The Who: A Tragic Tale of Rock’s Most Influential Band

The Who, one of the most influential bands in rock history, has been through a lot in their nearly six-decade career. From their humble beginnings as a mod band in London to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the band has seen it all. But with the tragic deaths of two of its members, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, and the ongoing health issues of frontman Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, many have wondered what happened to the Who band. In this article, we will explore the highs and lows of the band’s history, and how they have managed to persevere through it all.

The Origins of The Who

The Early Years

The Formation of The Who

The origins of The Who can be traced back to the early 1960s in London, England. The band was formed by a group of young musicians who were inspired by the burgeoning rock and roll scene. The original members of the band included Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon.

The Influence of Jazz and R&B

One of the defining characteristics of The Who’s music was their incorporation of elements of jazz and R&B into their rock sound. This was largely due to Townshend’s influences, who was a fan of artists such as John Coltrane and Jimmy Reed. The band’s early performances were heavily influenced by these genres, and they quickly gained a reputation for their energetic and innovative sound.

The Early Years

The early years of The Who were marked by a sense of excitement and experimentation. The band was constantly pushing the boundaries of what was possible in rock music, and their live performances were legendary for their intensity and raw energy. They quickly gained a dedicated following, and their popularity continued to grow as they released a series of successful albums and singles.

However, the early years were also marked by tragedy. In 1958, the band’s original drummer, Doug Sandom, left the band, and was later replaced by Keith Moon. Moon’s erratic behavior and struggles with drug addiction would eventually lead to his death in 1978. In 1962, John Entwistle’s father died of a heart attack, which deeply affected the bassist and would later influence his songwriting. These early experiences would shape the band’s music and attitude, and would ultimately contribute to their tragic fate.

The Early Hits

My Generation

My Generation, the debut album by The Who, was released in 1965 and was a significant turning point in the band’s career. The album featured several hit singles, including “My Generation,” “The Kids Are Alright,” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” These songs were all written by Pete Townshend, who was the band’s primary songwriter and guitarist.

“My Generation” was one of the standout tracks on the album, and it quickly became an anthem for the younger generation. The song’s lyrics spoke about the frustration and disillusionment of young people, and it resonated with listeners around the world. The song’s iconic opening chord, which was played on a Lowrey electronic organ, has been copied and imitated by countless musicians since.


“Substitute” was another hit single from My Generation, and it was written by Pete Townshend as a critique of the conformity and materialism of the time. The song’s catchy melody and powerful lyrics made it a fan favorite, and it became one of the band’s most popular songs.

The song’s memorable guitar riff, which was played on a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, has been copied by countless musicians over the years. The song’s lyrics spoke about the desire to be accepted for who you are, rather than what you own or what you do. This theme was particularly relevant in the 1960s, when materialism and consumer culture were on the rise.

Overall, My Generation and Substitute were two of the most important and influential songs in The Who’s early catalog. They helped to establish the band’s sound and style, and they set the stage for their future success.

The Height of The Who’s Popularity

Key takeaway: The Who, one of the most influential bands in rock music, was formed in the early 1960s in London, England. Their innovative approach to music and storytelling, particularly in their rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia, helped shape the band’s sound and identity. Despite the tragic deaths of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, the band continued to create new music and perform for their dedicated fan base. The Who’s legacy lives on through the countless commemorations and tributes that have been held in their honor, as well as the enduring popularity of their music and their influence on new generations of rock bands.

The Rock Operas


The Who’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy, marked a significant turning point in the band’s career. The album, which was inspired by the life of drummer Keith Moon’s young brother who had died in a tragic accident, was a groundbreaking work that showcased the band’s innovative approach to music and storytelling. Tommy was a rock opera in the truest sense, featuring a narrative that was woven throughout the album’s songs, along with the use of orchestral and classical elements.

The album’s title track, “Tommy,” became an instant classic and featured some of the band’s most memorable moments, including the iconic “Pinball Wizard” and “I’m Free” tracks. The album’s innovative use of storytelling and the fusion of rock and classical music would have a lasting impact on the band’s future work and on the wider music industry.


The Who’s 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia, was another critical and commercial success for the band. The album, which was loosely based on the life of bassist John Entwistle’s experiences as a Mod in 1960s London, featured a complex narrative that explored themes of youth culture, class conflict, and identity.

Quadrophenia was notable for its use of orchestral and operatic elements, as well as its groundbreaking use of synthesizers and other electronic instruments. The album’s standout tracks, including “The Real Me,” “The Punk and the Godfather,” and “Love Reign O’er Me,” remain some of the band’s most beloved and enduring songs.

The rock operas that The Who created during this period were not only critical successes but also helped to establish the band as one of the most innovative and influential groups of their time. Their unique approach to storytelling and their willingness to experiment with different musical styles and genres would continue to shape the band’s sound and influence in the years to come.

