It was 43 years ago this today (August 18th, 1978) that the Who released their eighth album, and final studio set with Keith Moon, Who Are You. The album, which had been recorded between October 1977 and April of ’78, showcased the Who at a crossroads with the band entering the studio after a long year off the road while pursuing solo projects. 1977 saw the release of Roger Daltrey‘s third solo album, One Of The Boys, as well as Pete Townshend‘s second solo outing — Rough Mix — a collaboration with Ronnie Lane of the Faces.
The sessions, which featured the band once again recreating Townshend’s professional home demos, were at a severe disadvantage due to Keith Moon’s declining state from years of drug and alcohol abuse. His inability to reach his previous dizzying heights resulted in their being no drum track for the tune “Music Must Change” because Moon was simply unable to execute the song’s 6/8 time signature. During vocals sessions with producer Glyn Johns — who had been behind the board of such Who classics as 1971’s Who’s Next and 1975’s The Who By Numbers — Daltrey punched Johns, who quit the project and was replaced by his assistant — and Townshend’s then-brother-in-law — Jon Astley, who was left to complete the album with the band.
Who Are You features some of John Entwistle‘s most beloved Who tracks, including the slightly risque “Trick Of The Light,” the sci-fi based “905,” and the Daltrey-sung “Had Enough.”
Rather than directly responding to the punk movement, which had taken England by storm in 1977 — as the Rolling Stones did that same year’s Some Girls collection — Townshend delved further into his prog rock leanings on such tracks as “New Song,” “Sister Disco,” and the Gilbert & Sullivan-esque, “Guitar And Pen.” The band employed keyboardist Ron Argent of Zombies and Argent fame to add keyboards to select tracks — including the distinctive piano part on “Who Are You.”
Pete Townshend admitted to us that his heart and soul can always be found in his home demos as opposed to the Who’s proper studio recordings of his songs: “I put more energy and more passion and more intensity in the recordings that I made at home of the songs that I was writing than I would put into the recording studio sessions with the band — which seemed to me to be mainly, kind of boozy evenings with the lads talking about, y’know, what they’ve done the year before, y’know? And there’s a line in Quadrophenia — ‘You remember that hotel where the doors we smashed.’ It was all about that kind of thing. And we would sit in the studio and the actual recording would interrupt the reminiscences.”
The blockbuster success of the Grease soundtrack prevented the Who from scoring its first U.S. chart-topper, with Who Are You going on to peak at Number Two on the Billboard 200 charts — a full four spots better than the album did in the band’s homeland.
Keith Moon’s death on September 7th, 1978 left the band in limbo for the time being, with the album cover becoming a classic featuring Moon perched on a chair featuring the immortal line: “Not to be taken away.”