As Pete Townshend has forever been the principal songwriter for The Who, Roger Daltrey occasionally found himself in the position of performing material that he struggled to connect with. Despite a rumbling of discontent, however, he still managed to hide his disdain expertly on one of the band’s biggest hits, later admitting he “couldn’t identify” with the song.
The combination between Daltrey and Townshend has always been a complicated one. On the one hand, they share a watertight brotherly bond, but if they spend too much time in the same room, they’ll likely rip each other’s heads off. However, they both needed one another to thrive in what proved to be a lethal partnership.
Despite not being the band’s songwriter, The Who simply doesn’t work without Roger Daltrey’s energy. He created the blueprint on how a rock ‘n’ roll frontman should act on stage and has been exuding a vivacious brand of authority for almost 60 years.
From the way that he carries himself when he performs ‘Substitute’, you’d presume that Daltrey has a deep infatuation with the song. However, the reality is that when they recorded it, he felt no connection to the track whatsoever. “I still couldn’t find that voice on songs like ‘Substitute‘,” he later told Uncut. “I found it very, very difficult to sing pop. My voice was very gravelly. I couldn’t identify with it, whatever the hell it was. Pop was alien to me. I didn’t really find my voice until we got to Tommy.”
The creation very much came from the mind of Townshend, with Daltrey being dragged along to make that sonic shift. However, despite feeling trepidation about The Who’s move into the territory of pop music, the singer managed to hide his discomfort eloquently, sounding instead as though he was born to sing ‘Substitute’.
It wasn’t just Daltrey who reached the zenith of his talents on Tommy, but the whole band. The 1969 rock opera Tommy tells the story of Tommy Walker, a child who is both deaf and blind. It follows his experiences in life and his relationship with his family, which further shows Townshend’s innate ability for storytelling in whatever form he chooses.
While Townshend was the brains behind Tommy, it was Daltrey who brought the story to life. The album was immediately acclaimed upon its release by critics, many hailing it as The Who’s breakthrough moment and their finest outing. “Tommy because it is so successful and so far-reaching and is probably deeper in meaning than most critics allow,” Townshend later told JamBase in 2007. “I felt like the messenger from Mars in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land who promises that the secret of all existence is simply to learn to wait,” Townshend wrote in his autobiography Who I Am.
When The Who made ‘Substitute’ in 1966, they were still kids and with a tenacious rage that they allowed to erupt. Daltrey’s voice was still forming during their formative years, full of youthful angst, forcing its way into the mainstream consensus and etching their name into the history books in the process.