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Music

The Who hit that stupefied Pete Townshend

@TylerGolsen

The Who had a problem with America. It wasn’t anything personal, at least not at first – The Who had become the premier band of the Mod movement in the mid-1960s, a subculture that was distinctly and unequivocally British. With John Entwistle’s Union Jack blazer and concept records like The Who Sell Out appealing directly to the phenomenon of pirate radio stations broadcasting across the UK, it wasn’t like The Who making direct appeals to the United States.

That didn’t stop band leader Pete Townshend from longing after a stateside hit. ‘I Can See For Miles’ was intended to be the band’s chart breakthrough, but when it topped out at number nine in the US and number ten in the UK, Townshend lost faith in the idea of The Who being a major singles band. This was as rock was beginning to transition in earnest towards the album era, so Townshend needn’t have worried about The Who’s popularity in the long run. Still, the lack of a major chart hit in America, specifically a number one song, was a gripe that continued to linger.

Nearly a full decade after Townshend thought The Who wasted their chance at chart success, The Who released a jaunty country-infused single, ‘Squeeze Box’. Featuring intricate banjo picking and the song’s titular accordion, ‘Squeeze Box’ also may or may not have integrated some double entendre into its tale of late-night music-making. It was certainly one of the sillier songs recorded by the band, and Townshend himself didn’t think much of the track.

To his astonishment (and palpable consternation), ‘Squeeze Box’ became one of the few singles by The Who to land in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. “[The song was] Intended as a poorly aimed dirty joke,” Townshend shared in the liner notes for his compilation album Scoop. “I had bought myself an accordion and learned to play it one afternoon. The polka-esque rhythm I managed to produce from it brought forth this song. Amazingly recorded by The Who to my disbelief. Further incredulity was caused when it became a hit for us in the USA.”

‘Squeeze Box’ topped out at number 16 in 1975, but if that’s Townshend’s idea of a hit, then he should give himself more credit. The Who would up having eight top 20 singles in the US, including ‘Who Are You’, Won’t Get Fooled Again’, and ‘Pinball Wizard’. Their second biggest single on the Billboard chart was ‘See Me, Feel Me’, which hit number 12 in 1970. Townshend was probably a bit more proud of that track, but ‘Squeeze Box’ became the example that Townshend would cite when expressing his befuddlement towards American pop audiences.

Check out ‘Squeeze Box’ down below.