The Who Seemed Born To Fail, Recalls Pete Townsend

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Nowadays you’ll find The Who sitting at the top table in rock’s hall of fame with other musical juggernauts such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Doors, but in the early days, their chief songwriter and lead guitarist Pete Townsend believed the four-piece from Shepard’s Bush had a very limited shelf life.

Getting into a band at an early age with Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle was something that Townsend considered a “bit of a joke” and something to pass his time until something more interesting came along. Little did he know that it would end up defining him and making him and his musical colleagues household names.

Speaking to Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show, Townsend explained, “I’m a bit of a disappointment in this area, really, because I didn’t really want to be in a band at all. I joined the band with Roger and John when I was at school and then I went to art college and the band continued a little bit … but I treated it as a bit of a joke.”

Even when the “joke” began to catch on, Townsend recalls a sense of unhappiness at The Who’s initial rush of success and recalled “hoping it wouldn’t last for long.”

The Who, who began life as the High Numbers, smashed into the top 10 of the UK’s hit parade in April 1965 with “I Can’t Explain.” Their debut album My Generation hit the shelves hot on its heels and The Who were well on their way to becoming rock royalty.

Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey live on stage.
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Still, the notoriously surly Townsend felt it hard to raise a smile as the whirlwind of success snatched the London lads from the old humdrum.

The axeman recalls, “I was in my third year at art school and the band got a break. I wrote a song and we got a hit, and I was off in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.

“The first few years of the Who’s career, I was really quite unhappy – I wanted to be an artist, and I was really quite eager for the band to finish. I thought we wouldn’t last very long.”

As it transpires they did. And nearly 54 years later The Who have just confirmed their first new studio in 13 years.

Pete Townsend said in a statement that fans could expect “dark ballads, heavy rock stuff, experimental electronica, sampled stuff and Who-ish tunes that began with a guitar that goes yanga-dang.”

So now you know.