When the NFL announced a few months ago that the Who had been selected to perform at halftime during the 2010 Super Bowl, reaction was swift, immediate and mostly negative — yet another geezer ensemble, a safe choice that represents the past and won't raise any fears from a network still recovering from the Janet Jackson debacle.
Apparently, just like the Rolling Stones, the Who these days are viewed as the rock equivalent of an aging big band or oldies act.
Of course a lot of that reaction is simply another indicator of how little attention and respect is given these days to music history. Rock 'n' roll was the ultimate teen music when it exploded in the 1950s, and no one ever thought that the likes of Little Richard, Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis (none of whom were exactly teenagers then) still would be active performers well into the 21st century, or that groups who once epitomized rebellion and chaos eventually would become headliners in Las Vegas.
So, we have the 21st century edition of the Who, down to two original members — the songwriting and guitar-playing phenom Pete Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey. [The Who lost its other half when drummer Keith Moon and bassists John Entwistle died.] The group will be fleshed out by other touring members, among them Pete's son, Simon Townshend.
The Townshend/Daltrey relationship dates back to the group's early days in 1962, when their mutual love for R&B, blues, jazz and other American music brought them together. These two, along with Moon and Entwistle, quickly formed a tight, explosive and musically superior unit, one that could both crank out hits and make lasting, memorial music.
During the '60s, when Townshend coined the term "Power Pop," there were many who ranked them right alongside The Beatles and Rolling Stones among British invasion bands. Though no one who saw them in their prime is going to consider the aggregation that appears on worldwide television Sunday to be the equal of that marvelous unit, a new anthology has been released that will rekindle those memories once more.
The Who: Greatest Hits (Geffen/Universal) contains 19 singles and begins with the 1964 Townshend composition "I Can't Explain." The second number is a definitive anthem, "My Generation." From there comes other favorites like "The Kids are Alright," "Magic Bus," "Pinball Wizard" from the rock opera Tommy, and songs that have now become immortalized all over again due to their use as CSI franchise openers, "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley."
Add several other familiar Townshend vehicles like "Happy Jack," "Pictures of Lily," and "Behind Blue Eyes" and you get as good a single-disc anthology as possible for a band with the longevity of the Who.
I don't expect a whole lot from them Sunday's Super Bowl perfomance beyond extreme professionalism and some nice reminders of past exploits. Townshend and Daltrey have already given the world plenty of unforgettable songs, concerts and memories.
So while others will rant and moan because the NFL and CBS didn't use the occasion to boost the newest flavor of the month, I'll probably just put on some of the songs from this Greatest Hits work in the background and enjoy whatever they do for as long as they do it.
More Who news
Mark Wilkerson's massive and exhaustive biography of Pete Townshend first surfaced in England back in 2008. It's now back again on these shores in paperback with some sections expanded to cover recent developments.
Who Are You: The Life of Peter Townshend (Omnibus Press), contains 582 pages of text, plus references and footnotes that swell it to nearly 650 total pages. The 21 chapters cover every phase of both Townshend's life and the Who's evolution, mixing in the author's commentary and reflections with portraits and interviews from both family member and insiders.
Townshend speaks frankly about many things, from his drug and alcohol battles to the accusations of child pornography that rocked him during the latter part of the 2000s. He also discusses his hearing loss, guitar approach, romances and numerous other items.
It also offers his views and opinions on the loss of Moon and Entwistle, the always complicated relationship with Daltrey, their revival tours and his views on the music he loves and loathes.
Whether you're a Who fan or just curious about their legacy, Who Are You is crucial reading.