In the Museum: The Who's Roger Daltrey

Saturday, March 1: 10 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Who's Roger Daltrey celebrates his 70th birthday on March 1, 2014

Born on March 1, 1944, Roger Daltrey injected the Who's songs with expressive muscularity and passion. Daltrey made a natural rock and roll frontman, theatrically swinging the microphone and proving the ideal, angst-projecting foil to Who songwriter/guitarist Pete Townshend's "windmill" strumming and instrument destroying antics and drummer Keith Moon's  explosive – sometimes literally – playing. With rock-steady bass virtuoso John Entwistle, the four evolved from purveyors of Mod-era "maximum R&B" to visionary, literary creators of concept album narratives and singular rock opera productions. Simply put: the Who created some of rock and roll's most enduring and powerful anthems. 

In mid-1965, Daltrey and the Who were unflagging devotees of R&B, though their reverence ultimately started to stifle creativity. Hoping to shake things up on the compositional front, manager Kit Lambert demanded a new anthem to go with the image they didn't have yet. Pete Townshend responded with a primitive home demo of "My Generation." Arranged as a talking blues number, it didn't sound much like his generation. With a terse order to make it beefier, Townshend returned with a version deemed chunky enough to warrant a group whack at a demo session, which Lambert produced by the seat of his pants. Apparently, Lambert's impulsiveness resulted in the song's most riveting twist: Daltrey's stuttered vocal. The tick was a tip of the tongue to the Who's mod audience, whose garbled speech patterns were the result of copious amphetamine ingestion. What nearly sank the session was the bass solo. In order to pull off the nimble run, Entwistle had purchased an American-made Danelectro model, factory-strung with extra-thin strings. The problem was, in a phrase, "strings sold separately." (Not in London, anyway.) Every time Entwistle broke a string, it meant buying a new Danelectro. By the time "My Generation" was finished, the bassist had gone through three of them, but the brilliant arrangement was nailed. With the group demo for reference, producer Shel Talmy recorded the released version in record time.

"My Generation" reached Number Two in the U.K. despite a temporary ban by the BBC, who thought the song offensive to stutterers. As for the snarling sentiment of "I Hope I die before I get old!," Townshend later wrote: "We really did mean it. We didn't care about ourselves or our future. We didn't even really care about one another. We were hoping to screw the system, screw the older generation, screw the hippies, screw the rockers, screw the record business, screw the Beatles, and screw ourselves. We've been most successful on the last account."

Other early Who releases demonstrated a similar mastery of the three-minute single, articulating the frustrations of adolescence in such combustible classics as “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “Substitute" and “The Kids Are Alright." By December 1968, with albums My Generation, A Quick One and The Who Sell Out under their belts, the band agreed to appear in the Rolling Stones' TV production "Rock and Roll Circus" alongside Eric Clapton, John Lennon and Jethro Tull. However, a clip of the band's epic performance of "A Quick One, While He's Away" was not released until 1979, when it appeared in the film documentary The Kids Are Alright, and the whole "Rock and Roll Circus" film remained unreleased until 1996.

On display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, is the outfit Daltrey wore when the Who performed during the filming of "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" in 1968. The outfit is just one of the Who items featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Who featured collection, located in the Museum's Legends of Rock exhibit. Explore more rock and roll history here!

WATCH: The Who perform "A Quick One, While He's Away" on 1968's "the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus"


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