The Legendary Live Performances


In August 1969, The Who played a legendary set at the Woodstock festival in upstate New York. With over 400,000 people in attendance, the band took to the stage in the early hours of the morning to a sea of muddy, exhausted faces. Despite the challenging conditions, they delivered a blistering performance that would become one of the most iconic moments in rock history.

Their set featured a mix of their most popular songs, including “My Generation,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “Tommy,” as well as a cover of “Shakin’ All Over.” The crowd was electrified, and the band’s raw energy and passion translated to a truly unforgettable experience.

The Who’s Tommy at the Royal Albert Hall

In 1969, The Who released their rock opera, “Tommy,” which told the story of a young boy who becomes a messianic figure. To promote the album, the band performed the entire album live at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with an orchestra and a choir in tow.

The show was a groundbreaking moment in rock history, as it marked the first time a rock band had performed a full-length album with such a grand scale. The combination of the band’s raw energy and the symphonic arrangements created a truly unforgettable experience for the audience.

The performance was recorded and later released as an album, which became a critical and commercial success. It solidified The Who’s position as one of the most innovative and influential bands of their generation.

The Tragedies

The Deaths of Keith Moon and John Entwistle

The deaths of Keith Moon and John Entwistle were tragic events that marked the end of an era for The Who. These two members of the band were not only talented musicians but also played a crucial role in shaping the band’s sound and identity.

The Legacy of Keith Moon

Keith Moon was known for his explosive drumming style and his energetic stage presence. He was a key figure in the development of The Who’s sound, and his drumming was a major contributor to the band’s success. Moon’s legacy as a musician and a performer continues to inspire new generations of drummers and rock fans.

However, Moon’s life was also marked by struggles with drugs and alcohol, which ultimately led to his untimely death in 1978. He died from an overdose of a prescription drug, leaving behind a void in the band that could never be filled.

The Legacy of John Entwistle

John Entwistle, also known as “The Ox,” was a master of the bass guitar and a founding member of The Who. He was known for his unique sound and style, which helped to define the band’s music.

Entwistle’s death in 2002 was also a tragic loss for the music world. He died from a heart attack while on tour with The Who, leaving behind a legacy of incredible musicianship and a wealth of iconic songs.

Both Moon and Entwistle were integral to the success of The Who, and their deaths marked the end of an era for the band. Despite these losses, The Who continued to create and perform music that has inspired generations of fans.

The Near-Fatal Accident of Roger Daltrey

The Accident

On July 27, 1973, during a concert in Tampa, Florida, Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of The Who, suffered a near-fatal accident. As the band was performing their hit song “Lead Me to the Meadow,” Daltrey attempted a leap off the drum riser, but missed the landing pad and crashed through a wooden pylon that was part of the stage set. The impact of the crash broke his nose, collarbone, and both legs. The audience and the rest of the band were shocked and horrified by the accident.

The Recovery

Daltrey was rushed to the hospital and underwent numerous surgeries to repair his broken bones and other injuries. Despite the severity of his injuries, he was determined to make a full recovery and return to performing with The Who. He spent several months in the hospital and underwent intense physical therapy to regain his strength and mobility.

During his recovery, Daltrey faced numerous challenges, including depression and feelings of isolation. However, he remained focused on his goal of returning to the stage and continued to work hard to regain his physical abilities.

Ultimately, Daltrey’s determination and hard work paid off, and he was able to make a full recovery. He returned to performing with The Who just a few months after the accident, and the band went on to have one of the most successful periods of their career. The accident and recovery of Roger Daltrey serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of the members of The Who, and their commitment to their music and their fans.

The Later Years

The Reunion Concerts

Live Aid

In 1985, The Who participated in the historic Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London. This charity event was organized to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia and featured a star-studded lineup of rock bands. The band’s performance was widely praised for its energy and enthusiasm, and it remains one of the most memorable moments in their career.

The Hall of Fame

In 1990, The Who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor that cemented their status as one of the most influential bands in rock history. The induction ceremony was marked by a poignant tribute to Keith Moon, who had passed away in 1978. The band performed a moving rendition of “My Generation” in his honor, with drummer Zak Starkey, Moon’s son, filling in for his father.

Overall, the reunion concerts represented a significant moment in The Who’s career, allowing them to reflect on their past successes while also showcasing their continued relevance and influence in the rock music world.

The Final Album, Endless Wire

The Concept

After more than four decades of making music together, The Who released their final album, “Endless Wire,” in 2006. The album was the band’s first studio album in over a decade and marked a departure from their earlier work.

Instead of focusing on individual songs, “Endless Wire” was conceived as a single, cohesive work, with each track bleeding into the next. The album’s concept was inspired by the idea of a radio station playing random songs that all happen to be about the same character. The character’s story unfolds throughout the album, as the listener is taken on a journey through his life, from his youth to his eventual death.

