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Music

Witness Keith Moon's astonishing 'Won't Get Fooled Again' solo

The first thing you notice about The Who is that they are a very angry sounding band. The recordings are about a group of tightly knitted outfits huddled together to let out their fury, pressed into their instruments, and aching for resolution in an industry that offered little of it. Songwriter Pete Townshend ached for purpose, which he found at a commune at Eel Pie Island in Richmond, London. It was there that he composed the band’s most enduring anthem, a piercing rock number laced in agony and bitterness, stemming from his personal environment: ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’.

“There was like a love affair going on between me and them,” Townshend said. “They dug me because I was like a figurehead in a group, and I dug them because I could see what was going on over there. At one point there was an amazing scene where the commune was really working, but then the acid started flowing and I got on the end of some psychotic conversations.”

What you experience on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, then-the fiery sentiment bolstered by John Entwisle’s musical acumen and Roger Daltrey’s spirited vocal is a taste of what audiences could expect from the four-piece performing onstage. The band’s modus operandi was to preside within the importance of the performance, offering a selection of exhilarating tracks that could easily translate into a live setting. My Generation came closest to representing the band’s trajectory, but follow-up albums A Quick One and Tommy suffered from an over-exposure to the polish and sheen that robbed their work of its edge. And then they issued Live At Leeds, a live document made by young men exceedingly confident in their abilities to reproduce blues in a louder, more immediate form, replete with splashes of reverb and rebellion. They were eager to capture that energy in the studio, and with Glyn Johns – who supervised The Beatles during the rustic Get Back sessions – they had the right man to bring those quick-fire elements into the recording process. 

There is no hesitation heard on Who’s Next: ‘Going Mobile’ comes closest to expressing insincerity or self-doubt. Elsewhere, the album assimilates influences from the synth-laden textures of ‘Baba O’Reilly’ to the pummelling proto-metal rhythms of ‘My Wife’, only taking the gears off the pedal for the ominous ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. But ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is the one everyone remembers the album for, and rightfully so, considering the dense drum exhibition that soaks the song’s middle section. 

Keith Moon had brought that barrelling sound to The Who, and backed by Townshend’s chiming chords, he set the template for 1970s heavy metal. On ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, Moon sounds like he’s readying himself for the fight of his life, hammering the sticks across the back of the kit with the might of a boxer picturing his school bully on the punching bag. But for all the epic rumbling, the song shows a percussionist with a startling lack of self-conceit, rattling only when the song offers him the chance to. 

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“The best description of Keith is you’d count him off at the beginning of a song and he’d see you at the end,” Johns recalled. “You hoped that everyone would arrive at the end at the same time. He was just completely spontaneous.”

Moon’s most effective drum fills are the most low-key, and he spends much of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ tipping the balances, before throwing himself into the instrumental bridge that gives the polemical rocker a jagged edge. It sounds like a shield wall, a convoy of Roman soldiers raising their weapons to terrify their opponents, running over the hill. Although the tune may have dated, in part thanks to Nirvana’s determination to make misanthropy ineradicable trappings of the 1990s, the recording has relevance, because the drums sound so pure. 

For all that The Who became a monster band, their success was probably too heavily based on Moon’s stickwork to sustain itself in the long run. And when they decided to carry on without the drummer after he died in 1978, they came to realise just how much they needed him. Small Faces percussionist Kenney Jones was a formidable choice, but It’s Hard lacked the dynamism, danger and dominance of the Moon recordings. Jones actually performed ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ at Live Aid, replacing the colossal sound of the original recording for a tighter, tauter backbeat. It made sense for the performance, but fans pined for the ferocity of the Moon solo, so Jones was asked to leave the band by the end of the 1980s. 

Drummer Zak Starkey modelled his drums on Moon, which made him the perfect person to tour with The Who during the new millennium. In 2005, he joined Oasis for the band’s worthy comeback, Don’t Believe The Truth. Presented with ‘Lyla’, Starkey was advised to let out his inner Keith Moon. Boy, did he!