‘Who Are You’: How The Who Stuck It To The Punks
‘Who Are You’ kept up with the times. Though punk poured scorn on early 70s rock’n’roll superstars, most of the Class Of ’77 retained respect for The Who.
Though punk liberally poured scorn on early 70s rock’n’roll superstars such as Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, most of the Class Of ’77 retained respect for The Who, whose 1978 album, Who Are You, ensured the band’s relevance at the end of the decade.
Digging the amphetamine energy of the band’s legend-enshrining early 45s and their well-documented appetite for destruction, the notorious Sex Pistols often covered The Who’s 1966 hit “Substitute” in their live set, while director Franc Roddam later considered that same band’s frontman, Johnny Rotten, for the lead role in 1979’s Quadrophenia: Roddam’s landmark, mod-revival-enhancing movie based upon The Who’s ambitious double-LP from ’73.
Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones even became drinking buddies of The Who’s guitarist and primary songsmith, Pete Townshend, and an incident that occurred after this triumvirate had enjoyed a night out at London’s Speakeasy inspired The Who’s 1978 hit “Who Are You.” Featuring an autobiographical lyric in which Townshend finds himself woken up “in a Soho doorway” by a late-night policeman who allows the guitarist to go home “if you can get up and walk away”, the dynamic, synth-enhanced “Who Are You” (currently the theme for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) rapidly climbed into the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic.
Released on August 18, 1978, The Who’s identically-monikered eighth studio LP then earned the band a gold disc in the UK and double-platinum sales in America, yet the record was something of a triumph over adversity and nearly didn’t get made at all. The group had been off the road since October 1976, and the protracted Who Are You sessions were further delayed by vocalist Roger Daltrey’s throat operation and bedeviled by drummer Keith Moon’s persistent health issues, which were affecting his performance in the studio.
To Moon and his cohorts’ credit, they stayed the course. The Who returned with a strong, consistent hard rock album, long on brash, FM radio-friendly anthems such as “Guitar & Pen” and the aspirational “Love Is Coming Down,” which came couched in some of Pete Townshend’s most complex, strings- and synthesizer-assisted arrangements. Curiously, however, though Who Are You was released while punk was still in vogue, only the titular song and the churning, John Entwistle-penned “Trick Of The Light” bought into its nihilistic aggression – though Townshend did acknowledge the changing times on the sharply observed “Music Must Change.”
Tragically, while the mercurial Moon endured the Who Are You sessions, he died within three weeks of the album’s release. Further bolstered by 1979’s critically acclaimed anthology The Kids Are Alright, however, The Who survived into the next decade. Retaining their credibility beyond punk, the veteran rockers recorded two more big sellers, Face Dances and It’s Hard, with ex-Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones, before splitting – albeit temporarily – in 1982.
Listen to the best of The Who on Apple Music and Spotify.
February 10, 2016 at 4:20 pm
February 10, 2016 at 7:55 pm
Thank God they the didn’t stop with this…Face Dances is far superior record to this. Pop gold,
August 18, 2017 at 7:32 pm
Are you kidding?!
August 19, 2017 at 12:22 am
Kidding or trolling are the only two possible explanations.
August 19, 2017 at 7:45 am
Don’t discount a head injury.
August 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm
“The Music Must Change” wasn’t about music. It was about heroine addiction.
“When I hear the cold lies of the pusher, I know it exists…”
“The mosquito sting brings a dream but the poisons derange…”
August 18, 2017 at 7:00 pm
No. It was about music.
August 20, 2017 at 7:15 am
Great album . I do have a question that I hope someone could help me with . I do have a 3′ x 3′ promo album cover of the who are album cover . It is framed , it is in great condition and it is extremely rare . Does anyone know how and where I could get this appraised . I do live in a northern suburb of Chicago , IL. Any help with would be greatly appreciated . Thank You . Sincerely Gregory Glass
August 16, 2019 at 11:37 pm
Ask on The Who’s FB page.
August 20, 2022 at 2:14 am
Who Are You is an uneven album that tries to hide Keiths sad fall from greatness. If there was an album that year by a classic rock band that socked it to the punks, it was Some Girls. Not Who Are You.
Love is Coming Down and Guitar and Pen are “FM radio friendly anthems”….uh what?!
August 20, 2022 at 2:53 pm
I’ve always considered this album one of The Who’s best efforts. Not an album that you skip around and listen to select tracks, but you throw this one on and listen from start to finish. Best enjoyed on vinyl, I’ve been listening to it on a regular basis since ’78.