The Sound

Musically, “Endless Wire” was a departure from The Who’s earlier work, with a more experimental and avant-garde sound. The album featured a mix of rock, electronica, and orchestral arrangements, with a strong emphasis on keyboard and synthesizer parts.

The opening track, “Fragments,” sets the tone for the album, with its eerie, atmospheric intro giving way to a driving rock beat. The track features a prominent horn section and a guitar riff that references the band’s earlier work.

The second track, “Thank You, Emily,” is a beautiful, piano-driven ballad that showcases the band’s softer side. The song tells the story of the character’s relationship with his wife, and features a heart-wrenching vocal performance by Roger Daltrey.

Other standout tracks on the album include “White Candy/The Kids Are Alright,” a catchy, upbeat pop song that references several of the band’s earlier hits, and “A Man in a Purple Dress,” a haunting, orchestral ballad that tells the story of the character’s final days.

Overall, “Endless Wire” was a bold and ambitious final statement from one of rock’s most influential bands. While it may not have been the most commercially successful album of their career, it remains a testament to The Who’s creativity and willingness to take risks.

The Impact of The Who on Rock Music

The Influence on Punk and Alternative Rock

The Ramones

The Ramones, often hailed as the first punk rock group, were heavily influenced by The Who’s music and style. The Ramones’ guitarist, Johnny Ramone, cited The Who as one of his favorite bands and credited them with inspiring their aggressive, fast-paced sound. The Ramones’ debut album, released in 1976, featured a cover of The Who’s “Can’t Explain,” showcasing the strong connection between the two bands.


Nirvana, a grunge band that rose to fame in the early 1990s, also acknowledged The Who’s significant influence on their music. In interviews, Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s lead singer and guitarist, praised The Who’s songs and stage presence, citing them as a source of inspiration for both his songwriting and performing style. Nirvana’s smash hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was inspired by The Who’s “My Generation,” with Cobain seeking to capture the same rebellious energy in his own music. Nirvana’s cover of The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” further emphasizes the connection between the two bands and their shared impact on rock music.

The Legacy of Pete Townshend

The Songwriting

Pete Townshend, the lead guitarist and primary songwriter of The Who, has left an indelible mark on the world of rock music. His contributions to the band’s sound and style have been compared to those of Paul McCartney and John Lennon in The Beatles, and his influence on the development of rock music cannot be overstated.

One of Townshend’s greatest contributions to The Who’s sound was his songwriting. He wrote many of the band’s most iconic songs, including “My Generation,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” These songs are not only some of the most memorable in rock history, but they also helped to define the sound and style of the genre.

Townshend’s songwriting was characterized by his use of powerful imagery and metaphor, as well as his ability to craft catchy melodies and powerful hooks. He was also known for his use of unusual time signatures and experimentation with different sounds and textures, which helped to push the boundaries of what was possible in rock music.

The Guitar Playing

In addition to his songwriting, Townshend’s guitar playing was also a major factor in The Who’s sound and success. He was known for his aggressive, power chord-based style, which helped to define the sound of hard rock and heavy metal.

Townshend was also a pioneer in the use of the guitar as an instrument for sonic experimentation. He was one of the first rock guitarists to use feedback, distortion, and other effects to create new sounds and textures. His innovative use of the guitar helped to push the boundaries of what was possible in rock music and inspired countless other guitarists to follow in his footsteps.

Overall, the legacy of Pete Townshend is one of immense creativity and influence. His contributions to The Who’s sound and style, as well as his innovative use of the guitar, have helped to shape the course of rock music and make The Who one of the most influential bands in history.

The Enduring Popularity of The Who

The Tributes

The enduring popularity of The Who is evidenced by the numerous tributes paid to the band over the years. Some of the most notable tributes include the rock opera “Tommy,” which was inspired by Pete Townshend’s life and became a cultural phenomenon, and the film “The Kids Are Alright,” which documented the band’s history and featured many of their hit songs.

The Covers

The enduring popularity of The Who is also demonstrated by the countless covers of their songs by other artists. Some of the most popular covers include “My Generation” by Pearl Jam, “Baba O’Riley” by Derek and the Dominos, and “The Real Me” by Green Day. These covers serve as a testament to the timeless appeal of The Who’s music and its enduring influence on rock music.

The Future of The Who

The Continuation of The Who’s Music

The Plans

After the death of Keith Moon and the departure of John Entwistle, the remaining members of The Who, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, decided to continue making music under the name The Who. They were determined to keep the band’s legacy alive and to continue creating music that would inspire future generations.

In 1979, The Who released their album “The Who by Numbers,” which received critical acclaim and included the hit single “Squeeze Box.” The album was followed by a tour, which featured the iconic rock opera “Quadrophenia.”

