Comprised of six parts designed as mini-documentaries, and anchored by rare performance footage and revealing interviews, this film provides in-depth profiles of The Who’s original members and a look at the band’s trademark elements.
Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and John Entwistle each get their props in The Who documentaries “Amazing Journey” and “Six Quick Ones.” All agree that the band’s personalities couldn’t have been more disparate, but somehow they made era-changing music together. The films offer insights into their backgrounds and how they were able to click.
** The aspiring guitarist grew up with parents who were dance-band musicians steeped in jazz, but soon realized he “couldn’t begin to occupy their territory” from a technical perspective. So he switched gears to the blues and R&B.
** Townshend’s guitar-bashing divided even his own band. Moon egged him on and joined in on the carnage, frequently trashing his drum kit in a sign of — take your pick — solidarity or one-upmanship. Daltrey saw it as a distraction, and an exceedingly expensive one at that, from what mattered: the music. Manager Chris Stamp viewed the chaos as an embodiment of “the rage we all feel.”
** “I Can’t Explain,” the first hit Townshend wrote, sold 104,000 copies and made each band member 250 pounds. The BBC didn’t play the song, but Radio Caroline pirate radio was all over it. “Without pirate radio, the British Invasion would not have happened,” Daltrey says.
** Townshend initially dismissed “I Can’t Explain” as the “quite childish” musings of a teenage boy. His accomplices knew better. Up until then “we were copying other people’s songs,” but “I Can’t Explain” “wasn’t going the way normal pop songs go, he was going internal,” Daltrey says.
** After the brilliantly ominous single “I Can See for Miles” under-performed commercially, Townshend felt The Who was on its last legs. “I have to save this band,” he thought. He turned to the album format instead of singles as the new art form, stretching his ambitions on the advertising parodies of “The Who Sell Out,” then going all in on “Tommy.”
** In the recording sessions for “Quadrophenia,” Townshend says, “everyone involved was like my puppet.” During tour rehearsals, Townshend tried to pull rank on Daltrey, and the singer responded by knocking out the guitarist with a punch. “A little bit of blood spilt on the way is nothing” if you’re both working on something great, Townshend says of the spat.
** Townshend on the rise of punk, a movement that his band presaged with its anti-Establishment songs and raging concerts: “It was like the French Revolution...with the Beatles, Stones and The Who beheaded in public.”
** The Edge on Townshend’s guitar-playing and songwriting: “Rock ‘n’ roll is an African-American music, but Pete with ‘Happy Jack’ is not at all American. It’s so English — he put that into that form...there is nothing R&B about that beat.”
** “I write for a character I find in our audience,” Townshend says of his lyrics. “We work together, it’s meditative, spiritual… ‘Listening to you, following you’... What does that mean? But all the elements come together.”
** Daltrey got expelled from school for fighting. It wouldn’t be the first time his fists got him in trouble. He once knocked out Keith Moon after a show and briefly got expelled from The Who in 1965. “I loved to fight,” Daltrey says. “Still do.”
** Until “Tommy,” Daltrey struggled to find his voice in the band. “Keith was a genius, John was a genius, I was on the edge of it... Roger was a singer, that was it,” Townshend says.
** “Roger says, ‘Can I be Tommy?’ And I said, ‘Yes!’” Townshend says. Daltrey became a different kind of singer in performing the rock opera, opening up to the audience rather than strutting like a “vicious...don’t-get-in-my-way kind of guy.”
** Townshend says the band members “had nothing in common... There was horrendous competition on and off stage” all the time. But when Daltrey bloomed with “Tommy,” “we became a four-piece band on equal footing and it was glorious.”
** As they have grown older together as the only surviving original members of the band, Townshend says he now realizes that Daltrey is “the best interpreter of my work I could have hoped for.”
** “I’ve lived every one of his (Townshend’s) songs, emotionally if not psychologically,” the singer says.
** The bassist attended the same boys school in London as Townshend, and became the guitarist’s closest collaborator and most encouraging accomplice. “Right from the beginning he was a great musical ally,” Townshend says.
** In many other bands, the bassist is usually the guy who wasn’t good enough to play guitar. In The Who, Entwistle “realized he had the power to change the fucking instrument,” Townshend says. “He was playing like a Bach organ, a huge, massive, rich sound. I used to find my way inside there and he’d follow me and support me.”
** Manager Bill Curbishley: “He was very much like Keith on drums...doing the unexpected all the time.”
** Volume was a key component of Entwistle’s sound, enabling him to give the music a depth it otherwise wouldn’t have with only three instrumentalists on stage. On its 1989 reunion tour, the band turned down the volume to help preserve Townshend’s compromised hearing, but realized “we would need 20 musicians to make that sound” conjured by the bassist’s booming, harmonically rich playing.
** Townshend was devastated by Entwistle’s sudden death in 2003 on the eve of a Who tour, leaving half the original band to carry on. He found solace in the music they created together. “A further gift that John’s death has given me is an acutely closer relationship with Roger,” the guitarist says.
** After an early Who performance, “a gingerbread man appears from the audience, bright orange hair, and says, ‘I’m much, much better than the drummer you’ve got,’” Daltrey says of Moon, who got the job after an audition a few days later.
** The drummer had an obsession with surf music, including the Beach Boys — a band that Townshend couldn’t stand. “He liked to do the girly backing vocals,” Townshend says.
** Moon was doing things on drums that “made us work 100 percent harder,” Daltrey says. The maniacally inventive, never-play-the-song-the-same-way-twice percussionist would double up the beat when the band covered a blues standard and prompt the others to come out of their comfort zone. “We’d play the blues,” Daltrey says, “but from our own standpoint.”
** The drummer’s manic style was one-of-a-kind even by the anything-goes standards of ‘60s rock. “If he’d played with another band, he probably would’ve sounded like shit,” says the Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones.
** Oasis’ Liam Gallagher: “He is the Jimi Hendrix of the drums.”
Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”