind” boy named Tommy Walker. The album gets into detail, talking about this boy’s relationship with his family and his personal life experiences.

Roger Daltrey is walking on water with people in a pool in a backyard in the film Tommy, 1975.
Roger Daltrey in the film Tommy, 1975. Photo by Rbt Stigwood Prods / Hemdale / Kobal / Shutterstock

Critics praised the album and referred to it as The Who’s breakthrough. The critical acclaim declined through the years, but it was still considered an influential album in music history. “Tommy” was so popular that it inspired a stage adaptation in 1971, a movie in 1975, and a Broadway show in 1992.

Keith Moon’s Final Party

The Who was at the height of their success and Keith Moon was enjoying every minute of it. Moon was a heavy drinker, which is not uncommon in the rock world. Unfortunately, the drummer wasn’t in the best health when the band released their 1978 album “Who Are You.” But sadly, that was the last album he would record with them.

Keith Moon is photographed in front of his home in a tuxedo, August 1978.
Keith Moon at his home, August 1978. Photo by David Thorpe / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

One night, the drummer went to a party at Paul McCartney’s house. He probably had no idea that it would be his last time partying. He overdosed on alcohol withdrawal medication and passed out; his body was found the next morning. Sadly, he was trying to get better and was prescribed the medication to help. The overdose was ruled accidental.

John Entwistle also Died Young

Keith Moon wasn’t the only member of The Who that died at an early age. John Entwistle also passed away young. Right before the band was heading to the United States in 2002 for a tour, Entwistle’s body was found in his Las Vegas hotel room. He died of a heart attack when he was only 57 years old.

John Entwistle was rehearsing in London before his death, June 2002.
John Entwistle was rehearsing in London before his death, June 2002. Photo by Peter Simpson / Shutterstock

A stripper and groupie named Alycen Rowse spent the night with him, but when she woke up, the singer was unresponsive. The medical examiner quickly discovered that his heart attack was induced by a cocaine overdose. Drugs and alcohol play a big part when your living life on the road, but unfortunately, they will eventually kill you.

Pete’s Hearing Condition

Pete Townshend suffers from Tinnitus. It affects about 20% of the population and means you hear ringing in your ear. Usually, it’s caused by an underlying condition. It can also come as a result of hearing loud noises, and that was the case with Townshend.

The Who in concert, Leicester Granby Halls, Britain - Pete Townshend - 18 Oct 1975 / Roger Daltrey, 1976.
(Left) The Who in concert, Leicester Granby Halls, Britain – Pete Townshend – 18 Oct 1975 / (Right) Roger Daltrey, 1976. Photo By Graham Wiltshire/Shutterstock, John Fowler/Shutterstock

The Who was featured on The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour and the guys liked to mess around. Keith Moon thought it would be funny to put explosives in his drum kit… and it kind of was. Unfortunately, when the explosives went off, Townshend was so close to it that it permanently damaged his ears. Until this day, Tinnitus is still something the singer struggles with when he performs live.

Depp Down, They Care

Despite their on-tour reputation of doing drugs and trashing hotel rooms, the band members of The Who are good guys deep down. Sure, they have a rock star persona, but Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are charitable men. Most notably, they are focused on raising money for the Teenage Cancer Program. For starters, the band helped start the annual concert series to help the Teenage Cancer Trust.

The Who with Keith Moon in 1971.
The Who, 1971. Photo by Globe Photos / Shutterstock

In 2012, they wanted to extend the UK Teenager Cancer Trust to America. To do so, they held a press conference in Washington DC at the National Press Club to launch Who Cares. Nowadays, Who Cares is a huge part of their career and often play at charity concerts for the organization.

Who’s Next

In 1971, The Who came out with their fifth and best-selling album, “Who’s Next.” The album included hit singles, like “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” On July 31st, 1971, it was released by Decca and MCA in the United States and made it to number four on the charts.

John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, and Roger Daltrey were painting the words 'The Who' behind them on the wall, 1965.
John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, and Roger Daltrey in 1965. Photo by David Magnus / Shutterstock

On August 25th that same year, “Who’s Next” was released through Track and Polydor in the United Kingdom, where it reached number one on the charts. At this point, the band was well-known and successful. As soon as the album was released, it was an immediate success. The RIAA certified it 3x platinum upon its release. Now that’s impressive!

Meher Baba

Pete Townshend was a big fan and follower of Meher Baba. Baba is an Indian Spiritual leader who considers himself an Avatar-God in human form. Townshend was heavily influenced by him and used his teachings as inspiration for some of his songs. The most notable example is the song “Baba O’Riley.”