Despite the loss of two of its original members, The Who continued to create new music and tour extensively throughout the 1980s and 1990s. They released several more albums, including “Face Dances” (1981), “It’s Hard” (1982), “Endless Wire” (2006), and “Who” (2019).

The Hopes

The members of The Who had high hopes for the future of the band. They hoped to continue making music that would inspire and influence future generations of musicians. They also hoped to continue touring and performing for their dedicated fan base.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2019, Pete Townshend expressed his hope that The Who would continue to make music and perform for as long as possible. He said, “I hope we can continue to make music and perform for as long as people want to hear us. We’re not going to stop until we can’t do it anymore.”

The Who’s music has had a profound impact on rock music and popular culture, and their legacy continues to inspire new generations of musicians and fans. Despite the loss of two of its original members, The Who remains one of the most influential and beloved bands in the history of rock music.

The Memory of The Who

The Commemorations

In the years following the untimely deaths of its members, The Who continued to be remembered and celebrated by fans and music lovers around the world. The band’s legacy lived on through the countless commemorations and tributes that were held in their honor.

One of the most notable commemorations was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of The Who in 1990. This prestigious honor was a testament to the band’s enduring influence and impact on the music industry. The induction ceremony was a star-studded event, featuring performances by some of the biggest names in rock music.

Another significant commemoration was the release of the documentary film “The Who: The Commemorative Concert,” which was filmed in honor of the band’s 25th anniversary. The film featured live performances by The Who, as well as interviews with the band members and other music industry legends.

The Statues

In addition to these commemorations, The Who’s legacy was also immortalized through various statues and memorials. One of the most notable was the unveiling of a statue of Keith Moon in his hometown of Wembley, England. The statue, which was unveiled in 2001, was a tribute to the late drummer and his contributions to The Who’s music.

Another notable memorial was the dedication of a plaque in memory of the band’s late guitarist, Pete Townshend, in his hometown of Shepherd’s Bush, London. The plaque, which was unveiled in 2006, honored Townshend’s contributions to music and his impact on the industry.

Overall, the memory of The Who lived on through these commemorations and tributes, ensuring that their music and legacy would continue to inspire generations of music lovers to come.

The Inspiration of The Who

The New Generation of Rock Bands

The influence of The Who on the new generation of rock bands cannot be overstated. Many contemporary bands have cited The Who as a major influence on their music, including bands such as Foo Fighters, Green Day, and My Chemical Romance. The raw energy and rebellious spirit of The Who’s music has resonated with younger generations, inspiring them to pick up instruments and create their own music.

The Continued Love for The Who’s Music

The Who’s music has stood the test of time, and their popularity has only continued to grow over the years. Even decades after their heyday, The Who’s music remains beloved by fans of all ages. The continued love for The Who’s music is a testament to the enduring power of their songs and the lasting impact they have had on rock music. Many fans continue to attend concerts and festivals, eager to hear their favorite songs performed live. The Who’s music has also been featured in numerous films and television shows, further cementing their status as rock icons.

The inspiration of The Who is evident in the many bands that have followed in their footsteps, incorporating their raw energy and rebellious spirit into their own music. The continued love for The Who’s music is a testament to their enduring impact on rock music and their status as one of the most influential bands of all time.


1. What happened to the Who band?

The Who band continued to record and perform live into the 2000s, but their activities were sporadic due to health issues and other personal matters. The band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Roger Daltrey, has continued to perform as a solo artist and with other bands, while the band’s drummer, Keith Moon, passed away in 1978 due to an overdose of medication. Bassist John Entwistle passed away in 2002 due to a heart attack, and keyboardist and songwriter, Keith Reid, continues to write music but has not been involved with the band’s activities in recent years. Despite these setbacks, the band’s legacy lives on through their iconic music and influence on subsequent generations of musicians.

2. What was the cause of Keith Moon’s death?

Keith Moon’s death was caused by an overdose of medication. On September 7, 1978, Moon was prescribed a powerful sedative called Heminevrin, which was intended to help him sleep during a flight to Tokyo for a Who concert tour. However, the dosage was miscalculated, and Moon took 32 tablets instead of the prescribed three. He fell into a coma and died the next day, September 15, 1978, at the age of 31.

3. What was the cause of John Entwistle’s death?

John Entwistle’s death was caused by a heart attack. On June 27, 2002, Entwistle was staying in a hotel room in Las Vegas before a scheduled performance at the Aladdin Hotel. He had been celebrating his birthday the night before and was found unresponsive in his bed the next morning. The coroner’s report indicated that he had died from a heart attack induced by cocaine use.

4. Is the Who band still active today?

The Who band is not actively touring or recording new music today, although individual members have occasionally performed together in various projects. The band’s legacy continues to be celebrated through tribute concerts, reunions, and the release of archival material.

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