Though Pete Townshend received acclaim in the '90s for adapting his masterwork
Tommy to the Broadway stage, he didn't abandon his rock career.
Last year the legendary songwriter/guitarist played several U.S. dates, including the high-profile "A Day in the Garden" at the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival.
Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend was born 54 years ago today in London to singer Betty
Dennis and saxophonist Cliff Townshend. He met bassist John Entwistle in school, and the
two played in Dixieland and rock bands together until Entwistle joined the Detours in 1962.
Townshend also joined the Detours, who evolved into the High Numbers and eventually
renamed themselves the Who. The band achieved notoriety around London for its fierce,
feedback-driven music, Mod image and its violent shows that ended with Townshend's
smashing his guitar and drummer Keith Moon's demolishing his kit.
The Who's first single was 1965's "I Can't Explain." After the band appeared on Britain's
"Ready Steady Go" TV show to promote it, the song made the top 10. It paved the way for
one of the band's signature tracks, "My Generation" (RealAudio excerpt),
which made it to #2 in the UK.
The Who began to catch on in the U.S. thanks to their appearance at the Monterey Pop
Festival and Townshend's increasingly elaborate songwriting. He flirted with the rock opera
concept on 1966's Happy Jack and included mock-advertisement songs and jingles
on The Who Sell Out (1967), which spawned the U.S./UK top-10 hit "I Can See for
Townshend's experiments with the rock opera form culminated with 1969's legendary
Tommy, the story of a deaf, mute and blind boy who becomes a messiah. The 1975
film "Tommy" starred Who singer Roger Daltrey in the title role.
The Who conquered FM radio in the States with Who's Next (1971), the classic LP
featuring such epochal songs as "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley."
Quadrophenia (1973), another ambitious Townshend rock opera, made #2 in the U.S.
and eventually became a film featuring Sting. The Who spent the next few years as an
enormously popular global attraction, until Moon's death from a drug overdose in 1978. The
Who continued to record and perform for several years with former Faces drummer Kenney
Jones, but never recovered their earlier momentum.
Townshend had issued his first solo LP, Who Came First (1972), to little fanfare. The
album was dedicated to his guru, Meher Baba. Four years later, Townshend released
Rough Mix, a collaboration with former Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane.
He began to acquire a strong following as a solo artist with 1980's Empty Glass, a top-five
album which featured the top-10 single "Let My Love Open the Door." The LP also
included "Rough Boys," which Townshend later revealed dealt with his bisexuality.
Townshend underwent treatment for drug addiction before releasing All the Best
Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982), which didn't sell as well as its predecessor.
In 1983 Townshend issued Scoop, a collection of demos. Two years later came the
concept LP White City -- A Novel. Though the album featured the top-30 single "Face
the Face," it marked the beginning of a series of thematic solo works that were not as critically
or commercially successful as his grand-scale Who efforts. Townshend also published a book
of short stories, "Horse's Neck."
Townshend's 1989 LP, The Iron Man, featuring vocals by John Lee Hooker and Nina
Simone, was a flop. Based on a story by former British poet laureate Ted Hughes, the work
came at a time when Townshend was working as a consultant editor at the London publishing
house Faber & Faber. When the album was released, Townshend embarked on one of
several reunion tours with the Who.
Psychoderelict (1993) was a commercial and critical disappointment, but Townshend
was soon the toast of Broadway with the successful staging of "The Who's Tommy," to which
he heavily contributed.
Though celebrated more as singer/guitarist with the Who, Townshend also is one of the most
accomplished songwriters in rock history.
Other birthdays: Phillip Rudd (AC/DC), 53; Jerry Hyman (Blood, Sweat & Tears), 52; Dusty
Hill (ZZ Top), 50; Joey Ramone (Ramones), 48; Grace Jones, 47; Danny Elfman (Oingo
Boingo), 46; Martyn Ware (Human League/Heaven 17), 43; and Jenny Cecilia Berggren
(Ace of Base), 27.