Meher Baba with long hair and a mustache
Meher Baba. Photo by Historia / Shutterstock

The Indian spiritual leader was obviously a huge part of Townshend’s life and beliefs. In fact, after Baba died in 1969, the singer dedicated the song, Tommy, to him on the album. Townshend also described him as the “only person on this earth who is capable of absolutely perfect love for all and everything, and that is when the earth is fortunate enough to be his illusory host, the Messiah. The Avatar. He just came and went. Meher Baba.”

The Band Members Weren’t Always Best Friends

In 1978, all the members of The Who were in pretty bad shape when they showed up for recording sessions for “Who Are You.” The group took three years off, and Jon Astley, the albums co-producer, remembers the sessions not being very productive. At this point, the band members were growing apart and liked to work separately. Pete Townshend had a particularly rough time.

John Entwistle and Keith Moon at a café called 'The Boiling Kettle' in 1966.
John Entwistle and Keith Moon at a café called ‘The Boiling Kettle’ in 1966. Photo by Hugh Vanes, Shutterstock

Astley recalled: “He was going through some hell, he cut his hand very badly, couldn’t play guitar some days and then there was some of his drinking. He’d then go off in the afternoon to collect the kids while Roger liked to work in the afternoon, so it was all a bit bitty.”

Drinking with The Sex Pistols

Rumor has it that “Who Are You” was written about Pete Townshend’s drunken night in the SoHo area of New York City. Apparently, Townshend was frustrated with the idea that his bandmates had possibly sold out and then met two members of the Sex Pistols. He got really drunk and passed out in a doorway before a police officer woke him up.

Pete Townshend jumping in the air while performing
Pete Townshend. Source: Shutterstock

The lyrics go, “I woke up in a SoHo doorway, a policeman knew my name, he said you could go sleep at home tonight if you can get up and walk away.” The singer later admitted that he doesn’t remember actually writing the songs, but it was “an outlet” for his anger at the time.

Keith Moon Had to Cover His Stomach in a Photoshoot

Keith Moon’s lifestyle was getting more and more destructive when it came to the photoshoot for the album “Who Are You.” It was clear that he had a problem. His addictions got really bad to the point where his stomach was swollen from alcohol abuse. The band’s photographer made him sit in a chair in an attempt to cover up his stomach.

Keith Moon sitting on their tour bus for a photoshoot
Keith Moon posing for a photoshoot, August 1978. Photo by David Thorpe / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

What’s creepy is that the chair that Moon is sitting on has the words “not to be taken away” written on it. As we know, Moon sadly died just a few weeks after the album came out. The album cover has since become the most powerful and tragic image in the history of The Who.

Mixed Reviews

Because it was Keith Moon’s last album with the band, “Who Are You” became a beloved album. However, upon its release, it got mixed reviews from critics. Rolling Stone criticized the album saying it is “by no means a great album” and that it’s missing “a natural kinetic groove.”

Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle in May 1965.
Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle in May 1965. Photo by John Minihan / Evening Standard / Shutterstock

“The drive we expect from The Who is replaced by chunky, sometimes clunky orchestration: strings, horns, synthesizer music. This gives one the feeling that the Who aren’t moving, that they aren’t gearing up for a great rock and roll shoot-out with the competition, heading off for better times, claiming the future – rather, they’re face to face with limbo, and trying to think their way out of it.”

Keith Moon Almost Got Kicked Out for Drinking Too Much

In the book written about Moon’s career, Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon, it mentions that Townshend once got mad at the drummer during a recording session. He got frustrated with Moon that he planned to fire him if he didn’t get it together. Moon’s troubling behavior started affecting his personal life.

Keith Moon in a photoshoot standing in front of an old cash register with a frilly white shirt on, 1974.
Keith Moon, 1974. Photo by Bill Orchard / Shutterstock

His daughter Mandy Moon doesn’t remember her home life as a normal or calm place to live. “It was a very unusual house, maybe not that conducive an atmosphere for a child. The good memories I have are mostly when there would be something written about Keith, and a photographer would come over. We’d have to get dressed up, and we’d all be together, which was nice because that wasn’t always the case.”

Roger Daltrey Headbutted Glyn Johns

Roger Daltrey and producer Glyn Johns were having an argument about adding strings to the song “Had Enough,” and it escalated really quickly. Daltrey claimed that when he told the producer, he didn’t like the strings, he “went up the f*cking wall.” It got heated, and Johns reportedly left and recorded with Joan Armatrading instead.

