The Who are without a doubt one of the greatest bands to come out of 20th century Britain. With a formidable and talented core line-up, featuring Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, it’s no wonder that the band are lauded as one of the most influential rock bands of all-time.
It’s hard to argue otherwise – the group have sold over 100 million record sales worldwide, a feat not accomplished by many other artists. Nowadays, Daltrey and Townshend are the only two remaining members of the original line-up, but The Who are still going strong, with the group continuing to sell out venues and remaining well-loved worldwide.
Here are 20 things you might not have known about The Who.
20. Keith Moon’s school report called him “idiotic”
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Keith Moon’s unique drumming style, which focused on tom toms and cymbal crashes, earned him recognition and praise.
He was voted the second-greatest drummer in history by a Rolling Stone readers’ poll (second only to John Bonham.)
Moon was also posthumously inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1982.
Nowadays, most would consider him something of an artistic genius. But Moon wasn’t always considered as such.
Back in school, his art teacher had some choice words for him, calling him “idiotic” in one report.
His music teacher was slightly kinder, writing that he “has great ability, but must guard against a tendency to show off.”
19. Roger Daltrey once thought he’d killed Pete Townshend in a fight
The pressures of fame combined with penchants for substance abuse means it’s no surprise that the Who had their fair share of spats.
But one particular fight left lead singer Roger Daltrey thinking that he’d actually killed Pete Townshend stone dead.
Tensions were running high as the band were roped into recording a promo video for their upcoming Quadrophenia tour back in 1973, the filming of which cut into precious rehearsal time.
When Daltrey expressed his annoyance at how long it was taking to film, Townshend lashed out.
An excerpt from the singer’s memoir shared on Vulture reads: “Pete, fueled by the best part of a bottle of brandy, went off like a firecracker […] Next thing I knew, he’d swung a 24-pound Les Paul guitar at me.”
“It whistled past my ear and glanced off my shoulder, very nearly bringing a much earlier end to the Who […] I replied with an uppercut to the jaw,” he wrote. “Pete went up and backward like he’s been poleaxed. And then he fell down hard, cracking his head to the stage. I thought I’d killed him.”
18. Keith Moon regularly flushed explosives down the toilet
- Credit: Photoshot
Keith Moon was well-known for being an eccentric – after all, not many people can say their favourite hobby is blowing up toilets.
In the band’s heyday, Moon developed a reputation for destroying bathrooms by flushing cherry bombs or dynamite down toilets.
Moon’s biographer Tony Fletcher went as far as writing that “no toilet in a hotel or changing room was safe” until Moon had worked through all his explosives.
On one occasion a hotel manager called Moon’s room and asked him to lower the volume on his cassette recorder because it was making “too much noise.”
Moon then invited the manager to come up to the room, before excusing himself to go to the bathroom and lodging a stick of dynamite in the toilet.
When the stick exploded, Moon told the manager: “That, dear boy, was noise. This is the ‘Oo.”
17. An audience member once had to fill in for Keith Moon on drums after Moon passed out mid-gig
- Credit: Redferns
Moon’s self-destructive behaviour and problems with substance abuse meant that he was no stranger to passing out onstage mid-gig.
In 1973, Moon blacked out during the band’s performance at the Cow Palace in California, midway through a performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again.
The band immediately stopped playing as their roadies came and carried the drummer offstage.
Reviving him with a shower and an injection of cortisone, Moon was back on stage within half an hour.
But he passed out again during Magic Bus, leading Townshend to ask the audience: “Can anyone play the drums? I mean somebody good?”
A drummer in the audience named Scot Halpin was brought up on stage, given a shot of brandy for his nerves, and played three songs with the band. Daltrey praised Halpin’s abilities, later saying that he “did a good job.”
16. They were banned from Holiday Inns after causing $24,000 worth of damage to a hotel
Moon turned ’21’ at a Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan. In reality, it was actually Moon’s 20th birthday, but the drummer had decided to pretend it was his 21st so that he would be able to drink.
Moon began drinking as soon as they arrived in the town, and was drunk by the time the group did their evening performance at Atwood Stadium.
After returning to the hotel, Moon started a food fight by throwing parts of his birthday cake at people.
He went on to knock out part of his front tooth – the remainder of which had to be removed without anaesthetic due to his inebriation.
The birthday party quickly descended into further chaos, with guests and furniture thrown in to the pool; fire extinguishers set off; and a piano destroyed.
In the aftermath, the Holiday Inn management team presented those involved with a bill of $24,000 and banned the Who from all of the hotel’s properties.
15. Pete Townshend wrote all their hit singles (apart from Summertime Blues)
While a lot of bands lean on songwriters to write their material for them, the Who were somewhat unusual in that one member wrote all but one of their best-loved songs.
Pete Townshend actually penned all of their hit singles – with one important and very successful exception.
The Who’s cover of Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues was a staple part of their setlist and one of their best-loved singles.
It was first released as part of their 1970 album Live at Leeds, recorded at the University of Leeds Refectory.
This tune is widely regarded as one of the best live rock recordings of all time.
