Who Talk About Woodstock’s Disappointment and Explosive TV Appearance – Exclusive Book Excerpt
Pete Townshend is said to have coined the term "power pop," so who better to interview in the new book 'Play On: Power Pop Heroes'?
Also featured in the book, which author Ken Sharp says is the first volume of an ongoing series, are the Raspberries' Eric Carmen of (who wrote the foreward), and members of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Hollies and Jeff Lynne, among others. Sharp's 520-page book is now available exclusively through Ken-Sharp.com. (The deadline for ordering 'Play On: Power Pop Heroes' is Nov. 14; no other pressings are planned after that date.)
Sharp talks to both Townshend and Roger Daltrey, who share stories from the Who's early days in this fascinating excerpt, an Ultimate Classic Rock exclusive. Highlights include a discussion over a possible rivalry with the Kinks, Jimmy Page's role on one of their signature songs, an explosive (literally!) appearance on network television and the disappointment of Woodstock.
Why was the Mod movement right for the band?
Pete Townshend: It was right for us because it was right for our audience. We played in an area of London where the Mod movement was already established. We have been accused, even from the inside in [late bassist[ John [Entwistle]s case, of being insincere Mods, using the movement for our own ends. But as soon as we met [original Who manager] Pete Meaden, I understood that we had begun ‘mirroring’ as artists. We didn’t need to be authentic. We needed to do our job without getting in the way. The mirror smudging came later.
Similarly, how did pop art impact upon the Who’s image?
Pete Townshend: This was entirely my idea, but an obvious one. Pop art was current and colorful. I felt there must be a musical equivalent, and in our early impressionism with guitar feedback I think I discovered one.
Your memories of the Who’s first studio album?
Roger Daltrey: Well, for the 'My Generation' album, there was nothing to be nervous about in them days. We used to take every day as it came. Every day was just a gig and I think we did the recording between gigs, literally. We did the whole album in two afternoons, and by the end of the week we were playing the stuff onstage. That’s how wonderful it was in those days.
'I Can’t Explain' was a cop of a Kinks-styled song, which Pete has since confessed. Was there a rivalry between the Who and the Kinks?
Roger Daltrey: We were London bands but there was camaraderie. There wasn’t any rivalry. If there was, it was all friendly -- but whatever band you were in, you were the best!
Why did Jimmy Page play rhythm guitar on 'I Can’t Explain' and the Ivy League do background vocals?
Roger Daltrey: Well, [producer] Shel Talmy didn’t think that Pete’s lead guitar playing was up to it and he didn’t think our backing vocals were up to it. He was right about the backing vocals. And obviously in those days you weren’t in overdub facilities. You made the record and that was it. So if you wanted to put a solo on, you had to do it when you were doing the record.
Was 'Substitute' a quick track to cut?
Roger Daltrey: Yeah, 'Substitute' was quick. All those tracks were quick. The first slow track we did was 'I Can See For Miles.' I mean, slow meant it took a whole day, and most of that day was taken up on doing the harmonies. I mean, the actual track and the lead vocal was done literally in a couple of hours, and then we spent eight hours overlaying harmony after harmony after harmony. It was the ace future single that didn’t do that well.
But in America ...
Roger Daltrey: It was a big single in America, but in the rest of the world they didn’t seem to take to it at all. I still think it’s probably our best single. I really love it. The energy of that record is incredible.
'Who Sell Out' is a very underrated and important album for the Who, innovative in its union of pop art and commercials.
Roger Daltrey: It’s one of my favorite Who albums. It was done because our government was getting rid of our music, which was the pirate radio stations that we’d been raised on for the last five years, from ’63 through to ’67. It was really done as a tribute to those ships that used to beam that wonderful music. When you listen to the album, although we are one band playing the music, it sounds like exactly like a pirate radio show with the jingles. To me, it still sounds a lot better than modern radio.
The band’s 1967 performance on the Smothers Brothers TV show is legendary. Bring us back to that day.
Pete Townshend: All I can remember was [actors] Bette Davis and Mickey Rooney, who were on the show, running up to me after the explosion, shocked -- sincerely frightened for me. My hair had caught fire. I was stunned. I was partly deafened for life. It was ever so amusing. I have said [drummer] Keith [Moon] would have set himself on fire for a good punchline. I was wrong. He set me on fire for a good punchline. Beat that punchline, Moon, you anarchic f---ing suicide bomber.
Speaking of 'The Smothers Brothers Show,' the band also performed the song 'I Can See For Miles.' You’ve cited that particular song as one of the Who’s most perfect records, why?
Pete Townshend: I think it’s the best thing I’ve done. Apart from anything else, the demo I made at home was extraordinary. [Producer] Kit [Lambert] responded by making the best record we made together with him as our producer.
Watch the Who Perform 'I Can See for Miles'
The band has always been lukewarm about your appearance at Woodstock.
Pete Townshend: The footage is brilliant. We were brilliant. It was all those drugged up hippies that ended up looking like twats in 'The Simpsons.' Listen, Woodstock should have delivered what it promised. We did. The movie delivered too, I think. The sad part is that all I remember about Woodstock is meeting Richie Havens again and thinking, “This is a truly spiritual man.” Everyone else seemed like rabbits in the headlights. I don’t f--- with spirituality. I do it like it’s a personal war. Woodstock could have been a beginning, not an end. There were nearly a million very good souls there, with the best intentions. What went wrong? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. I didn’t have a good time. It was just another gig to me -- a particularly tough one.