Roger Daltrey was sitting on the ledge of his porch on his trout farm, September 24th, 1985.
Roger Daltrey at his trout farm on September 24th, 1985. Photo by David Crump / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

Let’s just say Daltrey wasn’t changing his mind about the strings: “I had to punch up with Glyn Johns, mainly because he put strings on John’s track ‘Had Enough.’ I went into the studio in the afternoon the day before they put on strings. I thought, ‘f*cking hell, strings on a Who Track?’ When I heard it, it was just slushy string, and I don’t like slushy strings.”

Don’t Part With Keith Moon

One of the band’s longtime touring and recording keyboardist is known as John “Rabbit” Bundrick, and he was set to play on Who Are You. After auditioning for the group, Rabbit went out drinking with Keith Moon. He ended up falling out of the taxi and broke his arm. Bundrick was so scared to lose his job, but his boss let it slide when he found out who his drinking buddy was.

John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and Keith Moon on April 30th, 1971, standing in front of a row of houses with two large dogs.
John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and Keith Moon on April 30th, 1971. Photo by Phillip Jackson / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

He recalled his manager Bill Curbishley’s response to the incident: “Everybody is entitled to make one mistake, and you just made yours hanging out with Keith. Now you know better. Just let us know when your hand is healed, and you’re still in the band.”

The Zombies’ Rod Argent Filled In

Rod Argent was a member of The Zombies and also a keyboard legend and was meant to replace Bundrick. Originally, he was scheduled to work on the entire album, but Argent left after just a few songs. Townshend supposedly forced Argent to choose between their album and another project – the Webber album.

Rod Argent of The Zombies, sitting and playing the piano.
Rod Argent of The Zombies. Photo by Dezo Hoffman / Shutterstock

“The Who were going through a lot of political changes at the time when their management team, I mean, we weren’t party to what was going on, obviously, but day after day they’d be ensconced upstairs in a meeting, and an awful lot of recording didn’t get done. After three tracks I said ‘Look, I’ve got to start the Andrew Lloyd Webber album now.'”

A Notable Musician was on Who Are You

There was a pretty notable musician who sang on the “Who Are You” title track – Andy Fairweather Low. He was known as a session and touring musician. Low was featured on the album as a backup singer. Mainly for the track “Who Are You.” Low was an extremely talented musician and enjoyed success throughout his career.

Andy Fairweather Low on a motorbike in 1968.
Andy Fairweather Low, 1968. Photo by Jon Lyons / Shutterstock

If you never heard of Low, he has a pretty impressive resume. He toured with Eric Clapton for decades. He got that opportunity when his moderately successful 60’s band dissolved. After working on “Who Are You,” the musician became a go-to-player for many famous names, including Roger Walters, Stevie Nicks, and Jeff Beck.

Pete Townshend Didn’t like Playing ‘Sister Disco’

Following the release of Who Are You, “Sister Disco” became a staple track. However, Pete Townshend once admitted that it wasn’t his favorite song to play. “Every time we’ve done it, there’s a point where Roger [Daltrey] comes up to me and makes some kind of soppy smile that’s supposed to communicate some kind of Everly Brothers-type relationship to the audience which isn’t actually there,” he revealed in an interview.

Keith Moon and Pete Townshend deep in discussion standing behind the drums, circa the 1960s.
Keith Moon and Pete Townshend. Photo by Dezo Hoffman / Shutterstock

Wow. Tell us what you really think, Pete! ‘Sister Disco’ was written about the band’s commitment to rock ‘n’ roll during the age of disco. Townshend described it as “a perfect example of the progression” they were making “towards theatrical music writing.”

The Band Beat up a Policeman

On May 16th, 1969, The Who played a concert at New York City’s Fillmore East, where a man went on stage and tried to take the microphone. Roger Daltrey immediately punched him in the face, right before Pete Townshend kicked him in the crotch. Well, as it turned out, this guy was a police officer who wasn’t in uniform.

John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend in August 1969.
John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend in August 1969. Photo by Ray Stevenson / Shutterstock

They should think before punching people. The only reason that the policeman took the microphone was to warn everyone that the grocery store next door was in the middle of a five-alarm blaze. Even if he wasn’t an officer, that seems like a very extreme reaction. Unsurprisingly, Townshend was arrested shortly after.

Roger Daltrey Didn’t Want to Replace Keith Moon

Pete Townshend was answering fan questions online when he revealed how he really felt about his band’s former drummer. Townshend said that he would much rather play with Kenny Jones – Moon’s replacement, over Keith Moon himself. However, Daltrey was passionately opposed to naming Jones (or anyone) as Moon’s replacement.

