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‘Who’s Next’: The Rock Classic That Freed The Who From Their Shackles

Produced by the band with associate producer Glyn Johns, ‘Who’s Next’ is widely regarded as one of The Who’s finest pieces of work.

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The Who 'Who's Next' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
The Who 'Who's Next' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

It may not sound like the greatest of eulogies by the man whose songs underpinned the album that became a staging post for The Who, and in rock history overall.

Pete Townshend wrote in his autobiography Who I Am that songs from Who’s Next were “slow to become familiar and established,” and that the set was “pathetically titled.” Roger Daltrey, too, has been qualified in his praise of the LP. Contrast all of that with the 2007 news that, after decades of regular placings in the upper echelons of numerous all-time best album lists, the album was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Who’s Next, produced by the band with associate producer Glyn Johns – whom Townshend would compliment by saying it was “the first Who material in a long time to be properly recorded” – would become their most successful in the States in terms of RIAA certification. Released in the UK on Friday, August 27, 1971, it was certified triple platinum and reached No.4 in a 41-week chart run. That repeated the peak of the Tommy album that preceded it; while Quadrophenia went to No.2 in 1973, it’s only certified single platinum.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then

The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again (Live)

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The LP grew out of the abandoned sessions for Townshend’s far-seeing Life House project, a work that he conceived partly as a film script and partly to be a “live musical experiment.” That vision, on which Townshend foresaw the invention of the internet and described the advent of virtual reality and a pandemic-style lockdown, can be heard as it was intended from September 2023 on a lavish, multi-format Super Deluxe boxed set featuring Who’s Next and the complete Life House project.

The set is the first full sonic description of what was in Townshend’s mind for Life House, and how the songs that we came to know on Who’s Next were born. As he told John Tobler in Zigzag in 1974: “The whole thing was based on a combination of fiction – a script that I wrote – called The Lifehouse, which was the story – and a projection within that fiction of a possible reality.

“In other words it was a fiction which was fantasy, parts of which I very much hoped would come true. And the fiction was about a theatre and about a group and about music and about experiments and about concerts and about the day a concert emerges that is so incredible that the whole audience disappears.

Getting In Tune (Remastered 2022)

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“I started off writing a series of songs about music, about the power of music and the mysticism of music. ‘Getting In Tune’ is a straight pinch from Imrat Khan’s discourse of mysticism of sound, where he just says music is one way of individuals getting in tune with one another, and I just picked up on that. And there’s a couple of others which I don’t suppose you’ve heard. One’s called ‘Pure And Easy.’ You hear the beginning of it at the end of ‘Song Is Over.’’

For all of its imperfect origins, and the band’s own reservations, Who’s Next came to be regarded by many as one of The Who’s most powerful statements. Bookended by the superb “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” it also includes such all-time Who classics as “Bargain,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and the majestic “The Song Is Over.”

As Who’s Next was being released, rock writer Dave Marsh avowed in Creem magazine that the band’s new album “is to The Who what the White Album must’ve been to The Beatles.” His point was that, in both cases, these were the studio follow-ups to brilliant concept LPs, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for one and Tommy for the other.

‘A fine fine record’

Marsh concluded in his Who review that they had succeeded, just as The Beatles had. Live At Leeds was, he wrote, “a fine fine record, one you can shake your ass to and think about both, one that does everything The Who can do in legend (which is a lot, just like the White Album was a lot).”

Johns provided a link between these two giants of British music, since he had served as an engineer on Abbey Road in 1969. He would later reflect that The Who album had become even more significant in their canon than he thought it would. “When I was cutting it, I was really thrilled with it,” he said, “but I never imagined it would become as important as it became, because one’s a little bit insecure, obviously, when you’re making a record. You don’t really know how the public are going to receive it.”

Who’s Next is also the surprising answer to the question of how many weeks The Who have spent at No.1 on the UK album chart, since their first appearance there in December 1965: one, when this landmark record spent seven days at the summit of the September 18 chart.

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

Three other Who studio albums made No.2 in the UK (Tommy, Quadrophenia, and Face Dances) and they also reached runner-up spot with 1976’s The Story Of The Who compilation. Who’s Next was their fifth LP to reach the UK Top 10, a feat they would repeat another ten times, including with 2006’s Endless Wire. Then the acclaimed 2019 set simply titled Who debuted in the UK at No.3.

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Who historian Chris Charlesworth said of one of the LP’s linchpin tracks, the soaringly ambitious “Baba O’Riley”: “Pete didn’t use his synthesizer simply as a solo keyboard that could make strange underwater noises, but as a rotating musical loop which underpinned the melody and added a sharp bite to the rhythm track.”

