In 1967, The Who were one of the most important bands on the planet and their performance at the only ever edition of Monterey Pop Festival made the world more people fall in love with the world that Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon had created.
Despite already being a huge name in the UK, Monterey Pop would mark The Who’s grand arrival into the USA where they had played some shows in New York a few months prior. They may have made a dent in the US but nothing on the same scale as this appearance. This show would propel them into the North American mainstream.
During Jimi Hendrix’s stay in England, he and The Who had played together on a few occasions and were so impressed with one another’s performance that neither wanted to follow the other at Monterrey, for fear of being shown up. Instead, they decided to toss a coin, with the Who performing before Hendrix and if anyone could follow their show, it was him.
Townshend told Ultimate Classic Rock: “I’ve heard Roger talk about it as a jam session, but it wasn’t a jam session. It was just Jimi on a chair playing at me. Playing at me like ‘Don’t f—k with me, you little shit’.” Instead, they would have to settle things the old fashioned way: a coin flip. The Who won the toss and would be given the first opportunity to deliver the most vicious side of rock.
The Who’s set would go firmly down in the history books after they left their American audience stunned following their blistering rendition of ‘My Generation’ when Pete Townshend smashed his guitar and slammed the neck against the amps and speakers. This was followed by smoke bombs exploding behind the amps as frightened concert staff rushed onstage to retrieve expensive microphones.
At the end of the mayhem, drummer Keith Moon kicked over his drum kit as the band exited the stage. However, the crowd knew what they were in for from the very beginning.
They started their set in the most emphatic fashion with a searing rendition of ‘Substitute‘, a track which got the party started and introduced the American audience to The Who in perfect style. Townshend was unstoppable on guitar, determined and driven as ever, while Moon flashed across the kit like a madman—it was the ultimate introduction.
Townshend later revealed that he told his bandmates to “leave a wound” in the States with their performance, which is exactly what they did.
If the tens of thousands in attendance weren’t fully aware of The Who before their set or were still unconvinced about them prior to their set, then that soon changed shortly after the opening chords to ‘Substitute’.
This kickstarted the band’s fifty-plus years of reigning supreme in America as one of the most loved band’s on both sides of the Atlantic. Watch the iconic footage, below.