A dozen things you might not know about The Who

The Who FAQ, by Mike Segretto, promises to reveal "All that's left to know about fifty years of Maximum R&B". We've dipped into its fact-stuffed pages to reveal a dozen nuggets.

  1. Contrary to popular myth, Jimmy Page did not play on I Can’t Explain as a session guitarist (like he had supplied rhythm guitar on producer Shel Talmy’s session for the Kinks’ You Really Got Me). Apparently, this was because Pete Townshend refused to lend his 12-string Rickenbacker. Page likewise with-held his new fuzz box from Townshend, but ended up riffing through it on the single’s B-side Bald Headed Woman.

  2. When The Who entered IBC Studios with producer Shel Talmy in April 1965 they planned to pad out Townshend’s sole original composition Out In The Street with the volcanic repertoire they’d been pulverising at gigs during the previous year, including Motown hits such as Martha and the Vandellas’ Heat Wave and Holland, Dozier and Holland’s Leaving Here, Bo Diddley’s I’m A Man and three by James Brown. After a journalist remarked on the number of cover versions, Townshend went off and laboured over a bunch of originals, including The Good’s Gone, La-La-La-Lies, Much Too Much, It’s Not True, A Legal Matter and The Kids Are Alright, to join title track and new single My Generation. Meanwhile, two of the JB tunes and Diddley survived, while the album finished with an improvised instrumental called The Ox.

  3. Pete Townshend wrote too many songs for the eleven albums and accompanying singles released by The Who in their career. Among those which never made it past his demo stage are 1965‘s Do The Strip, his attempt at a dance craze anthem encouraging fruggers to get naked, the same year’s Kill My Appetite, promoting cannibalism as a sexual fetish, and 1966’s King Rabbit, a Happy Jack-style romp about leaders being ridiculous told through a fairy tale about a guy who actually does quite a good job (in his bunny suit).

  4. Like many other acts of the day, The Who appeared in session on Saturday Club, the BBC’s weekly radio show, which was just about the only outlet for pop music for most of the 60s. Following the lead of everyone from the Beatles to the Stones, the group recorded songs which never appeared elsewhere, including a self-composed instrumental called You Rang, punctuated by John Entwhistle’s booming the title in tribute to Lurch the butler on The Addams Family.

  5. Although renowned for his rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia, Townshend had several other stabs at concept epics which never got off the ground (although he couldn’t resist talking about them in the press during the ideas stage). Lifehouse has been well documented but his first attempt was a proposed opera called Rael, which he was spouting about in the press by early 1967. Inspired by China’s ballooning population and dodgy relations between Israel and Egypt, Pete wanted to go the whole operatic hog, talking about a story set in 1999 where the world has been overrun. Manager kit Lambert reined him in with the reminder that, while he was composing this epic, his band needed a new single. Townshend pruned Rael down to a six minute track on The Who Sell Out, while instrumental sections such as Sparks and Underture were recycled for Tommy.

  6. Plans were afoot around 196768 for a John Entwistle childrens’ album of a Halloween-Boris The Spider bent. Like many Who projects, it stalled in the flurry of activity going on, although songs he’d written for the project (including Silas Stingy and Dr Jekyll and My Hyde) turned up on Who albums (the latter inspired by Keith Moon’s kamikaze approach to drunkenness).

  7. Pete Townshend signed Arthur Brown to Track Records after witnessing the towering powerhouse with a five-octave vocal range in action at London’s UFO club. While Kit Lambert stifled Brown’s intention to make a rock opera based around his only hit Fire, Townshend appears playing jazzy rhythm guitar on its B-side Rest Cure.

  8. When The Who recorded their versions of the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time and Under My Thumb to release as a single in support of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, then being tossed around by the corrupted hands of the tabloids and so-called British justice after the Redlands bust, Entwistle was away on his honeymoon aboard the Queen Elizabeth. When awoken by a shore-to-ship phone call at three in the morning asking his permission for Townshend to play bass, he blearily replied, “The Who could release LSD into the Nation’s water supply and I wouldn’t fucking care.”

  9. Pete Townshend has appeared on a few Stones tracks over the years, including the backing chorale of Sway on Sticky Fingers and Slave, an early 70s track which eventually appeared on Tattoo You.

  10. Around 1968, The Who considered releasing an EP of cover versions, including their takes on Mose Allison’s Young Man Blues, Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ Shakin’ All Over and Allen Toussaint’s Fortune Teller. Although the EP never materialised, the first three songs became live stalwarts, immortalised on 1970’s Live At Leeds.

  11. The mad violin on Baba O’Riley was played by Dave Arbus, of jazz-prog outfit East Of Eden, after an idea by Keith Moon (who’s given a production credit for “Violin” on the cover).

  12. John Lydon was producer Franc Roddam’s first choice to play Jimmy the Mod in Quadrophenia, getting as far as the screen test in summer, 1978, after which Townshend took him for a pissed-up joyride through London. It fell through after the film’s distributor balked at the Sex Pistol’s notoriety and Lydon would have been too busy to submit to weeks of rigorous filming.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!