With all the incredible events, programs, releases and moments we’ve been fortunate enough to see, hear and experience this year, the 50th that The Who (as we knew and like to remember them), it was only fitting and appropriate that there would be a commemorative book – an official history. And thus, there is. The Who: 50 Years – The Official History, overseen by author Ben Marshall and sanctioned/assisted by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey has been released as the last piece of the puzzle.
A beautiful, 320-page hardcover volume, it attempts to trace the history of the band from their beginnings as a friendship between Townshend and the late, great John Entwistle and Entwistle’s chance meeting with Roger Daltrey, who invited Entwistle to join his band. The stories and legends are there – the beginning of the journey with other-worldly drummer Keith Moon; the changeover to Mod and becoming “The High Numbers” and the ascent, along with being managed by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. The stories and legends are all well-known; there are no new anecdotes nor shocking revelations here. At its core, this book is simply a coffee table book; perhaps a conversation piece but as a lifelong fan of The Who, not one of the better historic tomes.
My biggest problems with this book are simple – too much emphasis and focus on the 1950’s and an almost complete bypass on 1966, which is easily the most important year in The Who’s career as it was filled with change, transition and drama. The lawsuits with Shel Talmy and Decca Records; the move to Reaction, the change in sound from “My Generation” to “Substitute”, the shift from Mod to more Pop Art… glossed over and a scant few photos, which is shocking and almost negligent, to me. I would have preferred if the book were longer, to make it full/complete and accurate.
Like I said, a beautiful book, full of wonderful photos and stories, but as a Who fan, this left me empty and disappointed. That Pete and Roger had a hand in it and let it be released in this manner is even more surprising, but okay. If I’m being honest, I’d pass on this one (if I knew then…) and I do recommend Richard Barnes’ Maximum R&B, which to me, is THE definitive book on The Who (little wonder – he named the band, was Townshend’s roommate and has been in numerous ways, the unsung 5th member). Or Anyway, Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who 1958 – 1978 by Andrew Neill and Matthew Kent. Those two books are pretty much all you’ll ever need.
The Who: 50 Years – The Official History is available now