‘The Who By Numbers’: Combining ‘Surface Appeal And Fascinating Depth’

A more conventional studio album after the panoramic ambition of 1973’s ‘Quadrophenia,’ the band’s 1975 release was far from average.

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‘The Who By Numbers’ artwork: Courtesy of UMG
‘The Who By Numbers’ artwork: Courtesy of UMG

When The Who By Numbers was released, it was time for the British rock quartet to serve up a more conventional studio album, after the panoramic ambition of 1973’s Quadrophenia. Conventional, perhaps, but certainly not average. The record made its debut on the Billboard 200 of  October 25, 1975.

Their seventh studio release, By Numbers was warmly received and would produce a UK Top 10 (and US Top 20) single early the next year in “Squeeze Box.” The record featured bassist John Entwistle’s join-the-dots cover image and also contained his composition “Success Story,” among nine new Pete Townshend songs such as “Slip Kid” and the typically autobiographical “However Much I Booze.”

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The Who By Numbers went on to spend two weeks at No.8 on the American chart, compared to a UK peak of No.7. It was in the Top 10 at the same time as a number of other British heavyweights. Elton John’s Rock Of The Westies was at No.1, while Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and George Harrison’s Extra Texture were also riding the Top 10, as was Englishman Graham Nash in partnership with David Crosby on Wind On The Water.

Townshend himself was pleasantly surprised at the critical reaction to the album. “A consummately-crafted record of fascinating depth and immediate surface appeal,” said Phonograph Record, while Sounds said it “reeks of group unity and love. Don’t be fooled by deceptive first listenings. This really is a great album.”

Listen to the best of The Who on Apple Music and Spotify.

“There’s not a storyline here, but there are more important unities,” wrote Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone. “Lyrical themes, musical and production style, a sense of time and place…indeed, they may have made their greatest album in the face of it. But only time will tell.” The album went on to be certified gold in December that year and turned platinum in 1993.

Buy or stream The Who By Numbers.



  1. Ian fowler

    October 26, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    first who Lp I bought still play it regularly today love how many friends and slip kid

  2. Roop

    November 1, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    I love this album. I loved it all on 1st listening, especially “How Many Friends” and “Blue, Red And Grey”. It formulates a special time for me – almost boring friends to death with my over-exuberance. I saw them at Leicester, Granby Halls and also at The Vetch, Swansea when this album was a chunk of their stage act. I still play it a lot and, unlike ‘Who Are You’, I don’t feel that there is a duff track. I have always been, and always will be, a consummate Who-nut. Everyone dug The Stones and The Beatles, but The Who took a bit of work, which repaid us kids a hundred-fold. God Bless ‘Em

  3. JImmy

    October 23, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve always maintained that this was a superior record and one of the best recordings ever made by The Who, overlooked for far too long. For those that thought Pete was merely a great rythem guitarist, listen to the numerous solos throughout the album. Unless there was a ghost first player, Pete sizzles on lead. Additionally, Roger never sounded better, whether rocking it out or showing his ballad chops on Imagone A Man. Keith was also at his best, and not showing the ravages of drink and drug at all. And John, well, he was at his usual consistent best, as he always was. This was a mighty effort, and a great follow up to Quadrophenia, as well as a fine companion piece to Who’s Next, often considered their finest hour, or finest 45 minutes. It’s never been the same without Keith and John, but bless Roger and Pete for keeping their well earned legacy alive. And By Numbers has its rightful place in that legacy.

    • jim sink

      October 24, 2015 at 3:19 am

      one of their best from my all time greatest group, long live rock…….I need it every night.

  4. Toad

    October 25, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Went decades not understanding the lyric to Slip Kid, my favorite track from this pretty decent album. There’s an interview with Townshend where he says it’s about the music industry, which maybe obliquely it might be, but what it’s really about is the Irish Republican Army, very central to British thought at the time, and terrorist “revolution” in general. There’s a more recent interview where Townshend talks about the song in relation to ISIS, and that helps clarify it. You can search the song title with “IRA” and find some annotations of the lyrics that explain it convincingly. The chord changes to the tune are great–it’s easy to take Townshend’s musical intelligence for granted.

  5. Luis Adolfo Corró

    February 25, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    When By Numbers was released, i felt it was below my expectations due to a logic comparison with Quadrophenia or Who s’ Next. A “back to basics” album with no synthetizers, only one John Entwistle song, some familiar chords ( I am stil convinced,, due to the sound of the song (guitar and drums), that “In a Hand or a Face”, is a leftover from the “Quadrophenia” sessions and also, some of the songs, like “Slip Kid” or “How Many Friends” could fit in Quadrophenia. But i love the album very much, and to this day i often go back to it. I did read somewhere that there is a lost band version of “Blue, Red and Grey”, hope they find it. Also, althoug they said that they went “back to basics” with this album, they played few songs from it: Slip Kid, However Much I booze, Squeze Box and Dreaming from the Waist, Until this last tour, they sometimes do Slip Kid and Squeze Box. John Entwistle, did play “Succes Story” at his concerts and Roger Daltrey, did “Imagine a Man” and “Blue Red and Grey”. Hope they do play more from this album, in the upcoming shows, and include “How Many Friends” in the set list.

    • Gerry

      October 26, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      Are not In a Hand or a Face and Waspman the exact same chords (LOL)”

  6. Don

    October 25, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Great record!!

  7. José Luis Faramin

    October 25, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Un álbum 100 % Townshend, fantástico como todo lo que a hecho, lastima que con el tiempo pasará algo desapercibido, personalmente hasta aquí el grupo está aún nivel altísimo.

  8. Jet Age Eric

    October 26, 2017 at 12:44 am

    Great comments, gang! This record has steadily grown on me over the last almost-25 years (it didn’t do anything for me until the remix, despite The Who being my favorite band). Not Pete’s best collection of tunes, but one of his most powerful sets of lyrics, and the rest of the band steps up, particularly John and Rog.

  9. Harry K.

    October 27, 2017 at 2:37 am

    Anyone know the name of the Canadian fan who owns the original artwork?

  10. Gerry

    October 26, 2019 at 1:39 am

    In a Hand or Face is the #1 track IMO.

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