In early 1964, a London-based R&B club band called the Detours â€“ rhythm guitarist Roger Daltrey, lead guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, drummer Doug Sandom and singer Colin Dawson â€“ were struggling to take things to the next level. They were fairly successful on the local pub and dancehall circuit, and, having seamlessly incorporated American style R&B (think Motown) into their act, started making inroads into the burgeoning mod scene, a 1960s subculture that incorporated cutting-edge fashion, Vespa scooters and such music genres such as rhythm and blues, soul and Merseybeat (think the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers et. al.).
After Dawson left for a number of reasons (not least of which was Daltrey’s rough-and-tumble personality and bandleader status), Daltrey became the singer, leaving all guitar duties to the more-than-capable Townshend. They then changed their name to the Who, after discovering a band also sporting the Detours moniker. When a failed audition for Fontana Records precipitated the departure of the less-than-convinced Sandom and the arrival of Keith Moon, the lineup that would help change rock history was in place.
Around this time, they were â€œdiscoveredâ€ by Pete Meaden, himself a mod, with all the baggage participation in that scene implies: drugs (mostly amphetamine and other uppers), fashionista-like spending habits, and a generally overdriven lifestyle that was as untrustworthy as it was energizing. Totally enamored of the mod subculture, Meaden wanted to remake the former Detours as a mod magnet band. First order of business as their manager/publicist? Changing their name…again. Meaden rebranded them the High Numbers, a reference to the numbered T-shirts favored by mods at the time (ie, that month, or that week). Second order of business? A hit single calculated to appeal to their notoriously fickle audience, and to entrench the High Numbers as the mod band.
Meaden then made the rookie mistake of presuming that songwriting was as easy as shamelessly ripping off a couple of favorite mod tunes and changing the lyrics to incorporate such mod-related themes as fashion and dancing.
â€œZoot Suitâ€ is a direct lift of the tune of The Dynamics’ â€œMisery,â€ while â€œI’m The Faceâ€ was based on Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It.” Need proof? Here ’tis:
The High Numbers – Zoot Suit
And, for comparison, The Dynamics’ â€œMiseryâ€:
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The High Numbers released just the one single, “I’m The Face/Zoot Suit,â€ on Fontana (an important mod label as they were the UK licensee for Motown Records). The single didn’t reach the high positions of the charts, and the High Numbers were rejected by the label once again.
Though the band would go on to establish their mod credentials and cult-like following, Meaden was out, and the band signed with managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, and changed its name back to the Who. By the end of the year, history was already being made: the â€œMaximum R&Bâ€ posters and residency at the Marquee club, the first instrument destruction, and, by January 1965, the Who’s first hit single, â€œI Can’t Explain.â€
As the High Numbers, just four songs were officially released: the above-referenced â€œI’m The Faceâ€ and â€œZoot Suit,â€ as well as Leaving Here and Here ‘Tis, both Hollandâ€“Dozierâ€“Holland chestnuts popular with the mod set. All of them are on the Thirty Years Of Maximum R&B box set.