For better or worse, the surviving members of The Who decided to continue working after Keith Moon died, producing two albums before guitarist and musical director Pete Townshend called time on the outfit. The band reunited fairly heroically for Live Aid, after Bob Geldof encouraged them to “play the fucking show” as a way of making money for impoverished children in Africa. It was a good way to close out the band’s legacy, but by then, differences were emerging, and Daltrey made no bones over his dissatisfaction with the band’s last studio album from the 1980s.
“It’s Hard should never have been released,” Daltrey bellowed. “I had huge rows with Pete. I said, ‘Pete, this is just a complete piece of shit and it should never come out’”. Considering his solo career and the shoddily produced tunes he wrote in a last-ditch effort to capture the spirit and boyishness of The Who.
There’s a case to be made that Daltrey was the least essential component to The Who, because, barring a tasty hairstyle, it’s difficult to see what it is he actually brought to the band. Pete Townshend was the songwriter; John Entwistle was the anchor; Keith Moon was the drummer. Each of these men did their part to decorate the band’s superb catalogue, only for Daltrey to cater-waul over Townshend’s richly composed aphorisms, drowning the band under an unmerited mosaic of bravado and bravura.
Robert Plant he wasn’t, and he’s lucky the other three didn’t gang up on him to kick him out of the band. He’s fortunate he had good looks, because he had very little talent, and many of the band’s most impactful tunes – ‘Going Mobile’, ‘This Song is Over’ and ‘However Much I Booze’ – were sung by Townshend.
But rather than work on his absence of gravitas, Jones elected to knock Townshend’s compositions, personally declining some of the better compositions that could have made Who Are You an even better album (‘Rough Boys’ wound up on Townshend’s album, so he got the last laugh).
Worse, he seemed determined to knock Kenny Jones at every turn, despite the drummer’s efforts to keep The Who moving along in the years after Keith Moon‘s death. In his 2018 book, Jones depicts Daltrey as unreasonable, undermining his opinions at most turns. It’s saying something that bassist John Entwistle admired Jones, considering that Moon was his best friend in the band, and if It’s Hard swings, it’s because of the rhythm section.
Jones has carried the memories of his tenure with the band, with a degree of pride and penance.
“Yes, I do,” Jones admitted. “I look upon it as fondness and sadness, because one of the things I regret in life is Keith Moon is no longer with us, and I wish he was. I mean, as far as I’m concerned there’s only one drummer for the Who, and that’s Keith Moon and always will be. So, I never tried to emulate him. Purposely, also, because I’m not nuts like he is. He was a good friend and we had such a laugh together. I miss him to this day.”
Jones never tried to re-create those impossible displays of drums but favoured his own solid backbeat, which Townshend approved of. Daltrey was a harder sell and felt that the second iteration of The Who paled in comparison to the first. “I just felt that Keith was such an extraordinary drummer, to try and replace him was just ridiculous,” Daltrey recalled in 1994.
Adding: “We just filled the gap and pushed it back into the same slot with a drummer who was quite obviously the completely wrong drummer. I’m not saying he’s a bad drummer. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy. I didn’t dislike the guy, but I just felt he wasn’t the right drummer for the Who. It’s like having a wheel off a Cadillac stuck onto a Rolls Royce. It’s a great wheel but it’s the wrong one.”
Personally, I feel if a wheel needed replacing, it was the man at the front, not the man at the back. With anthems as stellar as ‘Athena’ and ‘Eminence Front’, there was nothing wrong with the songs in question, and typically the strongest vocals were Townshend’s. Indeed, Townshend, Entwistle and Jones could have toured as a power trio, and people would still have bought the records.
If the album was “hard” to listen to, it wasn’t due to the drummer, anchor or songwriter. It was because of the disgusting attitude the singer brought to the album, and I hold him personally responsible for the failings of that era of The Who. Townshend and Jones could walk away from that time with their heads held high, while Daltrey could have hidden in his giant plumage for all the good he did.