As we move into the late 1970s, we see several of the long-time dominant British rock bands searching for their sound amidst a sea of change in popular tastes. The Stones managed to make it work with “Some Girls”, but we will see a couple of less consistent attempts by their peers over the next year. We start with the latest album from The Who, “Who Are You”.
I think the common theme and biggest thread on both of the albums I am referring to (I will leave the other out of the discussion for now) is an over-reliance on synthesizers that while attempting to sound cutting edge, actually has created the most dated elements of each album. A band like The Who feeds off of the aggressive guitar of Pete Townshend, which is pretty much buried on this album until the final track. Interestingly enough, three of the nine songs on this album are written by bass player John Entwistle, which has to be an all-time high. It is no secret that during this time frame, lead guitarist and creative force Pete Townshend was mired in the lowest depths of his alcoholism.
Songs like “New Song”, “Had Enough” and “905”, also sung by Entwistle, are easy enough to listen to, but none of them really stick with you. Probably the second-most notable song on the album, “Sister Disco”, their observation on the evolving musical world, offers the most intrigue. It is also the one video performance from the 1982 Who concert that I attended in Boulder that wound up on the early FM-TV rotation on Channel 12 in Denver, prior to the explosion of MTV.
“Trick of the Light” is the only other song, prior to the conclusion, that has any hint of the old Who attitude. It is also an Entwistle track, and one of his best ones. I particularly like the chorus on the track. I will leave the remainder of my discussion for the famous title track. While in recent years it has been reduced to being a theme show for some show I have never seen, and a song sports teams play while introducing their starting lineups, “Who Are You” is the one great song on this album. Like many great Who songs, it is very autobiographical, documenting Pete’s alcohol demons, in particular referencing one drunken night with Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols. This is the one song where the sheer power of Roger’s voice tells Pete’s story, Pete blasts back the power chords with a very creative acoustic mid-section, and the explosive force of Keith Moon is presented to us.
Ah yes, Mr. Moon, Moon the Loon. Sadly, just one month after this album was released, we lost Keith. Also fighting the battle of alcohol and drug addiction, he actually overdosed on pills prescribed to help reduce his dependency. The parallels of The Who and Led Zeppelin are eerily similar, and for most rock fans, the era of rock drumming was truly ushered in by Keith and John Bonham. Keith’s drumming was one of a kind, he was set free by Townshend’s steady rhythm to aggressively free-lance as if each song was a four-minute drum fill. If you are familiar with Animal, the crazy Muppet drummer, most believe that Keith Moon was the template, the crazy and manic drummer on and offstage, one whose behavior was endearing and exhausting all at the same time. While The Who would press on, they would never be the same.