Turning rock on its head, the Who allowed Townshend's innovative guitar work to lead the sonic and rhythmic charge, freeing Entwistle and Moon to riff as they would. On top of it all, Daltrey wailed and strutted. Penning teen anthems like "The Kids Are Alright" and "My Generation," along with the rock opus Tommy, Townshend also led the band's artistic direction.
Because Daltrey and Entwistle had differing aims, wanting more to pound out straightahead rock tunes, the Who eventually compromised and became the arena rock band still banging around these many years on.
After various fits and starts, the hard-rocking Who rose to prominence in response to the Beatles' massive success. Townshend accidentally smashing his guitar created a memorable experience for fans who then came to expect him to do so. Townshend obliged, at least on occasion.
Their first single, "I Can't Explain," cracked the Top 10 in the UK with "My Generation" rising up to number two later in 1965. From that point on, the Who proved to be an unstoppable force that did, in fact, come to rival the Beatles and the Rolling Stones thanks to early tunes like “I'm a Boy,” “Substitute,” and “The Kids Are Alright.”
In the U.S., though, it took a lot longer for the Who to gain their footing. A Quick One, uneven as it was, proved that the Who were innovators, if nothing else, and started to make American inroads into the Top 40. They toured with Cream, Wilson Pickett, and Jim & Jean to help things along. To some extent, songs that did well in the UK didn't hit in the States, and sometimes weren't even released there until much later.
And thus began the Who's era of experimentation with a concept album (The Who Sell Out) and a rock opera (Tommy) that solidified their standing in the eyes of both critics and fans. Tommy, in particular, was quickly anointed a masterpiece as it broke the Top 10 in America.
As Tommy became bigger than the band itself, Townshend struggled with its successor and ended up having a nervous breakdown. Upon his recovery, the remnants of Lifehouse, his next envisioned rock opera, were gather together as Who's Next. It was a huge success.
When Townshend went back to work, he created the double-LP Quadrophenia which, eventually, led to the group's splintering. Side and solo projects abounded, but Townshend soldiered on, penning 1975's The Who by Numbers.
Alcohol, drugs, and general aging began to take their toll on the musicians as they pumped out Who Are You in 1978. It peaked at number two in the U.S. and sold more than a million copies. However, Moon died from an overdose only three weeks after the release. Moon had previously suggested Kenney Jones be his successor, and so it was.
A live documentary, The Kids Are Alright, came next, followed by a tragedy at a Cincinnati show that continued to push the members apart, into solo careers (Daltrey, Entwistle) and drug addiction (Townshend).
Somehow, they pulled it all together to make Face Dances in 1981 with It's Hard coming in 1982 as their alleged swan song. Several reunions and tours later, Tommy ended up on Broadway. Then, in 2002, Entwistle died.
Townshend and Daltrey partnered for the Wire & Glass EP in 2006 which evolved into Endless Wire later that year. It earned stellar reviews, as did the accompanying tour.
The Who's Studio Albums
My Generation (1965)
A Quick One / Happy Jack (1966)
The Who Sell Out (1967)
Who's Next (1971)
The Who by Numbers (1975)
Who Are You (1978)
Face Dances (1981)
It's Hard (1982)
Endless Wire (2006)