Very few things in music escape the clutches of subjectivity, however, it is a scientific fact that humans like it loud. It might not be great for you and a neighbour blasting ‘Baby Shark’ at 2am on a Tuesday morning might be problematic, but there is a direct connection between your inner ear and the pleasure centres of the brain. This means, in short, that loud music at a low frequency above 90 decibels releases endorphins, thus it can literally be said that loud music is a stimulant.
The Who are a band that have always liked to crank it up past the Spinal Tap recommended level of 11, that much was clear on their astounding 1970 Live At Leeds record and it has remained true ever since. Their raucous sonic frisson is one that simply seems very befitting of the upper decibels.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, in 1976 their concert at The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic FC, entered the record books as the loudest concert of all time. The standing record was held by Deep Purple at a lug-shaking 117dB, but The Who thumped a hell of a lot louder at 126dB, helped by the acoustics of the cavernous old football stadium.
The noise was also notched up by the fact that over 75,000 screaming fans were in attendance on the day. The concert also happened to be one of Keith Moon’s last major appearances with the band before passing away on the 7th of September, 1978.
The reason that the concert remains as the Guinness Book of Records’ official loudest is that following the crowning achievement the loudness award was scrapped by the organisation owing to the inevitable downside to rattling the inner ear. Although loud music may release endorphins and have other benefits, too much exposure can cause tinnitus and other long term hearing issues.
There are plenty of other shows out there that have topped the decibels that The Who achieved on that fateful show, but they have not been officially recognised. For instance, Motörhead cranked up to a whopping 130 decibels in Newcastle City Hall and ended up literally cracking the roof and shaking the rafters, while on the same tour in Wolverhampton they shattered the windows in a sonic wave.
These days an average rock concert dials in at about 110-120 decibels, for the sake of perspective a clap of thunder directly overhead will register on ground level at around 120 decibels. Thus, all things in moderation is the recommended advice, as health experts warn that sustained exposure to any noise above 85 decibels can cause damage to hearing.