Pete Townshend, Kenney Jones, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey at Live Aid at Wembley Arena on July 13th, 1985.
Pete Townshend, Kenney Jones, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey at Live Aid at Wembley Arena on July 13th, 1985. Photo by Alan Davidson

Daltrey always preferred to switch drummers on a project by project basis. Eventually, Townshend and Entwistle out-voted him, so he reluctantly allowed Jones to join the band. That didn’t stop him from publically criticizing the new drummer as not being right from The Who. It was probably difficult for him to see another drummer replace his bandmate that just died.

The Who made a Guinness World Record

On May 31st, 1976, The Who played a show that made the Guinness World Record for the loudest concert. The band was performing in London, and yeah, it was that loud. It should be noted that the record was beaten multiple times throughout the years. Eventually, the Guinness World Record stopped documenting this record because their concerts could seriously damage people’s hearing.

Pete Townshend of The Who performing on May 31st, 1976.
Pete Townshend was performing on May 31st, 1976. Photo by Andre Csillag / Shutterstock

Speaking of hearing problems, there is no way that these loud shows are good for Pete Townshend’s Tinnitus, which, as we mentioned, he got as a result of loud noises. There is no way that trying to beat extremely loud concerts by making even louder concerts will end well.

Keith Moon’s Report Card

Keith Moon had a restless imagination and hyperactive tendencies since he was a young boy. Once on his report card, his art teacher wrote, “Retarded artistically. Idiotic in other respects.” I don’t even know what to make of that. His music teacher noted that he “has a great ability, but must guard against tendency to show off.”

Keith Moon, 1965.
Keith Moon, 1965. Photo by Dezo Hoffman / Shutterstock

The music teacher was pretty spot on. He’s clearly talented, and he obviously picked the perfect career when he can show off. But I’m still stunned about what the art teacher said. I mean, can she just call an elementary school child idiotic and get away with it? I guess it was a completely different time.

Cincinnati Concert Tragedy

The Who was getting ready for a concert in Cincinnati on December 3rd, 1979. They were in soundcheck, but the crowd waiting outside thought that the concert started without them. Spoiler alert: It didn’t. But the passionate fans didn’t want to miss a thing. So what did they decide to do?

John Entwistle, Kenney Jones, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend in March 1988.
John Entwistle, Kenney Jones, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend in March 1988. Photo by Neville Marriner / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

Instead of waiting in an orderly line, the crowd forced their way in, stomping on everything and everyone getting in their way. During this aggressive entrance, 11 fans were killed. Nobody told the band that this tragedy just happened until the concert was over. Needless to say, they were deeply shaken as soon as they found out.

Moon’s Destructive Lifestyle

As we mentioned, Keith Moon had a pretty destructive lifestyle. We mentioned how he had substance issues and loved to trash hotel rooms. Well, this damaging behavior continued. It got worse when the band stayed in the Berlin Hilton. He thought it would be fun to destroy property… like, actual furniture.

Keith Moon and John Entwistle, 1976.
Keith Moon and John Entwistle, 1976. Photo by Peter Baylis / Shutterstock

Moon got completely messed up on drugs and alcohol and then proceed to throw furniture out the window. Literally. His favorite method of destruction was exploding toilets. Moon tried to ruin every toilet and changing rooms he could get access to until he finished his supply of explosives. People should have known this guy was going to hit rock bottom.

Their Holiday Inn Stay

As we know, Moon celebrated his 21st birthday (which was actually his 20th birthday) at the Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan. As soon as he got to the city, Keith Moon began drinking excessively. Remember how he woke up with a missing tooth? Well, that was during a food fight he drunkenly started, and he was sent to the hospital.

Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey in March 1967.
Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey in March 1967. Photo by Ray Stevenson / Shutterstock

You would think he would learn his lesson. However, when he got back to the hotel, he continued with more destructive behavior. He proceeded to throw hotel guests and furniture in the pool and started a fire. He refused to stop until the police got there. It doesn’t come as a shock that this little incident got The Who banned from all Holiday Inns.

CSI Connection

Did you know that the CSI franchise uses The Who songs in their opening sequence? Apparently, the song “Who Are You” was first chosen because the lyrics seemed to fit the premise of the show. “Who Are You” can be related to suspects or even unknown victims.

David Caruso as Horatio Caine in CSI: Miami, 2009.
David Caruso as Horatio Caine in CSI: Miami, 2009. Source: moviestillsDB.com / copyright: CBS

The Who songs were then used for the subsequent series to give viewers a familiar feel, despite the lyrics not really applying to show. One exception is “I Can See For Miles,” which seems to describe the CSI: Cyber mission of going beyond cyberspace boundaries to solve crime. It shouldn’t be noted that this is all speculated by fans. CSI never revealed the real reason they chose the use The Who songs.