Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey Talk About the State of The Who

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Pre-lockdown: The last time Daltrey and Townshend shared the stage, on February 14, 2020

The Who’s Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey joined Apple Music 1 for an extensive video interview on April 28, 2021, in which they each reflected on some of the band’s unique history. The occasion was to promote the Super Deluxe Edition of the group’s third studio album, 1967’s The Who Sell Out, but the extended forum allowed them to share some great anecdotes. Watch the entire interview below.

Townshend talked candidly to interviewer Zane Lowe about the band’s legendary drummer, Keith Moon, as well as the differences between himself and Daltrey.  He also shared a conversation he had with Paul McCartney about The Who’s first mini opera, which preceded the Beatles’ grand Sgt. Pepper album.

For his part, Daltrey promised that The Who would return to the stage to uphold commitments they’ve made.

“On the second album we did, there was a track called “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” which was a mini opera,” says Townshend. “[It]was six short songs linked together. After that album came out, I met Paul McCartney in a nightclub and he said, ‘Pete, that mini opera thing is so cool.’ He didn’t actually say, ‘Would you mind if we did something like it?’ But the inference was that they were already considering doing something long form and very, very soon after… I think it was in May of ’67, we were on the road. Sgt. Pepper came out. Before that, at the end of ’66 in America, Pet Sounds came out by the Beach Boys. And although neither of them were narrative concepts, they were definitely poetic stories. They were gatherings of images and ideas that added up to a new way of putting songs together. And from that moment on, I think the message was out there. If that’s what you want to do, do it.”

Watch The Who perform “A Quick One (While He’s Away) on the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, in 1968

“And other people did it in strange ways,” he continues. “If you look at a band like AC/DC, every album was a concept album. And guess what the concept was? It was AC/ DC. That was the concept. But they stuck to it. They religiously stuck to it. So everybody knew where they were and who they were and what they were doing. Many, many of the big, heavy metal bands did the same thing. And in fact, in heavy metal, there was a huge number of concept albums, which most of us would probably not know about.”

Of The Who Sell Out, Townshend says, “Some of the songs were serious but many of them were light-hearted. Some of them were funny. Some of them were meant to be amusing.”

Pete Townshend, during his interview with Apple Music

The subject turned to The Who’s drummer. “Keith Moon was funny, but I also saw him in a tragic state as well, and also doing terrible things,” Townshend tells Lowe. “He was very kind, and he did some wonderful things, but he was often, really, a bad guy. I think I was probably the same. We probably all were. So you see the best and the worst.

“That’s why Roger and I are still together despite the fact that we don’t really have very much in common. I’m a leftist, he’s a rightist. I believe in God, I don’t think he does. It’s the whole load of differences. You know, I’m creative, he’s a singer, he doesn’t write songs. I think there’s a whole load of stuff that’s like a void between us, but when we come together, we’re still honoring that contract, which we made when we were kids, at school.”

Daltrey was asked to reflect on The Who’s early days. “For me, it was like going to war,” he says. “It was like going into battle, it really was. For a very long time there, it was like, it was us against our audience. And we were going to draw our music through them to the back of the hall. As the halls got bigger, of course, that became more and more extravagant and the volume went up and up and up. So, that was a kind of mental attitude. It was almost like a battle. And the slightest little thing used to wind me up terrible into a lot of… inner-anger, which come out within the performances.”

Of the group’s landmark set at 1969’s Woodstock Festival, he says: “[It] was a funny experience because… it was just another gig. It was just another shout. And they kept us waiting a long time. That was all. It didn’t mean much to us until the following year when the film came out. And the film, of course, blew us into the stratosphere.”

Related: Daltrey talks about how he got to the Woodstock festival

“Fortunately, we had someone [Townshend] really unique in his songwriting ability… to voice that inner voice that we all have into music in a way that it struck a chord. That’s, what’s so amazing when I listen back to these records. I am constantly amazed that it doesn’t age. It astonishes me how modern most Who music sounds today.”

Listen to an early mono version of “I Can See For Miles” from the new Super Deluxe Edition

Lowe asked Daltrey whether The Who will return to live performances. “I want to get back on stage doing the show,” he says. “We’ve got to honor our commitment to our fans. We had a charity show booked in Cincinnati that we were doing for Finneytown High School to provide scholarships. So, they’re commitments that we will do; even if it’s in two years time and I’ll make it [at] eighty years old, and I’ll hob lob that stage somehow. That will be a sellout crowd. It might be The Who’s last.

Roger Daltrey, during his interview with Apple Music

“When we give our word to do something, we end up doing it. But I just want to go on as long as we can, doing music of the quality we make and doing it justice. I mean, The Who have never ever cheated. Our last tour with an orchestra… it is phenomenal. And it’s not the usual rock band and an orchestra where the strings and all. This is serious. This is like, ‘Whoa!’ ‘Cause The Who is as ballsy and as loud as ever, and the orchestra sits in between… it takes your face off. It is huge.

“And I was so proud of that show and Pete and I enjoyed it so much. Because in our heads, when you’re singing, I always try and sing the songs as I’m singing them for the first time. And then when you hear an orchestra kick in with all the harmonics a real live orchestra brings, with the arrangements we’ve got, it just takes your spirits to a whole new level. It’s just wonderful. I’d like to see if we couldn’t write an album together. I’d love to have a go at that. Just get in the studio, even if it is a blues album, you know, locked down blues. I don’t know.”

Watch the interviews with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. Scottydog
    #1 Scottydog 1 May, 2021, 00:40

    I have already ordered the CSNY Deja Vu box set and now I am ready to order The Who…God bless both of those wonderful bands.

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