by Don Snowden
The fact that 1977 has witnessed the reformation of a number of bands that enjoyed their heyday during the mid-’60’s–Small Faces, Animals, Booker T & the MG’s and on the jazz front the VSOP quintet–serves as a timely reminder of the ongoing saga of the Who. The Kinks and Stones may have survived from the same era with their key personnel intact, but only the Who have persevered through 15-odd years in the rock and roll circus with the same line-up that exploded out of London talkin”bout their generation. Even more impressively, they’ve done so without losing their street-level credibility or degenerating into an aging parody of themselves.
Over the years, the four individual elements in the band have meshed into an organic whole that apparently thrives on equal parts personality conflict and powerhouse music. The images are firmly locked in the minds of any one who has caught the Who in concert–Townshend the windmill-chording mastermind, Moon the maniacally flailing
drummer, Entwistle the musical and visual anchor and Roger Daltrey wielding his mike like an electronic lariat and restlessly circling the stage.
Ironically, the very cohesion that makes the Who such a potent musical force has made it exceedingly difficult for the group members to establish much of an individual identity outside the band. Each has taken his stab at the solo route–Townshend with his homage to Meher Baba, Who Came First, Moon’s light-hearted oldies romp and Entwistle’s black humor-tinted albums and tour–but only Daltrey has managed to transcend the limitations imposed by being identified with the Who and use the band’s popularity as a stepping stone to bigger things.
The catalyst, both for Daltrey and the Who itself, was Tommy. Despite the power of such classic early Who singles as “My Generation,” “Substitute” and “I Can See For Miles” to name but a few, it wasn’t until the release of the rock opera that people outside of the hard-core rock audience began to appreciate the band for their musical contributions as well as the demolition derby stage presentation. And the challenge of vocally bringing to life the numerous Townshend-created characters made the listening world aware of a fact that had often been overlooked during the Who’s formative years–namely that Daltrey was one of the most versatile and distinctive vocal stylists to ever grace a rock and roll stage. With the acclaim for his live performances of Tommy came the opportunity to branch out, and Roger parlayed his golden boy looks and latent acting ability into starring roles in the film version of
Tommy and Lisztomania.
In characteristic fashion, Daltrey steered away from prevailing trends when the time came for him to establish his musical turf as a solo artist in 1972. Rather than indulging in the solo-album-with-famous-friends-playingfavorite-songs-of-yesteryear or the I-am-a-serioussongwriter-in-my-own-right syndromes so common in the early ’70’s, he gambled on performing an entire album of compositions by an unproven songwriting team. The then-unknown tandem was Leo Sayer and Dave Courtney and Roger’s debut solo album, Daltrey, was one of those rare ventures that proved to be of equal benefit to both parties. Sayer received a considerable career boost through association with the Who singer, and in turn Daltrey immediately established an identity as a vocal stylist distinct from the electric sturm and drang assault of the Who. The skeletal arrangements of the pre-Richard Perry Sayer style gave Roger the opportunity to display his interpretive skills on such classic fare as “One Man Band” and the “Hard Life/Givin’ It All Away” medley.
When Daltrey returned to the studio three years later for his second solo effort, he continued his tradition of working with less-known figures by recruiting former Argent guitarist Russ Ballard to oversee the album. A blend of ballads and upbeat material with a funky sound that in some ways anticipated the current renaissance of blue-eyed soul, Ride A Rock Horse was released shortly after the film version of Tommy and the consequent enshrinement of the deaf, dumb and blind kid as a cultural monument. Predictably, the LP rode into the top ten on both sides of