As a single, Summertime Blues appeared on the UK, US, Dutch and Canadian charts.
14. The 2012 London Olympics Committee asked if the late Keith Moon could perform at the opening ceremony
- Credit: Redferns
Most fans of the Who know that Keith Moon’s life was tragically cut short in 1978 after he overdosed on Heminevrin, a prescription drug used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
It later came to light that Moon had consumed 32 tablets when his doctor had instructed him to take no more than 3 a day.
But it seems this tragic part of rock history passed the London 2012 Summer Olympic Committee by.
The Committee contacted The Who’s manager Bill Curbishley about Moon performing at the games, 34 years after his death.
Curbishley said in an interview with The Sunday Times: “I emailed back saying Keith now resides in Golders Green Crematorium, having lived up to the Who’s anthemic line ‘I hope I die before I get old.'”
“If they have a round table, some glasses and candles, we might contact him,” Curbishley mused.
13. Roger Daltrey made his first guitar
Daltrey is, of course, the Who’s lead singer – but in the band’s early days, he was actually gunning for the role of lead guitarist.
He came prepared, too, having made himself a guitar from scratch. Speaking to the Big Issue in 2018, he said: “We were a generation of builders who grew up with nothing. Everything had been destroyed by war.”
“When you have nothing, if you want something you f***ing build it,” he said. “I made my first electric guitar, a copy of a Fender, and we were building a band.”
Daltrey stood down from his role as the band’s guitarist when he met the formidable Townshend.
He admitted that his then-day job as a sheet metal worker was “incompatible” with playing the guitar.
“I happily gave up the guitar, it was completely incompatible with being a sheet metal worker,” Daltrey explained. “My hands were cut to shreds after unloading 10 tonnes of steel.”
12. They once accidentally beat up a policeman onstage
- Credit: Jim Summaria
During a concert on May 16, 1969 at New York City’s Fillmore East, a random man ran onto the stage and tried to grab the microphone.
Daltrey stopped him by punching him square in the face, while Townshend kicked him in the crotch.
Little did they know this was no crazed fan, but instead a plain-clothes policeman.
The officer was trying to warn the band and the audience that the grocery store next door to the venue was currently on fire.
The smoke filling up the room was not from a smoke machine – as Townshend thought it was – but instead from a very real blaze.
The concert was ultimately cut short due to the inferno, with the venue speedily evacuated.
11. They were once the loudest band in the world
- Credit: Redferns
Many rock groups have vied to become the record holders for ‘loudest band in the world.’
But did you know the Who were one of the first ever bands to stake a claim to this title?
On May 31 1976, the Who performed a concert in London that was so loud it knocked the previous – and first – record holders, Deep Purple, off the top spot.
During Deep Purple’s record-breaking concert, the volume reached 117 decibels, with three audience members passing out.
The Who surpassed this by setting a record of 126 dB at The Valley in Charlton, London.
The record was later scrapped as many people were damaging their hearing permanently as bands tried to perform as loudly as possible.
10. Daltrey secured a Shakespearean acting job in 1983
The Who singer Roger Daltrey is a man of many talents – he’s had careers in acting and film production alongside his rock star lifestyle.
In fact, in 1983, Daltry won a Shakespearean lead role, just as the band took a break from touring.
He was in a TV film of The Comedy of Errors, performing as the twins Dromio and Dromio.
In the same year, Daltrey joined a BBC musical production of The Beggar’s Opera, a 1728 play.
Today, the star has over 60 acting credits to his name, including Highlander, Rude Awakening and CSI.
He produced the movies Quadrophenia, Buddy’s Song and McVicar, as well as the documentary Cancer Rebellion.
9. The Who never had a UK Number One
With over 100 million records sold, you may well expect that The Who has had plenty of Number One hits.
However, the band has never once achieved a Number One single in its home country.
And the band has only ever once had an album take the top spot: Who’s Next, in 1971.
Both the albums Quadrophenia and Who Are You climbed to the Number Two spot in the UK.
But funnily enough, the Who has had two Number One singles in Canada: the 1966 song Happy Jack, and 1975’s Squeeze Box.
The Who By Numbers Tour of 1975 concluded in Toronto, Canada, with what ended up as Keith Moon’s final performance.
8. Their album Tommy was the first ever work to label itself a ‘rock opera’
Many critics agree that the first ever rock opera was S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things, released in 1968.
Others have described Nirvana’s The Story of Simon Simopath as an early example of the genre. (That’s Nirvana the British band of the 60s, not the US rockers who pioneered the grunge scene of the 90s.)
But it was The Who’s 1969 album Tommy that was the first work to describe itself as a “rock opera”.
After touring with Tommy in 1969-70, Townshend began to work on a new rock opera entitled Lifehouse.
This science fiction-inspired project was eventually abandoned by the band, in favour of the hard rock album Who’s Next.
Both Tommy and the later album Quadrophenia were made into successful 70s films of the same names.
7. Pete Townshend described the Beatles as “flipping lousy”
The Who’s distinctive style may have grown in part from its songwriters’ disdain for a couple of immensely successful bands.
