When The Who made their way to America in 1967 for the first time, they aimed to leave a permanent scar on the country and achieved their objective with ease. It was an experience that Roger Daltrey has never forgotten, although the cultural differences would shock the singer.
In 1967, The Who were established in the UK, but the time had now come to spread their wings internationally. The band’s string of hits at home meant nothing across the Atlantic, and although they had endured some relative success, it wasn’t on a comparative scale, and they had to start again at the lower rungs of the ladder.
In April of that year, they first arrived on American shores and performed a residency at the RKO Theatre in New York before introducing themselves to the masses with their wild set at Monterrey Pop Festival. It ended chaotically as Pete Townshend smashed his guitar into smithereens, Keith Moon attacked his drums, and the band set off smoke bombs galore. Suddenly, they started to gain traction.
From July until September, The Who then hit the road supporting fellow Brits Herman’s Hermit. However, it wasn’t the shows which left the most significant mark on Daltrey, who was instead overawed by the spawling cultural differences between America and England.
“I was just astounded at the scale of it,” the singer remembered to Rock Cellar. “I was open-mouthed at the amount of food. (laughs) We’ve never seen food like it. We’d just come out of rationing from the war. In those days we used to smuggle steak home. (laughs) We used to call England ‘the land of suet’ and America ‘the land of steak.’
“As for the shows at the RKO Theater (New York), we did four shows a day. It was ridiculous. We only were able to play two songs; it was just crazy, but that’s the way things were then. We used to do ‘I Can’t Explain’ and ‘My Generation’ and destroy our equipment, smash a guitar every show. It was crazy,” he added.
Daltrey admitted that the history of the venues “meant nothing” to him, and it was about creating The Who’s own narrative. Everybody else was inconsequential. The singer continued, “What it did is it was the statement that put The Who on the map, of course. They thought we were all mad — and of course, we all were.”
While Daltrey enjoyed the luxury excesses on offer in America, a taste of something he’d normally be unable to source in post-war Britain. That joy paled in comparison to the seismic impression that The Who left on audiences night after night. The crowds were perplexed by their ferocity but remained captivated nonetheless. The week after the tour was complete, The Who released ‘I Can See For Miles’, and at long last, they finally had a hit in the US after endearing themselves to the country. For the last seven decades, The Who have stayed comfortably nestled into the hearts of Americans.