Pete Townshend’s achievements aren’t often measured in pure commercial terms, but the year of 1980 was a notable one for The Who’s chief songwriter as a solo artist. His album Empty Glass became a Top 5, platinum-selling record in the US, and on November 15 that year, he made the last of three entries onto the Billboard Hot 100.
The album had already yielded the Top 10 US hit “Let My Love Open The Door” and a lesser success with “A Little Is Enough” when the new chart showed a new entry for “Rough Boys.” Earlier in the year, the rocky, punk-influenced track had already given Townshend his only UK Top 40 single, when it edged to No.39. Across the Atlantic, it peaked at No.89.
Songs from Empty Glass remained favourites of Pete’s in his solo shows for a long time to come. In 1993, for example, a typical show on that year’s tour at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles saw him open with “Let My Love Open The Door” and “Rough Boys” in a concert that lasted all of three hours.
When he spoke to the NME about Empty Glass at the time of its release, Townshend mused about the differences between his solo and band work. “My album – though I was able to take a lot more risks with the material than The Who would – could have been a Who album if we’d happened to be recording at that time,” he said. “Just as the Who album that we’re doing now [which became 1981’s Face Dances] could have been a solo album.
“I just decided to write – to write straight from the hip and offer everything to the project that’s going at the time, not earmark stuff. I think that what’s quite interesting is the way that l do a song as distinct from the way that The Who would do it, and I don’t want to deny myself all the Who-type material because, y’know, that’s what I am.”
“Rough Boys” is on Empty Glass, which can be bought here.
Follow the official Pete Townshend Best Of playlist.