March Through Time: The Who

It’s quite easy to overlook the fact, but considering only studio releases of new material, The who released a mere twelve albums in the period 1965-2019. True, many say that The Who were best experienced live, and while there’s much in favor of that argument, the band always took its studio project very seriously. Here’s my very brief capsule rundown of the dozen LPs. My standard caveat applies: every one of these releases deserves a deeper dive; this is merely a quick rundown, perhaps of use to those seeking a way to begin exploring a body of work.

  • My Generation (1965) – Some weak points, showcasing a band still in the process of developing its sound. More of an r&b/soul flavor than one will find on subsequent releases. At least two classics in “My Generation” and “The Kids are Alright.”

  • A Quick One (1966) – Wildly uneven, it includes amusing throwaways like “Cobwebs and Strange” alongside the brilliant “So Sad About Us” and the proto-epic “A Quick One.” The latter is still best heard in the live version included in the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus film.

  • The Who Sell Out (1967) – The band’s first classic album. Brilliant conceptually, and a damn fine listen. Humor, rock power and lyrical sophistication.

  • Tommy (1969) – Influential beyond compare, but a bit lacking in sheer rock power. Essential, of course, but not as thrilling as it could be. Worth seeking out is a Smithereens album that recasts the material into a harder-edged format.

  • Who’s Next (1971) – If you don’t own this, one might well question why you’re even reading this. One of the greatest LPs of all time. Best among the best is “The Song is Over.” It hints at what’s to come.

  • Quadrophenia (1973) – for me, the high point of the Who. All the power and majesty of Who’s Next, with a quasi-narrative that makes more sense (we’re grading on a scale here) than did Tommy. Even the instrumentals are superb.

  • The Who by Numbers (1975) – Pete Townshend’s “coming to terms with middle age” album is a tough and emotional listening experience, but it’s not as visceral as Plastic Ono Band or Tonight’s the Night. Flashes of fun and humor, and some very good songs. Keith Moon’s last hurrah.

  • Who Are You (1978) – Keith had moments of brilliance here, but he was also on his last legs. Entwistle brought some excellent tunes, as he often did. The title track is overplayed now (thanks, CSI) but “Sister Disco” remains brilliant.

  • Face Dances (1981) – Not nearly as bad as detractors would have you believe, though it’s perhaps better thought of as a Pete solo album featuring The Who backing him up. “Another Tricky Day” is an underrated cut.

  • It’s Hard (1982) – I remember Rolling Stone awarding this record five stars! I think not. Still, it too has its moments. Kenney Jones did his job replacing Moon, but his style never quite gelled. More Pete-centric tunes, and for my money the greatest late-period Who song ever, “Cry If You Want.” Listen to Townshend slash those chords; stick around into the fadeout.

  • Endless Wire (2006) – After a long quiet period, this was seen as a return to form. It may have sentimental value, and it deserves points for emotional openness, but the music isn’t very memorable.

  • Who (2019) – A surprising return to the qualities that made the Who great. Not trying to capture old glories, not struggling with (long since passed) middle aged, The “Two” instead do what they do best. A fine note upon which to end. (The CD version, which I do not have, includes a stunning track started in the ‘60s and finished in present day. “Got Nothing to Prove” must be heard to be believed.