To think of The Who’s songwriting as being driven by anyone but Pete Townshend would be a bit rich. The guitarist is undoubtedly the powerhouse behind the group’s songwriting but he wouldn’t have been able to enact his vision without the incredibly talented band he had at his disposal. While Roger Daltrey’s voice is impressive and John Entwistle’s bass cannot be beaten, it was the animal they had behind the drum kit that really kicked things up a gear.
“The greatest Keith Moon-type drummer of al time”, the legendary Moon once referred to himself as. A talent lost far too soon, Moon’s intense likeability meant he quickly became the nation’s little brother. Starting off in the band with a fresh face and energy to burn, Moon the Loon gained himself as staunch a reputation for partying offstage as he received for his thunderous performances on it. Below, we’ve picked out 10 of the drummer’s finest moments for The Who.
Of course, Moon’s part in the majority of the songs below is purely percussion. He was never too keen to jump in lyrically or too creatively, acknowledging that his talents were best kept for the kit. In fact, much of his talent had difficulty staying on the drums as his wild performance gained gawping mouths and gasps in equal measure. It even inspired The Muppets’ Animal character.
Sadly, Moon was as wild away from his instrument as he was explosive on it. The drummer tragically passed away at the young age of 32, leaving behind a legacy of incredible music but a sad resignation that he was an immense talent wasted on the grandest scale. Below, we’re bringing you the finest moments of that legacy in Keith Moon’s 10 best songs for The Who.
Keith Moon’s 10 best songs for The Who:
Taken from the band’s 1971 record Who’s Next, ‘Bargain’ is one song that often flies under the radar of this heavy-hitting record. It’s a shame to miss out on it as it provides us with every single shred of proof one needs of Moon’s talent.
As thunderous as he is stylish, Moon guides the song around a powerhouse percussion, letting it settle form time to time before ripping it up once more. It’s a piece which shows that Moon wasn’t all wreckless abandon and energy—sometimes he was incredibly cultured.
9. ‘Happy Jack’
It’s probably a fair assessment to say that Keith Moon was a phenomenal performer right from the very beginning of The Who’s career. Even in 1966, a little way down the road, Moon was a frontrunner of the band’s appeal. On songs like ‘Happy Jack’ he really made it count.
The song begins as many a sixties track does, a gentle rhythm and a curious lyrical content until Moon crashes through the song with what can only be described as a hellfire fill. He tears through the song like a tornado and sweeps up every other member of the band along with him. Thunder, lightning and all things frightening.
8. ‘Out in the Street’
Before 1966, the band had already released their album The Who Sings My Generation and begun to find acclaim. One of the reasons for that acclaim was their rhythm section was incredibly hard to beat. With John Entwistle able to create basslines that noodled like no other, he allowed Moon to ditch simplicity and head to the hills of musical splendour along with him.
While other acts had drummers who were perfectly capable in an R&B band, keep timing and a smile on their face, Moon was far more concerned with grabbing a piece of the limelight for himself. He did it with stylish pieces like this, providing a raw energy that he would take into everything he did.
7. ‘The Real Me’
The Who’s album Quadrophenia form 1973 is rightly seen as their greatest achievement. Throughout the operatic piece, Moon is arguably in the form of his life. He ranges on the symphonic and hints that he could run his own orchestra just through his cymbals.
If you can imagine the guy at the back of the ensemble crashing the large cymbals together having popped a couple of pills and going ham with his given instrument, you get close to the kind of powerful command Moon had over pretty much everything he ever recorded. He was always loose and wild but that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of cultivating a sound either. On ‘The Real Me’ he does just that.
6. ‘Who Are You’
Largely seen as one of the band’s trademark songs, it accurately captures Moon’s ability to sling fills into play like a buccaneering bruiser. While Daltrey’s vocals and Townshend’s powerhouse guitar get most of the plaudits a lot has to be said for Moon’s percussion.