Liberating the group

In December 1971, Townshend had told Steve Turner in Beat Instrumental: “I’d always felt rock was capable of doing more than the three-minute-fifteen-second track approach. But the question now is what we can do with this extended piece of time? Today the Who’s problem is that piece of time on the album and on stage has become so predictable. We feel we have to find a new thread that maybe isn’t a standard rock procedure, but that nevertheless has the same fundamental simplicity. My cause is to liberate the group from its own shackles.”

Who’s Next/Life House is released on September 15, 2023.



  1. raul gomez brand

    September 19, 2014 at 3:31 am

    Este album lo conoci en 1971 en el barrio san cayetano de cali colombia, lo tenia hector fabio gomez brand trapito o empirico pintor caleño, uno de los fundadores del grupo cultural nómadas, compuesto por pintores, músicos , poetas etc

    • Kathi Lennon

      September 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      You know what? These people have never done me any harm, have never except for the day before yesterday, got in the way of my drive, when I gotta take the old man to the hospital, and I wasn’t too happy about that all in a hurry with the school work, and thinking about them too, what were they gonna do? Things were getting real messed up because I don’t think they work for just anyone, and they had asked to be with us where I was with Neil and Bob. To tell the truth then, it’s hard to say what we were doing, and maybe no sometimess i’ve heard blame they were the ones that made the white people act surf on each other. But, I don’t think so. I know that every time i’ve said, this is making me nervous, I don’t understand, or I wish this the best for you and I do as I can. I think we have had enriching lives. My God, I trust them definitely way more than any of you white people up to me and Neil. And, that’s why I thought they would be an honest gig up at where Joe Walsh told me that his Space Age Wiz Kids Records was free with me and without charge. And, I know that it is some land that goes along with Sharon Tate, Bob and I and ever since I knew about it, we didn’t want to let the Grateful Dead in, so who gives a difference. Bob wasn’t supposed to be recording, he’s supposed to be my Royal Army 1, the whole fleet! And, I started looking at things since 1973 recently and I said, “wow, the whole fiasco, whatever happened, omg, they need a better DA cuz this story is a lie and aweful religious people not even Jerry associates with come around, n his girl fucked me over, and I don’t know, do people get paid on a regular schedule, well I don’t. I haven’t taken a dollar one my friend.” So, I believe I was due a little something to you Pete. And, the last thing I want is eso si no. And, fucking more stupid records that are garbage for sale formula.And, it’s all good, I just wanted a good honest mexican arrest. And they are hired! Sigelo, what’s the good number to call? 1? Dude, I thought she was with you, serious? Oh si, have a good day, whatever, what’s ur telephone number sigilo lady?Thanks man, Amy!

