The day The Who blew up, a look at their 1967 American TV debut performing ‘My Generation’
We’re digging into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you one of the most memorable moments of musical television ever. The Who’s explosive US television debut.
By 1967, The Who were a force to be reckoned with on the tea-drinking side of the pond. The rock and roll band had grown themselves a sizeable reputation for not only producing incredible records but also for having an incendiary live show.
The Who were overseas trying to do that classic British band thing of “breaking America” and what better way to do it than a TV performance of their new song ‘My Generation’. But when they made their US TV debut on September 17th, 1967 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, they very nearly broke everything in their path.
They arrived on set in stunning clothes from Carnaby Street, a cheeky-chappy persona, and a brand new track to play. The British invasion was most certainly underway and though The Beatles had led the way, The Who were attempting to carve out their own path, using dynamite instead of pickaxes.
Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, and John Entwhistle’s live shows, at this point, had become a huge badge of honour. They left most stages strewn with broken instruments and bathed in sweat as Townsend smashed through guitars quicker than he could afford. They were intense, they were unruly, and they were unstoppable.
One particular unstoppable force in the band was keen to push that ethos to the very edge. Keith Moon, AKA Moon the Loon, was a serial prankster as well as being marvellously adept at nihilism, and he wasn’t about to change anything for an American audience.
The legendary drummer had taken to filling his bass drums, which he often up-turned at the end of proceedings anyway, with flash powder. The explosive is designed to cause a loud noise and a bright flash—a perfect cannon-esque ending for the band’s performances. But for this show, Keith had got a bit carried away with the powder and over-filled the drums.
Reports differ as to how the extra explosive ended up in the drums. One report suggests Moon and the stagehand had got mixed up and had been adding charges without knowledge of the other. Another possibly more likely report, however, suggested that Moon had fiendishly been bribing the stagehand with shots of brandy to add the extra charges.
The Who duly mimed their new hit, ‘I Can Go For Miles and Miles’, and then went on to ‘My Generation’ and got on board with the opportunity the show offered, even having some very lovely small talk with the host mid-set. But, while they may have mimed their song they weren’t going to let anything stop them having their usual, and very real, climax.
Everything was going to plan. Keith Moon was throwing his symbals to the floor while Pete Townshend was elegantly smashing through his guitar. Suddenly Moon’s drum-bomb exploded and nearly blew the entire band away.
The flash from the device knocked out the cameras for a moment while actress Bette Davis, who was also on the show, allegedly fainted off-stage from the velocity of the blast. It became one of the most seminal moments in rock and roll history and saw The Who become household names overnight.
Planned or otherwise, Keith Moon made sure that nobody watching that night would ever forget the moment The Who blew up on television. Watch below the whole set from The Who making their American TV debut in 1967.