Pete Townshend has an infamously sharp tongue. The Who guitarist and band’s principal songwriter has had a fair few words to share about many of his contemporaries over the decades he’s spent being interviewed and most of them have an edge. Known for his scathing retorts and a glaring eye, Townshend quickly earned himself a reputation as the aggressive edge of the British invasion both on and off stage. While The Beatles and the Stones were keen to play the pop game, Townshend always saw fit to disrupt the normalcy of music.
It may come from the fact that The Who were a searingly powerful quartet, a band capable of matching anyone on talent and ferocity—and Townshend knew it. Not only was he the man in a power stance thrashing his guitar but he had Keith Moon reciprocating on the drums, John Entwistle scaling up and down his bass and Roger Daltrey letting rip with the mic. It gave the guitarist a perhaps somewhat unbalanced view of the music world.
It also happened that Townshend’s caustic views came at a time when the demand for knowing such perspectives was at its peak. In the sixties pop music was extremely tribal, meaning any few short words about a contemporary band instantly gained a few extra column inches and more intrigue. While we’re sure that Townshend was always aware of the extra publicity his comments could gain The Who, the real scything words seemed to come straight from his heart.
When you’ve spent the majority of your life in the public eye, chances are you’re going to be caught out on an off-day and your comments are tinged with a degree of acidity. Perhaps the same can be said for some of Townshend’s comments on other artists. That said, the below comments are all a little bit extra sour.
5 bands that The Who’s Pete Townshend hates:
In 1966, The Who were beginning their meteoric ascent to the top of the rock and roll pile. Backed by a thunderous lead single in ‘My Generation’, the band had carved out a career based on the fervent energy of youth. It got the band some attention and some early TV interviews. One such interview led to Townshend referring to the Fab Four as “flipping lousy”.
After a conversation around the idea of “musical quality”, something Townshend shrugs as irrelevant to him and his band, the interviewers suggest that The Beatles have “quality.”
“Ooh, that’s a tough question,” the guitarist replied with a sneering smile.
“Actually, this afternoon, John [Entwistle] and I were listening to a stereo LP of The Beatles — in which the voices come out of the one side and the backing track comes out of the other,” he continued. Townshend delivers his most telling line on the band’s output when he says, “When you actually hear the backing tracks of The Beatles without their voices, they’re flippin’ lousy,” it’s enough to hear an audible gasp from the audience. Whether or not Townshend has softened his view on The Beatles won’t ever really be known but at this moment, you can tell that the guitarist has no love for the most famous band in the world.
Later, speaking with Rolling Stone in 1982, Townshend was asked about McCartney’s recent record Tug of War. Kurt Loder, who is interviewing Townshend, suggested it had “virtually nothing to do with rock & roll,” Townshend replied by asking if McCartney “ever really had anything to do with rock”.
He answered his own question. “No, he never did,” Townshend said before adding: “You know, I could sit down and have a conversation with Paul about rock & roll, and we’d be talking about two different things.”
While we can’t be quite sure on whether Townshend really harbours hate for The Beatles, we can be pretty certain he’s got a lot of disdain for Led Zeppelin—a band he has accused of copying The Who for years. In fact, it’s been for almost the entirety of their career that the guitarist has kept up this feud.
The guitarist’s staunch views have always seen him come under fire from Zepheads everywhere and, perhaps, rightfully so. Still, this isn’t something that he regrets, a topic he has spoken so strongly about in the past and in the press run for their most recent record WHO he couldn’t help himself from having another swipe at Zep.
Townshend was speaking to the Toronto Sun last December when he was asked about the deviation from the band’s early sound to the sonic nature of their most recent effort. Instead of answering the question straight, Townshend saw this as the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a jab at Zeppelin: “It doesn’t sound like The Who from those early heavy metal years. We sort of invented heavy metal with (our first live album) Live at Leeds (1970). We were copied by so many bands, principally by Led Zeppelin, you know heavy drums, heavy bass, heavy lead guitar,” said Townshend, aiming at the iconic quartet.
In 1995, Townshend was far more cutting of the record-breaking quartet: “I don’t like a single thing that they have done, I hate the fact that I’m ever even slightly compared to them.”
He continued through gritted teeth: “I just never ever liked them. It’s a real problem to me cause as people I think they are really really great guys. Just never liked the band. And I don’t know if I have a problem, block too, because they, well that became so much bigger than The Who in so many ways, in their chosen field, I’ve never liked them.” Yikes.
One artist that has always figured in Townshend’s life within rock ‘n’ roll is Jimi Hendrix. The iconic guitarist was a musical match for anyone and the competitive Townshend was never keen to back down from a fight, verbal or otherwise. It meant that a clash between the two was almost inevitable.
It took place at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 as the duo fought for who would take to the stage first, each one fearful going on last could mean having to follow a potent live act. Many suggested the duo took part in a legendary live jam session backstage to settle their differences, though the term ‘jam’ may be sugar-coating it a little.
Townshend saw it differently and told Ultimate Classic Rock: “I’ve heard Roger talk about it as a jam session, but it wasn’t a jam session. It was just Jimi on a chair playing at me. Playing at me like ‘Don’t fuck with me, you little shit’.” Instead, they would have to settle things the old fashioned way: a coin flip.
Later, Townshend would suggest that Hendrix took The Who’s style and improved upon it, making it likely a more resentful relationship than one based on the rage he surely felt back in 1967.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Pete Townshend hates his own band more than any other group on this list and that is no mean feat. Not only was he recently shamed for his comments on Keith Moon and John Entwistle’s passing, but he has always been vocal about his dislike for Roger Daltrey. The group were always fighting with one another both verbally and physically.
The two powerhouses of the band have always butted heads. The two just innately irritate each other which is remarkable considering how long they have been together in a group and how this certainly is no recent beef. Another example of how if one does one thing, the other goes out their way to do the other was when Roger Daltrey spoke about his ardent support for the Brexit campaign and Townshend was vocal in his support for remain saying to The Telegraph: “I’m a Remainer, he [Roger Daltrey] is a Brexiteer. I believe in God, he doesn’t.”
Townshend and Daltrey continue to fight during their live performances with a particular moment where “Roger comes over to me, stands next to me and makes some kind of soppy smile, which is supposed to communicate some kind of Everly Brothers relationship we have for the audience, which isn’t actually there.”
The guitarist continues, “It’s supposed to be an act where I’m supposed to collude like ‘we know each other very well we look like enemies but we are friends really’ kind of look. Often that will be the moment where I look him in the face and go ‘you fucking wanker’ and he gets angry when I do that” he says amidst a fit of laughter.
Talking 2014 about their tour he simply said: “It seemed like a good idea about six months ago but I hate performing and The Who and touring. But I’m innately good at it, I don’t find it hard.”
Of course, Townshend would have a problem with The Police. The band fronted by Sting has always toed the line between pop, new wave and punk and it’s a moniker that Townshend would happily apply to the group, but there is certainly one .
When New York’s WAXQ-FM tried to claim that The Police were themselves categorised under classic rock, Townshend couldn’t stand by: “They’re now calling The Police ‘classic rock.’ I don’t think so. The Police are punk. They’re a punk band. They’re not classic rock,” he recalled with a sneer.
The damning indictment may be on the polite side for Townshend but there’s an undercurrent of disdain that’s unmissable. “You know, you’ve got the (Rolling) Stones and The Who. Classic rock – finished. It’s all over after that…this is just music. It’s not classic anything.”