      • kEITH

        September 19, 2017 at 4:08 am


  2. Kathi Lennon

    September 19, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Hi, I want to let all of you thank me for going out so far as to save your lives when it was agreed that your review was over. I didn’t even know you, so I thought i’d soak in some intensions there. And, Roger, what I know is you are not a bad guy at all. Keith, didn’t deserve to die, and Pete turned out to be one of my favorite solo acts of the heart! However, I really don’t like your overbeat music as a band. So, it’s imperitive I get this right, because i’m not sure, Roger, who allowed you to put the end quote up on your website. The fact is, not Steve Turner (Glen Huges discovery), but I told Pete Townshend to do an interview for a magazine going to be called, “Beat Instrumental,” to discuss the pleasant parts of your realization view you had when Jeff and also Kitt put you in the box. And, this said right in front of Jeff was supposed to be a suprise to him when he read it as pleasant and he would think he did a good article for his own magazine he had with Roger Daltry stolen from Ringo Starr, I believe. So, I had to ask Kitt if he was an honest person and that if they would give it back to Ringo on the street chasing after the bus by now, so that he could write a good review on your band. Check it out, I guess that’s never happened with you single four. But, with me, i’m with Bruce Dickerson, trying out a quick BTO, so let’s let Glen Hughe’s and Blackie (Steven Turner) touch with the end at John Entwhistle and see if that got you Steven Turner, Blackie, just so he could be in that magazine all about him, I guess? But, nobody ever got him a good band, so I guess it’s not Ringo’s magazine after all, it’s mine and that is what he was trying to say, a gift from John Lennon or something to do a good review on him in a Day In Life? Or more likely a booking with me and Bruce Dickerson and not John Entwhistle, then I wouldn’t have been mad at all. But, then I was only four and he wasn’t on tour. Entwhistle was trying to make his good pick up for the Carnegie Hall and I guess Jeff was going to take him to that. He also thought, just like this Steve Turner, that he would stop at Parliament Chair in the Neighboorhood, God knows what else, Bowie Entertainer of the Year, Married to Kathi for customs, Parliamentary Queen, Apple Records, Ye Royal Post and Bank, Editors Office, Jimmy Page’s Master Recorder, Deeds, Duals, Whole Fleet Police Department, Numerical Records, Declatories, Statutories, Creed and Clergy, United States FBI, CIA, Witness, Full Trade, Stock Manager, Eagle Eye, Ritchie Blackmore’s wife, Pete’s whole Eminence Front Album, The Gulf of Mexico, $800,000, Deep Purple Record Manager, Ritchie Blackmore Recording Office, Final Manager, Final Verify Signature – oh God, Pete, all from that one rock and roll magazine, and Eno, at customs, could not give him a good review. But, I did for Iron Maiden Records, so why doesn’t someone give me the microphone, and I bet I couldn’t tell you what happened. Yes Pete, you died there. Yes, took over your records. It’s someone I haven’t met yet – it’s Barbara Streisand who keeps your land records over at ‘Hello,’ her first worst band ever? And um, I left Led Zeppelin and had tons of problems? But, I was thier money manager and in all Royals and Entitlements, I bet I wasn’t kidding when I said that, “when Led Zeppelin broke up, it’s best that I have Pete Townshend come live here John, dad, Lennon because I thought he was your best friend, and he did so much for me then.” and Entwhistle was in between everyone’s house and Blackie, let’s discuss why I went and got Tony Iommi, and Ronnie James Dio, if Pete and I couldn’t have the house after all dad, good Mr. Lennon, cuz Entwhistle was there also. Well, let me guess, because of Blackie and Entwhistle there was no one real to call and they didn’t know what the fuk to do because they don’t see a problem with their recording and editing practices. Except, it’s not their house, their assignment, article, gift, number, credit, checking, house device, wife, royal servant, editing team, camera services, two dudes, plane tickets too, royal war, london appendages, and Neil Young Records to discuss with Bob Weir first city out of Sharon Tate to go up as National Guard for Kathi Weaver or Lennon whoever we thought we are, and Bob blew all that because he’s at recording working for me on the good side too? And taking actual good legal account and not just letting Ritchie Blackmore National Guard Fly By, he records the number too. But, I don’t have that in a land act a country, or a National Guard, and I guess I owe that all to you John, because you don’t care what Parliament recorded I was out with Bruce Dickerson in 1980 with Iron Maiden and had to name the record all by myself? And, so I never heard of a Iron Maiden Pin number before, what was that to destroy the world?
    Hey, at Customs Jeff, thanks a lot for your help. Also, Paul thanks for being responsible.Yeah, Alyssa and Kelly i’m sorry Russia is not as stupid as Camilla would have you believe. And, I was very sorry to have somebody like Ronnie James Dio gone when I actually needed someone experienced in these sort of things, but no, Black Sabbath made it a huge joke for me, Megadeth took bookings up of my Time, I can’t practically get hold of Judas Priest whom I think could understand the deal if I could talk to them, but Blackie and whatever entertainment you troll around with, no, you are unresponsible, and good you people, just cuz I will always choose Neil Young and Bob Weir, put us down as eccletic. But, inflitration into this caused breakdown of the society too. See, it’s right what Neil said, “these people are ruthless, and don’t know Government too, and don’t know one social too, and think that they have land on a merging cause to get one check, and be here, and go and sign me up, for $35 bux student, and they are the land owner with gillians of riches while they over consume in one apartment, on your beer.” And that’s the contract you have, “John Lennon Records, Land Act, where the land is filled with gold, cheap budget and you need beer. They are half correct and the governemt is gone.” And, I was looking at him eaisly in a neil gallon of his own blood – and I said, “that’s good drinking water, n um yeahhh, that’s the one I want – it’s free and perfect.” And, I signed it up! And, for anyone within wise reason and attitude, the door is a wide open seol! And, a law became one – a master attorney, a women’s sterik and i’ll call Bob, and he’ll have another attorney, and then we’ll go!

  3. Roy D

    September 19, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    What a wonderful period of music! Preceded by Simon & Garfunkel and followed by Deep Purple. Today’s youth don’t know what they missed (for the most part).

  4. michel

    September 18, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    who’s next is their best album after tommy , they have re -invented the rock’n’roll , pete thownshend guitar hero with the riffs of won’t get fooled again , and keith moon heavy rock’nroll druming and roger daltrey the end and the final break yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, wonderfull , and entwistle best bass guitar in my wife

  5. Pingback: ‘WHO’: Pete Townshend And Roger Daltrey Prove Rock Isn’t Dead – uDiscover Music –

  6. Pingback: WHO: Pete Townshend And Roger Daltrey Prove Rock Isn’t Dead

  7. steve o'neill

    August 17, 2022 at 1:47 pm

    not sure what that ‘live at leeds’ non-sequitur was thrown in for

  8. gunsofbrixton

    July 16, 2023 at 5:04 am

    Wow, what I wouldn’t give to find out what produced these Kathi Lennon posts! 😀

  9. Sebastian

    August 28, 2023 at 11:52 pm

    The Who’s best album (followed by “The Who Sell Out” in my humble opinion)

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