The Who’s enigmatic frontman Roger Daltrey is a character who has never been shy about giving an opinion. Whether this is a sly-dig about his disdain for his bandmate Pete Townshend, who happily reciprocates that same animosity, or an actually thrown punch at Keith Moon—Daltrey doesn’t mess around. On this occasion, we are revisiting positive words from the man himself… albeit about his own music.
Few bands have had the longevity that The Who have had, with the two surviving members of the group still selling-out stadiums all over the world today. It is some achievement over half a century into your career and have made some of the most iconic albums in the history of British music.
Back in 2002, Daltrey sat down with Uncut Magazine to discuss his favourite 20 songs by his band so we are sifting through five of these and look at why these track’s mean so much to him. The first song that Daltrey brings up is 1965’s ‘I Can’t Explain’ which is a quintessential ’60s track which was the perfect way to announce themselves as The Who.
Daltrey said this on the barnstorming number: “Well, it’s that thing – ‘I got a feeling inside, I can’t explain’ – it’s rock’n’roll. The more we try to explain it, the more we crawl up our own arses and disappear! I was very proud of that record. That was us, y’know – it was an original song by Pete and it captured that energy and that testosterone that we had in those days. It still does.”
The Who’s charismatic leader continued: “When we turned up to record it there was this other guitarist in the studio – Jimmy Page. And he’d brought in three backing vocalists, which was another shock. He must have discussed it with our management, but not with us, so we were thrown at first, thinking, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’ But it was his way of recording.”
It was a fast-paced and furious session: “We were in that studio for no more than two hours. A-side, B-side, played the thing four times and that was it. Obviously, if we’d had to do our own backing vocals that would’ve meant overdubs and more studio time, so that was how Shel worked. Pete could’ve played the lead but in a way it was a privilege having Jimmy Page on one of our records… he ain’t a bad guitarist, y’know?”
Another track which has a special place in Daltrey’s heart is ‘My Generation’ which is arguably the definitive Who single which sets out everything that the band were all about in just one song. Daltrey described the hit as being: “I have got a stutter. I control it much better now but not in those days. When we were in the studio doing ‘My Generation’, Kit Lambert came up to me and said ‘STUTTER!’ I said ‘What?’ He said ‘Stutter the words – it makes it sound like you’re pilled’ And I said, ‘Oh… like I am!’ And that’s how it happened. It was always in there, it was always suggested with the ‘f-f-fade’ but the rest of it was improvised. But… it’s a fucking great record, it really is.”
The next track from the list that The Who leader seems to be eternally fond of is a bit of a lesser-known number in comparison to the first two, which is 1967’s ‘I Can See For Miles’. The track is the closest thing that the band ever got to a piece of psychedelia and is a showcase of their more experimental side.
“I think it’s one of the best-produced singles we ever did. We spent literally a whole day putting down layer and layer of harmonies on the ‘miles and miles’ section. I always loved that song and you listen to the drumming on it, it’s extraordinary – like a steam engine” said Daltrey.
1969’s ‘Pinball Wizard’ is perhaps one of the all-time great rock classics which helped solidify The Who’s status as legends just four years on from their first single. The number was produced by Kit Lambert and Daltrey thinks it might be Lambert’s best production on any Who track he did: “Kit’s production on ‘Pinball Wizard’ is absolutely tremendous.”
“The whole montage of sounds he got in emulating the pinball machine is extraordinary. I don’t think he got enough recognition for his work on that. Not necessarily the sound he got – because most of the time making Tommy we were out of our boxes, God knows what we were doing – but the actual arrangements and the ideas, the harmonies and the structures.”
The final track he waxes lyrical over is 1981’s ‘You Better, You Bet’, this came following turbulent point in the career of the band following the devastation that ensued after the death of the imperial Keith Moon and is almost definitely the best thing The Who have created since the drumming maestro sadly departed us.
Daltrey described it as: “A wonderful, wonderful song. The way the vocal bounces, it always reminds me of Elvis. But it was a difficult time, yeah. The Moon carry-on was much harder than carrying on after John because we’re more mature now. I hate going over this but, in retrospect, we did make the wrong choice of drummers. Kenney Jones – don’t get me wrong, a fantastic drummer – but he completely threw the chemistry of the band. It just didn’t work; the spark plug was missing from the engine.
“The first tour Kenney did with us, though, he was absolutely fucking brilliant. But after that, he settled into what he knew, which was his Faces-type drumming, which doesn’t work with The Who. In some ways I’d like to go back and re-record a lot of the songs on Face Dances, but ‘You Better, You Bet’ is still one of my favourite songs of all.”