In the early 1980s, The Who found themselves in an unenviable predicament. Tensions were at an uncontrollable high between the band and their output dramatically suffered, plummeting to new depths. A reason for the downfall in quality from The Who could be the rather large Keith Moon shaped hole left in the group following the drummer’s death in 1978.
The band’s first effort following the death of Moon came in 1981 with the album Face Dances. The record was the sound of a group who seemed identity-stricken and bereft of that special spark that had seen them catapulted to stardom. They were sixteen-years on from the release of their angsty debut LP, My Generation and their lives had substantially changed, and their eyes began to slip off the ball.
The low quality of their output at this time is the reason that The Who became live specialists. With every performance, the band proved they could still put on a world-class show. However, their new material gravely lacked the firepower that previously made millions fall in love with them.
Things turned truly sour between Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey one evening when the band played the Rainbow Theatre in 1981. That night, an inebriated Townshend allegedly drank a staggering four bottles of brandy and then, not for the first time, got in a physical altercation with his bandmate.
This event certainly wasn’t the first time that the two had come to severe blows. In fact, much of their early career was littered with bleeding noses and bruised eye sockets. However, their relationship was never quite the same again, and the two men famously try to keep their distance from one another as much as possible, even today.
The guitarist was going through personal turmoil at this period, and his drinking had got out of control. Still, Townshend remained desperate to make it up to his bandmates by getting back into the studio to let out his creative juices, and the result was disastrous.
“I managed to convince the guys in the band that I would stay alive if they allowed me to work with them again,” Townshend recalled years later. “I had difficulty proving to Roger in particular that I was going to enjoy working with the Who, and that it was important to me that the band end properly, rather than end because of my fucking mental demise,” he added
The 1982 LP would remain their last album for 24-years. The recording sessions put a strain on their relationships, and it was seemingly no longer an enjoyable experience. Instead, it had become just a job. Although the record received some incredibly favourable reviews, Roger Daltrey was reluctant to release the album, and over the years, his stance has yet to soften.
The album wasn’t up to the standards that Daltrey set himself, and he saw it as a half-baked effort, which wasn’t anywhere near for release. However, The Who had already agreed to do a massive tour and, after succumbing to pressure from the label, the band released It’s Hard despite not being happy with it. Even at the time of release, Daltrey poured scorn on the album by calling it a “stop-gap album”. However, as the years have gone by, his criticism has been less subtle.
Some years later, Daltrey admitted: “It’s Hard should never have been released”, and in another interview, he honestly noted that, “Face Dances and It’s Hard were made by a band who were very unsure about whether or not they wanted to be making a record, and I think that’s a terrible doubt.”
This period of The Who’s career is the period they transitioned from a relevant rock powerhouse to a nostalgia act. Their focus shifted towards selling tickets for stadium tours as they morphed into this corporate entity, rather than a band that still had something interesting to say.