In a 1966 interview on the BBC show A Whole Scene Going, Pete Townshend said he was unimpressed with The Beatles’ musical ability.
“John [Entwistle] and I were listening to a stereo L.P. of The Beatles in which the voices come out of one side and the backing track comes out of the other,” he stated.
“And when you actually hear the backing tracks of The Beatles without their voices, they’re flippin’ lousy,” he ruled.
What’s more, Townshend poured scorn on songs by rival band Led Zeppelin, saying in 1995: “I don’t like a single thing that they have done, I hate the fact that I’m ever even slightly compared to them.”
“I just never ever liked them,” he added. “It’s a real problem to me cause as people I think they are really really great guys. Just never liked the band.”
6. Townshend created his signature guitar move from Keith Richards’ warm-up routine
The Who’s Pete Townshend is famous for playing his guitar in a wild, wheeling motion, nicknamed The Windmill or ‘windmilling’.
In a 2012 interview with David Letterman, Townshend noted that he first had the idea of windmilling after watching Keith Richards warm up before a concert with The Who.
Assuming it was a cool trick, Townshend was surprised to discover Richards never chose to do it on stage – and so he adopted it as his own.
On one occasion, Townshend wounded himself from this signature move, onstage in Tacoma, Washington in 1989.
Picking up speed, he ‘windmilled’ with such violence that he impaled his hand on the guitar’s whammy bar.
Townshend has recalled, ““I looked down and thought, ‘S***!’” His injury required hospital treatment.
5. John Entwistle was a secret lifelong Freemason
- Bill Abbott
John Entwistle was the band’s treasured bass guitarist, having learned the trumpet, French horn and piano.
He was unique among The Who as the only band member with a formal musical education. He was also a school friend of Townshend’s.
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In the decade before his death in 2002, he became a keen artist, and he was invited to dozens of art shows dedicated to him.
In some ways, Entwistle led a much more private and unorthodox lifestyle than his rock star bandmates.
In 2011, Townshend stated, “It wasn’t until the day of his funeral that I discovered that he’d spent most of his life as a Freemason.”
According to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Derbyshire, Entwistle was a member of Ezekiel Bates Lodge, Massachusetts, which dates back to 1870.
4. The band once fired Daltrey for attacking Moon
In The Who’s early days, Daltrey established himself as the leader – and he wasn’t afraid to fight, even physically, to keep his authority.
Townshend once commented that Daltrey “was really the balls of the band and ran things the way he wanted.”
“If you argued with him, you usually got a bunch of fives [a punch],” Townshend recalled.
In 1965, Daltrey was furious to discover Keith Moon’s stash of drugs. He flushed them away, and punched Moon in the face.
“It took about five people to hold me off him,” Daltrey noted in his biography. “It wasn’t just because I hated him, it was just because I loved the band so much and thought it was being destroyed by those pills.”
The band fired Daltrey, but then permitted him to return a week later with the promise he wouldn’t start any more fights.
3. The BBC had an unusual reason for banning a Who song
My Generation was The Who’s debut studio album, and it’s often named one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
It contained a song of the same name, which Townshend said was inspired by an incident where the Queen Mother had his Packard hearse towed away from his road in Belgravia.
Although the song had an anarchic theme, it was free of swear words or obscene content.
So it may come as a surprise that the BBC nevertheless banned it from all their channels.
The BBC chose to block the tune because it contained heavy stuttering by Roger Daltrey, which the broadcaster was concerned might offend those with a real stutter.
The ban was lifted once the song had sold 300,000 copies as a single and was widespread on other radio shows.
2. Townshend’s first guitar-smashing incident was an accident
At the Railway Tavern in Harrow, 1964, The Who’s performance saw the birth of Townshend’s famous guitar-smashing habit.
But it wasn’t at all planned. In fact, the entire incident started off as an annoying accident.
Townshend lifted his guitar above his head and unintentionally smashed its headstock into the venue’s low ceiling.
“I was expecting everybody to go, ‘Wow, he’s broken his guitar, he’s broken his guitar,’ but nobody did anything, which made me kind of angry in a way,” he later recalled.
“And determined to get this precious event noticed by the audience, I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar,” he explained. “I bounced all over the stage with it and I threw the bits on the stage and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really had meant to do it.”
This act became a staple of his performances, with a guitar typically wrecked at the climax of the band’s set.
1. The Who was almost called The Hair
- Klaus Hiltscher
Before it became The Who, Daltrey’s fresh band was playing pop and jazz covers at corporate functions and weddings under the name The Detours. Entwistle and Daltrey recruited Townshend in 1961.
However, in 1964, the band found out that another group was already performing under that name.
- Klaus Hiltscher
Rushing to rename themselves, the band considered “The Hair” – which was Townshend’s offering and his favourite option.
Meanwhile Townshend’s flatmate, Richard Barnes, suggested calling the band The Who. The pair also came up with No One and The Group in their brainstorming session.
Pete also favoured ‘The Hair and The Who’, whereas Barnes thought it “sounded too much like the name of a pub.”
The following morning, Daltrey had the final say. He announced to Townshend and the amused Barnes: “It’s the Who, innit?”