The Who’s 1978 single ‘Who Are You’ was the title track from the band’s last album before Moon’s sudden death. It remains a bastion of not only the band’s unstoppable early period but also of Moon’s impeccably chaotic playing style. It certainly isn’t genius-level playing but it is imbued with enough passion that it was enough to make his memory last for a lifetime.
5. ‘I Need You’
One song on our list does feature Keith Moon as a songwriter, the brilliant ‘I Need You’, which acts a shining moment on the band’s sophomore album. As well as being the man behind the kit and providing the rhythm, Moon was also the lead vocalist on this song.
The track was written about meeting The Beatles at the Ad Lib club in Soho one night in swinging London. “Let us come sitar with you,” asks Moon with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Considering it was one of Moon’s earliest forays into songwriting, the song isn’t half bad and has a knack of showing off Moon as more than just a drummer.
4. ‘Heaven And Hell’
One song that didn’t come from the mind of Pete Townshend was the John Entwistle composition ‘Heaven and Hell’. An accurate title for a song which contains all the facets of rock in one track, the piece quickly became The Who’s opening gambit when performing live. Moon is a shining star of this song.
Entwistle and Townshend are more than happy to duke it out for the title of the song’ supreme leader but, in truth, it is Moon who takes the cake. His pure intensity and drum fill fury is enough to keep anyone on their toes, the fact that this song was the start of the night shows you just how ready Moon always had to be. Very nearly the drummer at his finest.
3. ‘Baba O’Riley’
‘Baba O’Riley’ provided the best insight into Lifehouse, Pete Townshend’s failed musical project and the ‘teenage wasteland’ aspect that the project was to be about. Lifehouse’s story was inspired by Pete Townshend’s experiences on the Tommy tour: “I’ve seen moments in Who gigs where the vibrations were becoming so pure that I thought the whole world was just going to stop, the whole thing was just becoming so unified,” he once commented.
During this track Moon seemingly loses his cool as he slammed his way across the kit with a style that captured the hearts and minds of his audience. For this track, like many others, Townshend wrote drum fills based on Moon’s own style. “When Pete writes something, it sounds like the Who. The drum phrases are my phrases, even though it’s Pete playing. He’s playing the way I play. He’s playing my flourishes,” Moon told Rolling Stone.
But once given the blueprint, Moon went nuts on the song. Perhaps his best moment of this track was when played live with Moon performing the song standing on his stool and making faces at his audience. Pure performance.
2. ‘Pinball Wizard’
Though it may well be one of Pete Townshend’s most disliked songs from The Who, describing it as “clumsy”, ‘Pinball Wizard’ is a showcase of Moon’s style and panache. On the song, the drummer is intent on implementing his own unique style to every piece he performed. He brought the anarchy he felt and chased away from the band to the very centre of his playing whenever he got behind the drums.
‘Pinball Wizard’ sees Moon in mercurial form. The track is taken from their 1969 rock opera Tommy and the lyrics offer a glimpse of their main protagonist Tommy Walker in the middle of one of his legendary gaming sessions. It is one of the band’s most beloved songs.
Much like Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Moon’s timing and cadence is, if not always to the millisecond perfect, is filled with passion and power. The beats and fills he chooses for a song of such magnitude is not only astounding but uniquely Moon.
1. ‘My Generation’
When thinking of The Who, the chances are, the first song you will think of is their generational-defining song, ‘My Generation’. The song earmarked The Who as one of the most incendiary bands around and they quickly shot to fame. While each member of the band can be proud of their contribution to the song, Moon’s performance is simply astounding.
Moon slings his sticks like a cowboy, firing at will and hitting most of the targets he aimed for—Keith the Kid was born. ‘My Generation’ sees the drummer in imperious form. Slamming through the iconic track with the belief and authenticity of someone who had lived it all, it makes for captivating listening.
Admittedly, this isn’t the most technical piece of drumming you’ll ever hear, in fact, it’s not the most technical piece of drumming Moon has ever done. But this song, more so than any other, accurately depicts the character, the integrity and the appeal of Keith Moon. It is a furious blast of energy, and an unthinkable dose of style and a simply mind-boggling arrangement of power. It is the moment the world was introduced to Keith Moon.