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The History of the Who’s First Breakup


The Who were undoubtedly one of the most innovative and important hard rock bands of all time. Ranging from psychedelic pop-rock material like “I Can See for Miles” and “Pinball Wizard” all the way through epic arena-rock classics like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Who Are You,” they virtually single-handedly perfected both the concept album and the rock opera.

But the latter part of the ’70s was unkind to the group, which experienced a series of misfortunes leading into the early part of the ’80s. On Dec. 16, 1983, guitarist Pete Townshend announced that he was leaving the Who, effectively ending the band.

Townshend had gone through a particularly rough patch over the previous few years, beginning with the death of drummer Keith Moon in September 1978. On Dec. 3, 1979, the Who were struck by another unforeseen tragedy when 11 fans were trampled and killed at a Who gig in Cincinnati.

The guitarist’s personal life was also unraveling. His marriage had come apart due to the stress of the Who’s touring schedule, and his longstanding drinking habit had increased and grown to include cocaine and heroin, which he grew seriously addicted to. Townshend moved to California to clean up, and the group rebounded with two more albums, 1981’s Face Dances and It’s Hard in 1982.

But the group’s new sound alienated some fans, and the struggle to find relevance in the changing music scene of the ’80s led Townshend to steer the Who into a Farewell Tour, which they undertook in 1982. He intended to turn the band into a studio outfit, but after spending part of 1983 trying to write material for a contractually obligated album, the frustrated guitarist declared that he could no longer generate music appropriate for the Who. On Dec. 16 he announced his decision to leave the band at a press conference, bringing the Who to an end.

Townshend went on to work as an acquisitions editor at Faber & Faber, as well as releasing a long string of solo albums and projects. The Who reunited for Live Aid in 1985 and then a full-fledged reunion tour in 1989. The group has subsequently toured together in many different permutations. They even released a new studio album, Endless Wire, in 2006, with Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey still using the group name (bassist John Entwistle died in 2002). The pair continue to tour as the Who to the present day, more than 30 years after their Farewell Tour.

See the Who and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’70s

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Next: Top 10 Who Songs of the '70s

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