August 18, 1978: The Who Release ‘Who Are You’

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The Who Who Are YouThe Who were still one of the world’s most revered bands when they released Who Are You, their eighth studio album, on August 18, 1978*. They’d been around for well over a decade, and their popularity worldwide—particularly in the United States—was still on the ascendant throughout the ’70s. They’d followed 1969’s Tommy the next year with Live at Leeds, one of the great live albums of all-time, and topped themselves in ’71 with Who’s Next, an album that still defines classic rock to this day. Quadrophenia, another landmark concept album, came in ’73, then, two years later, The Who By Numbers.

All four of those albums reached the top 10 in the U.S., but more importantly, each one found The Who progressing into new areas of music. Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were never a band to feed off their past glories, and, arriving after a three-year break, Who Are You was another move forward—commercially accessible, but sporting sophisticated lyrical themes and instrumental complexities that pushed the Who further away from the rawness of their earliest music without compromising their innate power. (They also remained, arguably, the greatest live rock band in the world, but that’s another story.)

Watch The Who in the studio during the recording of “Who Are You”

Produced by Glyn Johns and Jon Astley, Who Are You featured nine brand new Who tunes, three of them by Entwistle, the others, of course, penned by Townshend. Tracks like “Sister Disco,” “Music Must Change” and the title track became immediate fan favorites—the latter has remained part of the Who’s setlist—and while critical response was mixed, the album found its way to the #2 spot on the Billboard chart in America, stopped only by the soundtrack to Grease.

Listen to an often overlooked gem from the album

This ad for the album appeared in the August 26, 1978 issue of Record World

But not without tragedy attached to its climb. On September 7, only three weeks after the album’s release, Keith Moon was found dead of an overdose. He was only 32, and while his demise certainly wasn’t all that surprising given Moon’s reputation as one of rock’s most reckless pranskters, it was shocking nonetheless.

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The Who Are You album cover famously depicts Moon sitting on a chair with the words “NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY” on the back.

Related: Our appreciation of rock’s greatest drummer

Rather than pack it in, as many assumed they would, The Who quickly recruited former Faces drummer Kenney Jones and soon went out on tour.

Watch The Who rehearse “Sister Disco” before their first tour with their new drummer

They would never be the same, but they would never give up either. Zak Starkey – Moon’s godson – has now been behind the kit for The Who for far longer than Moon. Four decades later, Townshend and Daltrey carry on the name, and Who Are You remains one of their singular achievements.

*Though there is some debate regarding the actual Who Are You release date, the group’s website uses August 18, 1978.

When The Who tour again, tickets will be available at Ticketmaster and here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

2 Comments so far

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  1. Yvette
    #1 Yvette 19 August, 2018, 02:30

    STEVE, So Good To Hear Your Voice and Thoughts. It Has Been A Long Time Coming!! Glad You Are BACK….

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  2. Jmack
    #2 Jmack 21 August, 2023, 00:26

    It’s actually a very good album probably better than the previous Who by numbers ..trick of the light and guitar and pen rock and the music must change is solid and who are you is right up there next to won’t get fooled again and other Who Classics ..definitely their last solid record

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